I’ve been writing this blogpost for a few days now and, as ever, I’m behind the times since Sheila Jeffreys has now been banned from the conference venue for “promoting hatred”. I find this incredibly disappointing and it makes me so very angry that women’s voices are once again being silenced because of a concerted attack by a group of activists who use shameful bullying tacts to silence any opposition. The Guardian article is here.
This is my post, not quite finished [or edited] since I meant it for tomorrow but I would rather it be read now:
I’ve been trying to write this blogpost since the vitriol against #RadFem2012 started trending on twitter. I’ve been horrified by the level of violence and hate speech that has accompanied the announcement of the Radical Feminist conference in London. This might reflect entirely who I follow on Twitter and Facebook, but the vast majority of insults, especially those which threaten violence, have been by a few transactivists against radical feminists. After all, I didn’t see anyone who self-identified as Radical Feminist suggesting that people who disagreed with them were “scum” like those Transactivists using the hashtag: #radscum2012. I’ve not seen any Radical Feminsts using words like “cunt” to dismiss and belittle Transactivists. There is even a Resist RadFem2012 blog set-up. I won’t be attending #RadFem2012 this summer but that’s for financial reasons and not because I don’t want to be there. I missed the Go Feminism conference in February for the same reason. If I had the financial resources, I would spend my life traipsing up and down the UK on a train attending Feminist conferences and festivals. Being surrounded by Feminists of all persuasions is a beautiful thing; even if we don’t agree on all points just being with people who are critical of our capitalist-patriarchy is inspiring.
I am, however, really struggling to understand the vitriol targeting the Radical Feminist conference. I genuinely do not see why people are so angry about one conference for women-born only. It is not like there is a dearth of Feminist conferences and activities in the UK right now. If anything, we are at the beginning of a major Feminist activist revival. There should be opportunities for everyone to participate in Feminist activism without denigrating or deriding attempts by others to engage in activism and consciousness-raising.
There are many forms of oppression and discrimination that women born women have to deal with which is different from the discrimination faced by Transgender people. I think it would be equally disrespectful for me to assert my “right” to attend a conference which is for transgender women only. Indeed, the Philadelphia Trans-Health conference includes closed sessions for Transgendered people only. I think it is inhumane and utterly arrogant for me to assume that I should be allowed into this space because there are issues of discrimination faced by transgendered people that I, as a FAAB, have never experienced and do not have the ability to offer anything constructive other than sympathy. Transgender people don’t need a straight, FAAB sitting in the corner offering sympathy. They need a space where they can discuss their lived experiences without worrying about whether or not an audience is present [or worrying if the audience is sympathetic] just like FAAB deserve.
It is as equally disrespectful for me to assert my “right” to attend a conference for Black Feminist women-only based on an assumption of “shared experience” because of our biological sex. Or, and this term sets my teeth on edge, my “right” to attend a Black-women only event in order to “educate” myself about the specific structural oppression faced by Black women due to misogyny and racism. If I were truly interested in “educating” myself about the multiple oppressions experienced by “Othered” women, I would read books, articles and, increasingly, blogs written by these women. Hell, Twitter and Facebook offer opportunities to learn without being rude. Demanding access to their space would be asserting a White Privilege that I do not deserve. Black women have the personal need and the political right to close their space to white women. I have neither the personal need nor the political right to demand access to that space.
Transgender people do experience serious oppression and discrimination in our capitalist-Patriarchy. Anyone suggesting differently is either deliberately minimising the level of sexual violence and harassment transgendered people receive or has not yet considered it. I have never heard a Feminist argue that Transgender people do not experience violence [sexual and otherwise]. I have heard Feminists argue that the violence experienced by Transgendered people originates in the same Patriarchal constructs as misogyny BUT that the violence and oppression of women is both experientially and structurally different. That is not to say that one individual has it “worse” than another or that the specific experience of one individual can be used as representative of all, whether they be women or transgender but, rather that, the specific oppressions experienced by FAAB is qualitatively different to that experienced by transgendered people. It is also infinitely more likely for women to experience gender-based violence.
FAAB should also have the right to get together to support, mourn and celebrate their experiences of oppression because of misogyny. FAAB should be allowed to discuss issues like amenorrhea, pregnancy, childbirth, infertility, abortion, sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape and other sex-based socially constructed forms of discrimination without an audience. Women, as a sex, are entitled to a safe space to talk. Denying women the right to do so is basic misogynistic oppression. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas of Feminism where women and transgender people can’t come together to engage in activism. It just means it doesn’t have to be every time. To quote Beachcomber on MN: “This is a political issue, an issue of social groups and hierarchy – it is not an issue of individual circumstance or reality”. Everyone is entitled to a space in which to contemplate and critique their experiences within their own social group.
I suppose its important here to note where I started my journey as a feminist. I grew up in an area of Canada with a very high population of First Nations people. Whilst I can write a catalogue of the institutionalised sexism and misogyny I experienced, it is nothing like the experience of First Nations women who suffered under the dual oppressions of racism and misogyny. My statistical risk of being rape was exponentially smaller than that of First Nations women; as was my statistical chance of being a victim of gendered murder. I experienced similar “smaller” sexual assaults to First Nations women but, again, not in the numbers experienced by First Nations women. The treatment of First Nations women in Canada is a national disgrace that is frequently elided from the public sphere. My first feminist “activism” was a protest against the public support a white rapist received because his victim had to be “lying” because she was First Nations and therefore supposedly sexually available to all white men.
I am also disabled but I wasn’t born disabled. Nor do I have a disability which is “visible”. I have never been stared at or insulted in the street for looking “different”. I can “pass” as non-disabled. I’ve never struggled on the London Underground [except when carrying heavy luggage]. I’ve never had to stand at a bus stop and watch a bus driver refuse to allow me on because I am in a wheelchair. These oppressions and discriminatory practises are different and everyone should have the right to gather to discuss issues personal to them without having to worry about whether or not they will be attacked for them.
I also have both white privilege and class privilege. Neither of these negate my oppression as a woman. They do make more privileged than Black women and poor women. As a feminist, I want to see the eradication of the gender binary hierarchy and the destruction of the systemic and institutionalised oppression of women in the capitalist-patriarchy. I believe that sex is biology but gender is a social construct designed to oppress women. Gender can be “performed” but it is inherently a destructive and reductive social construct. Performing it only serves to reinforce that destructive and reductive social construct and further oppress women. I think it is telling that for MtF transgender people in the UK to be allowed surgery on the NHS, they have to “live” for two years performing femininity: not gender but femininity by wearing dresses, make up and high heels. If this were how women were identified, I would know very few FAAB who would pass. I do not believe women will ever be “free” until we have destroyed the Patriarchy which also requires destroying capitalism. The Patriarchy predates capitalism but it now functions in symbiosis with capitalism so that we can not destroy one without the other. The capitalist-Patriarchy is harmful for everyone. Yes, there is an intersectionality of oppressions that privilege certain groups of women over other women [and over other men in terms of poverty]. I do not understand how we can destroy the Patriarchy if we are reinforcing the gender binary hierarchy.
The Right to Protest?
I am quite concerned about the threats of intimidation and violence being levied at the women who will be attending the Radical Feminist conference; particularly the not-quite-ironic threats by certain transactivists using the same language of oppression as MRAs. They are agitating for protests outside the conference which are reminiscent of those held by anti-choice arseholes outside abortion clinics. I can not believe people who self-identify as Feminists don’t see how hypocritical that stance is. I remember attending a Holocaust Memorial Day viewing of the film The Pianist which ended in with a question and answer session with Holocaust survivors derailed by Palestinian activists. Whilst I support the aims of Palestinian activists in fighting the human rights violations committed by the Israeli government, targeting vulnerable, elderly Holocaust survivors was rude, mean-spirited and unlikely to convert me to their cause. I feel the same about those specific Transactivists threatening and intimidating women wanting to attend this Radical Feminist conference. It only serves to alienate me from their cause.
I also think its quite problematic to be protesting outside an event that will be attended by vulnerable women; particularly women who have experienced male violence within their personal relationships or experienced violence as prostituted women. Agitating outside a venue is very different to peaceful protest. Whilst I’m not entirely fond of the suggestion that people will be outside picketing with signs, the thought that people will be deliberately attending to shout abuse and denigrate the women attending makes me really quite sad. Have we genuinely got to the point where a group of women can’t get together to discuss issues relevant to them without being abused or insulted?
In many ways, this feels like the same debate around Reclaim the Night when men, who weren’t going to attend anyways, get all uppity about not being allowed to attend. Or, what annoys me even more, men are then invited to attend RTN’s which immediately excludes vulnerable women and then the men don’t bother to show up. I have to wonder how much of the hate speech on Twitter under the #radscum2012 and #radfem2012 hashtags are genuinely by people interested in radical feminism and transgender rights and how many are only using it as a way of unleashing their bigotry. This is the kind of abuse radical feminists receive via their blogs and twitter. The number of times “cunt” is used as an insult is telling.
I think it’s worth noting that this conference is predicated on a number of issues which MRAs find problematic. It takes as its starting point the theory that the “sex industry” is inherently misogynistic and that the idea of “sex-positive” feminism is an anachronism which privileges male sexuality and reduces women only to objects. It assumes that porn is violent women-hating and that prostitution amounts to nothing more than the rape of vulnerable women.
In trying to write this, I’ve been reading a lot of blogs. These are a selection of some I’ve been reading over the past week:
Update with More Resources: