Ghetto Women

Posted: June 27, 2010 in Feminism

Feminism Will Eat Itself: Examining the New Backlash (in UK feminism)

Part Two: Ghetto Women

So I am a small voice in the wilderness, trying to make myself heard. I am saying that this ‘resurgence’ of feminism that is being hailed by the liberal press and the ‘new feminist’ movement, it’s not sitting very well with me. And when I try to talk to ‘feminists’, not always to critique, sometimes to learn, to educate myself, to not feel so alone, I am suddenly a kid again, putting her hand into a box, and recoiling as I find it is full of stinging nettles or wasps.

What I learned about gender in the 1990s, was that it is a collection of multiple ‘intersections’:

‘Intersectionality may be defined as a theory to analyse how social and cultural categories intertwine.  The relationships between gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, class and nationality are examined. The concept can be a useful tool in tracing how certain people seem to get positioned as not only different but also troublesome and, in some instances, marginalised.

Suzanne V knudsen

What seems to have happened is that many feminist interest groups have taken on this concept of ‘intersectionality’ but interpreted it in a simplistic way. They acknowledge how ‘feminism’ cannot represent all women as a homogenous group. They identify themselves as a minority who is ‘othered’ by the dominant feminist ideology, and is seen as ‘troublesome’.  But their reaction is to retreat into their own ‘ghetto’, where they feel safe and are not ‘troubled’ by anyone else’s differing identities and opinions.  So the radical feminists, trans women, ‘womanists’ , liberal feminists, anti-sex industry feminists, pro-porn feminists, trade union feminists all inhabit different discursive and physical spaces. In some cases they are patrolled by guards and have high fences round them, to keep out intruders.

But I have no interest in ‘ghetto’ politics. There were some key single interest movements in the past, such as Radical Feminism and Black Power, which needed to distinguish themselves from ‘mainstream’ society and organise, educate themselves separately. But this is 2010 not 1970, and even if people need to work in single-issue groups at times, if there is no coming together, no communication, no acknowledgement of the inevitable intersection between us all, there is no future for feminism.

Here are a few examples of what some of these ‘ghetto women’ said to and about me, when I attempted to ‘intrude’ on their territory, to ask questions and make a dialogue between feminists about difficult subjects such as transgender issues, cissexism, rape, sexuality, pornography and ‘objectification’.

‘she’s just a cis white princess. #enemyatthegates’

‘if cis women have better stuff than trans women, remember its because they beat us down and stole what little we had and destroyed the rest’.

‘all cis gender academics should be killed’

‘Quite Riot Girl, you do know that the sadism in BDSM is named after the Marquis de Sade, the serial rapist of poor French women? Is that really something you want to support in aid of your “fantasies”?’

‘Why should “kink” be respected anyway? Eroticised male violence to women is harmful to women.’

‘Tell that to the girls who had their clitorises cut off for men’s pleasure Quiet Riot Girl. Capitulating isn’t an adequate political response you know’.

‘Quiet Riot Girl – your posts (that you widely publicise) don’t just criticise feminism, they are offensive to the max. Especially your posts about rape. You think you are ‘big and strong enough’ but actually you are misinformed and vile’.

‘But have you ever raped anyone though?’

I found all these comments (and more) about me hurtful at the time. I was struck by how easily some of the people who made them found it to use violent language in their personal attacks. But I reproduce them here, not to gain sympathy. I know I am a privileged white cis woman. I do not feel ‘othered’ by society, except in the ‘small’ matters of my sexuality and my choices around who my partners are and what I write about.  I put up these quotes to illustrate how feminism is operating in ghettos, and how anyone who tries to break down the barriers and climb over the fence, gets her hand bitten.

The discourse amongst liberal white feminists, the ones who write the Guardian articles and run the national feminist organisations, the ones who hold the power and privilege in this context, I think, is that this is all part of the big melting pot of feminist thought and action. That all voices can be heard, and all identities can be represented.

I call bullshit on that view. I think trans  women are completely ignored and marginalised in our society, including by ‘feminism’. I think a lot of the writings and organisations that are feminist are racist. I think that working class feminists are silenced by the majority of middle class feminism. I think that radical feminist views on rape and sexual violence that were formed in the 1970s, dominate feminist discourse, and other opinions and approaches are vilified. I think the anti-sex industry lobby is doing very well at changing laws and criminalising sex work further, and that people whose sexual proclivities include S and M and kink are treated as ‘vile’ by dominant feminist views.

I think as well there is a case of ‘blame the messenger’ going on here. I am one of very few feminists that I am aware of in the UK who is drawing attention to these divisions and conflicts within feminism. I have been accused of getting involved in ‘infighting’ instead of focussing on our shared aims and objectives. I have had my articles rejected for publication in feminist online journals, and treated as somehow ‘marginal’ in themselves. I have not had emails and correspondance answered by feminist organisations who don’t like what I have to say. What I have to say is not comfortable listening. For something is rotten in the state of feminism, and we need to address it before the whole kingdom comes tumbling down around our ears.

My vision of where feminism is going is bleak. I see  a liberal white elite of cis middle class feminists, continuing on their merry way, serving their own interests, and ignoring the rest. The rest, I believe, will retreat further and further into their ghettos and become more and more resentful, so the language of hate could become the actions of hate.  Violence against trans women, against sex workers, against gay women, against black women is already occurring (as is violence against white cis women but that is much better publicised and challenged by feminist campaigns).  The feeling I have had when visiting these groups, even just online in some cases, is that they are ready to fight back. And that they see ‘feminists’ as a valid target as any for their resentment.

So if we don’t want a war on our hands, don’t you think we should start talking to each other?

With all these ghettos in feminism, I am concerned by the lack of discussion about the biggest ‘ghettos’: those of ‘men’ and ‘women’. Without men, feminism does not have a hope in hell. But in this ghetto politics, men and their various ‘intersectional’ identities are not given any credence as far as I can see. My next section will address men and masculinities.

  1. I found this interesting and I’m looking forward to the section on men and masculinities. I think you’re right that contemporary feminism isn’t resolving its conflicts very well. I wonder, though, whether this isn’t inevitable. Large groups of people can arrange themselves around simple, singular concepts and identities, but rarely around more complex, plural, ones. We don’t all agree, and we are never going to, because we have different experiences, interests and needs. Thinking about it logically, I can see why the most powerful of oppressed groups are the likely to be successful in pressing for change for themselves, but not well placed to understand the needs of others. White middle class people have power, so those women are the ones who are going to be most visible, most likely to facilitate change, but that change will be limited by many lacunae. As a white, middle class, feminist, I can try to understand other identities, I can even stand in solidarity, but there how much can I use my power for them? I’d like to be helpful, but the white Western men who invade to liberate women from the burqa think they are being helpful, too, and how do you know if you’ve become one of those?

    I’m sorry, this has become rather rambling.

    On a totally different topic, the person who sent you the message about sadism is mistaken (I have a personal crusade about this). Sade certainly wrote a lot about rape, but then he also wrote about things which aren’t physically possible; I think that we can all be clear that he produced fiction. He was accused of rape, and we don’t know whether those accusations were true. I hate to sound like the Daily Mail, but there was a lot of money to be made from people like Sade, who would pay you handsomely to shut up, whether you were telling truths or lies. One old woman claimed he had taken her on to clean his house, then raped her, he said they had been clear that he was hiring her for sex. It looks, from the outside, as if the whipping and blasphemy were a bit more than she’d bargained for. A pregnant housemaid claimed she was raped after her father turned up on the doorstep. A group of prostitutes claimed he tried to poison them, he said they ate too many sweets laced with an aphrodisiac. We can’t work out the truth in many current court cases, but ones hundreds of years old? We do know that his mother-in-law wanted him behind bars, and wasn’t above manipulating matters to achieve it. We don’t know whether or not he was a rapist, we do know that he liked sex with men, whipping women, being whipped, inserting unsuitably proportioned paintbrush holders into his anus, desecrating the Host and writing literature full of sex and violence; I suspect this is the origin of many people’s concern about him. He was punished, after the revolution, for being too lenient with the death penalty. He wouldn’t even harm his mother-in-law, who had been the cause of his exile and imprisonment. I’m not saying he was a shining example of virtue, but it isn’t clear-cut. I think he would like to be remembered as he is, though.

    Sorry, that was probably far too much detail, but I do wish feminists would stop bashing poor old Sade.

  2. Me too! I think of him as a fictional figure in a way himself, because really he is only remembered for his symbolic meaning these days. Nobody really cares about him or the women and men in his life.
    Especially not the S and M-bashing feminists!

    I am glad you picked up on it though. I don’t want to always be the one pointing out these little twists and turns of fiction/reality/meaning.

    As for power and interest and can we be more selfless, I think we can. Whether we are or not is another matter.

  3. I had a comment on here from @earwicga (on twitter). I posted her comment on my Love all the people post. Since then she has sent me two further comments, both personal and not very nice in tone. I have decided not to post any more comments by her on my own blog. I expect she and I will run into each other on other blogs, where I am not the moderator.

  4. Scheherezade says:

    Hi Elly,
    I think you’re doing a great job, and I partly started my blog to add my voice to yours. There are some S/M people who are misogynistic, but they are increasingly in the minority. Neither D/s nor S/M is necessarily about gender — it’s about an exchange of power, and the eroticisation of pain. There are submissive men and dominant women; it’s not about male violence at all. Personally, I don’t know how to stop S/M being marginalised – I have done a bit by talking about it in public but it was quite an uncomfortable thing to do.

  5. Thanks for your support Scheherezade !

    And for adding your voice to the fray.

    Yes it is a difficult subject to speak about publicly. I am only just starting to be made aware of the hostility towards s and m, especially amongst feminists. But the more of us there are speaking about it the better it will be.

  6. Scheherezade says:

    For ages, I thought that my kink was in conflict with my feminism, until I read Pat Califia and Mark Thomson; but that was because all the theories of S/M that I came across were misogynist rubbish. it’s only since LGBT S/M came to the fore that I have felt comfortable with my kink.

  7. Korhomme says:

    “Tell that to the girls who had their clitorises cut off for men’s pleasure”

    I’m sure you don’t need me to say that female circumcision/genital mutilation isn’t done for men’s pleasure, but to deny pleasure to the poor girl [and depending on the degree of mutilation, to make delivery difficult and injurious]

  8. Hi Korhomme

    Yes some of the arguments on the thread I picked that comment from were very confused.

    I wish people would think before they type sometimes! And maybe occasionally even read and educate themselves.

    The gender relations in FGM are complex, as generally the procedure is carried out by women on girls. It is not as simple as men doing it to girls anyway.

  9. KimBooSan says:

    This is beautiful.

    I’m SO utterly and hysterically (hah hah) frustrated with the violent dialogue going on among the ghettos, the rabid PC policing (e.g. the person you erroneously “called” you the use of the word sadism), and the creation of a hierarchy of victimization. It all boils down to people shouting at each other, when we are the very groups who should be working /together/.

    I was raised as a feminist by a radical feminist bi queer woman; I read Mary Daly before I read Mary Shelly. But my vision for feminism isn’t that different from yours, and honestly I don’t see any way to turn it around because, again, the groups who should be working /together/ are creating animosity instead. The middle class educated white feminist elites (which hey, I’m technically a part of, so I REALLY have the right to call bullshit) keep defining feminism to suit their own needs, shoving trans and pro-porn etc. further into the ghettos; and the ghettos are so angry and wallowing in their victimization that they don’t actually listen to anyone who isn’t “them.”

    I’m feeling very hopeless about it. 😦

  10. Hey KimBooSan
    Good to see you here again!

    I have been feeling hopeless too. But I am starting to get a bit more positive, because whenever I open up and talk about how I actually feel about current feminist rhetoric and divisions, though I get some shit, I also hear other people saying they are pissed off too. And I start to hear about positive things going on that don’t just get involved in this nasty name-calling and fighting.

    I think there will be some good to come out of the really bad phase that I think we are in as well. No easy answers, but some better times.

    Where are you based by the way? We should all keep making links and keep in touch so we don’t get too dispirited on our own!

    • KimBooSan says:

      I discussed this post with friends after sharing it on twitter, and we are all mostly “she’s so BRAVE!” because we are so tired of being slammed on for daring to imply that modern feminism is broken. 😦

      I live in Florida, which I totally hate. LOL! But I’m in grad school here for a few years. You can find me on LJ and FB. Believe me, I am going to keep reading your blog! ❤

  11. Spot-motherfucking-on, Quiet Riot. I’m increasingly frustrated with feminism. I retain the title because I refuse to be bullied out of the discourse, but I’m tired of being shouted down by other people just because they don’t like my choices. I’m tired of being told that I don’t exist, that I do not actively choose my own life, that I’m a brainwashed patriarchal sycophant. Maybe I’m just sad that I see an obvious monopoly on feminism when I thought that it was designed to be more open.

  12. spot motherfucking on yourself miss maggie mayhem!

  13. Thanks Kim! I am glad I am not alone.
    I don’t know if I am brave. I have found it interesting the link between being more open about my sexuality, which just kind of happened, and feeling able to talk more critically about feminism. If I am going to get slammed by feminists simply for being who I am, I may as well get a few choice words in about their way of doing things as I go down!

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