The Return of Idealism and the erasure of Black Feminist Theory, via @andrews_cath

Counterpoint magazine published an opinion piece today entitled “The return of idealism: identity and the politics of oppression” written by Elaine Graham-Leigh. It’s a (very) long explanation of an argument I have seen in various forms within current feminist debate about the fallacies of identity politics. As the title of the piece suggests, the crux of her argument is that identity politics is a product of postmodern theory and fundamentally opposed to a materialist socialist analysis of the politics of oppression. Thus she says:

It follows therefore [for identity politics] that the important identity is not the one to which you belong by virtue of your descent or your biology, but the one with which you identify. In this view, women, for example, are not oppressed because of any relation to their female sex, but because and to the extent that they identify as women and signify this through their performance of femininity. The reality of the sex of their bodies is as unimportant as all material reality. It therefore follows that the identification as a woman, which is important, does not have to proceed from having a female body, which is not. The identity has become unmoored from the physical reality.

As numerous white feminist thinkers have noted before her, the emphasis on identity rather than shared biological circumstances can make activism harder [1]. The common thread running through her lament and those of a similar nature is: why can’t all women pull together to overcome common oppression? Why must what separates us -identity in this case- undermine collective action?

And here we come to the reason why I am writing this reply to Graham-Leigh. Because, her essay provides us -unconsciously or not- the answer to this question.

In her historical analysis of the origins of socialist feminism and identity politics, Graham Leigh fails to include the contribution of black feminist thought on these subjects, and when she does she does not evidence the same breadth of knowledge she shows in the rest of her essay. This is important because black feminist thought is precisely the bridge which links (this is a deliberate analogy follow this link and read the book it lead to) the contemporary debate between socialist and postmodern feminists she is discussing [2].

Let me explain: in her essay, Graham- Leigh explicitly argues that “intersectional feminism” or “intersectionality” is a product of identity politics. She quotes from the foundational work on this subject by Black legal feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw [3] and says:

Crenshaw’s argument was that black women were minimised in feminist campaigns which saw white women’s experiences as the default, and by Black liberation struggles which focused on men. As she said, ‘discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens at an intersection, it can be caused by cars travelling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a black woman is harmed because she is at the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination.’ Black women could experience discrimination as women, as black people, and sometimes specifically as black women, ‘not the sum of race and sex discrimination, but as black women.’

This is an important insight, but it does not amount to an entire systemic understanding of oppression [4]. To be fair to Crenshaw, it was not her intention to provide one. It is perhaps an indication of the difficulties of understanding oppression through identity politics that intersectionality theory is left to do all the heavy lifting here. The term intersectionality is commonplace in online discussions of oppression, as for example in the popular phrase ‘my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit’. In its least nuanced form, however, it can become little more than a ranking system, ordering people according to how many different axes of oppression they can claim.

This dismissal of intersectionality betrays Graham-Leigh’s lack of knowledge not only of the origins of this theory, but also, its historical development from the moment from which this text was published (1989) and the present [5]. Crenshaw is indeed the woman who coined the term “intersectionality”, but the analysis she proposes has been present in black feminist thinking for most of the twentieth-century as Angela Davis shows quite clearly in Women, Race and Class (1981).

Drawing on this history, during the eighties, black and “third-world” feminist scholars were instrumental in analysing the oppression of women within their local, cultural, religious and class circumstances using the Marxist tools of analysis Graham-Leigh assumes were only employed by (white) socialist feminists. Particularly, Patricia Hill Collins and Chandra Mohanty, to name just two, have been grappling with the question of how to organise collective action against oppression between women who despite sharing a common biology reality, resolutely do not face the same oppressions when the material circumstances of their lives are examined [6]. Indeed, Patricia Hill Collins’s theory of a “matrix of domination” in which race, class, and gender are understood as “interlocking systems of oppression” is grounded precisely on the materialist analysis Graham-Leigh champions. For example:

Adhering to a both/and conceptual stance does not mean that race, class, and gender oppression are interchangeable. For example, whereas race, class, and gender oppression operate on the social structural level of institutions, gender oppression seems better able to annex the basic power of the erotic and intrude in personal relationships via family dynamics and within individual consciousness. This may be because racial oppression has fostered historically concrete communities among African-Americans and other racial/ethnic groups. These communities have stimulated cultures of resistance. While these communities segregate Blacks from whites, they simultaneously provide counter-institutional buffers that subordinate groups such as African-Americans use to resist the ideas and institutions of dominant groups. Social class may be similarly structured. Traditionally conceptualized as a relationship of individual employees to their employers, social class might be better viewed as a relationship of communities to capitalist political economies. Moreover, significant overlap exists between racial and social class oppression when viewing them through the collective lens of family and community. Existing community structures provide a primary line of resistance against racial and class oppression. But because gender cross-cuts these structures, it finds fewer comparable institutional bases to foster resistance. [7]

Although, Black (and postcolonial) feminist thought developed what is now understood as “intersectionality” squarely within the Marxist tradition, this does not mean that all feminism which proports to be “intersectional” is necessarily materialist. There is -as Leigh Graham shows- a liberal version of this theory which does indeed replace structural materialist analysis for “personal identity” and “personal experience of oppression” as their defining factors. But as Nancy Fraser notes, the co-option and transformation of materialist analysis by (neo)liberal feminists has been a feature of third wave feminism and it is no surprise, therefore, that it continues today [8].

So, to return to the original question. Why can’t all women pull together to overcome common oppression? Why must what separates us -identity in this case- undermine collective action? I hope the answer is now clear. While the centrality of black and brown feminist thought is ignored, or misrepresented in white women’s analysis, there can be no real hope of pan-women solidarity. If we appropriate this work as our own, while simultaneously implying that this very thought is limited and the cause of conflict between us, we can find no common ground at all.

 

 

[1] For example, Linda Alcoff, “Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory,” Signs. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, (1988) 13: 3, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3174166

[2] Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, 2. ed., New York, NY: Kitchen Table, 1983.

[3] Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum (1989) no. 1, http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8

[4] My italics.

[5] See, Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality, Polity Press, 2016.

[6] Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “‘Under Western Eyes’ Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28: 2 (2002): https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/342914

[7] Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Unwin Hyman, 1990, pp. 221–238, http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/252.html

[8] Nancy Fraser, “Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History,” New Left Review, 56 (mar.-Aprl. 2009), https://newleftreview.org/II/56/nancy-fraser-feminism-capitalism-and-the-cunning-of-history

 

 

Cath Andrews is a historian of Mexican politics. She’s blogs at  Hiding Under the Bed is not the Answer  and who writes for e-feminist and Toda historia es contemporánea. She tweets at @andrews_cath

Feminism 101, by @alisonphipps

I have recently produced two introductory undergraduate lectures on the subject of feminism: the first tackling discussions around universalism and intersectionality, and the second applying an intersectional analysis to the topic of gender, power and violence. These lectures are free for academic colleagues and others to download, adapt and use as they see fit. Both should be seen as introductory rather than comprehensive, and I’m sure there is plenty I have missed! Consider this a work in progress and a small contribution to the rich array of gender-related teaching resources which exist online.

Feminism 101: Universalism and IScreen Shot 2018-01-20 at 18.47.50ntersectionality (link here)

 

Feminism 101: Gender, Power and Violence (link here)

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 18.51.00

This lecture attempts to construct an intersectional analysis of gender, power and violence. It asks questions about: how acts, threats and allegations of violence both reflect and reproduce gendered and intersecting power relations; who is more likely to be able to claim state protection and who is more frequently a focus of (violent) state governance; how our definitions of violence and victimhood are shaped by intersectional identities and oppressions; and, how these dynamics enter the political and geopolitical spheres. Click the image above to download the Prezi; click here for the reading list.

I hope you find these resources useful – if so, do recommend them to colleagues.

 

Alison Phipps : I am currently Professor of Gender Studies at Sussex University, and this site houses links to my academic and non-academic writing, and resources I have produced.

When Women’s Rights Are #NotaDebate, by @helensaxby11

Cross-posted from: Not the news in brief
Originally published: 26.11.17

When there is conflict between trans rights and women’s rights (such as whether toilets and changing rooms should be segregated by ‘sex’ or ‘gender’) an open debate should be encouraged to ascertain how best to accommodate the rights of both parties. This hasn’t happened, and it hasn’t happened in a big way, so it’s worth looking at how and why the debate has been stifled.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 gave trans people a right to be legally recognised as the opposite sex. The Equality Act 2010 gave the characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’ a protected category status. At that time ‘gender reassignment’ essentially meant ‘sex change’ – the language used in the Act refers to transsexuals, and people understood ‘trans’ to mean a transition of some sort, usually (at that time) from male to female. The Act was for a person who was ‘…proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex’. Although biologically impossible, sex change was recognised in law as it was the only treatment which could alleviate the suffering of a minority of people with gender dysphoria.
Read more When Women’s Rights Are #NotaDebate, by @helensaxby11

Academia and Class Politics, by @RevoltingWoman

Cross-posted from: Opinionated Planet
Originally published: 07.08.17

I’ve not felt this working class in a long time. For working class, read inferior/not up to standard/not our sort – delete as applicable.
Applying for a funded PhD is a fairly painful process at the best of times. Even applying for one that you self-fund is a trial. But without your own secret stash of cash, it can be a valuable lesson in class politics.

Class politics. You know, the social class system that doesn’t exist anymore because the Tories got rid of it and made us all equal? Or maybe it was New Labour. I forget now. I was probably cleaning toilets or doing some woman’s ironing for a shilling or something working class like that at the time. Busy making myself equal.

Anyway, why should applying for a PhD have anything to do with class politics I hear you ask.

Mek a brew, duck, an ah’ll tell ya..
Read more Academia and Class Politics, by @RevoltingWoman

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

For the White Woman Who Wants to Know How to be My Friend: A Black Feminist Guide to Interracial Solidarity

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 14.11.16

A brief foreword: this is the conclusion to my series of essays on race and the feminist movement. Parts 12, and 3 can all be accessed here. The following knowledge was acquired at great personal expense. Use it how you will. Dedicated to every woman – Black, brown, and white – who has sustained me through sisterhood.


Whenever I discuss racism in the feminist movement, this question is invariably asked as a result: white women wonder “what, specifically, can I do about racism? How can I create solidarity with women of colour?” It’s a complicated question, which I have been considering closely for over a year now, and there is no one simple answer. Instead, there are many answers, of which none are static and all of which are liable to shift in relation to context. The reality of the situation is that there is no quick fix solution for the hundreds of years’ worth of racism – racism upon which our society was built, its hierarchies of wealth and power established – that shape the dynamic between women of colour and white women. That imbalance of power and privilege colours personal interactions. It creates the layers of justifiable mistrust that women of colour feel towards white women – even (perhaps especially) in a feminist context. 
Read more For the White Woman Who Wants to Know How to be My Friend: A Black Feminist Guide to Interracial Solidarity

WHAT FEMINISM MEANS TO ME.

Cross-posted from: The All Women Show
Originally published: 14.08.14

Our feminist society is making a zine, the theme is ‘What feminism means to me’ and here is my contribution!

F = Freedom

The most important notion in feminism is a woman’s freedom. Freedom covers a whole lot of things, freedom over her own body, freedom of speech, and freedom in the public domain. Feminism works towards giving women freedom. So we can wear what we want, say what we want, walk where we want and be who ever we want, without anyone taking advantage of us, in any situation.
Read more WHAT FEMINISM MEANS TO ME.

Black History Month An Introduction to Welsh Writers by @Durre_Shahwar.

Cross-posted from: Durre Shahwar
Originally published: 16.10.16

To celebrate Black History Month Wales, I compiled a non-exhaustive list of black writers with strong connection to Wales, who should be celebrated and known about for their work and achievements. The article, published on Wales Arts Review, features brief bios and recommendations to the works of the following writers: Leonora Brito, Professor Charlotte Williams OBE, Patience Agbabi, Eric Ngalle Charles, and Bevin Magama.

Seeing as the list was non conclusive, people have been suggesting more writers such as Maggie HarrisTony Wright (playwright), and Catherine Johnson. It’s really good to see that happening, as that was partly the reason for writing the article; to instigate conversation about other BAME writers living in or strongly connected to Wales, which has then has an impact on their writing in some way. 
Read more Black History Month An Introduction to Welsh Writers by @Durre_Shahwar.

Self-Care or Speaking Out? A Black Feminist Dilemma by @ClaireShrugged

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 08.08.16

On the personal and political implications of misogynoir.


THE PERSONAL

I should be writing my dissertation. I should be writing the abstract for that conference paper. I should be preparing the workshop on feminist voice I am to deliver. There are a hundred and one things I should be doing – things essential to my life that I am not doing, because I am curled under my desk having a panic attack.  The abuse I receive online has reached new heights. For the first time (and probably not the last) I feel physically unsafe because of it. Along with the persistent misogyny, the overt racism, the steady drip drip drip of “shut up nigger”, there is something new: the threat of violence.

A white man told me that he wanted to hit me with his car. He wanted to hit me with his car and reverse over my body to make sure that I was dead. The scenario was so specific, the regard for my humanity so little, that it felt more real somehow than any of the other abuse I have received. It shocked me in a way that nothing on Twitter ever had before. I could hear my bones crack. He believed I deserved to die for being Black and having an opinion different to his own, that endorsing Black Lives Matter made me a legitimate target of violence. Seconds later, another white man appeared in my mentions with a chilling casualness to say that my being ran over would be “fair enough.”

It is not ‘just the internet’. This abuse does not fade from the mind when I close my laptop, when I put down my phone. It is a part of my life. It has altered my way of being. It is, at points, debilitating. There is a clear pattern: it is when I am most vocal, most visible as a Black feminist woman, that the abuse occurs most frequently, is the most vitriolic. Not a single one of the accounts I have reported in the week (for calling me nigger, for threatening me, for telling me to go back to Africa, etc.) has been suspended. Twitter Support’s failure to penalise accounts spreading racist threats and harassment creates the impression that people are free to abuse others with impunity – and Black women are so often the targets of that abuse. 
Read more Self-Care or Speaking Out? A Black Feminist Dilemma by @ClaireShrugged

5 Good Reasons Why the LGBTQIA+ Acronym Shouldn’t Include ‘Ally’ by @sianfergs

Cross-posted from: Sian Ferguson
Originally published: 11.08.16

What does the “A” in “LGBTQIA+” stand for?

Ally, right?

Well, no. Despite what a lot of folks say, it doesn’t stand for ally – nor should it. 

There are a number of issues with the acronym, and these issues are worth debating. For example, there are discussions about whether “intersex” should be included in the acronym. There’s also debate about whether a collection of letters is an inadequate label for a community with a great deal of diverse orientations and identities.

But for the purpose of this article alone, I want to focus on the idea that ‘ally’ is, or should be, a part of the LGBTQIA+ acronym.

Here are a few reasons why ally doesn’t belong in the LGBTQIA+ acronym.   …

The full article can be found at Everyday Feminism.

Just a South African Woman : An intersectional feminist blog tackling issues from a unique South African perspective. The posts attempt to explain and discuss some academic feminist theories in a simple manner, so as to make feminism accessible to more people. Follow me on Twitter @sianfergs

Intersectionality – a Definition, History, and Guide by @ClaireShrugged

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 27.07.16

Intersectionality has been a common theme in feminist theory, writing, and activism for the last few years. It has even become something of a buzzword. And yet there remains a great deal of misunderstanding over what intersectionality actually means and, subsequently, how it is supposed to manifest within the feminist movement. This confusion has resulted in a degree of backlash, claims that intersectionality distracts women’s energy from the key aims of the feminist movement – dismantling patriarchy, ending male dominance and violence against women – when in fact it is only through a truly intersectional approach that these goals become possible for all women, not simply the white and middle-class. And feminism is about uplifting all women, a goal which becomes impossible when only those aspects of women’s experiences relating to the hierarchy of gender. This is where intersectionality becomes essential.


Read more Intersectionality – a Definition, History, and Guide by @ClaireShrugged

The Snowflake Awards: A Review of White Feminism™ in Pop Culture by @GoddessKerriLyn

Cross-posted from: FOCUS: Feminist Observations Connecting Unified Spirits
Originally published: 29.10.15

Last month at the Emmy’s, Viola Davis became the first black woman in its 67 year history to win Best Actress in a Drama Series. In her acceptance speech, she quoted Harriet Tubman:Snowflake poem

Though it was written in the 1800’s, “that line” is still there, and it represents the racism that separates Intersectional Feminists from White Feminists™.


Read more The Snowflake Awards: A Review of White Feminism™ in Pop Culture by @GoddessKerriLyn

The Outsider Within: Racism in the Feminist Movement by @ClaireShrugged (Part 2)

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 25.04.16

A brief foreword: this essay is the second in a series on race and racism in the feminist movement. It is a work of personal reflection. No individuals, organisations, or events are/will be named or directly identified. My objective is neither to call out nor to heap praise on any woman, but rather to highlight some realities of interracial dynamics between women in feminism. Part one of the series The Outsider Within: Racism in the Feminist Movement is available here.

 

The personal is political. So goes the rallying cry of second wave feminism, a perspective which has characterised a significant body of feminist theory. It is for this reason that I have decided to share a reflection upon my experience as a Black woman within the movement. There is a theory within Black feminism that being an outsider on the grounds of both race and sex positions Black women as watchers, gives us particular insight into dominant power structures and the means by which they manifest (Hill Collins, 2000). With this in mind, I aim to live up to the standards set by my foremothers and improve this movement for the women of colour who will follow after me.

Feminism is for everybody – so says bell hooks. (Note: hooks is not arguing that the movement should prioritise men, or any other dominant class, but rather be fully inclusive on grounds of race, class, and sexuality.) This text was critical in my development of a Black radical feminism, the moment when black became Black. Feminism is for Everybody outlined the importance of acknowledging race and class alongside sex if white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is to be dismantled, and provided a blueprint for true interracial solidarity between women. Here, hooks posited that sisterhood can exist between women of colour and white women provided that race is acknowledged as a hierarchy, racism as a system of power, from which white women benefit. If white women continue to deny the privilege of whiteness, disregarding countless testimonies delivered by women of colour, we have no reason to trust them as political allies – this is hooks’ perspective, and one with which I agree wholeheartedly. 
Read more The Outsider Within: Racism in the Feminist Movement by @ClaireShrugged (Part 2)

Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Racism in the Feminist Movement by @ClaireShrugged

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 18.04.16

A brief foreword: This is the first in a series of blog posts on race and racism in the feminist movement. It is not a feel-good piece. Equally, it is not a reprimand. It is a wake-up call – one which I hope will be answered. Part two of the series The Outsider Within: Racism in the Feminist Movement is available here


 

Solidarity between women is vital for liberation. If the feminist movement is to succeed, feminist principles must be applied in deed as well as in word. Although intersectionality is used as a buzzword in contemporary activism, in many ways we have deviated from Crenshaw’s intended purpose: bringing marginalised voices from the periphery to the centre of the feminist movement by highlighting the coexistence of oppressions. White women with liberal politics routinely describe themselves as being intersectional feminists before proceeding to speak over and disregard those women negotiating marginalised identities of race, class, and sexuality in addition to sex. Intersectionality as virtue-signalling is diametrically opposed to intersectional praxis. The theory did not emerge in order to aid white women in their search for cookies – it was developed predominantly by Black feminists with a view to giving women of colour voice.

White feminists of all stripes are falling down at the intersection of race. Liberal feminists frequently fail to consider racism in terms of structural power. Radical feminists are often unwilling to apply the same principles of structural analysis to oppression rooted in race as in sex.
Read more Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Racism in the Feminist Movement by @ClaireShrugged

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.
Read more On repetition and power

On the question of radical feminism and women as an underclass by @saramsalem

Cross-posted from: Neocolonial thoughts and it's discontents
Originally published: 29.07.15

41ggc7o4IFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Radical feminism has always been a strand of feminism that I have been uncomfortable around. Part of this is because of my own internalized sexism that makes me shy away from very radical demands, especially in the realm of personal relationships, beauty standards, and so on. But a bigger issue I have had with it is its blatant Euro/US-centrism that makes it almost useless in contexts such as Egypt. I finally had a chance to read one of radical feminism’s most famous texts, “A Dialectic of Sex” by Shulamith Firestone. I have to admit that I was very pleasantly surprised, even as the text confirmed many of my problems with radical feminists. On the one hand, I see clear benefits in these kinds of texts – they are very clear in terms of identifying who is responsible for patriarchy and because of this they are able to make clear demands that movements can organize around. They also touch on parts of gender relations that other feminist strands tend to leave under-theorized, notably questions of love, relationships, and psychology. On the other hand, it is clear that these texts use European and American societies as the norm, and when they do mention non-Western societies it is usually to say that they are “more primitive” or that they are headed in the same direction as Western forms of patriarchy once they develop a little more. Some of the key differences I see between radical feminism and postcolonial feminism, for example, are in the ways that men are conceptualised, and how the family and culture are conceptualised. Another difference is that in texts such as Firestone’s that use Freud so heavily, there is bound to be the question of whether we can generalize about the “female psyche” across space and time. These are some of the questions I want to think through in this post.

A major problem I found was her ethnocentrism, which becomes clear at specific moments in the text. One example is when she writes about how turning to “primitive matriarchies of the past” as examples of times where patriarchy did not exist was “too facile.” She then goes on to quote Simone de Beauvoir to make her point. Her discussion of Black Power as well as the sexism of Black men in America is another moment that made me pause. Her heavily Freudian analysis seems to somewhat hide the more clearly racialized political and economic aspects of the Black question in America. In her attempt to argue that “racism is a sexual phenomenon” she seems to emphasize the sexual at the expense of the racial. So while she raises important questions about the ways in which Black men relate to Black women, for example, her attempt to answer these using Freud is problematic.


Read more On the question of radical feminism and women as an underclass by @saramsalem

Identity, experience, choice and responsibility

Cross-posted from: Gender, Bodies, Politics
Originally published: 27.06.15

This is the transcript of my keynote speech at a conference at Queen Mary University on June 27th 2015, entitled ‘Feminist Futures: critical engagements with the fourth wave‘. The full title of my talk was ‘Identity, experience, choice and responsibility: feminism in a neoliberal and neoconservative age.’ Versions of this speech have also been given at the Universities of Brighton, Leeds and Birmingham. There are various sources linked throughout – if you are not within a university and therefore unable to access the academic journal articles, send me an Email and I can download them for you.

Slide1

Hello. I’m Alison Phipps and I’m Director of Gender Studies at Sussex. It’s great to be here and I’d like to thank Amaleena, Alice and Anna for inviting me to speak today. We can – and I’m sure we will – debate whether we’re currently witnessing a ‘fourth wave’ of feminism and what this is, but for now I’d like to say it’s fantastic to be part of such a dynamic and thoughtful group. Looking at the other abstracts, I’m especially flattered to have been invited to give the keynote and hope I don’t disappoint!

I think one of the reasons I was asked to open the conference was that my work attempts to develop a meta analysis of feminist theory and activism. Some of this was brought together in my book which came out last Spring, called The Politics of the Body: gender in a neoliberal and neoconservative age. In this I developed a political sociology of various different debates, with a focus on interactions between different types of feminism (or ‘waves’ if you want to use that term). If any of you have read it, the talk today will move on from the book – as always when you attempt to develop a ‘history of the present’, I’m standing on uneven and shifting ground.


Read more Identity, experience, choice and responsibility

Is the term FGM cissexist? by Kalwinder Sandhu

The argument by some trans activists that the term Female Genital Mutilation is cissexist, and offensive to transgender people has caused much debate, frustration and anger from all sides. Transgender activists feel that the term is oppressive to them because it denies their identity of being woman and excludes them from being female.

A Unicef report (2013) states that FGM is practiced in 29 countries in the north-east, west and east of Africa and in some countries in Asia, and the Middle East. In the UK girls from migrant communities from these areas are also cut and mutilated.

Experiences of oppression are not solely forged out of how we identify with our gender. As females we are socialised as ‘women’ and ‘girls’. We experience oppression in many ways, through FGM, forced marriage, dowry etc; because of biology that we inherit at birth and how we are socialised and treated as women and girls. As Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women the intersection of race together with our female bodies at birth, amongst other categories like social class and disability dictate the oppression that we experience. The oppression forges through the inequality that is of being woman.


Read more Is the term FGM cissexist? by Kalwinder Sandhu