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 http://www.caen.iufm.fr/colloque_iartem/pdf/knudsen.pdf
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.