Posts Tagged ‘intersectionality’

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.
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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.

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Happy New Year!  I hope to introduce you to more writers, thinkers and do-ers  in 2014. Maybe I’m a bit tired of the cut of my own jib, or maybe I’ve suddenly gone shy(!). Either way, I think engaging with a variety of perspectives is always a good thing.

An independent-minded UK-based blogger/tweeter I like is Jacobinism. He has begun the year with a thought-provoking post entitled Racism; Censorship; Disunity. He puts forward the view that the ‘Left’, and ‘intersectional’ activists and writers within the Left, can be blind to oppression and violence unless it comes from white people. To illustrate his point he uses a case study from within the feminist blogosphere, where a young feminist woman was attacked and then censored by ‘intersectional’ feminism, for her views.  Jacobinism writes:

‘There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power.

The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.’

Jacobin’s discussion of the feminist ‘storm’ that illustrates his points is probably best read in full. To give a flavour of the ‘case study’ here’s some extracts from his post:

‘On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West…

The response to this argument from the bien pensant Left ranged from the incredulous to the vitriolic.

In the comment thread below her article and in a storm which overwhelmed her twitter handle and her hashtag, Wilde-Blavatsky (who tweets as @lionfaceddakini) was derided with accusations of arrogance, ignorance, bigotry, racism and cultural supremacism. She was advised that she had not listened sufficiently closely to authentic voices of women of colour.  Others declared her to be beneath contempt and an object example of white feminism’s irrelevance. She was accused of using a fraudulent call for unity as a way of advancing an argument from white victimhood. It was demanded that she immediately re-educate herself by reading various academic texts on the subject. Her “white woman’s tears” were repeatedly mocked, as were her protestations that her own family is mixed-race. And, of course, there were the predictable demands for retraction, penitence and prostration…

To accept that one’s unalterable characteristics can play any part in the validity of an opinion is to submit to the tyranny of identity politics and endorse an affront to reason. Arguments about rights and ethics must be advanced and defended on their merits, irrespective of who is making them. There is no other way.’

I applaud Jacobin for taking on this thorny subject, and for referring to feminism in doing so. Not only do feminists find it difficult to have aspects of their dogma questioned, they find it particularly hard to stomach coming from a man. But I have a couple of points to make that disagree with his argument.

1) All feminism suggests men are ‘innately’ powerful and women not.  I agree with Jacobin  that actions should not be protected from criticism simply due to the identity of those taking them. But I am wary of Wilde-Blavatsky’s  allusions to patriarchal culture and behaviour in her criticisms of violence against women in ‘the Global South’. Isn’t the term ‘patriarchy’ a way of playing ‘identity politics’ too? Don’t men get dismissed by feminism in general for having views on gender because of their ‘unalterable characteristics’?

2) All feminism reinforces the gender binary There have always been tensions within feminism and different schools of thought within the ‘movement’. However as I have said in my ‘controversial’ piece Against Feminisms, all feminists rely on the binary of man v woman with ‘man’ being found powerful, oppressive and so not worth listening to. And so

‘ feminist theorists such as bell hooks and Julia Serano and Beverly Skeggs, even when they are referring to other divisions such as ethnicity, class and transgender identities, are still relying on the reification of the man v woman binary to support all their arguments about gender.’

3) Feminism is more ‘united’ than it seems I will write more on this another time, but my view is a lot of the ‘conflicts’ in feminism are not exactly fabricated, but they’re superficial.  Feminism does have common characteristics.  I find this ‘flowchart’ that was doing the rounds online recently, laughable. But it does indicate a basic worldview that I would suggest all feminists share to a large degree. It also illustrates clearly how not being a feminist is unacceptable and derided by feminists of all stripes (click image to enlarge):

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I don’t want a young woman writer to be censored for having the ‘wrong’ outlook. But I think young men are ‘censored’ from expressing their views on gender before they even begin. Gender studies and media output on gender are dominated by versions of Wilde-Blavatsky. I don’t privilege (‘white people’s’) racism over gender but I don’t think gender inequalities function how any feminist presents them. If that makes me persona non grata at some dinner parties who cares? I can have my own party (and the booze is always great)!