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

TIME MISSES THE POINT: FEMINISM ISN’T ABOUT BEING PALATABLE TO MEN by @sianfergs

(Cross-posted from Sian Fergs)

I’ve been reading many articles that deal with the idea of rebranding feminism as of late, but one which especially amused me was this article in TIME, entitled ‘Ironic Misandry: Why Feminists Pretending to Hate Men Isn’t Funny’.

For a second, let’s put aside the fact that the author assumes that misandry is a real thing (hating men occurs, but the institutional oppression of men does not), and that it’s at all equitable with the oppression of women.

This particular article interested me because it asserted that feminists pretending to be misandrists hurts feminism’s PR. Sara Begley writes, “What feminists really hate is the patriarchy—the web of institutions that systemically oppress women. And to tear it down, we need as many allies as we can get.” She later adds, “To get folks on your side, you need an appealing message.”

Discussions about ‘rebranding’ feminism aren’t new. Last year, Elle UK decided to launch a project in which ad companies were tasked with rebranding feminism, resulting in heated discussion about whether feminism needs rebranding or not.

Often, rebranding feminism is directed at convincing people to identify as feminists. Flowcharts and quizzes are created to convince everyone who supports equality is a feminist.  Feminism is so much more than that – it is decades of academic theory, decades longer of praxis, and a diverse and dynamic movement. These flowcharts might inspire some people to educate themselves, but focussing on making feminism appealing rather than inclusive or informative doesn’t result in any real change. How does a person simply identifying as a feminist improve my movement, or my lived experience? Rebranding, I’ve come to realise, is oversimplification.

The capitalistic language (‘rebranding’, ‘PR’) reflects the increasing popularity of neoliberal feminism: feminism that focuses on the empowerment of women and not the destruction of systemic oppression. Contrast this feminism – as exemplified by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In – to intersectional feminism, which demands the acknowledgement and abolition of the kyriarchy.

The increasing interest in rebranding feminism prompts me to ask: why are we marketing our movement to the oppressor? Last time I checked, feminism wasn’t a company and men were not our target market.

There are a number of useful, valid critiques of feminism. Feminism has traditionally excluded both trans women and women of colour; it has generally focussed on the needs of white, middle-class, educated, cisgender, heterosexual women and not people with fewer privileges. While many feminists – like the ones at Guerrilla Feminism – actively work to counter this, feminism still is exclusionary.

It interests me that TIME chose not to focus on the real, exclusionary, problematic aspects of feminism, but rather on a perception propagated by the patriarchal mass-media. It interests me that Sara Begley is concerned about feminism alienating men, and not actual oppressed groups. It interests me that many feminists are more intent on recruiting ‘allies’ than being ‘allies’ ourselves.

Feminism shouldn’t have to involve choosing between our supporters and the people we support. But the conundrum arises often: in the feminist spaces I’ve occupied, I have witnessed many people afraid of calling others out on their racism, transantagonism, ableism and heterosexism for fear of alienating a potential ‘ally’. We tone-police others in an attempt to gain more faux support. We value the quantity of our supporters over the quality of our support. This attitude implies that a privileged person’s support is more important than an oppressed person’s safety.

We seem more interested in appealing to men than supporting other women. By paying more attention to gaining the support of privileged people, we are perpetuating oppressive systems ourselves. Could it be more evident that we live in a kyriarchal world?

In the spaces I navigate, I have an obligation to ensure that they are as safe as possible for trans women, women of colour and disabled folk. As someone who has privilege over these – and other – groups of people, I have a responsibility to change feminism for the sake of the oppressed, not rebrand it for the sake of the privileged.

 

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 at @sianfergs.

Neoliberalism and the commodification of experience by @alisonphipps

(cross-posted from genders, bodies, politics)

The personal is political, that revolutionary phrase which illuminated the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s and after, was originally coined in response to claims that consciousness-raising was navel-gazing with no coherent programme for social change. It posed a direct challenge to the idea that ‘personal problems’ and especially so-called ‘body issues’ should not be brought into the public arena, an assumption which feminism has done an excellent job of destabilising. Politicising the personal through the production of research on gendered bodies has fed the development of epistemologies based on the validity of experiential knowledge, and this, in turn, has brought to light the impossibility of objective analysis.

However, more than 30 years on, it is time to ask questions about what has befallen the personal in a neoliberal political context. Neoliberalism individualises, interiorises and neutralises – within this framework the political uses of the personal have shrunk as difference has transformed into ‘diversity’, and experience and emotion have become part of a broader ‘tabloidisation’ and ‘testimonialism’ in which popular culture and politics have been saturated with feeling. As Ahmed (citing hooks) reminds us, this narcissistic and therapeutic moment and movement can easily co-opt and depoliticise our personal pain (although she cautions that this does not mean it should be ignored). In the current political climate, affect and emotion often serve to detract from structural critique: as Pedwellargues, inequality is frequently seen as a failure of understanding rather than a product of neoliberal and neo-colonial governmentality. Furthermore, the pain which has always been (justifiably) central to feminist politics can accumulate and stagnate in what Wendy Brown calls ‘wounded identities’ which both legitimate and depend upon state power.

We are currently doing feminism in amongst a commodification of distress. Moreover, this transforms experience into currency with which to buy into broader ideologies or ‘gazump’potential political opponents. This is revealed by the frequency with experience is ventriloquised by politicians and privileged ‘experts’, who use empathy as a technology of access to marginalised lives, often upstaging grassroots communities who may be able to claim ownership of their stories but lack a political platform. Neo-imperialist agendas strategically centre ‘native informants’, often women, whose narratives of oppression are used to constitute Other cultures, usually those of Muslim-majority societies or communities, as uniquely and inherently misogynist and homophobic. Domestic and international politicking around the sex industry is characterised by a fight for experiential authenticity, which in the mainstream media is often transmuted into a ‘debate’ between the extremes of the ‘victimised survivor’ central to abolitionist agendas and the ’happy hooker’ who often materialises as a rebuttal to that type of feminist politics. As part of its resurgence, anti-choice politics has recently undergone a shift away from its sanctification of the foetus, towards advocating the idea of abortion as a deep personal trauma which is contrary to women’s best interests.

Within a lexicon in which experience is frequently and increasingly used (often second-hand) in the service of particular political agendas, personal stories begin to lose their humanity. Complex and varied narratives are simplified and homogenised for ideological ends and can then be dismissed by those in opposition as apocryphal or even corrupt. As debates become more heated, we tend to fixate on the first-person and discredit the experience when we ought to be questioning the surrounding politics. The relationships between particular experiences and powerful and often repressive political agendas have begun to define the narratives themselves and to rob them of legitimacy. Muslim women who speak out against gender inequality become unreliable because they must be stooges of the imperial West. Sex workers who acknowledge pain have been procured and perhaps coached by moralistic, prudish abolitionists who wish to strengthen the police state. In response, those with privilege and political power tend to defend themselves with attributions of false consciousness: Muslim women who choose to cover their bodies, hair and/or faces, and sex workers who declare choice and discuss self-expression, can both emerge as patriarchy’s dupes. In this politics of positionality, experiences are always already marked by ideology and the first question we ask (consciously or not) when someone shares their experience is, ‘whose side are you on?’

The ideologisation of experience has produced a flattening out of lived realities for fear they will be converted into foreign currency. In much the same way as the complexities of ending a pregnancy may be underplayed by pro-choice individuals and groups for fear of reinforcing pro-life agendas, sex workers may de-emphasise, hide or even deny difficult experiences within a politics of respectability which operates in opposition to the radical feminist rescue industry and in a dynamic in which ‘excited’ and ‘exited’ are the only positions available. As neoliberalism turns debates into bidding wars, experience is valuable only in the right currency, which polarises and renders invisible the possibilities in between. Those with differing experiences of the same phenomenon are unable to co-exist, as one person’s experience may outbid and ultimately annihilate another’s. This also creates little space within the individual for mixed or ambivalent feelings to endure: multiplex subjectivities must become less so in order to be intelligible within the dominant phraseology of concepts such as ‘objectification’, ‘victimisation’ and ‘empowerment’.

Such compelling but essentially meaningless universalisms hide the operation of structural and historical dynamics. These include the impact of successive waves of colonisation on religious institutions and their relationships with both state and mass forms of political action in many Muslim-majority countries and communities, the links between migration flows and identities, the ways in which repressive immigration policies and criminal justice systems encourage individuals to narrate themselves in particular ways, and the situating of commercial sexualities within a post-Fordist capitalist system with a service-based consumer culture, high unemployment and shrinking social welfare. Furthermore, attempts at structural analysis often themselves inevitably collapse into appeals to experience: for instance, the radical feminist idea of patriarchy is frequently reduced to a homogenous experience of ‘male violence’, with little attention paid to the ways in which intersecting structures of oppression might produce varied encounters with this phenomenon and/or give rise to disparate analyses and forms of activism.

The contemporary politics of the personal prevents us from co-situating and productively analysing different experiences within such intersecting analytical frameworks, instead creating an anecdotal flow which is transmuted into a competitive deployment of one-dimensional stories and serves to create and widen gulfs between us. The fetishisation of experience also serves to restrict or conceal discussions based on other evidence, such as the compelling case against the criminalisation of sex workers and/or their clients, in which the figure of the victimised prostitute who must be rescued has made way for data pertaining to police and community harassment and repression, susceptibility to infectious diseases, risk of violence and access to health and social services.

This does not mean, of course, that we should not theorise from experience – indeed, the ‘view from nowhere’ with its attendant ‘voice of reason’ can also be that of the oppressor and reeks of entitlement and privilege (I say this with an awareness that in writing this piece, I may reasonably be read that way myself). Neither does it mean that all experiences, while valid, can be regarded as in themselves equally reliable sources of knowledge – what Haraway would term knowledge as an ‘act of faith’. Rather, we need to be able to translate experiences between situated, heterogeneous and power-differentiated communities, and use these as data to create knowledge informed by many types of evidence and frameworks of intersecting structures. We must also walk the fine line between respecting varied experiences, while critically appraising the uses to which particular experiences or technologies of empathy are put. Adding to our existing questions about ‘whose personal’ is political, we must be mindful of what it means to use the personal in the contemporary political context, ask whose experience counts within both dominant and marginalised thought and activism, and understand how neoliberalism depoliticises the personal and suppresses resistance by alienating us from each other.

 

Alison Phipps: This blog presents some examples of my academic and non-academic writing, on issues around gendered bodies, politics, and contemporary sexual cultures. I’m currently Director of Gender Studies at Sussex University and my work encompasses sexual violence, sex work, childbirth, breastfeeding, and abortion. I also have a specific interest in ‘lad cultures’ amongst students and how they are shaped by both neoliberal themes and postfeminist sexual tropes. You can find me on Twitter at @alisonphipps and you can download some of my academic papers at http://sussex.academia.edu/AlisonPhipps.

Minding our language by @strifejournal

(Cross-posted from Trouble & Strife)

Once we had ‘isms’, now we have ‘phobias': Debbie Cameron considers what’s in a name

Remember Betty Friedan’s ‘problem that has no name’? Or Gloria Steinem’s observation that in the 1960s no one talked about sexual harassment–not because it didn’t happen, but because ‘it was just called life’?  For feminists, naming women’s oppression has always been both a necessary task and a powerful political act. Of course you do not solve a problem just by giving it a name, but naming it brings it more clearly into focus, making it easier to recognize, to analyse and to share.

What names we choose to call things by is also important. We argue about words—about the difference between victim and survivorpaedophile and child abuser, prostitute and sex worker—because we know that words are not just empty labels. They are tools for making sense of the world, and they affect our understanding of what we use them to represent.

Since the 1990s there has been a change in the words we use to name oppression. Whereas the radical social movements of the 1960s and 70s talked about ‘isms’ (racism, anti-semitism, sexism, heterosexism, ableismageismspeciesism), their 21st century counterparts talk about ‘phobias’ (homophobiatransphobia, whorephobiafemmephobia). The language of ‘phobias’ has gradually displaced the older language of ‘isms'; you can usually tell when some form of oppression began to be seriously discussed by whether it is labelled an ‘ism’ or a ‘phobia’.

Unlike some issues of terminology, this one has not provoked much heated debate. But that doesn’t mean it is inconsequential. It matters for the reason language always matters: because renaming reality is also reframing it.

From ‘isms’ to ‘phobias’

‘Ism’ words and ‘phobia’ words name essentially the same phenomenon: the unjust treatment of one social group by others. But they frame that phenomenon in very different waysas we can see if we consider what ism and phobia mean in the language more generally.

Words ending in –ism most commonly denote systems of ideas or beliefs–political, religious, intellectual or artistic (e.g. feminism, communism, nationalismBuddhism, surrealism). Terms like sexism and racism were also intended by the radicals who coined them to refer to systems—organized social systems of dominance and subordination. Though they are often used now to mean just ‘prejudice or discrimination based on sex/race’, that is a liberal watering-down of their original meaning. In the radical framework, prejudice is not the cause of systemic oppression but a consequence or by-product of it. If you are going to oppress your fellow humans—exploit them, abuse them, disregard their needs and rights—then you have every reason to buy into the belief that they are Other, inferior and deserving of unequal treatment.

Words ending in -phobia, by contrast, most commonly denote clinical conditions. The first ‘phobia’ word to appear in an English-language text was hydrophobia (Greek for ‘morbid fear of water’), meaning rabies; in the 19th century the term became associated with mental rather than physical illness, and in current medical usage it means a class of anxiety disorders in which something that is not objectively a serious threat triggers a pathological response—intense fear, panic, disgust, an overwhelming desire to avoid or escape the danger–in certain phobic individuals. In everyday parlance the term is used more loosely: it retains the sense of ‘a pathological (over)reaction’, but there is less emphasis on uncontrollable anxiety, the main symptom of clinical phobia, and more emphasis on the idea of aversion or hatred. Terms like homophobia and transphobia thus carry a strong implication that the root cause of the oppression they name is the pathological fear and loathing felt by some individuals towards a certain minority group.

Hate versus power

I do not want to deny the existence of pathological hatred, nor dispute that some oppressive acts are most readily understood as expressions of it. That is how I would understand, for instance, not only many assaults targeting gay men and lesbians, trans people and members of ethnic and religious minorities, but also some crimes against women, such as the actions of self-identified misogynists like Marc Lépine (who shot 14 women dead in the ‘Montreal massacre’ of 1989) and Elliot Rodger (the perpetrator of the California shootings which inspired the hashtag #YesAllWomen in 2014). But I do not think it is helpful to make these extreme acts of violence committed by seriously disturbed individuals into prototypes for our understanding of oppression. Deranged misogynists like Rodger are the toxic, out-of-control products of a society that normalizes and condones sexism, a system in which all men benefit from their power over women. Treating the pathological cases as prototypical is mistaking the proverbial tip of the iceberg for the less visible but much larger structure that supports it.

Yet just as ‘ism’ words have yielded to ‘phobia’ words, this understanding of the structural and systemic nature of oppression seems increasingly to have yielded to an analysis which is more and more focused on hatred as the driving force behind it. In the criminal justice system, for instance, there is now a category of ‘hate crimes’—offences  motivated by hatred of the group the victim belongs to—which are treated as more serious and punished more severely than the same offences committed for other reasons. As Liz Kelly has pointed out, this approach does not help to deliver justice for women and children, because the ways in which they are most often victimized do not fit the definition of a ‘hate crime’. Domestic violence, child sex abuse and rape are not rooted in fear and loathing of women or children as a group, but have more to do with men’s feelings of superiority and entitlement, their assumption that women and children exist for their benefit and may be controlled, exploited and abused with impunity. These are not crimes of hate, they are crimes of power and domination; but that in no way diminishes their impact on the lives of those who are or may become their victims.

From a radical feminist perspective it is crucial to hold onto the understanding that oppression is only sometimes about hate, but it is always about power—about the structures and systems that serve collective political interests. The language of ‘phobia’ obscures this: it personalizes the political by concentrating on the feelings an action expresses rather than the interests it serves, and it pathologizes prejudice, representing it by implication as the irrational response of (some) individuals rather than the product of a system that benefits some groups at the expense of others. And once you stop asking who benefits from oppression or whose interests it serves, you can easily slip into a discourse reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that ‘there is no such thing as society’. There are no material structures of power and inequality, only personal feelings and individual identities.

Renaming/reframing sexism

Recently this kind of discourse was satirized by a contributor to the anonymous blog Feminists Unknown. Adopting the persona of someone who ‘identifies as’ poor, the writer draws attention to a form of oppression that she feels has too often been overlooked:

The queer poverty theorist J’amie Olivier came up with it in his brilliant work Whipping Chav. If you’ve not read it, please do. It explains so much about how poor people are not oppressed due to having no money but due to ‘poorphobia’: a widespread antipathy towards dog racing, Lambrini and the Waitrose Essentials range.

Though ‘poorphobia’ is (so far as I know) an entirely imaginary concept invented for the purposes of satire, this parody does have an identifiable target. The fictional work Whipping Chav is clearly an allusion to the real book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, whose author Julia Serano is generally credited with inventing the term femmephobia.What that term refers to is the cultural devaluation of anything considered feminine relative to anything considered masculine. Serano points out that feminine qualities, interests and occupations are disparaged as weak, foolish, undesirable and worthless, and that feminine labels are often derogatory: the term ‘sissy’ applied to a boy is a grave insult, for instance, whereas ‘tomboy’ applied to a girl is far less disapproving.

‘But hang on a minute’, I hear you say, ‘don’t we already have a word for that?’ Indeed we do: feminists in the early 1970s drew attention to exactly this phenomenon, and the word they used to describe it was ‘sexism’. The devaluing of feminine terms and qualities follows the general sexist logic in which women, as the subordinate sex, are inferior to men, the dominant sex. Serano’s logic, on the other hand, is not a million miles from the ‘poorphobia’ parody: ‘women are not oppressed due to sexism/male dominance, but due to “femmephobia”, a widespread antipathy towards shoe-shopping, frilly underwear and the colour pink’.

From a feminist perspective it is pure obfuscation to talk about ‘the scapegoating of femininity’, as if it had nothing to do with the larger social system in which women are subordinated to men. ‘Femininity’ is not the target of oppression: apart from the fact that it is an abstraction (whereas women are concretely existing human beings), feminists since Simone de Beauvoir have pointed out that as a cultural construct—a collection of beliefs and norms which define what is acceptable and desirable in women—femininity is part of the apparatus that keeps women in their subordinate place. That analysis is further strengthened by the observation that in women, feminine qualities and behaviours are not devalued, they are idealized and rewarded. Said of a woman, ‘feminine’ is a compliment; it’s the opposite, ‘unfeminine’, which is an insult. If there’s one thing your average sexist can’t be doing with, it’s an unfeminine woman. A feminist, for instance, with her hairy legs and clomping boots and her refusal to just shut up and smile.

Serano does recognize the existence of prejudice against women who are viewed as ‘unfeminine’, but she does not attribute it to the workings of a system in which women are subordinated to men; for her it reflects the workings of a system which oppresses everyone (for what purpose and in whose interests is unclear) by imposing a strict binary gender division and requiring every individual to stay on their allotted side of the line. (For more on these contrasting understandings of gender oppression see here). What goes unrecognized in this reframing of sexism is that women are most often judged ‘unfeminine’ when they fail, or refuse, to behave like sexual subordinates. That is why feminists can be represented by sexists as simultaneously ‘unfeminine’ (i.e., too much like men) and as ‘man-haters’, without this being seen as a contradiction.

The scapegoating of feminism

Once the ‘scapegoating of femininity’ has been detached from the larger system of male dominance and female subordination, the blame for it no longer has to be laid at the door of men, or male dominated institutions, or patriarchal social arrangements. Sometimes ‘femmephobia’ is discussed as if it simply existed like a force of nature. But in any context where some identifiable agent is being held responsible for it, there is a pretty good chance that the agent in question will be a feminist, or a group of feminists, or feminism as an institution.

Suspecting this was the case, but wanting to check my intuitions against some actual evidence, I used Google to compile a sample of recent texts in which the words femmephobia, femmephobic and femmephobe appear. I can’t claim this method produced a fully representative picture of current usage (the tools a researcher would use to do that are not available in this case, because the word is still too new), but it did suggest that my intuitions were basically accurate. Not one of the items in my sample attributed ‘femmephobia’ to sexist men or patriarchal institutions. A couple of them used the word in reference to prejudice in the gay, lesbian or trans communities. But the overwhelming majority used it specifically to criticize feminism and feminists. For instance, this:

Long nails. Lace. Pink. Make-up. Dresses. Long hair. High heels.
I’ve noticed a trend in feminism that seeks to place these things as ‘lower’. As ‘less than’.
What we need to remember is that feminism is about autonomy and choice. By policing the choices of women, by telling them what to wear, what not to wear, what makes us any different than the patriarchy?

Or this:

Many feminists still have a blind spot when it comes to femmephobia. A lot of feminists are not very feminine, and were drawn to feminism because of the discomfort they felt due to enforced femininity.

These examples are good illustrations of the point that renaming and reframing go together. Neither of these writers understands feminism as a movement of resistance to male dominance. The first writer’s assumptions are basically liberal: feminism is about ‘autonomy and choice’. The second writer’s assumptions are more difficult to find an adequate political label for: they seem, in fact, completely apolitical, identity politics without the politics. The most obvious reason for becoming involved in radical politics—a commitment to social justice—seems to be entirely outside her frame of reference. Nor can she apparently imagine anyone rejecting femininity on political principle, as opposed to being ‘drawn to feminism’ because they were ‘not very feminine’ to begin with. Feminism is presented as a sort of refuge for women whose lack of femininity causes them ‘discomfort’ in the wider world, and the resulting concentration of unfeminine women becomes the explanation for the movement’s ‘femmephobia’.

Meanwhile, the small matter of power, and specifically women’s oppression within a system of male dominance and female subordination, has entirely disappeared from view. As the ‘scapegoating of femininity’ shifts from being one manifestation of sexism to being a form of oppression in its own right, the identity of the oppressor also shifts: it’s no longer men as a class or patriarchy as a system we have to blame for it, it’s a bunch of feminists oppressing other women by disapproving of their hair or their shoes. No one seems to ask what feminists might have to gain from this oppressive behaviour. In the ‘phobia’ framework that question does not need to be asked, because oppression is not seen as structural, part of a political system where actual interests are at stake, it is simply the acting out of personal hostility to other people’s choices.

Similarly, any feminist who offers a structural analysis of the sex industry’s role in oppressing women can expect to be accused of ‘whorephobia’, irrational hatred of prostitutes. This particular accusation always makes me wonder if those who make it have any concept of structure at all. I don’t know how else to explain the fact that they interpret criticism of an oppressive institution as an attack on the very people the institution’s critics believe to be most oppressed by it. It is possible to disagree about whether and in what ways the sex industry is oppressive, but ‘if you criticize the sex industry that means you hate prostitutes’ is a leap of logic akin to saying that if you criticize a large supermarket chain for paying low wages, that means you hate shelf-stackers and checkout operators.

The liberal politics of moral disgust

But the whole political discourse of ‘phobia’ often resembles the clinical condition in being more about visceral responses than logical arguments. The feminist blogger Marina S. recounts a striking example. At a conference session about woman-only space, a woman who had found some panellists’ contributions trans-exclusionary articulated her objection by describing the physical effects that listening to those contributions had produced: she reported experiencing panic symptoms like shaking and palpitations. Marina S. relates this reaction to the theoretical concept of ‘moral disgust’, a strong, instinctive feeling of revulsion which cannot be fully explained in rational terms. She explains:

Liberals pride themselves on their low levels of moral disgust, in particular in relation to the sexual practices of others. This is why we tend to conceptualise the objections of the right to certain things like homosexuality as ‘phobias’ – irrational fears stemming from an underlying moral disgust. It’s also why the ‘phobia’ frame has so successfully…migrated to be applied inside the social justice left, in terms like transphobia, whorephobia, fatphobia, femmephobia and so on.

And she goes on to point out that the woman’s reaction repeated the same gesture liberals label ‘phobic’ when it comes from a conservative position:

…here was a person literally, in every physical sense of the word, exhibiting a phobic reaction. … And much like conservative activists seeking to criminalise or marginalise homosexual relationships, she was using the very viscerality of her own reaction as a strong progressive/liberal moral argument: you have upset me, therefore I am right.

The progressive/liberal position is like a mirror image of the conservative one: whereas the conservative is revolted by queer/trans people, the progressive/liberal is revolted by the conservative’s homophobia/ transphobia: she is morally disgusted by the moral disgust she attributes to others, and the strength of her disgust becomes a claim to the moral high ground. (‘You have upset me, therefore I am right’.) As Marina S. says, it is impossible to argue with this: moral disgust is instinctive and visceral, beyond any challenge based on rational argument.

Although it is has taken root on the ‘social justice left’, the ‘phobia frame’ is actually more liberal than radical. Though radical feminists agree with liberals on some issues—for instance, both groups support lesbian and gay rights against the objections of conservatives—that is not because we share the liberal view that all sexual practices are morally indistinguishable and equally deserving of respect. If your aim is to end the oppression of women as a class then it makes sense to defend the rights of non-heterosexuals, but equally it makes sense to oppose some of the other practices liberals defend, such as the buying of sexual services. The difference between the radical feminist and the liberal is not that one judges other people’s choices and the other does not. They both make judgments, but on the basis of different values. Suggesting that any judgment you disagree with must stem from ‘phobia’—that it is not a question of your opponent having different principles or values, but is simply an expression of their irrational fear and loathing—is a way of making their position appear illegitimate without actually having the political argument. It is using language to silence views that you do not want to hear or engage with.

False analogies and misleading memes

What makes the ‘poorphobia’ parody funny is the absurdity of the idea that ‘poor people are not oppressed due to having no money’. While a full analysis of the problems facing poor people would doubtless include more than just material deprivation, it is obvious that economic inequality is the fundamental issue. Among other things, the parody reminds us that there are different systems of oppression which do not all work in exactly the same way and cannot all sensibly be talked about in exactly the same terms.

The language in which we talk about oppression has always had a tendency to depend on analogies between one group’s situation and another’s. In both the first (suffragist) and the second (liberationist) waves of feminism in the US, many women who became active in feminist politics drew inspiration from their prior experiences in movements for racial justice (the abolitionist movement of the 19th century and the civil rights movement of the 20th) and from the parallels they saw between their own situation as women and the situation of Black people under slavery and then segregation. Reflecting this history, the term sexism was created as a sex/gender analogue of racism. Although many commentators have criticized the feminists of the second wave for over-emphasizing the parallel between racism and sexism and being insufficiently attentive to the differences, the linguistic tendency to make analogies remains strong: if anything, in fact, it has become stronger than ever in the age of the internet ‘meme’.

The word meme was originally coined by Richard Dawkins, who intended it to denote the cultural analogue of a gene. Memes, like genes, are units which replicate, but whereas gene replication is a biological process, the replication of memes is a social process—they spread by imitation, and get adapted to new situations as they go. I won’t pursue the meme/gene analogy, to which there are many objections, but meme has passed into common usage as a term for cultural innovations that spread rapidly (nowadays often via digital media) and inspire many variations on the same basic theme. The ever-expanding lexicon of ‘phobia’ terms is a case in point: a word that originally described one experience became the template for a whole series of words describing experiences which were felt to resemble the original in some way.

One problem with this process, however, is that the analogies have a tendency to become progressively weaker and less illuminating. Homophobia is a reasonable term for some forms of prejudice against lesbians and gay men—it is easy enough to point to examples of the extreme, irrational loathing the word conjures up—but it is much more difficult to see femmephobia as a similarly apt description of the cultural devaluing of ‘feminine’ things. Who really feels fear, loathing or panic when confronted with an item from the list I quoted earlier (long nails, lace, make-up, pink, dresses, long hair, high heels)?

Another example which illustrates the point is the recent proliferation of words constructed on the model of mansplaining. That word was coined to describe a particular form of sexist condescension, where men who assume themselves to be knowledgeable, and women to be ignorant or stupid, explain something to a woman that the woman already knows, and possibly knows more about than the mansplainer himself. The term caught on because the experience it names is one that many women recognize; but it was swiftly followed by analogous terms like whitesplaining and cissplaining,and while writing this piece I’ve also spotted straightsplaining and abilitysplaining. ‘Splaining’ has clearly become a political meme; but the further it travels from the original example, the less it seems to serve any useful political purpose.

For a start, it is not clear that all the new ‘splaining’ terms describe a real and recognizable experience. ‘Straightsplaining’, for example, rings no bells with me: since being stupid/incompetent is not something gay men are stereotyped for (nor lesbians except insofar as they are also women) I would be surprised if this behaviour were particularly common. Stupidity and incompetence do figure in negative stereotypes of other subordinated groups: not only women but also people of colour, working class people, the elderly and people with disabilities are likely to have had the experience of being patronized and treated as stupid. But we might still question whether this is exactly the same experience in every case—whether it has the same motives, takes the same form or produces the same consequences. There is, for instance, a very particular way in which able-bodied people patronize people with disabilities, and this has been analysed for decades as one manifestation of ‘ableism’. Does the term ‘abilitysplaining’ add anything to the analysis? It could be argued that on the contrary, it confuses the issue by emphasizing the parallel with women’s experience rather than the connection to other oppressive practices which are part of everyday life for people with disabilities.

I suspect that’s what’s behind the endless extension of formulas like ‘x-phobia’ and ‘x-splaining’ is  a rather muddled interpretation of intersectionality. People reason that if all oppressions matter equally then (a) they all have to be covered in any discussion of anything—there has to be such a thing as ‘straightsplaining’, because to deny that it exists would be to treat queer oppression as less important than other kinds; and (b) they all have to be discussed in the same terms, as if treating oppressions equally required us to use the same analytic framework for all of them. As I understand it, what intersectionality really means is more or less the opposite of this: it means being attentive to the particularities of different systems of power in order to understand the differing experiences of oppression which are produced by their intersections (e.g. why sexism is not experienced in exactly the same way by women of different ethnicities or social classes). And if there is a need to be specific about the workings of oppression, there is also a need for language that can capture that specificity. Using variations on the same terms for everything/everyone flattens out the differences and stops us seeing how things really work.

We need a political language that can make distinctions between things that are related but not the same, and that does not reduce every form of oppression to a single cause or mechanism. We need a political language that does not mystify the workings of power and inequality, or pathologize prejudice, or obscure whose interests a given form of oppression serves. A language which does not meet these criteria is not really political at all. And—to adapt another recently popular meme—‘my feminism will be political or it will be bullshit’.

 

Trouble & Strife is a British-based radical feminist magazine. It appeared in print between 1983 and 2002, and is now a blog hosted by WordPress. We publish topical short posts, long-form articles and reviews, some of them illustrated by the feminist cartoonists whose work was a popular feature of the printed magazine. The website also gives visitors free access to a complete archive of our 43 print issues. T&S is edited by an all-women collective. We welcome enquiries from women who want to contribute posts, articles or reviews on topics of interest to a radical feminist readership (please note that we don’t publish fiction, poetry or artwork except if it illustrates an article). Our Facebook page is at www.facebook.com/troubleandstrifemagazine Our Twitter account is @strifejournal.

Dear Feminists: I’m One of You! Please Don’t “Save” Me

On October 31, 2014 by feimineach

As feminism becomes more mainstream, there’s been a great deal of discourse online regarding different cultural perspectives for various feminist issues. The more I read through these discussions, the more I become aware of a trend among feminists, which is the idea that a Western society is the ideal that other cultures should strive to duplicate. “Why does your culture do that?” “Your culture is so backwards.” “Your culture is oppressive.” These statements, along with others that share similar sentiments, not only alienate a huge portion of the feminist population, but also create divides among feminists that really shouldn’t exist in the first place.

You may not realize it, but the idea that Western women are somehow “more feminist” or “more liberated” than women from other cultures has existed for a very, very long time. This phenomenon stems from the concept that can most basically be summed up by cultural imperialism: the idea that Western society is ahead of other societies, and these “other” cultures need to catch up. Not only is this claim false, it also enforces marginalization of all cultures that don’t follow a Western framework.

This sort of cultural imperialistic mentality is dangerous for a multitude of reasons, the first of which is quite simple: it encourages prejudice and racial stereotyping. A Pakistani woman dressed in traditional garb should not be written off immediately as “oppressed by her culture.” She is only celebrating the country she identifies with by honoring it in the simplest way possible: by dressing in the clothes that reflect her nationality. By assuming that anyone dressed in accordance to their ethnicity is somehow not as “liberated” as the Western woman, we set up a system where the West has to try and “rescue” these “culturally oppressed” women. Notice, for example, that the West is referred to as “Western” or “Western society,” while most other forms of society are “cultural,” “ethnic,” or “exotic.” All of this helps propagate the believe that Western society is the default, and all other groups are anomalistic variations.

 

On FEMINSPIRE.

“Western” feminists have got to get better at this. (A) not imposing their western cultural standards on others and (B) not quickly assuming that non-Western women must be in some way oppressed.
(Image: © Michael Morales/The Foothill Dragon Press.)

 

Feimineach quick-hitting the hell out of everything. occasional thinky blogging. [@grainnemcmahon]