Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

Jamie Palmer ( @jacobinism ) has written very eloquently about the ‘authoritarianism’ and censorious approach of many on the ‘left’. The examples he gives of attacks on freedom of speech from so-called ‘progressives’ include, surprise surprise, a few from feminist campaigners. Because as I have banged on about before, it’s hard to find any version of feminism that doesn’t exercise or endorse some kind of censorship. Here’s an extract from Jamie’s piece:

 

‘We are now reaping the harvest of liberalism’s agonising slow death on the Left. Consider the following recent examples:

  1. According to a report in The Guardian, the political director of Huffington Post UK, Mehdi Hasan, has just publicly recommended the introduction of what amounts to a de factoblasphemy law in order to combat what he calls ‘Islamophobia’. The press, he announced, has been “singularly unable or unwilling to change the discourse, the tone or the approach” of its coverage. Casually eliding matters of race, ethnicity, and belief, he continued: “We’re not going to get change unless there is some sanction, there is some penalty. This is not just about Muslims; it is about all minorities.” Similarly, on an American talkshow, a visibly distressed Ben Affleck responded to Sam Harris’s criticisms of Islam by denouncing them as “gross and racist”.
  2. Dr. Matt Taylor, one of the scientists responsible for the awe-inspiring Rosetta satellite mission, found himself vilified by incandescent feminists when he appeared on television wearing a bowling shirt adorned with images of scantily-clad young women. It later transpired that the shirt had been hand-made for him as a birthday gift by a female friend and, as a rather touching token of appreciation, he had worn it on his big day. But an article for Verge decided that it was a symptom of the misogyny allegedly endemic within the scientific community, and reported Dr. Taylor’s televised appearance beneath the headline “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing”.

    The most risible offering in this embarrassing row came from (supposedly) sex-positive feminist Greta Christina, who spent the first paragraph of her post on the subject itemising her own involvement in the production of pornography. This, she appeared to think, placed her in the unique position of being able to explain that “freedom for me does not mean freedom for thee” as she policed the clothing of another adult: “[D]oing an interview about your team’s big science achievement while wearing a shirt with scantily-clad pinup girls does not say, “Sex is awesome!” It says, “Women are for sex.”

    Christina seemed oblivious to those who would seize on this argument to call for the suppression of her own work, as well as all other kinds of pornography and erotica she defends in her writing. Nor was she moved by arguments that men, like women, should be judged on what they say and do, not on how they choose to dress themselves. Nonetheless, clearly shaken by the uproar, Dr. Taylor ended up offering a tearful and humiliating public apology to his critics. It will be an individual of uncommonly thick skin who dares to transgress in this way in the future.

  3. Last Wednesday, the Independent ran an article by an Oxford University student named Niamh McIntyre, in which she crowed defiantly about the success of her campaign to cancel a debate between two male speakers, organised by a pro-life group to debate abortion. She explained herself thus: “The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups”.

    Doubling down on her behalf, Tim Squirrell – the President of the Cambridge Union, no less! – took to twitter to declare that “shouting ‘free speech’ doesn’t help anyone without a more nuanced conception of its impacts + aspects”. He went on: “People have the right to feel…[s]afe from the expression of ideas which have historically been used to oppress them in very real ways.”

  4. Late last year, in response to long-disputed and empirically dubious claims of an omnipresent culture of rape besieging women on university campuses, activists campaigned to have Robin Thicke’s song Blurred Lines banned from their Student Unions. When UCL joined upwards of 20 other Unions in banning the song from its premises, its Women’s Officer Beth Sutton said: “UCLU have just passed motion to not play Blurred Lines in union spaces & events. Solidarity with all survivors!”

    [The same panic over 'rape culture' and anger over low prosecution rates for sex crimes has also led to unapologetic attacks from the Left, similarly advanced in the name of "solidarity with survivors", on the presumption of innocence, the rule of law, and due process. An analysis of this disturbing facet of the effort to delegitimise liberalism lies beyond the scope of this post.]

  5. A few months ago, the New Statesman columnist Sarah Ditum wrote a rather good articleprotesting the illiberal use of ‘no-platforming’ to silence unpopular views held by those “deemed disagreeable”. However, her arguments were offered mainly in support of Julie Bindel, a radical feminist labelled ‘transphobic’ and ‘whorephobic’ for her views on trans rights and sex work. Ditum is, from what I can tell, largely sympathetic to Bindel’s positions on these issues, which made her defence of Bindel’s right to speak a relatively straightforward affair, causing her no significant ideological discomfort.

    But when it came to the no-platforming of a repellent male chauvinist and self-styled pick-up guru named Julien Blanc, Ditum’s principled defence of free expression evaporated, and she wrote a new blog post explaining that this was a very different matter. “There is no free speech defence for Julian Blanc” she concluded. (In response to the outcry, Blanc has since been denied a visa to enter the UK.)

  6. This is not to mention the recent fracas over the Exhibit B installation, deemed unacceptable by anti-racist campaigners (which I covered in an essay here), or the hounding of feminist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky for her opposition to the veil and the demonisation of ‘white feminists’ (which I covered in an essay here). The latter post, incidentally, led The Feminist Wire todescribe what I wrote as “racist and anti-Black specifically”, and an attempt “to maintain white supremacy”.
This handful of examples barely scratches the surface of the problem. Not one of the writers or campaigners above was detained by the need to establish a causal link between the expression of ideas they dislike and consequent harm. Censors never are, despite the fact that, in an open society, the burden of proof ought to rest with those who would restrict individual freedom. Instead, those inclined to defend free expression were variously tarred with the brush of racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, or rape apologism (depending on what was at issue).

When taken together, these individual cases – niggling and petty in and of themselves – speak to the flowering of a deeply sinister and censorious tendency amongst self-identifying progressives, invariably justified in the name of protecting the weak, the vulnerable, and the voiceless. In their righteous zeal to place certain people, views, and ideas beyond the pale, and secure in the complacent belief that their own opinions are beyond reproach, not one of these well-meaning men and women appears to have considered that their own liberty will, in the end, fall victim to the very same arguments they advance to silence others.

It should hardly be a surprise that in the midst of this reckless and dangerous onslaught against liberal values and the belief in the axiomatic nobility of the oppressed, there should be no room for sympathy with the Middle East’s only functioning liberal democracy. A Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] campaign, ostensibly mounted in support of Palestinian nationalism, but actually aimed at the disestablishment of the only Jewish State, has been slowly gathering mainstream support and legitimacy in the West.

Reprehensibly, the BDS movement seeks not simply the boycott of Israeli goods (which would be bad enough); it also explicitly attacks academic freedom. In the foreword to a recently released collection of essays entitled The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, the American political theorist Paul Berman argues that BDS activists are only able to make such arguments because they have convinced themselves of a misperception: they see what they are doing as “modern and progressive” when in fact it is “retrograde and disgraceful”.

The same must be said of the examples itemised above. Even as they thoughtlessly stigmatise those who defend free expression as “right wing”, these activists, writers, and campaigners have succumbed to the right’s most regressive autocratic tendencies. Dogmatic and unbending in their misanthropic view of human sexuality and race relations; unapologetic in their advocacy of an infantilising, separatist agenda of ‘safe spaces’; ferocious in their intolerance of views they deem unacceptable.

Gazing with mounting dismay at the escalating authoritarianism on the left of the political spectrum where my own political sympathies lie, I have been repeatedly reminded of a post published by the late Marxist theorist Norman Geras five months before his death. With a minimum of preamble, Geras quoted Chris Brown, Professor of International Relations at the LSE, as follows:

I think the biggest shift that has taken place in my thinking over the past 30 years is that I’m a lot less tolerant of relativist ideas, and multiculturalist ideas than I used to be. And that’s something that when you say it, it induces shock and horror sometimes. 25 years ago, I was writing material that, if it wasn’t poststructuralist, was at least ‘fellow traveling’ with the poststructuralists, arguing essentially anti-foundationalist ideas, arguing that the Western liberal tradition was just one tradition among other traditions, and so on. In a way, I think I was in bad faith over a lot of that. I believed that liberalism would always be there, and so one can afford to attack it. The events of the last 20 years have shown that that’s really not the case, that a lot of the traditional liberal values of freedom and tolerance are seriously under attack and need to be defended. So I’ve become a defender of the Enlightenment project in a way that I wasn’t maybe 30 years ago – that’s a big shift.

Unfortunately, there appears to be scant appetite for Professor Brown’s critical self-examination on the postmodern Left. Instead it clings to its metaphysical conspiracism, and disdains empiricism and a meritocracy of ideas derived from free and open debate in favour of the imposition of speech codes designed to stigmatise, shame, and silence.

In the name of a righteously-espoused ‘inclusivity’, such people have submitted to the worst kind of authoritarian elitism, and forgotten an elementary truism of Enlightenment thought. As the revolutionary 18th century pamphleteer and Dead White Male Thomas Paine observed in the short dedication with which he opened The Age of Reason:

You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it. The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.’

Read the whole of Jacobinism’s excellent post here

As has been widely publicised, mainly by people who’ve developed a sudden and very specifically focussed interest in football, Ched Evans has been training at his old club Shefffield Utd’s grounds . A Utd spokesman has said:

“The club acknowledges receipt of a request from the PFA to the effect that the club consider allowing Mr Evans, who is a PFA member, to train at the club’s facilities.

“According to the request, this training would be with a view to enabling Mr Evans to get back to a level of fitness, which might enable him to find employment in his chosen trade.

“This request has come to the club, because it is the last club at which Mr Evans was registered before his conviction.

“The club agrees with the recent statements of the PFA, to the effect that professional footballers should be treated as equals before the law, including in circumstances where they seek to return to work following periods of incarceration.

“There can be no place for ‘mob justice’.”

This sounds to me like an uncontroversial, sensible statement. The law is the law. Rehabilitation is a vital part of our justice system. A man is training to be fit to return to work after over two years in prison having been convicted of a crime. But if you read the response from many feminists this set of events is a travesty, and a personal attack on women the world over.

Today Sarah Ditum reminded us of a piece she wrote in the New Statesman back in August, where she said that Evans should not be allowed to just ‘get on with his life’ on release from prison. Ditum wrote:

‘If there were justice for women, rape would be a crime that makes us all turn in disgust from the perpetrator. We would see rapists as what they are – men who have committed one of the ultimate acts of denying female humanity, men who have performed an act of intimate savagery by penetrating the bounds of a woman’s body against her wishes. If there were justice for women, the shame, disbelief and misogyny that lead to the 6 per cent attrition rate for rape conviction would not exist. If there were justice for women, Richmond and Evans would be humbly recusing themselves from the world while they await forgiveness – they wouldn’t be gently settling back into the lives they had before.’

I find this paragraph symptomatic of a lot of feminist dogma. Whilst simultaneously stating that we should not ‘shame’ women for being victims of rape and sexual violence, Ditum employs graphic language to shame Evans, and men in general. She says we should ‘turn in disgust’ from people who are convicted of rape, calls rape ‘an act of intimate savagery’ and says that men convicted of rape should hide from the world whilst they ‘await forgiveness’. But as we know, this is a forgiveness that never comes, from feminists at least.

Ditum’s sister in arms, Caroline Criado-Perez also employs the ‘leper effect’ this time to ‘mark’ anyone (sorry, any *man*) who believes Ched Evans is not guilty of rape:

Sarah Ditum and other feminists’ shaming of Evans, his supporters and anyone who dares challenge their point of view reminds me of Foucault. He has argued that whilst leprosy is no longer a blight on the modern world (though is Ebola the new leprosy) the figure of the ‘leper’ who must be banished from society for being ‘unclean’ is alive and well. Or sick. Foucault writes:

‘Once leprosy had gone, and the figure of the leper was no more than a distant memory, these structures still remained. The game of exclusion would be played again, often in these same places, in an oddly similar fashion two or three centuries later. The role of the leper was to be played by the poor and by the vagrant, by prisoners and by the ‘alienated’, and the sort of salvation at stake for both parties in this game of exclusion is the matter of this study’

- Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilisation

Sarah Ditum doesn’t just shame ‘rapists’ and men in general. She tries to ‘shame’ me on a regular basis too, by telling anyone in her earshot about personal details of my life that she *thinks* are shameful. She also attempts to shame trans women and sex workers. My view is that feminism is a politics of shame it’s just quite cleverly implemented and hidden behind a  pretence of challenging the shaming of women.

I look forward to Ms Ditum’s articulate and civil response to my criticisms of her journalism and her dogma. Oh:

An article in the guardian this week cites  world economic forum research, showing the UK gender pay gap is widening.

Quoting the WEF the Graun say the UK has fallen to 26th in the world ‘global gender gap’ rankings, “with the country ranking 48th in terms of both labour force participation and wage equality, and 66th for estimated earned income”. This rhetoric of the ‘gender pay gap widening’ was repeated in the media and on social media. Further articles were published with scare-headlines like life for women in Britain getting tougher! And feminist organisations such as The Fawcett Society paused in their campaign to get male politicians to wear feminist t-shirts, to say ‘I told you so’.

But is the world economic forum report a trustworthy source of information about gender and pay?
In short, on looking over it and some related documents about its methodology I’d say: NO. The methodological problems with the research are not insignificant. Firstly, rather than providing ‘hard facts’ based on statistical data about salaries and wages, the findings from the wef are based on ‘opinions’ of ”business executives’.  Secondly only an average of 98 companies were surveyed in each country. Thirdly there is no mention in the report of random sampling :no reasons given as to why the selection of companies would be representative of a country as a whole.

So all we can really conclude from this report is that some business executives in the UK think that the gender pay gap has widened in the last twelve months.

The Fawcett Society reinforce their ‘gender pay gap widening’ assertion by providing stats from the office for national statistics survey of annual and hourly earnings. On first glance I would say that this data is more robust than that of the WEF. But the Fawcett cherry pick from the figures to back up their own viewpoint. For example the Fawcett Society quote the ONS as saying:

‘Men’s mean gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime) were £16.91 in April 2013, up 2.3% from £16.52 in 2012. Women’s mean hourly earnings increased by 1.3% to £14.25 compared with £14.07 in 2012. This means that the gender pay difference for full-time employees widened to 15.7% from 14.8% in 2012.’

But if we take into account the differences in findings from identifying the mean v median results, the gender pay gap could be seen to be less stark. As the ONS point out:

‘Men’s median full-time weekly earnings increased by 1.8% to £556 between 2012 and 2013, compared with an increase of 2.2% for women to £459.’

and:

‘In April 2013 men’s median gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime) grew by 2.5% to £13.60, up from £13.27 in 2012. In comparison, women’s hourly earnings were £12.24, a 1.9% increase compared with £12.01 in 2012. The gender pay gap for full-time employees therefore increased to 10.0% from 9.5% in 2012.’

So by using median earnings the pay gap shrinks from over 15% to 10%.

Also, the WEF, the Fawcett Society and feminists in general fail to take into account the circumstances which contribute to the gender pay gap. The ONS are again more rigorous. They remind us that:

‘there is a difference in the proportion of male and female employees who work full- and part-time. For male employees, 88% worked full-time and 12% worked part-time in 2013 Q2, while the comparable figures for female employees were 58% and 42% respectively. This
highlights the fact that more women work part-time than men and consequently they are more likely to receive lower hourly rates of pay’.

And yet, even though the numbers of women working part time contributes to their lower earnings overall, women’s wages for part time work rose more than men’s between 2012-13.

‘For part-time employees, men’s median gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime) were £7.95 in April 2013, up 3.0% from £7.72 in 2012. In comparison, women’s hourly earnings were £8.40,an increase of 3.2% from £8.14. The gender pay difference for part-time employees was therefore in the opposite direction to that of full-time employees, widening to -5.7% compared with -5.5% in 2012′.

Another circumstance affecting wages is career breaks for having children. The WEF report stated that the UK ranked third highest in the world in terms of length of maternity leave and this will have an impact on women’s pay. As commenters under the first graun article on the topic said:

‘Women fall behind because of extended career breaks to have children ie they are being assessed in the same way as a man would be if they took extended career breaks.

To equalise the average on a population level we would have to encourage some women to return to work immediately after giving birth.

I doubt we will even get to the point where the majority of women will accept splitting those early months 50/50.’

And there’s the rub. If paternity leave was raised to match maternity leave, more men might take time out to care for young children, which would contribute to narrowing the gender pay  gap. But paternity leave is not high on the feminist agenda. Is this because women want to maintain their sovereignty over the domain of parenthood whilst also claiming discrimination in the workplace? Mother knows best after all.

I don’t want to think anymore than I have to about Nick Clegg modelling feminist t-shirts. But one thing that annoys me about him, Miliband and other pro-feminist men is they often spout feminist rhetoric  unthinkingly. I notice that ‘male allies’ repeat banal statements like ‘the gender pay gap is widening’ without consulting the data, or even thinking to look beyond the headlines made by feminist publications and campaign groups. To support feminist women because they are (feminist) women and to protect them from the scrutiny these men might apply to other dogmas and information sources seems patronising and paternalistic. Before we know it women could be out-earning men and then these cuddly feminist-friendly men might be out on their ears with only an unfashionable t-shirt for comfort.

The 'demonstration' during German designer Karl Lagerfeld's show for Chanel during Paris fashion wee

I knew there’d be a bit of a hoo-ha about Karl Lagerfeld’s staging of a ‘feminist demo’ on his latest (Paris) catwalk show. In the Guardian and various recesses of twitter, anyway. Hadley Freeman calls the display ‘flim flam feminism’ which I rather like as an additional sub-genre of the dogma. Sounds more fun than the serious holier than thou type you get in the Graun. Hadley also demonstrates the constant contradictions within feminist rhetoric, when she says the feminist themed catwalk show is apt, since feminism is currently ‘fashionable’. Because there remains a loud refrain amongst her sisters that feminism remains unfashionable, ‘taboo’ even , and so it is brave women of conscience who are able to come out and stand up with the sisterhood. The slipping between ‘we are strong! we are powerful! we are a mass movement’ and ‘we are weak, we are castigated, we must fight the power’ may not be consciously designed by feminists, but it is an important discursive weapon in their artillery. The weak, isolated image of feminism allows the myth of  big bad’patriarchy’ to be perpetuated, whilst  the ‘we are legion, we can /and have change(d) the world’ rhetoric allows feminists to galvanise the troops, and take credit for what some of us think is socio-economic change beyond the influence of Hadley Freeman, flim flam feminists, et al. Caroline Criado Perez embodies the dichotomy well – she plays poor weak victim of abuse, patriarchy, misunderstanding, and also powerful crusader and winner of feminist campaigns, set to take over the world. and, I wouldn’t be surprised if she did just that.

Whilst I’m not a keen follower of fashion I do find this catwalk show interesting. I think it is playing on, building, the ‘brand’ of feminism and probably especially on the feminism hadley dislikes. But I would say flim flam feminist/ ‘girl power’ fashion icons such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Victoria Beckham are more widely known and liked by girls/women than any Guardian columnist and more relevant influences to Lagerfeld’s show. But it is also playing on a favourite theme of fashion and 21st culture more broadly – nostalgia. Or faux-nostalgia. The Times described it as a ‘women’s lib’ themed show and that is what it looks like to me – a post-ironic nod to 70s bra-burning husband-leaving feminists. The models holding the placards are doing so with a nod and a wink, and a ‘this shit is O.V.E.R. we’re it now’.

In our current age, the past is continuously referenced, regurgitated, but not necessarily with any real valuing of its content, it is much shallower – more Baudrillard ‘surface’ than that. I do wonder though what the future holds for culture when our present is such a scrapbook of high resolution replications of previous eras, shown on catwalks, lap tops, iphone screens. I fear it will be just more of the same, on different more high tech screens. As a true Nostalgic I know that Blondie knew all this and saw the future back in the late 70s/early 80s:

‘ooh baby, I hear how you spend your time, wrapped like candy in a blue blue neon glow’

Feminism is a brand. Lagerfeld is profiting on it.  It’s a successful brand partly because it is nebulous, malleable, and in the end, can be all things to all women. From Hilary Clinton to Emily Watson to Hadley Freeman/The guardian. As a commenter under Hadley’s article pointed out, ‘flim flam’ feminism is no less real than Guardian hand-wringing variety. But not quite all women buy into any of it, thankfully. Whatever type is in this season.*

*I Loved how Hadley said that the show is as feminist as a ‘ fruitcake’ – when I coined the term ‘mumsy cupcake feminism’ http://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/mumsy-cupcake-feminism/ just for those power-women who love to bake in their cath kidston aprons in their spare time between writing angry articles on their laptops on the kitchen table. Fruitcakes are feminist too!

This week I’ve seen two videos that ‘turn the tables’ on gender roles, and specifically in the realm of ‘street harassment’ of women by men, the brutes. One (above) is an advert for Snickers, the other an Everyday Sexism project featured in The Guardian

The snickers ad has generated some commentary, including two posts with differing viewpoints in Sociological Images and a not very complimentary piece in Time Magazine.

I was going to write something myself but realised I don’t have much to say about either, really. I actually found them hard to watch, cringeworthy and annoying, especially the Everyday Sexism one. I think what’s most irritating about both is their heavy-handed use of ‘irony’ or what passes for it in our oh so knowing, clever-assed post-ironic world. Perhaps the Everyday Sexism/graun effort seems particularly crass because suddenly, feminists are using ‘humour’ to cover a topic they have previously had zero sense of humour about. My pal Ben who first showed me the Everyday Sexism vid had his comments about it deleted at Graun/Cif HQ, along with those by some other commenters. Maybe that ‘humour’ doesn’t run very deep then?

What do you think of these videos? Do they ‘turn the tables’ on gender norms or do they spectacularly miss the point?

 

The above video – by celebrity-endorsed campaign Chime For Change- features Laura Bates, founder and proprietor of the @EverydaySexism project, talking about her work. Earlier this month, Laura made a speech to the United Nations Commission On the Status Of Women in New York. A transcript of the speech was published in the New Statesman but with no narrative attached about the context of her visit.

Well what is the context? Why did a frightfully nice, posh, white English woman, with an MA from Cambridge university, travel all the way to New York (paid for by whom?) to talk to a global organisation charged with tackling poverty, war and disease? All because women on twitter tell her about their experiences of ‘street harassment’ that blights their (otherwise comfortable, western, plentiful) lives?

Feminists often present their movement as being neglected, dismissed by the ‘patriarchy’, treated with the same  ‘misogyny’ and sexism they claim to suffer as individual women. But the UN is positively enthusiastic about feminist dogma, even if it doesn’t always name it as such. The UN commission on women is very well funded and staffed. It produces annual reports called The Worlds Women dedicated to examining and supporting women around the globe. Before I say it, you know I’m going to say it (what about the….men?) this excellent article by Philip Cohen at The Atlantic echoes some of my worries about the rigour of UN research and statistics, that are wheeled out to justify all the money and attention it gives to women. Questioning the famous feminist claim, which references UN research,  that women do the majority of the work in the world, but own only 1% of its property, Philip writes:

‘These things are hard to measure, hard to know, and hard to explain. Setting aside the problem that the data didn’t (and still don’t, completely) exist to fill in the numbers in this famous sequence of facts—the first and perhaps greatest problem is that we can’t easily define the concepts, which is part of the feminist problem. Even in 1970, how could women own only 1 percent of property, when most women were married and in many countries had at least some legal claim to their families’ property?’

He goes on to say:

‘consider one of the facts. With a combination of arithmetic and basic knowledge of a few demographic orders of magnitude, it’s straightforward to conclude that, whether or not women only received 10 percent of the world’s income in the 1970s, they receive more than that now.

Here: In the U.S. in 2009, the 106 million women who had incomes averaged $29,700 each. I think that’s $3.2 trillion. The whole world’s gross domestic product—a rough measure of total income—is $58.1 trillion. So, it looks to me like U.S. women alone earn 5.4 percent of world income today. Ballpark, but you see the point.

One of the potential negative consequences of this is also one of its attractions: The claim that, for all women do, they own virtually nothing, is a call to global unity for women. But it is undermined by the fact that a large number of women are—let’s face it—rich. So if global feminist unity is to be had, it won’t be built on a shared poverty experience.’

Exactly. One of the main reasons I find Laura Bates and her Everyday Sexism campaign offensive, is that it seems to be an attempt to put wealthy western women’s ‘suffering’ at the hands of ‘patriarchy’ on a par with that of women living in poverty and terrible conditions including in war-torn countries across the globe. And she seems to be convincing the UN of that parity of ‘victimhood’ too. The problem with poverty, war and disease, for both Laura and the UN Commission on Women, is that they affect women and men. In very large numbers. And they put into question the ethical and statistical justifications for all the resources that go into women.

Even apart from poverty, the focus by British and American feminists in the (social) media sphere on street harassment, online ‘abuse’ etc, ignores real suffering of women elsewhere. I watched the Channel 4 news item recently about the Saudi princesses who are kept in captivity and severe discomfort by their father, the Saudi King. Even I see that as a situation that could be described as ‘patriarchal’ and ‘oppressive’ to a group of young women. But the twittersphere, the guardian-type feminists and the UN remained eerily silent about the story. I think they were too busy staring at their navels, and applauding the brave actions of the lovely Laura, as she flew back from the states following her whine about catcalls and wolf whistles. 

If you follow feminist discourse online, in the western liberal hemosphere, you won’t have failed to notice there’s been some trouble at t’ mill  lately.

A recent piece in US publication The Nation commented on Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars, suggesting that infighting and conflict in feminism is a contemporary phenomenon, linked in some way to social media.

There followed articles by UK feminists Helen LewisJulie BurchillJane Clare Jones and others, all variations on a theme, identifying feminism’s problems as being caused by or worsened by ‘identity politics’, ‘call out culture’, certain forms of  ‘intersectionality’ etc.

Burchill was her usual screechy, belligerent self, only matched in tone by @redlightvoices whose  diatribe entitled ‘I hate you all, media vultures‘ has caused Laurie Penny to drink gin and feel sad or something.
LauriePenny_whitefem

As you can see I’m not quoting from these articles or commenting specifically on the content of the fall out.  Because theatrical conflict amongst feminists has been going on for decades. There have always been different schools of feminism, including Liberal, Marxist and Radical varieties. Feminists have always disagreed on issues such as sex work, domestic labour, heterosexuality (some feminists are against it, you know) etc. Social media provides a bigger, more visible stage for the performance of diversity within feminism. But, how diverse is it, really?

As I’ve written before, e.g. in my post Against Feminisms, feminists have much more in common than they do separating them. Speak to even the most intersectional of intersectional feminists for five minutes, and you’ll realise that they are united with their radfem and ‘white media’ sisters by misandry, a dogmatic belief that non-feminists are ‘misogynists’, a refusal to engage in research and writings that challenge their views, the ‘identity politcs’ of women v men, etc etc. Sometimes I wonder if the infighting and ‘divisions’ in feminism might be elaborate ‘ploys’ to present the movement as complex and diverse, when really its very simple, and united in its politics.

Even the great feminist philosopher Judith Butler, whose work has probably been one of the influences on my flight from feminism  -  what is gender anyway? why do we rely on binaries of ‘male’ v ‘female’, ‘man’ v ‘woman’? how is identity performed and contested? – falls back on the identity politics of womanhood. In a talk I attended last year, Butler grappled with some of the questions I’ve listed above, only to return to rhetoric about women across the globe lacking educational opportunities, political representation and economic power  ( to rapturous applause from her student fangirls).  So men are the problem after all? It’s the patriarchy, stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, watching a bunch of feminist women tear each other’s hair out on the internet is entertaining. But that’s all it is.  The real ‘debate’ to be had in gender politics in my view,  is over the value and purpose of feminism, any feminism, in the 21st century world.  And the fact that some of us are having that debate, and coming to uncomfortable conclusions, is probably what is upsetting those nice ladies from feminism.inc the most.