The Rise of Hipster Sexism

By Murphy, Meghan | Herizons, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

The Rise of Hipster Sexism


Murphy, Meghan, Herizons


Describing the hipster is something you aren't supposed to do. The mere mention of the fact that there are hipsters outs you as not being one. The point of being a hipster, after all, is to be over everything already-including yourself.

Luckily, having already outed myself as someone who cares about things beyond the rescue of sufficiently derelict but repopularized bars, I am free to discuss the hipster and hipster culture with wild abandon.

Notoriously apathetic, one of the issues hipster culture doesn't concern itself with is sexism. In a comedie video,"You're Probably a Hipster," PB S Idea host Mike Rugnetta describes the hipster as a person who enjoys things "ironically" instead of with genuine enthusiasm and has an air of "smugness or arrogance."

But the cultural backlash against hipsters, evidenced by a number of blogs and sites that started popping up around the mid-2000s, like Look at This Fucking Hipster (later a book), grew out of much more than smugness. The backlash against hipster culture also developed as accusations of cultural appropriation arose.

Hipsters have been criticized for appropriating workingclass culture from a place of privilege. Douglas Haddow talked about this in an article in Adbusters back in 2008 and described how symbols and icons of working-class culture "have become shameless clichés of a class of individuals that seek to escape their own wealth and privilege by immersing themselves in the aesthetic of the working class."

Co-opting culture isn't limited to class. A website called Native Appropriations called out the trend of young white people donning native headdresses and war paint as fashion. The native-culture-as-fashion trend was first documented at music festivals like Coachella in California in 2010. Adrienne Keene, the face behind Native Appropriations, described how the trend reinforces stereotypes about native culture, co-opts culturally and spiritually significant symbols, and ignores the deeply oppressive and exploitative colonial history of Aboriginal people in North America. She concludes that the trend, while not limited to hipsters, is no different than wearing blackface

When you critique this behaviour, expect to be told that you just don't get it. Irony functions as a disguise that protects hipsters from critique. It's the "Don't you get the joke?" defence against offensiveness.

Hip-hop music critic and radio deejay Jay Smooth argued in his video blog that cultural appropriation is a weak form of humour, writing that "irony is now the last refuge of a coward. A singularly dishonest and deluded sort of coward who imagines his behaviour a mark of courage, as he fearlessly refuses to take anything seriously. Cowardice is the root of all hipster irony. And this is never more obvious or more ugly than when issues of race are involved."

When it comes to race, class and gender oppression, Andrea Plaid, a contributor to the website Racialicious, questions whether racism and sexism need to be funny.

"The reality is that the many, many people who have to deal with racist and/or sexist oppression daily don't find it funny at all.... That person who needs to use racism and/or sexism to be so funny may be the same person who will, say, be making hiring decisions, which can affect a person's survival."

Anita Sarkeesian takes on "retro sexism" or "ironic sexism" in her video series Feminist Frequency. She defines retro sexism as "modern attitudes and behaviours that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way."

It's the idea that, because we all know that what we are seeing is sexism, we are in on the joke-which supposedly negates the sexism. Sarkeesian sees this as "the normalization of sexism through irony."

The neo-burlesque trend is an example of a "sexism is fun for everyone" ethos that pushes us to get in on the joke. I am just as uncomfortable watching a woman strip on a stage under the burlesque banner for a mixed audience as I am watching straight male audiences ogle exotic dancers at strip clubs. …

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