... as opposed to being a typical leftie, permanently bemused and worried about how the world is. Here's the Grauniad's Zoe Williams - by no means the worst of her tendency, writing under a typically Graun click-bait headline, and it's almost as bad as the banner suggests. It's on the subject of that old feminist worry - Fat. Oppressive body images and the "body disgust that girls experience". And the best she can come up with? It's all the fault of capitalism.
The over-riding message to young girls from the mainstream – advertising, agony aunts, teachers, parents, the acceptable face of their peers as represented in culture – is a set of platitudes about body positivity: come as you are, love your body, love yourself ... So you have this tripod effect: the explicit message to girls is “don’t try to be thin, try to be healthy”; the implicit message is “thin is actually better than beautiful, thin is beauty, femininity and discipline combined”; and finally the high-pitched screaming of our collective lizard brain: “Fat is disgusting and undignified.” ... I’ve thought about this for years, on my own account and now in relation to my teenagers, and I don’t think tackling our self-loathing is a matter for individual resilience or self-belief. It’s essentially a function of capitalism. At its most mechanistic, you create panic around cellulite, you sell more tights ... Anything innate to humans that you can make into a problem will create a market for the solution. More fundamentally, mass markets rely on homogeneity, the Fordist formula, any-shape-so-long-as-it’s-thin. You can’t really monetise desire unless everyone’s desires are the same, so you have to create quite a narrow physical ideal... It’s a mistake, made constantly, to characterise girls and young women as “vulnerable”. They don’t struggle with their body image and mental health because they’re fragile or weak. It’s an absolutely rational response to a world that hysterically, ceaselessly bombards them with contradictory demands. I don’t have a better answer to all this than “anarcho-feminism”.
If we want to be generous to this cri de coeur, we should probably just note the "I've thought about this for years / I don't have a better answer", and leave her to her misery. But hey, she's accused capitalism: so we are entitled to have a little think about it, too.
As a piece of analysis, Williams' is slipshod in the extreme; though she does at least start with something sensible: "blaming a timeless patriarchy is too general". It's downhill from there, however.
- She acknowledges from the start that mainstream advertising (inter alia) is woke nowadays - she even dates this back 20 years - and, along with "agony aunts, teachers, parents, the acceptable face of their peers as represented in culture" pushes a body-positive message: "a worthy agenda endorsed by right-thinking people everywhere". That's, errr, capitalism at work, no? Following "right-thinking" trends.
- So the "implicit message" she identifies is clearly, therefore, coming from somewhere else nowadays. Is she suggesting there's some extraordinary, devious-capitalist double-bluff going on: the body-positive ads are understood by everybody to be a hilarious spoof, or something? Or is this "implicit message" coming from society as a whole? Or indeed, from the "lizard brains" (which sometimes signal something worth paying attention to)?
- The jump from subtle, "implicit message", to "creating a panic" is a complete non sequitur: she's a lot more work to do if she wants to establish anything about "created panic".
- If the "Fordist" formula for business success is to deal with as few categories as possible whilst sweeping up as many customers as possible, to focus on something unattainable in practice would seem to be a really dumb idea - unless it corresponded with something "innately" there already in society. Capitalist businessmen are nothing if not keen to follow the herd: it's pretty rare (Bill Gates, maybe Steve Jobs) that anyone attempts to educate the herd to want something entirely new.
** As ever, Rugby Union is much more catholic on this score! (So: which of RU and soccer is more, errr, populist, eh? Oh, the ironies ...)