Include me out. How ‘inclusion’ is killing feminism.

Cross-posted from: Sister Hex
Originally published: 16.12.15

The problem with this modern obsession for ‘inclusion’, especially for university societies, is that it’s not only killing the soul of feminism or lesbian/gay rights but it’s basically devoid of any common sense.

The reason we’ve always had separation in activism has never been particularly about exclusion specifically, but for reasons of focus, empowerment, allowing an oppressed voice space to speak and sharing experience. This, in turn, lead to clear analysis and particular campaigning. Separation in activism is both common and successful and has been used in anything from civil to gay rights.


Read more Include me out. How ‘inclusion’ is killing feminism.

The Problem That Has No Name because “Woman” is too Essentialist by @ClaireShrugged

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 15.03.17

This is the third in my series of essays on sex and gender (see parts 1 & 2). Inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments on gender identity and the subsequent response, I have written about language within feminist discourse and the significance of the word woman.

Update (17/03.17): this essay is now available in French.


 

Screenshot_20170315-144208“…what’s a shorter non-essentialist way to refer to ‘people who have a uterus and all that stuff’?” In many ways, Laurie Penny’s quest to find a term describing biologically female people without ever actually using the word woman typifies the greatest challenge within ongoing feminist discourse. The tension between women acknowledging and erasing the role of biology in structural analysis of our oppression has developed into a fault line (MacKay, 2015) within the feminist movement. Contradictions arise when feminists simultaneously attempt to address how women’s biology shapes our oppression under patriarchal society whilst denying that our oppression is material in basis. At points, rigorous structural analysis and inclusivity make uneasy bedfellows.

That same week Dame Jeni Murray, who has BBC Woman’s Hour for forty years, faced criticism for asking “Can someone who has lived as a man, with all the privilege that entails, really lay claim to womanhood?” Writing for the Sunday Times, Murray reflected upon the role of gendered socialisation received during formative years in shaping subsequent behaviour, challenging the notion that it is possible to divorce the physical self from socio-political context. Similarly, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie came under fire for her comments on gender identity. 
Read more The Problem That Has No Name because “Woman” is too Essentialist by @ClaireShrugged

The Sex Delusion by @GappyTales

Cross-posted from: Jeni Harvey
Originally published: 24.04.17

We live in an age of alternative facts.

And so this article will begin with the premise that there are knowable truths, separate from our personal perspectives and belief systems. Water is wet, for example. Whether on the left or right of the political spectrum, water is never dry. With this in mind, here are some long agreed upon and universally recognised word definitions: 
Read more The Sex Delusion by @GappyTales

What we’re reading: sisterhood, gender, and feminist mothering

The trouble with the sisterhood in academia by anonymous

I’ve wanted to write this for some time, but never found the words. If I’m honest, I’m certain that some fellow women academics will not be pleased to hear what I have to say. Luckily, I’m currently on a flight, 12km above the ground, where I feel safe from the judgments that would confront me were I to exorcise this academic grievance at the coffee station. But we need to start talking about the way women hold back other women’s careers.

At my institute I’ve recently joined a lively discussion on equality in academia that was initiated by the Athena Swan programme. I’ve taken part in several earnest official conversations during lunches, and several unofficial conversations after work in the pub. Much of this has focused on gender inequality, and the problems that male – and predominantly white male – academics create for early career women in particular. …

The Good Daughter by @VictoriaPeckham

In Tate Britain is a painting by the Victorian artist George Elgar Hicks of a woman ministering tenderly to her invalid father. It is called Comfort of Old Age. The work is the final panel of Hicks’s triptych Woman’s Mission. The first part, Guide of Childhood, in which the same figure teaches her little boy to walk, has been lost. But the second panel also hangs at the Tate in London: Companion of Manhood shows our heroine consoling her husband after ghastly news.

Hicks depicted “woman” in her three guises – mother, wife, daughter – and in her ideal state, the selfless provider of guidance, solace and care. Her life has meaning only in so far as it nourishes and facilitates the lives of others, principally men. …

Black British writing: a tribute to Buchi Emecheta by Eashani Chavda

On Wednesday 25th January 2017, Nigerian author Buchi Emecheta passed away at the age of 72. There is so much to be said about Buchi and the impact she had on black British writing. I never had the honour of meeting her, but she is a true heroine of mine and an inspiration to my own writing. Her voice and sheer determination made her one of the first successful black British female authors and paved the way for other black British women. Emecheta’s greatest contribution to black British writing is  the voice she gave to a community and the socio-political issues that marginalised them. 

Whilst black writing had soared overseas in conjunction with the civil rights movement in America, its progress in Britain was much more gradual and largely lead by men. Despite this, Buchi Emecheta is up there with Samuel Selvon, Stuart Hall, Joan Riley (to name just a few) as a great pioneer of black British writing. While male writers covered topics of class and racism in mid-20th Century Britain, Buchi highlighted the plight of black women in Britain and the double-colonisation they faced. While intersectionality has become a buzzword for feminists today, Buchi approached the topic of misogynoir back in the 1970s. The struggle of black migrant women following the Windrush era, and the layers of oppression they faced were fluently articulated in Buchi’s writing. The social realities she depicted in her novels were felt by a large community of women, who being isolated in their own homes, workplaces and on the bleak streets of London, could finally feel some relief in knowing that they were not alone. Not only did she expose the racial, gendered and classist discrimination of 20th Century Britain, Buchi defied patriarchal structures within the Nigerian community, all whilst taking great pride in her culture and her blackness. …

Why I’m raising my kids to know their sex, not their gender by J.J Barnes  via @FeministCurrent

In January 2017, the BBC aired a controversial documentary called, “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” which explored the doctrine that children know best when it comes to their “gender identity,” and that we should accept their beliefs without question. Following the airing of this documentary, the BBC came under fire from trans activists, who claimed the documentary would spark prejudice and lead to the social rejection of “trans kids.”

As the mother of a four-year-old girl and a 10-month-old girl, and step-mother to a four-year-old boy, I find the limited discourse around “trans kids” troubling. As I watch my children growing, learning, changing, and exploring, the idea of allowing them to make such a life-changing choice, so young, without question, is abhorrent. …

How do we get more boys reading? (Clue: ‘boy books’ aren’t the answer.)

Cross-posted from: Tricialo
Originally published: 10.10.15

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The Let Books Be Books campaign has attracted much media coverage and high profile support, but labelling books ‘for boys’ is sometimes defended as a useful tool for getting boys to read. Tricia Lowther argues that gendering reading doesn’t help literacy, and may even be harming boys’ chances.

The Let Books Be Books campaign asks children’s publishers to take the ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ labels off books and allow children real free choice in the kinds of stories and activity books that interest them. The campaign has had success with publishers and retailers like Usborne Parragon, and Paperchase, and seen support from prominent authors, but of course there have been people who disagree with us, and one argument in particular keeps cropping up; gendered books are acceptable because we need to encourage boys to read more. 
Read more How do we get more boys reading? (Clue: ‘boy books’ aren’t the answer.)

What we’re reading: The Handmaid’s Tale, Black feminism, and gender

“reflections on writing ‘self’…while free-falling through words and memories” by @MaraiLarasi

 … I write all the time, but rarely in this way. I write constantly in my work. I write because it’s what I do. I do Black-Feminist ending violence work…and it requires that I write…and my activism, my work, my job…all rest within a space of navigating, challenging and dismantling intersecting oppressive systems. I ‘speak truth to power’ while not wanting to be implicated in those power systems. I walk a tightrope between revolution and reform. I use words to expose inequities and to build bridges. I weigh each moment’s pragmatism against the next moment’s reImagining. It’s a messy space. It’s one where creativity and ‘voice’ are curtailed and managed in the interest of effective advocacy. It’s one where acts of speaking and writing can be powerful in themselves (and in a context of censorship and silencing they are not to be taken for granted or diminished); but they can equally feel like conversations in an echo chamber. I write and speak into a reImagined future, a lifetime of numerous generations, one that allows my ancestors to be as present as those that will be born into my tribe in the years to come. I write and speak words that become lines, paragraphs, references and footnotes in policy papers and briefing notes. My thoughts become sound bites in articles and tweets. I have ‘voice’ yet it is splintered and reconstructed, often in patterns that are not of my own design. This is not a ‘waaaah…poor me’. This is merely a reflection of how ‘di ting set’…

Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future by Naomi Alderman

Margaret Atwood’s evergreen dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about to become a television drama. Published in 1985, it couldn’t feel more fresh or more timely, dealing as it does with reproductive rights, with the sudden accession to power of a theocracy in the United States, with the demonisation of imagined, pantomime villain “Islamic fanatics”. But then, feminist science fiction does tend to feel fresh – its authors have a habit of looking beyond their particular historical moment, analysing the root causes, suggesting how they might be, if not solved, then at least changed.

Where does the story of feminist science fiction begin? There are so many possible starting points: Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 book The Blazing World, about an empress of a utopian kingdom; one could point convincingly to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an exploration of how men could “give birth” and what might happen if they did; one could recall the 1905 story “Sultana’s Dream” by Begum Rokeya, about a gender-reversed India in which it’s the men who are kept in purdah. …

The Radical Feminist Aesthetic Of “The Handmaid’s Tale” via @annehelen

The television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s iconic novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which debuts next week on Hulu, is filled with small, barbed revelations. Even if you’ve read the book, and you know what you’re in for, there’s so much to startle you: there’s Elisabeth Moss’s face, which, through roles in Mad Men and Top of the Lake, has become an emblem of women persevering in the face of sexual violence and abject sexism. There are jarring moments of presentness — the way the characters offhandedly reference Craigslist, or Tinder — that make it impossible to pretend this is a scenario of the distant past or future. There’s the quiet profanity of Offred’s internal monologue — her use of “fuck” and “cum” in particular — which is so dissonant with the sunny, shining world that surrounds her.

And then there’s the way the world is rendered: Gilead, as it’s called, is a startlingly exquisite Eden, with dark, claustrophobic corners — a place where the individual has no power, save the small, essential spaces she carves for herself within her mind. So many dystopic narratives are filmed as fantasy spaces: worlds we can observe briefly and from a careful distance, or in which we are positioned to identify with a bloodied, vanquishing hero. The Handmaid’s Tale quietly forces the audience into the position of the handmaid herself: To watch is to feel the daily realities, the sensations and smells, the invisible constrictions and silent aggressions of living under patriarchy. In this way, The Handmaid’s Tale is both a beauty to behold and a slap in the face, employing a vibrant film language that not only proves itself the equal to, but expands upon its canonical source text. …

If ‘inclusivity’ is a priority, let men make their washrooms ‘gender-neutral’  via @FeministCurrent

In the liberal rush to make anything and everything “gender-inclusive,” who is getting the short end of the stick? I bet you know the answer to this one… We are only too aware, as feminists, that it is always women and girls whose interests seem to be considered non-urgent, unimportant, and irrelevant. It is always girls and women who are politely supposed to step aside for everyone else. With a smile, at that.

When journalist and BBC broadcaster Samira Ahmed attended a screening of I Am Not Your Negro at the Barbican Centre in London she found the women’s washroom had disappeared. Now, in place of the “women’s” sign was one that read, “gender-neutral with cubicles,” and in place of the “men’s” was “gender-neutral with urinals.” How convenient for men to have two different washrooms to choose from! How inclusive.

Ahmed wasn’t the only one who complained about this change. When she spoke to staff at the Centre, they told Ahmed they had already argued, internally, that the transformation was a mistake. On Twitter, one woman wrote, “Gender neutral toilets !!! Never seen so many confused and desperate people!! Whose bright idea?!!” Another tweeted: “Barbican now have gender neutral toilets. They just changed the signs, formerly male ones state they have urinals. Guess what happens?” …

Hysteria, Witches, and The Wandering Uterus: A Brief History by Terri Kapsalis via @lithub

I teach “The Yellow Wallpaper” because I believe it can save people. That is one reason. There are more. I have taught Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1891 story for nearly two decades and this past fall was no different. Then again, this past fall was entirely different.

In our undergraduate seminar at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, we discussed “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the context of the nearly 4,000-year history of the medical diagnosis of hysteria. Hysteria, from the Greek hystera or womb. We explored this wastebasket diagnosis that has been a dump-site for all that could be imagined to be wrong with women from around 1900 BCE until the 1950s. The diagnosis was not only prevalent in the West among mainly white women but had its pre-history in Ancient Egypt, and was found in the Far East and Middle East too.

The course is titled “The Wandering Uterus: Journeys through Gender, Race, and Medicine” and gets its name from one of the ancient “causes” of hysteria. The uterus was believed to wander around the body like an animal, hungry for semen. If it wandered the wrong direction and made its way to the throat there would be choking, coughing or loss of voice, if it got stuck in the the rib cage, there would be chest pain or shortness of breath, and so on. Most any symptom that belonged to a female body could be attributed to that wandering uterus. “Treatments,” including vaginal fumigations, bitter potions, balms, and pessaries made of wool, were used to bring that uterus back to its proper place. “Genital massage,” performed by a skilled physician or midwife, was often mentioned in medical writings. The triad of marriage, intercourse, and pregnancy was the ultimate treatment for the semen-hungry womb. The uterus was a troublemaker and was best sated when pregnant. …

“That’s a boy thing” by @MurderofGoths

Cross-posted from: Murder of Goths
Originally published: 05.01.17

My kids have reached that age. Now the infuriating conversations have started.

“Boys do this, girls don’t”

“That’s a girls toy”

“Girls don’t like that”

No matter that, up until this point, I’ve always encouraged both children to play with and like whatever they want. I’ve been very clear that there are no “boys toys” and “girls toys”. Myself, and the rest of the family, have done whatever we can to make clear to both children that girls and boys are more alike than different.

Unfortunately I’m not able to control the environment my children grow up in as they get that bit older.

Here’s the thing that gets me though, I hadn’t quite considered how strange small child logic can be, as evidenced by conversations with my 4 year old son.
Read more “That’s a boy thing” by @MurderofGoths

Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’ by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from: Reading Medieval Books
Originally published: 16.01.17

The paper I recently gave at the Gender and Medieval Studies conference in Canterbury was titled – after much thought – ‘Walled Desire and Lesbian Anxiety in Chaucer’s “Legend of Thisbe”‘. It should be out in The Chaucer Review before too long, but for the moment, I want to think about that second term: ‘lesbian anxiety,’ which has proved to be a topical one in much wider context that I could have anticipated when I responded to the Call For Papers.

My work is, obviously, mostly about medieval England, centuries before anyone (still less a mainstream writer such as Chaucer) thought to fling around a term like ‘lesbian’ with the cheerful abandon of a BBC blurb for a Sarah Waters adaptation.

The category of women I’m looking at are difficult to recognize. They are fictional women in mainstream literature, and therefore we don’t see them engaging in actual same-sex sex. They aren’t, on the whole, gender nonconforming in overt ways – like, for example, the cross-dressing heroines of earlier French romances, who frequently end up in flirtations with, or even in bed with, women – and, even if they were, gender nonconformity isn’t a particularly good litmus text of medieval female preferences for same-sex desire anyway. There’s a strong tradition, as Karma Lochrie has shown, of medieval onlookers interpreting ‘masculine’ behaviours and activities in women the result of imbalanced humours, easily found in women such as the cheerfully cougarish Wife of Bath. And after all, what we recognize as ‘female masculinity’ is heavily socially conditioned in the first place. So, how do I identify – and write about – women whose same-sex desire is revealed through suggestions and innuendos that are anything but ‘queer,’ either in the popular sense of uniting same-sex desire with gender nonconformity, or in the academic sense of being boldly subversive and disruptive? It’s hard, and my recent conference paper succeeded (I think!) in demonstrating that there’s a difficulty, without giving me a concrete answer to the problem. 
Read more Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’ by @LucyAllenFWR

A brief history of ‘gender’ by @wordspinster

Cross-posted from: Language: a feminist guide
Originally published: 15.12.16

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In New York City in 1999, I heard a talk in which Riki Anne Wilchins (self-styled ‘transexual menace’, and described in the Gender Variance Who’s Who as ‘one of the iconic transgender persons of the 1990s’) declared that feminists had no theory of gender. I thought: ‘what is she talking about? Surely feminists invented the concept of gender!’

Fast forward ten years to 2009, when I went to a bookfair in Edinburgh to speak about The Trouble & Strife Reader, a collection of writing from a feminist magazine I’d been involved with since the 1980s. Afterwards, two young women came up to chat. Interesting book, they said, but why is there nothing in it about gender?

From my perspective the book was all about gender—by which I meant, to use Gayle Rubin’s 1975 formulation, ‘the socially-imposed division of the sexes’. Feminists of my generation understood gender as part of the apparatus of patriarchy: a social system, built on the biological foundation of human sexual dimorphism, which allocated different roles, rights and responsibilities to male and female humans. But by 2009 I knew this was no longer what ‘gender’ meant to everyone. To the young women at the bookfair, ‘gender’ meant a form of identity, located in and asserted by individuals rather than imposed on them from outside. It wasn’t just distinct from sex, it had no necessary connection to sex. And it wasn’t a binary division: there were many genders, not just two.
Read more A brief history of ‘gender’ by @wordspinster

What makes a word a slur?

Cross-posted from: language: a feminist guide
Originally published: 06.11.16

Content note: this post contains examples of offensive slur-terms. 

Last week, the British edition of Glamour magazine published a column in which Juno Dawson used the term ‘TERF’ to describe feminists (the example she named was Germaine Greer) who ‘steadfastly believe that me—and other trans women—are not women’.  When some readers complained about the use of derogatory language, a spokeswoman for the magazine replied on Twitter that TERF is not derogatory:

Trans-exclusionary radical feminist is a description, and not a misogynistic slur.

Arguments about whether TERF is a neutral descriptive term or a derogatory slur have been rumbling on ever since. They raise a question which linguists and philosophers have found quite tricky to answer (and which they haven’t reached a consensus on): what makes a word a slur?

Before I consider that general question, let’s take a closer look at the meaning and history of TERF. As the Glamour spokeswoman said, it’s an abbreviated form of the phrase ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist’; more specifically it’s an acronym, constructed from the initial letters of the words that make up the phrase. Some people have suggested this means it can’t be a slur. I find that argument puzzling, since numerous terms which everyone agrees are slurs are abbreviated forms (examples include ‘Paki’, ‘Jap’, ‘paedo’ and ‘tranny’). But in any case, there’s a question about the status of TERF as an acronym. Clearly it started out as one, but is it still behaving like one now? 
Read more What makes a word a slur?

The Science Museum and the Brain Sex game

Cross-posted from: Young Crone

Like many feminists, I was appalled to learn recently that the Science Museum has a long-term, permanent exhibition about gender aimed at children entitled Who Am I? Photos and reports from women who have visited recently paint a very alarming picture of an exhibition not only full of supposed statements of fact that are, in fact, pure junk science, conjecture, and illogicality, but inappropriate displays, including items presented at child’s eye level that in any other context would constitute a crime, such as a ‘packer’ (a fake penis which looks like a sex toy and which is worn in the underwear of females who wish to be/believe they are male, and increasingly bought for children as young as 3 by parents for whom the term ‘misguided’ is woefully inadequate). The newspapers have had a field day at the ridiculous ‘What colour is your brain?’ game, yet this is possibly one of the least troubling aspects of the exhibition, and none of the papers cared, dared, or had the brain power sufficient to also discuss the rest of the exhibition and make the link between this stupid, outdated game and how the trans ideology being presented in the rest of the exhibition relies utterly on exactly that kind of absurd belief, and that children are being transed by parents and (un)professionals on similar flimsy and silly ideas. 
Read more The Science Museum and the Brain Sex game

Gender is not a spectrum by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper

Cross-posted from: Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
Originally published: 28.06.16

What is gender? This is a question that cuts to the very heart of feminist theory and practice, and is pivotal to current debates in social justice activism about class, identity and privilege. In everyday conversation, the word ‘gender’ is a synonym for what would more accurately be referred to as ‘sex’. Perhaps due to a vague squeamishness about uttering a word that also describes sexual intercourse, the word ‘gender’ is now euphemistically used to refer to the biological fact of whether a person is female or male, saving us all the mild embarrassment of having to invoke, however indirectly, the bodily organs and processes that this bifurcation entails.

The word ‘gender’ originally had a purely grammatical meaning in languages that classify their nouns as masculine, feminine or neuter. But since at least the 1960s, the word has taken on another meaning, allowing us to make a distinction between sex and gender. For feminists, this distinction has been important, because it enables us to acknowledge that some of the differences between women and men are traceable to biology, while others have their roots in environment, culture, upbringing and education – what feminists call ‘gendered socialisation’.

At least, that is the role that the word gender traditionally performed in feminist theory. It used to be a basic, fundamental feminist idea that while sex referred to what is biological, and so perhaps in some sense ‘natural’, gender referred to what is socially constructed. On this view, which for simplicity we can call the radical feminist view, gender refers to the externally imposed set of norms that prescribe and proscribe desirable behaviour to individuals in accordance with morally arbitrary characteristics.  …


Read more Gender is not a spectrum by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper

Being Told You Have Gender Dysphoria as a Lesbian at Nymeses

It has been about 2 years since I’ve posted anything on here.  A lot has changed for me.  I’m still a detransitioned woman, but even that is fading and becoming more of a memory as time goes on.  Each day that memory of being “detransitioned” or a “detransitioner” fades, and each day me being the actual female I was born as gets stronger and stronger.  Honestly, I don’t want to be known as a “detransitioner” for the rest of my life.  I would like this to become a part of my history.  Just like you wouldn’t call me a “former cutter” anymore. You would say that I have mental health issues with a history of cutting over 5 years ago.  I do not want this detransitioner business to be a defining characteristic of who I am as a person.  I let my identity as a man go on for too long, been there, done that, and it just doesn’t consume me the way it used to do. 
Read more Being Told You Have Gender Dysphoria as a Lesbian at Nymeses

Familiarity and contempt by @wordspinster

Cross-posted from: Language: A Feminist Guide
Originally published: 22.08.16

Earlier this month, in an English court, a man who had just been sentenced to 18 months told the judge she was ‘a bit of a cunt’. To which she replied: ‘You’re a bit of a cunt yourself’. Complaints about her language are now being considered by the Judicial Standards Investigation Office. But plenty of people applauded her, calling her a ‘hero’, a ‘role model’ and a ‘legend’.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the New York Times reported that sexist endearment terms like ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ were no longer acceptable when addressing women in court. The American Bar Association had adopted Resolution 109, which makes it a breach of lawyers’ professional standards to engage in ‘harmful verbal or physical conduct that manifests prejudice and bias’.
Read more Familiarity and contempt by @wordspinster

“You throw like a girl” A brief guide to gender policing by @WomanAsSubject

Cross-posted from: Woman as Subject
Originally published: 27.08.16

This morning I changed a wheel on my car for the first time in my life. I felt ridiculously proud of myself for completing such a simple task. Then I climbed out of our bathroom window onto a roof and cleared up some broken glass that’s been there since the storm smashed one of our windows last week. Meanwhile, my husband looked after the kids and did the hoovering in an attempt to win the war against fleas that he is currently waging. Things seem to work out this way in our household. I am drawn to practical tasks that are usually considered a traditionally male activity, and my husband often finds himself looking after the kids. This is partly why I felt so proud of myself for changing the tyre, not only because I had the sense of a task well done, but also because I know that I am stepping outside of my traditional gender role and proving that women can do anything they want. This might seem like a big jump to lots of people -it’s just a tyre after all, but I think it’s significant.
Read more “You throw like a girl” A brief guide to gender policing by @WomanAsSubject

‘Rethinking Feminism’ by @Finn_Mackay

Cross-posted from: Finn Mackay
Originally published: 13.04.16

Institute of Arts & Ideas ‘Rethinking Feminism’ debate, Kings College London, in association with Unilever. 25th April, 2016.

First, I’d like to start by pointing out that there are probably as many definitions of feminism as there are people who identify as feminist.

For me, I understand feminism to be a global, political movement for the liberation of women and society, based on equality for all people.

However we may define it, what is clear is that feminism is in resurgence today. This is a resurgence that has been unfolding here in the UK since the early 2000s. Sometimes it is called a third, or even fourth wave. Feminist activism is visible once again, online and on the streets. Feminist commentary and political theory is also seen in the mainstream in ways that it was not before. Young women are often to be found leading this resurgence, finding a home in one of the oldest and most powerful social justice movements the world has ever known.

Alongside this rise it is not surprising that the anti-feminist backlash has also mobilised and grown, rightly sensing this latest threat to the fragile and defensive status-quo.

This backlash manifests in the base harassment of women that we see online and in public space also. The threats, stalking and intimidation of women who dare to be women and achieve; who dare to be women and speak their mind; who dare to take up space.

There are also the more insidious elements of this backlash, powerful as they are, hidden often in plain sight. This is the co-option of our movement, the gender mainstreaming, the steady dripping dilution of the radical and revolutionary political theory which forms the basis of the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Feminism has become nothing more than a marketing ploy, advertising gimmick or soundbite. We are told that feminism is about buzzwords such as ‘choice’ and ‘empowerment’ and ‘having it all’. It is not these things. The act of choosing for example is a daily fact of life, it is not a feminist act. We may as well say feminism is about breathing.

In fact, that these sort of buzzwords are chosen to simplify and demean feminism in the first place actually show just how far we have to go and how much a real feminist movement is needed. What kind of world do we live in where a woman having a job, earning money and also having a family or caring for dependents including children, is seen as some sort of impossible dream and labelled as ‘having it all’? Many men have jobs, families and children and earn money without this being seen as some sort of incredible step for their sex class. Choosing where we work or how much we work, choosing whether or not to have children, choosing what space we take up, choosing which way we walk home, choosing whether we speak or not….these things are not some sort of privilege. They are fundamental necessities of life in a community and society; fundamentals that we know are so often denied to women around the world, including here in the UK. The fact that we cannot guarantee such basic rights is the very reason feminism exists.

The backlash against feminism can be seen in every sphere, in all elements of the media, advertising and the beauty industry for example.

What has happened is that our language of liberation has been stolen, bastardised, turned on its head and sold back to us under the guise of ‘empowerment’. This is an empowerment that funnily enough can be found in some new consumer good, a diet or new make-up or new fashion magazine. An empowerment that can be found for example in products like ‘Fair & Lovely’ the leading skin lightening cream, marketed in Asia and Africa and produced by Unilever. Proving that through the prism of capitalism, racism is just another bargain basement.

Another way the backlash shows itself is in the way we are now expected to laugh at our own oppression. Where old fashioned sexism has become some sort of nouveau retro-banter and harmless fun. As seen in adverts for products marketed at men, such as that teen-boy staple, Lynx, also produced by Unilever. As if we have supposedly come so far now as to achieve some sort of silent equality where all our struggles have been won, while yet miraculously the world has stayed just as it was and where feminists are the moaning prudes for pointing this out.

Feminism has not been won and is not over because feminism is a revolutionary movement for change, not just a changing of the guard. We certainly don’t want equality with unequal men and we understand that ultimately we cannot have equality in an unequal world. A world where wealth flows upstream, a world of gross and growing inequality that has brought us to the brink of a planet crisis.

We have ever more sophisticated technology and yet we use these skills to invest in the tools of killing, such as the planned £100billion renewal of Trident missiles, 1000 times more deadly that the bombs that decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Our science can put humans on the moon, but it can’t seem to find a way to save the planet the rest of us are still on. It is surely vital that we focus technology on the preservation of life, instead of the eradication of life; lessons explored in schools of feminism such as Eco-Feminism, making the links between patriarchy and capitalism.

We are here today debating ethics and universal goals, and we must be able to talk about ethics that apply to all, otherwise these ethics mean nothing. It is dangerous for example when ethics stop at borders, borders of nationality, race, religion, sex or indeed species. Ethics are not something to be bestowed only upon certain peoples or certain species and yet denied to others who are ‘othered’.

Yesterday, the 24th April, marked the World Day for Laboratory Animals and the abuse and exploitation of animals in vivisection conducted by companies, such as Unilever, can never be ethical. There can be no human liberation without animal liberation.

All of these are feminist concerns because feminism is about building a better future for all life, indeed it is about whether we can even have a future at all. Feminism is indeed global, because justice is not.

 

Finn Mackay: Feminist activist and researcher.

On gender and hierarchies by @saramsalem

Cross-posted from: NeoColonialism & It's Discontents
Originally published: 02.06.16

2000px-Violence_world_map_-_DALY_-_WHO2004.svg

I think one of the first things I learned about feminism was an inherent contradiction that didn’t strike me as such when I first heard it: on the one hand, there are universal solutions to gender inequality, such as education, employment, sexual rights, and so on – these are not necessarily context-specific (the details can be) but need to happen everywhere in order for gender equality to become a reality. And yet on the other hand, there are very different levels of gender inequality across the world. This very difference  in the level of inequality could point to the need for different kinds of solutions, but this did not seem to be the case. Instead this difference functioned to create a very clear – even if rarely labelled such openly – hierarchy in terms of gender equality. At the top of this hierarchy we have the role model countries: Scandinavia, Western and Northern Europe, and sometimes Australia, the US and the UK. And then underneath we have a series of levels with different countries. Typically Egypt and other Arab and African countries come somewhere at the bottom. 
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Tomboy by @HeadinBook

Cross-posted from: Head in Books
Originally published: 02.06.16

Do people still ask children what they want to be when they grow up? It’s not a question I’m aware of hearing these days; perhaps because the answer: “heavily in debt and renting till I retire at 94” is too guilt-engendering for the adult in question to cope with.

Shopping for children’s clothes last week, though, I saw that Next have grasped the nettle…sort of. Among the varicoloured bits of jersey were two T-shirts which flirted with the idea of one’s destiny in life:

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 11.29.49                Spot the difference?


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On repetition and power

Cross-posted from: Neocolonial Thoughts
Originally published: 06.03.16

I just finished an article on intersectionality and its critiques by Vivian May. Among other points, she addresses the critique that intersectionality didn’t bring anything new to the table and that it is just Black feminism recycled. Aside from the point that this is arguably false, she points to the important question of whycertain things have to be repeated again and again. Should we be focusing on repetition as necessarily bad, or should we be asking why certain things, in certain fields, need to be repeated over and over?

Of course the field of gender studies and feminism are the quintessential example here. Debates about universal sisterhood, about structure versus agency, about the biological versus the constructed, and so on have been happening for decades upon decades. But the point here is that certain points – which should by now have been accepted – must be constantly made and defended. The most prominent example is the idea of multiple structural intersections that de-center gender as the most important axis of oppression or identity. In other words: race, sexuality, nation and a whole range of other social categories matter just as much as gender. Significantly, they can’t really be neatly separated from one another – I am racialized and gendered, and I can’t exactly separate my racialization from my gendering. Intersectionality is the most recent reiteration of this basic point, but it has been made before, by Black feminists, by Third World feminists, and by feminists during the era of decolonization. Hence the idea of repetition.
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Making Contact on the Metro and the Politics of Train Etiquette

Cross-posted from: Postive & Promise: Musings of a Neurotic Bookworm
Originally published: 18.05.14

The other day, as I rode the metro to school, I found myself in the unfortunate position of third wheel.

No, I was not accompanying a friend on an awkward date, nor playing wingwoman on Single’s Night.  I was merely slumped on the train, alone, contemplating my imminent cup of coffee. Yet I did not feel alone, because right in front of me, a couple was embroiled in a very vocal domestic dispute. And they knew that I was seated next to them.

I should be precise – the couple spoke just loud enough so that I could hear them; they were at least partially aware that they inhabited a public space. Still, it was the sort of argument that one imagines having in the privacy of one’s living room, where there are pillows and books to hurl and a couch for make-up coitus. And throughout this dispute, one member of the couple was seated so that he regularly made eye contact with me. In fact, avoiding mutual recognition was impossible unless I conspicuously a.) changed seats b.) shrouded my head with my cardigan or c.) hid under my seat (which, considering the detritus left there, seemed like a pretty lousy idea).
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