Tegan and Sara x Wildfang’s “The Future is Fluid” is a Slap in the Face to Feminism (Op-Ed)

on

Picture1

 

The year is 2017. President Michelle Obama, with the help of a Congress composed of 51 percent women, has just passed the Equal Rights Amendment.

It’s October, breast cancer awareness month, and we are celebrating the fact that we finally understand what causes breast cancer and have virtually prevented all cases. While we were at it, we cured all those other issues affecting females far more than males, such as autoimmune disease, depression and anxiety.

Today, the global women’s liberation movement has effectively ended feticide, child marriage, sex trafficking, slave labor, environmental degradation, famine and poverty. Every rapist meets justice. Wife battering has gone the way of whale oil lamps. Cat calling?  That’s when we bewitch neighborhood cats with sing-song voices and bowls of Friskies. Yes, sisters, we have achieved the vision of a woman’s nation once sung by the bard Alix Dobkin and captured in the slogan “The Future Is Female.”

I woke up on October 3rd and saw the artists formerly known as lesbian icons Tegan and Sara blaring the bugle of a new civil rights fight: “Eht future si fluid.”  I knew that women had achieved what we came for, and it was time to put down the labrys and pick up the $40 t-shirt that would herald a new dawn, fighting for fluids. Sorry for my offensively binary language – not dawn, but some time which is neither dawn nor twilight.

The lifestyle brand formerly known for lesbian and GNC women’s outerwear, Wildfang, has apparently not been reaching enough consumers. In what I assume is an effort to recruit straight shoppers (queerness is on trend this season), they are saying that straights and non-straights are just another false binary. Such a “binary boundary” is “old world.” Wildfang’s first mistake is conflating sex, gender presentation, and sexuality. We’ll get into the latter two, but let’s begin with the content of the shirt before the content of the ad campaign around it.

Resized-92ddb4f8e57a1e77878f7ad310e34a44

The Future is Fluid is a Slap in the Face to Second Wave Feminism

Since the slogan is a play off of the Future Is Female, it’s hard to miss the implied drag of second-wave lesbian feminists. Apparently we should dismiss these pioneers because they’re old? Because they were ~so~ invested in the binary? Sounds like ahistorical tumblr nonsense but ok.

Since the slogan is a play off of the Future Is Female, it’s hard to miss the implied drag of second-wave lesbian feminists. Apparently we should dismiss these pioneers because they’re old? Because they were ~so~ invested in the binary? Sounds like ahistorical tumblr nonsense but ok.

Let’s get into a lil herstory lesson: this slogan was first used by the women’s bookstore Labyris, which was founded by lesbian separatists. Alix Dobkin wore a shirt bearing the slogan in a picture taken by Liza Cowan, who also designed buttons the same year. In 2014, this design was featured on @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y’s Instagram, and then, with Cowan’s support, turned into a hugely successful line of shirts, buttons and more by Otherwild, another women’s wear/feminist merch retailer. Since then, the viral phrase has been used to sell pretty much anything (“The Future Is Microgreens!” “The Future Is Long-Lasting Lipstick!”) It would be easy to forget the radical lesbian roots. I mean, it would be if the people doing the forgetting, co-optation and erasure weren’t fucking lesbians.

Ten years before the first full-length lesbian album, Dobkin’s “Lavender Jane Loves Women,” Lesley Gore, then-closeted lesbian, was singing songs written by men, about “the way boys are,” e.g. shitty to the women they “loved.” There was no other way for a woman to be a successful musician. Then something changed. It was the second-wave lesbian movement, the lesbian folk singer, who made Tegan and Sara possible.

The women’s folk movement, alongside the women’s bookstore movement, circumvented the male-dominated music industry with a DIY ethic that gave birth to Olivia Records, among others. They relied entirely on the promotion, distribution, and platforms lesbians created. Lesbians were the heart of this creative movement, and made space for women’s art: lesbian, straight, and in between. These women were not binary- identified; they did not buy the binary; they smashed the binary every day. They did not subscribe to gender stereotypes or gender norms. Their blood, sweat, tears, personal and romantic partnerships, their life’s work, is the only reason Tegan and Sara have a market, were signed to major record labels, and enjoy a modicum of commercial success a couple decades later.

TS x Wildfang seems to be saying that the problem of patriarchy will be solved if binaries come to be understood as fluid. But the problem is not just a binary between male and female. The problem is the hierarchy assigned to the binary.

TS x Wildfang seems to be saying that the problem of patriarchy will be solved if binaries come to be understood as fluid. But the problem is not just a binary between male and female. The problem is the hierarchy assigned to the binary.

On any given axis of oppression, sides are pitted against one another in a relationship of exploitation. Let’s say, for example, males as a group and females as a group. One side oppresses, one side is oppressed. One side dominates, and one is made subordinate. This is a power relationship.

Only if you reduce women to mean “opposite of men,” then you’ve got yourself a binary. With a binary, either side is neutral. Discerning difference between men and women is seen as regressive, because these two opposites are just two sides of the same coin, and a coin can be flipped at any time.

If you think that females oppress males, please put on your fedora and get the fuck out of the feminist movement. If you think that global majority people oppress whites, pick up your tiki torch and let us see your fucking face. If you think that poor people oppress the rich, join Betsy DeVos and Grover Norquist at the kids’ table. Take off your $150 “Wild Feminist” bomber jacket. Feminist analysis starts from the baseline that patriarchy is real, that we must name it, and that organizing as a class, not as individuals, is how we dismantle it.

If you think that females oppress males, please put on your fedora and get the fuck out of the feminist movement.

Now that we’ve established what a power relationship is, let’s talk about binaries that do not function the same way. Gender presentation and sexuality are not inherently exploitative dynamics, though they both serve to underscore and reinforce male people’s power over female people. Masculine and feminine are not neutral, apolitical concepts you find yourself lumped into. Straight or gay are not equally valued, arbitrary designations. One is culturally valued and armed with privilege, and one is denigrated.

1cdfe582fd28f2f810c7285312ad152b--feminism-quotes-women-power-feminism

No, Not Everyone is Fluid, and Homosexuality is Real and Valid

While many people are neither gay nor straight, but all sorts of in-between, there is a “should” in the claim that straight vs gay is an “old-world” binary. If the future is fluid, then should all straight people “flow” into same-sex attraction? Should gays and lesbians “flow” into heterosexuality, or be left behind in what is now considered, at least as is implied by this ad copy, the old world?

If the future is fluid, then should all straight people “flow” into same-sex attraction? Should gays and lesbians “flow” into heterosexuality, or be left behind in what is now considered, at least as is implied by this ad copy, the old world?

How many of us were sucked into soulless heterosexual marriages, wondering why we weren’t attracted to our partners, before finally realizing we were not in any way heterosexual, were in fact too homosexual to pretend anymore, even though leaving meant destroying the lives we’d built?

How many of us are told by our religious or conservative parents, 2, 10, 20 years after coming out that if we just met the right man, we could settle down into the white picket fence dream? How many of us are told that we should wear a dress to make other people comfortable, just this once, at this church service, or every single day at this corporate job?

Given the discrimination, revulsion, and violence homosexuals have faced, many of us have wished we could just flow into heterosexuality to make our lives easier. The thing is, our sexuality has remained stubbornly, binarily HOMO.

Given the discrimination, revulsion, and violence homosexuals have faced, many of us have wished we could just flow into heterosexuality to make our lives easier. The thing is, our sexuality has remained stubbornly, binarily HOMO.

Many people play around with their gender expression or their sexual activities. More power to them! But the people who do the heavy lifting of securing rights for LGBTQ people are pretty determined to be able to live out our homosexual, gender nonconforming lives, without spilling over into straightness or having our sexual orientations be called reductive if we aren’t open to being “fluid.”

We welcome the straights to experiment with their fashion, and their sexuality, as long as it’s not fetishizing or trivializing our own. After all, as Alix Dobkin herself sang, any woman can be a lesbian. You don’t know if someone is going to find herself in love with a woman, suddenly carrying a multitool on her belt, moving into a van powered by vegetable oil and running her local animal shelter. Maybe she didn’t even know she’d be a lesbian until that first spark of eros, until it all started to fall into place around her.

Norms around sex, sexuality and gender presentation, which Wildfang encourages us to break, are a symptom of the sickness. They are not the sickness itself. Norms change. Remember way back when, when men wore high heels and makeup? That gender norm broke, and yet power relations between men and women remained exactly the same.

Screen-Shot-2016-11-08-at-12.56.30-PM-550x391

When it Comes to Gender, the Reality is No One is Binary

Wildfang introduces us to a cast of fluid characters to explain the brave new future. “The idea of fluidity is important to me, it means that I can exist as a complex being, without fitting into any box or expectation. I get to exist simply as myself,” says Margaret.

Good for you, Margaret. Getting to exist simply as yourself is a beautiful goal for all of us to strive toward in our journey of self-actualization, but it doesn’t do a damn thing for womankind as a whole. Individualism is the opposite of class uprising. Who benefits when self-help is the end goal of feminism? Even if every person on planet Earth reached Margaret’s level of actualization, if everyone agreed to accept those fluids puddling outside of the boxes that simplify us into categories like male/female, masculine/feminine, gay/straight, this does nothing to change the power dynamics at work. Yes the boxes, the norms, are harmful. No, elevating your personal comfort level living outside of them will not make them go away.

Dear fluids of the world: “binary” gendered and non binary gendered is another binary. I’ve written this before, but I’ll fucking engrave it on my headstone if I have to: no one is binary. Even Barbie rode a hog.

Dear fluids of the world: “binary” gendered and “non binary” gendered is another binary. I’ve written this before, but I’ll fucking engrave it on my headstone if I have to: no one is binary. Even Barbie rode a hog. 

We are all a mishmash of those personality traits assigned arbitrarily and variously throughout time and in every culture to males or females. If you’ve positioned yourself as non binary, you self-righteous Butlerite, you’re basically saying that the rest of us are perfectly content to be forced into the sexual stereotypes society has imposed on us. How is this not perpetuating harmful norms? How is that not liberal arts, elitist, virtue signaling, 24/7 performance art?

Motorcycle Barbie

Motorcycle Barbie

Fluidity is not what levels the playing field. Only taking away the opportunity for someone to profit off another person can do that.

The Tegan and Sara foundation funds other foundations — all working for the material benefit of LGBT girls and women. They list income inequality, homelessness, lack of access to adequate healthcare and education. Pick any one of the problems in that list and you will see an exploitative relationship. Some people don’t have healthcare because a select few other people profit off of sick people. Some people don’t have homes because a select few people profit off of controlling housing, lending, and land itself. Some people don’t have adequate education because a select few people profit off of controlling education from preschool to higher ed.

We all intuitively know that the problem is bigger than the “boxes” or the “norms.” The problem is structural, and that’s why nonprofits like the Tegan and Sara Foundation tackle specific, concrete, non-fluid relations of power.

Gay and Straight are Not False Binaries

In a future that is fluid, Tegan and Sara can collaborate with Wildfang on a campaign that claims gay and straight are false binaries, even while the merch benefits their LGBTQ charity. While their careers were made and sustained by LGBTQ people, particularly the lesbian and bi women of that spectrum, they have now gained the approval of non-LGBTQ people. This means they can appeal to all and don’t need to be loyal to the demographic that made them. Picking a side — showing solidarity — is “divisive.” Yaaaaawn. I get enough of that from the Boomers in my Facebook feed.

Other than the revolting postmodernism and ahistorical second-wave feminist blaming implicit in the ad copy, we have to confront the fact that Wildfang is basically selling Levi’s Wokes. 

Other than the revolting postmodernism and ahistorical second-wave feminist blaming implicit in the ad copy, we have to confront the fact that Wildfang is basically selling Levi’s Wokes. What the what is this powered-down cyborg wearing and why does she look so apathetic and tired?? Please tell me the future has coffee and other stuff worth waking up for.

Wildfang's Oversized Button-up

Wildfang’s Oversized Button-up

 

giphy (6)

 

The Future is Fluid is the All Lives Matter of Anti-Feminist Propaganda

In reality, “the future is female” was never a slogan that meant females will reign supreme over males and will do so by preserving a “femaleness” tied inextricably to reproduction, appearing feminine, or doing “woman” stuff. It means that the future belongs to girls. It means that women will not asphyxiate under the jackboot of male domination.

In reality, “the future is female” was never a slogan that meant females will reign supreme over males and will do so by preserving a “femaleness” tied inextricably to reproduction, appearing feminine, or doing “woman” stuff. It means that the future belongs to girls. It means that women will not asphyxiate under the jackboot of male domination.

It means that femininity, the “naturalness” of women’s subordination to men, the “naturalness” of heterosexuality are all patriarchal myths that women would break one at a time, as only women can, because only women will lead a movement to end male domination. Men, being pretty heavily invested in male supremacy, will not do the work of breaking these hierarchies.

The Future Is Female means that if there is to be a future at all, if nuclear war, environmental degradation, racial segregation, or nationalist colonizing are to be avoided, it will be because women take down the hierarchy that started it all and remains at the root of the aforementioned problems: patriarchy.

DL2LQOjX4AACsdp

The only way you can justify a co-optation of this original slogan is if you think the original slogan is now irrelevant, or if you think the original slogan is inadequate. But fluids are not a social class whose centuries of oppression marks them as disadvantaged or deserving of a revolution. Fluids are not a social class whose movement for justice is already and will continue to re-make the world.

The Future is Fluid is the All Lives Matter of anti-feminist propaganda. 

Feminism has not succeeded. The future where female fetuses are not selectively aborted, where women can control their reproduction, where women can control their bodies, where lesbians are not correctively raped or coercively married off or slaughtered, that future has yet to arrive.

In fact, as Gloria Steinem pointed out at the women’s march, there are, for the first time, fewer female people on planet earth than males. The Future is Fluid is the All Lives Matter of anti-feminist propaganda. Speaking as a tomboy, as a lesbian who grew up on Tegan and Sara, as your target customer, miss me with that.

More you may like