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 Lewis, Julie Burchill, Jane 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.
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.