Defining “Real” Feminism: A response to Natasha Devon

It is fair to say I had a number of concerns about Natasha Devon’s article in Feminist Times on why feminism must learn to compromise. I wrote a response for the Feminist Times here about why feminism can never compromise on its goals. Natasha has since written a response for her blog  responding to some of the criticism. I don’t normally engage in discussions of this sort but I want to address two issues that Devon raises.

Firstly, I am very uncomfortable with the trope  of ‘militant feminists” being used to denigrate the activism of other women. I don’t think it’s helpful or appropriate to create hierarchies of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feminists. And, I don’t think it’s ever acceptable to say that anger is bad or that women shouldn’t be angry. I am angry at the oppression of women and I do refuse to compromise my goals in order to placate the very men who (re)create the political, social and cultural structures which privilege them at the expense of women. I’m okay with being angry at women being raped and murdered daily and then blamed for being victims. I’m okay with refusing to believe that women’s only worth is in their physical appearance and that we must be super-duper nice to the men just in case we hurt their feelings. Labelling anger as ‘bad’ in women is a silencing tactic. It also ignores everything women have accomplished because of their righteous anger:

  • the right to have a career
  • to have her own bank account without requiring the signature of her husband or father
  • to rent or own a home without the permission of her father or husband
  • Equal pay legislation
  • rape crisis centres
  • refuges
  • domestic violence legislation
  • education
  • child maintenance
  • healthcare
  • the right to abortion
  • the right to prenatal and postnatal care
  • maternity leave
  • the right to serve as a politician
  • the right to vote
  • the right to be classed as a person

All of these are rights women have because of “militant feminists”; women who were angry at women’s oppression and stood up and fought back. The dismissal of “militant feminists” is to erase the entire history of our movement. It is to erase the work of generations of women.

And, really, could we not class Devon as a “militant feminist” because of her belief that pornography is not harmful to women as a class? What makes one woman a “bad (militant)” feminist and another a “good” feminist.  Why are the women Devon disagrees with automatically “militants”. Using words like “militant” pejoratively is a silencing tactic. It’s a way of dismissing valid concerns of other women and this isn’t feminism. We may not agree on these issues but classing every single woman who disagrees with you as “bad” helps no woman. It just reinforces the very patriarchal structures in which women live.

I also want to respond to one paragraph in that post which demonstrates the fundamental difference between Devon’s feminism and my own:

Bk5c6zBIUAATcGF

Devon’s feminism is contextualised within capitalism as a positive force whilst I believe that capitalism is inherently harmful and toxic for women and that women’s liberation will not come through materialism, pornification or political structures created by men for men. Suggesting that “REAL feminism is strutting into a boardroom in 4 inch stilettos, cleavage boldly on display” erases the vast majority of women from the feminist movement. Capitalism requires a hierarchy which subordinates 99% of the population for the benefit for 1%; most of whom are male.

Suggesting that women are only “real” feminists if they leave men thinking how “witty and intelligent” they are is just requiring women to preform for men. It requires women to meet a very narrow definition of “woman” – one which is based on a harmful and reductive gender construction. This is inherently unkind and one that I find antithetical to a campaign for “body confidence”. Confidence, nor feminism, can come from stilettos and lipstick; nor can it come from an audience finding you witty or intelligent. It comes from within.

This definition of “real” feminism ignores the double bind of oppression faced by women of colour who very rarely see the inside of a boardroom (unless as a cleaner). Does this make them less of a feminist because they are victims of institutionalised and systemic misogyny AND racism?

What about women with disabilities? Women who can’t stride anywhere in 4 inch stilettos. Are they not feminists?

What about the women living in inhumane conditions, working in factories with no safety net who earn a $1 a day to make those 4 inch stilettos. Are they not feminists? Should we not care about them because they can’t meet this narrow-definition?

My feminism is anti-capitalist because I don’t believe women’s liberation can be found in a boardroom or via the very political structures which oppress us. I don’t believe our liberation can be found through our appearance or our performance of acceptable gendered norms. A feminism which ignores the fact that the vast majority of women in the world are living in abject poverty with inadequate access to sanitation and clean water is not a feminist movement I want to be part of. I want to dismantle our political structures which are based on the unpaid labour of women. I also respect the work of women who are fighting within the system for change – for equal representation in politics, the workplace and a welfare state to protect the most vulnerable (most of whom are women).

Devon and I have very different understandings of feminism but I am very uncomfortable with the idea that only one of us is a “real” feminist.

 

Maria Miller must be replaced by a woman.

Maria Miller needed to resign as a cabinet minister. Frankly, she should have resigned as an MP and be under police investigation; although, to be fair, that applies to rather a large number of people currently in parliament.

What cannot happen is for Maria Miller to be replaced by a man. Cabinet reshuffle all they like but the number of women simply cannot drop.  Parliament itself is unrepresentative of our country; the cabinet even more so. We need more women in cabinet. Not another rich white man.

At this point, I’d be open to any woman being promoted to cabinet.

In the realm of beyond fucking creepy we have ….. man marries daughter

Dying man “weds” 11 year old daughter in fake wedding because he won’t get to see the real thing.  In what universe is this anything but seriously fucking creepy? And, horrifically traumatising to a child?

Jim Getz, who is 62, got a priest to “marry” him as “Daddy and Daughter” and he put a ring on a finger. People actually donated money to buy a “wedding dress”, cake and the rest of the shit involved so that an old man could assert his ownership of his daughter’s body one last time before he died.

There is nothing sweet or sad about this. It’s just fucking creepy and patriarchal and horrendously unkind to a child putting her in the shitty position of being solely responsible for her father’s dying wish. What if she doesn’t get married? Or, what if her husband is an abusive shit-bag?  The emotional manipulation and blackmail here is disgusting.

This is all about the father’s desperate attempt to retain control and ownership of his daughter and nothing to do with her emotional well-being and health. It is, simply, fucking creepy.

And, it’s no surprise that the creeps at Good Men Project think this is awesome. As a general rule of thumb: if they think it’s a good idea, it’s not.

Owen Jones, Feminism and the difference between criticism and trashing

I only read Owen Jones’ article on the austerity cuts and violence against women late tonight.  I tweeted out that I wished a woman had written it but that’s my standard response to any topic involving women’s lives. Cultural femicide is a real thing and a young, white male writing about the effects of austerity cuts on the reality of violence against women is covered under that umbrella.

Violence against women, as Jones’ states, is a national crisis but it is one in which the perpetrator is consistently erased. It is women’s campaigning and research which led to the development of women’s services. It is women who have consistently supported other women whilst being threatened, denigrated and treated like shit for doing. We need to insist that women’s work in the field of VAW is kept centred in our development of public policy.

Jones’ writes about violence against women and the effects of the austerity cuts without once talking about the perpetrator.  It is absolutely essential to talk about male violence against women and children. It is men who  assault, rape, torture, and kill women and children. It is men who refuse to pay child maintenance preferring instead to allow their children to live in poverty. The reason we need refuges and rape crisis centres is because of male violence. Talking about the effect of cuts to women’s services without naming the reason we need them is to ignore the root of the problem. Domestic violence costs the UK economy approximately 23 BILLION POUNDS a year. Men cost our economy 23 billion pounds a year and instead of tackling this issue properly, the government decides to “save” money by punishing the victims of male violence.

When I tweeted out my disappointment in Jones writing this article, I did so not realising it was his weekly column spot. I still wish a woman had written it but I more concerned about the failure to name the perpetrator. I’m also surprised at how many reacted to the discussions around Jones’ article. I’m not sure when wanting a woman to have written the piece became confused with trashing. Or, why a valid feminist concern about naming perpetrators has become an example of feminists being big stinky meanie-pants.

The thing is I only read Jones’ article because I like his work.  He’s one of the few male journalists that I bother reading anymore. He’s written some brilliant pieces and he’s written some things I fundamentally disagree with, which, oddly, is pretty much how I feel about every single writer whose work I like. I don’t expect to agree with anyone 100% of the time and it’s absolutely sycophantic for people to claim they do this. Having a different opinion to another person is not trashing. Disagreeing with someone’s work isn’t ‘trashing’

Criticism is a valid and valuable tool. We need to be able to have these discussions. We need to have a space where women who agree and disagree with Jones (or who don’t give a shit either way) can share those opinions – and the reasons for them – without worrying about being attacked or subtweeted about.

It’s okay for women to disagree with each other and to disagree with men. It’s not ok to tell women that they are shit feminists for disagreeing with you.

How Many Of The Greatest Books By Women Have You Read?

I love lists of “Greatest Books”. They are almost always written by white men, regardless of who has compiled the list. Some list books that no one has bothered to read: E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class is notorious in academia for how many people own the book without ever reading it. I love these kinds of lists because so many are clearly ridiculous.

Buzzfeed’s Greatest Books by Women has some absolute corkers in it!  In  between “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou and “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley are:

  • Bossypants” by Tina Fey
  • “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling
  • “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
  • “How To Be A Woman” by Caitlin Moran

Now, I loved Harry Potter but greatest book written by a woman? And, Caitlin Moran? Funny – absolutely. Lots of women read them: check.

But none of the above deserve to be on the “Greatest Books Written by Women” list. I’ve only read 23 of the books and those that I’ve read (excluding Rowling & Collins which I didn’t like) all are my list of favourite books written by women. This is by far one of the best lists of great books I’ve ever read (and my Amazon wish list is currently in the realm of ridiculous).  More importantly, many of the books on that list I hadn’t heard of which is what makes these kinds of list, with mind-bogglingly bizarre inclusions, so much fun!

<even if I’m unlikely to be able to read some of them because they aren’t available in our local library.>

Celebrate Mother’s Day by Helping Other Mothers

We don’t celebrate Mother’s Day. It was not something we celebrated when I was growing up when fractured family relationships made it an ironic holiday and I never started celebrating it when I gave birth to my first child as a “teenage mother” – mostly because I didn’t have the money to buy myself chocolate.  I have identified as a feminist since I was a teenager but it wasn’t until I joined Mumsnet (who, for all the shit they get, probably saved my life when I had PTSD) that I began to celebrate International Women’s Day instead.

I love International Women’s Day which recognises the work of all women in securing a safe world for our children. I would not have the academic qualifications I have now if it were not for the women without children around me who helped me raise my daughter and who made me a better mother. Without Vanessa, Maria and Catharine, I would not be the woman I am today. They gave me the gift of love and friendship which is so much more powerful than a box of chocolates can ever say.

This year for Mother’s Day, I urge women to support other mothers the way I was supported:

This is just a brief list of the organisations helping mothers. There are so many others working with little money supporting increasing numbers of mothers. Please make a even a small donation today so that all mothers have a chance to mother their children safely and securely.

Marlborough College is now running a school for “wives”

For the bargain basement price of £32, 280 per annum*, you to can send your daughter to Marlborough college to learn how to be a “supportive wife”. Yep, that’s what Jonathan Leigh, the Master of Marlborough’s response to the Telegraph’s deeply stupid questions about a “school for wives”:

 “It is a unique situation of which we’re quietly proud – a rather happy coalescence has led to this group of able and powerful, supportive women.”

Yep. He’s not proud that his school has educated women to the best of their ability and he’s not proud of their personal successes. He’s excited because Prince William and David Cameron married Marlborough’s female students.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that any school that thinks a woman’s best role is as a “supportive wife” isn’t worth paying in toilet paper. It’s certainly not worth 30 grand a year.

Really, I’m hoping this is just piss-poor reporting from the Telegraph because, frankly, referencing pillow talk as a woman’s power is so beyond offensive that I don’t even know where to start.  I mean this is the biggest pile of misogynistic wankery I’ve seen from a woman in a long time:

So the girls who are standing by their man – while reminding him that they are his equal, and that running the country does not mean he gets out of children’s bath times – can draw strength from their old school motto: Deus Dat Incrementum, “God gives growth”. A call, the school says, to put back what has been gained, to serve in whatever way you can with dignity.

“Standing by their man” is the same rhetoric which forces women to remain in abusive marriages. It’s the same language which blames women for divorcing a man whose been fucking his way around the planet since the day after they stood at the altar. Training girls to stand by their man is misogyny.

This entire article is misogyny. It erases the entire lives of women like Samantha Cameron and reduces them to nothing more than a possession. If this is what Marlborough is teaching girls, it needs to shut down. Women’s ‘power’ isn’t in their role as a possession of a man. It is in their existence. The fact that men can’t see this is patriarchal bullshit.

 

*Of course, this number isn’t accurate if your child has learning difficulties. In which case, you are charged £58 per hour for support. The phrase red flag comes to mind here and I have to wonder whether Marlborough lets in any children who would have statements for support in state schools. I’m guessing no.

The Prison Service is Banning Books.

Actually, the situation is far more complicated than the Guardian article describing the new petition by Mark Haddon makes clear. Prison services aren’t actually banning books. They are, however, preventing families from receiving small packages from families and friends which could contain books. This is part of their rewards and incentives program which “encourages” good behaviour from prisoners.

Regardless of the hyperbole involved with the “banning books” headlines, the idea just stinks. Books should never be used as a punishment or reward.

I don’t support the prison system in general as it is simply not fit for purpose. It does not offer “justice” nor “rehabilitation”. It is also deeply misogynistic and racist; one only has to look at the crimes for which women and Black men are incarcerated for and compare them with the crimes of white middle class men.

Prison must be about rehabilitation. Yes, there are violent men who should not be released but denying them access to books and other extreme forms of punishment do not make prisons safe for other inmates or the staff. Books are the one thing that all prisoners should have access to at all times. There are obvious provisos here: obviously no one should have a copy of Mein Kampf and how-to manuals for torture porn. There should also be limits on the number of library books an inmate can have in their cell at any one time but preventing families from sending in new books is nonsensical.

There are better ways to reward and incentivise prisoners good behaviour but those require a fundamental overhaul of our justice system and a recognition that incarceration should be reserved only for violent crimes. But, as long as we are stuck with the system we have, preventing new books from entering prisons is an inappropriate punishment which does nothing to help with rehabilitation (frankly, some actual programs for drug misuse might be a start).

I have linked the petition below but in a climate where library services are being cut across the UK perhaps a more effective response would be for everyone to start donating books they don’t want or need to public libraries, schools and local prisons.

Petition

Bidisha wrote a brilliant blog on the power of books in prisons here.

The responses from men to my Ally Fogg post.

These are just two of the comments from men to my post on Ally Fogg’s disgraceful article on penis size, which insults the victim of child sexual violence in the Max Clifford trial:

ALLEGEDLY RAPE you stupid cunt.
And no, I don’t give a shit if I offended your stupid hysterical ass or if you ban me.

and

They want a pat on the back for being an indecent human being, because that what it takes to be a feminist ally. I would have thought cookies and blowjobs were a small price to pay for corrupting a soul.

This is why Ally Fogg is dangerous. His work gives men’s rights extremists like the two above a veneer of social acceptability. His work minimises male responsibility for violence against women and girls whilst simultaneously suggesting that women are over-reacting to threats. Fogg makes violent men the victims of a patriarchal culture. Men’s lives are constrained within the patriarchy but it is not enough to talk about hegemonic masculinity . Men still have to talk personal responsibility for choosing to be violent: for committing rape, domestic violence, assault, torture and murder. Our culture may be violent but it is the choice of individual men to commit that violence within the family. It is the choice of individual men to follow the path of violence.

These types of comments are what women who write online receive every single day. It is men like Ally Fogg who make excuses for men’s violence.

Ally Fogg: Just doesn’t give a shit about women.

Ally Fogg has managed to write an entire piece* celebrating his penis at the expense of the child victim of rape in the Max Clifford rape trial. Granted, Fogg doesn’t actually mention Clifford in the piece but we all know what the article is about Clifford’s trial and the fact that the jury was sent out of the room for behaving like pathetic teenage boys at a discussion of the size of Clifford’s penis.

Everything about the Max Clifford trial has been a disgraceful example of the pretence at justice in a rape culture.  Clifford is on trial for 11 counts of indecent assault against women and girls. Since the beginning, this case has been nothing but click-bait for a media obsessed with celebrities at the expense of women and children who are raped, tortured, and assaulted on a daily basis by violent men. The fact that a jury thought comments about the size of a penis of a man on trial for sexual assault was giggle-inducing is clear evidence that they simply aren’t competent to make a judgment on the case.

This is what rape culture is: a jury who think penis size is oh-so-hilarious that they are sent from the room to compose themselves like mothers do with small over-excited children. I’d have thought a jury this incapable of acting like adults when listening to a survivor of child sexual abuse would have been an immediate call for mistrial. But, no. They are just sent on a time-out. This is the state of our criminal justice system: men rape and sexually assault women and children with impunity because juries are too stupid to understand they are listening to testimony of a serious offence not an episode of The Family Guy.

But, it isn’t enough to treat a victim of child sexual abuse as a joke. Nope, Ally Fogg has to write a whole article about his penis and just how much he loves it. I’m not actually surprised that Fogg wrote it since he’s misogyny is well-documented. His hatred of women spews from his pores. As friend(s) said earlier today: He is the acceptable face of white men’s rights extremism who “earns money with his smug, sly, patronising ‘what about the mens’ crap” and “gives MRA a faux-intellectualism while sneering at women left, right and centre.”

Fogg uses any excuse to push his anti-woman agenda: even a traumatised victim of sexual violence.

 

*Link is a clean one via donotlink.