Replicating damaging patriarchal language

If I were to discuss the following, you would assume I was talking about children:

  • If you are friends with her, we can’t be friends
  • I won’t talk to you if you talk to her

Instead, I have seen both of the above stated by feminists of all stripes. I’ve seen monitoring of people’s Facebook friends and monitoring conversations on twitter all used as evidence to discredit other feminists. Failure to conform to rigid rules immediately class a woman as a “bad feminist” who is then shunned, mocked and denigrated.

These are the techniques used:

  • Name calling or insults
  • mocking
  • belittlement
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Ignoring or excluding
  • Isolating
  • Humiliating

There is this assumption that is okay to engage in the above if your cause is ‘right’ or ‘good’. The ‘bad’ feminist must then be reminded daily of their failures and how much they disappoint other women – including ones they have never met for the simple crime of not being unnecessarily rude to someone they disagree with politically.

The resemblance to emotionally abusive behaviour perpetrated by men is so obvious and one that we’re not allowed to talk about. Because it’s apparently worse to point out when someone is mocking and isolating women than it is to engage in such abusive behaviour. Instead, we see insinuations of stupidity and removal of women from Facebook groups for asking questions or having the wrong friend.

I do hold feminists to a higher standard because we should know – whether we are radical, liberal, socialist, materialist or whatever – the statistical likelihood that the woman we are speaking to has experienced male violence and that they are living with trauma. Replicating male patterns of speech and emotionally abusive and bullying behaviour isolates vulnerable women and actively harms others.

We do need to recognise that some of the women who use these patterns are doing so because of the way they have internalised their trauma. We need to be able to challenge these women in a way that will not further traumatise them without allowing this behaviour to continue.

But, we also need to stop accepting this type of bullying as ‘normal’ debate tactics.  Posting private messages on Facebook isn’t appropriate behaviour. It is a silencing tactic: disagree with me and I will publicly shame you. Name calling, mocking and belittlement are extremely damaging to women’s mental health – many of us suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD but that isn’t an excuse to behave abusively to other women.

Isolating women from support networks and their friends is classic behaviour for a perpetrator of domestic violence and yet I see it all the time in online feminist groups: political disagreements used to defend the isolation of women.

We cannot liberate women from male violence if we use the same tactics to attack each other.

* A huge thank you to Cath Andrews who talked through this post with me and raised the issue of ‘failure’

Purity Politics and Trashing Women

The brand new A Room of Our Own website is up! And, it’s only taken 14 hours for the trashing to start on Facebook. I was actually surprised; normally it only takes about 2 hours before the “OMG you’ve let trannies in” brigade to start. The “OMG you’ve let TERFS and SWERFS in” hasn’t started, but I haven’t checked my twitter feed this morning. I prefer to leave twitter until after I’ve had caffeine. Plus, I’ve got most of them blocked on twitter – my Facebook wall is open so anyone can post on it, which has its own positives and negatives.

There comes a point when the:

A Room of Our Own is a network open to all feminists and womanists. If I wanted it to reflect my personal politics, I would have reblogged posts I agree with on my blog.

statement becomes tedious with repetition. Reblogging would have been cheaper, less time consuming, and result in less abuse and threats of physical violence. Of course, this is never good enough for some people. Building a platform to share the writing of women who self-identify as feminist and womanist was always going to involve complaints. I knew in advance that it would result in being crapped on. I’ve watched enough feminist social media campaigns get trashed to think it wouldn’t happen to me.

Sometimes I just ignore it, but I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of feminist purity politics. For the record,

I am gender critical.

I believe the sex industry constitutes state-sanctioned violence against women.

I think ‘mother privilege’ is a deeply stupid concept lacking any analysis of women as a class and it completely erases the multiple oppressions faced by many women, including racism, lesbophobia, classism (in materialist sense) and disablism.

White woman who say that misogyny is tolerated when racism isn’t are perpetuating white supremacy. Being a feminist doesn’t magically cure you of socialisation within a white supremacist, capitalist-patriarchy.  It’s not only possible to be a feminist AND racist, it’s pretty much a given (and, no, I don’t exclude myself from this).

Womanism is the logical consequence of a mainstream feminism which erases the voices of othered women.

Men can’t be feminists.

Feminism is about the liberation of women

If you’ve read my blog, you’re probably familiar with my stance on these issues. Hell, the latter half of the above shouldn’t even need to be said.

What I rarely write about is my loathing of feminist purity politics. No woman is born a perfect feminist and I have no time for anyone who thinks they were born perfect.

I would have ignored the most recent criticism of me as a shit feminist for promoting the writing of feminists/womanists that other feminists hate had it not been for the spate of unnecessary twaddle on Facebook recently.  My FB wall is full of posts by women saying “X said this about me” and “Y said that about D” and “you won’t believe what T said about B in group G”.

Frankly, I experienced less ridiculousness in high school – despite being the bullied nerd girl with no real friends for most of it. We absolutely need to be having critical conversations about theory and practise but it doesn’t need sub-tweeting or cryptic posts on FB.

Purity politics only reinforces patriarchal silencing of women. A feminism that involves women too afraid to speak out for fear of being trashed for not being “good enough” isn’t a feminism I want to be part of. No woman is owed an answer to a question they ask other feminists. No woman should be shamed for making compromises in their feminism in order to survive in a white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.

If you don’t like the way one woman is engaged in feminist activism, then do it yourself. Complaining that other women are doing it “wrong” is intellectually lazy.

I have lots of friends on FB who cover the whole gamut of feminism. I’ve never felt the urge to post on someone’s wall “YOU’RE WRONG” despite disagreeing with them completely. Because it’s bloody rude. It’s quite possible to have critical discussions about feminist theory without subtweeting and cryptic FB posts. It’s possible to have these discussions without resorting to personal insults and snide remarks. It’s possible to hold disagreements without dragging other people into it. Screen-capping posts from one FB group to another is inherently anti-feminist and violates all the rules about safe spaces.

All women are living with the trauma of male supremacy and we will all replicate the same heteronormative, white supremacist patriarchal structures because socialisation is incredibly powerful. A little bit of recognition and some basic kindness to other women wouldn’t go amiss.

I know this post will loose me friends, but I wouldn’t tolerate this behaviour from my children. I’m certainly not going to accept it from adults.

 

SHINY NEW A ROOM OF OUR OWN HERE

 

Feminism is about liberating women; not who your friends are

On Friday morning, between getting myself ready for work and my child ready for school, I was tweeted an article on the BBC about a report from the Home Affairs Select Committee which recommended anonymity for rapists. I was horrified. Anonymity for rape suspects is incredibly dangerous for all sorts of reasons – starting with the fact that rapists have a huge rate of recidivism and a very low rate of conviction. Because of misogyny. Rapists commit rape knowing that the general public, the media and the police will label their victims a liar or insist she was partly responsible for the rape for the crime of being born a girl.

I was so angry, I started a petition. Whilst I was writing it, I saw a tweet with a press release from the End Violence Against Women coalition so I added their quotes into the text of the petition.

I started the petition because I was angry. I assumed other women would be angry too. I was a bit surprised at the low numbers of people signing the petition, but I hoped it would be a slow-burner with the lack of signatures due to starting the petition during a solar eclipse.

I was really shocked and hurt to discover on Saturday morning that the reason the petition wasn’t being shared publicly was because a high profile media feminist refused to sign and share it because she doesn’t like me. It’s a petition asking the Home Affairs Select Committee review their recommendation on anonymity for suspects in rape cases – a recommendation made with no research-based evidence, just vague worries about the reputation of rapists. It never occurred to me that there would be anything so controversial about this petition that people wouldn’t share it because they don’t like me.

Yet, this is what happened. The petition wasn’t shared by a high-profile feminist because she doesn’t like me. When questioned, the answer changed to “because it’s not well-written”. I wrote the petition in 15 minutes as that’s all the time I had on Friday to do so. I’m a single disabled mother – my time is limited due to caring responsibilities and my disability. I wanted to get it out as soon as possible to challenge the inevitable media coverage of men feeling sad for being accused of rape – as though the real problem in rape was the rapist’s feelings rather than the fact that a woman was raped.

Now, I’m hearing others say the same thing: they can’t sign because the petition “wasn’t written well” – an answer that smacks of classism and disablism. Under this argument, only women who have Russell group university education will be allowed to engage in public activism. After all, a rogue comma could destroy the feminist movement completely since bad grammar is a bigger sin that anonymity for rape victims.

As a disabled woman who has written at length on my experiences dealing with the brain fog associated with fibromyalgia, I find this idea that women refuse to sign my petition as its “poorly written” humiliating. I know that my illness has affected my writing and my ability to talk coherently (especially when tired as I start to lose words or use the wrong ones). I’ve been really open about how hard it is as someone who loves writing to be unable to put my thoughts out coherently: that what ends up on the paper isn’t what was in my head because of the way the fibromyalgia has effected the ability of my brain to communicate clearly. It’s also effected my ability to speak since I lose words and have huge pauses in between words (that I don’t realise is happening). I also find it difficult to process what is being said to me when tired: I know people are talking but I can’t hear the actual words and, even when I can hear some of the words, my brain can’t actually process the message. When it’s this bad, the only thing I can do is nap. This isn’t exactly conducive to mothering or being a writer.

Hence, the humiliation and hurt at being told that my petition isn’t shareable because it isn’t well-written. Because I have a disability that is slowly destroying my life. I know that it isn’t being shared because this particular woman doesn’t like me – not because of the writing style. But, it doesn’t make it less humiliating when people are being told it’s because it’s ‘poorly-written’.

Feminism is a political movement to liberate women. It isn’t about who your friends are or who is a good writer. It’s about changing the world to make it safer for women. That’s why I started my petition to the Home Affairs Select Committee. And, that’s why I hope everyone will sign it.

Julie Bindel: “The deradicalisation of the lesbian liberation movement and unholy alliance with gay men”

This is a very interesting speech given by activist Julie Bindel at FemiFest 2014 about the women’s liberation movement, lesbian liberation movement and the failure of  the mainstream gay rights movement to support lesbian women.

#RadFem2012 Redux: Manchester’s Women Up North Conference

Two days ago, I blogged about the (successful) campaign to prevent Sheila Jeffreys from speaking at the #RadFem2012 conference. The campaign itself was unpleasant with some very serious threats made against the conference as well as an unnecessary amount of misogynistic abuse levelled at the women organising the conference. Here’s a hint: if you want me to take you seriously as a Feminist, you do not call other women cunts. Ever. That term is nothing but misogynistic. It can not be reclaimed to be used as a term of abuse.

I was so very sad to hear that the venue, Conway Hall, had ceded to the demands of a vocal minority of aggressive people and banned Sheila Jeffreys. I do not see the need to have inclusive to everyone feminist conferences all the time. If the activists were so concerned about the silencing of transwomen from the conference, they could have organised a simultaneous conference. Or, gone for peaceful counter-protest. Violent threats and silencing tactics help no one. They only serve to cause ructions within the Feminist movement which is what the Patriarchy wants.

Today, the first thing that came up on my Facebook feed was this blog stating that the activists who have silenced the women from RadFem2012 are now targeting Manchester Feminist Network’s Women Up North conference because it is holding one session closed for FAAB survivors of sexual violence. The conference is trans-inclusive except for this one session so I am not sure why it would be targeted. It also has a space for Black-women only and I don’t see anyone campaigning against that deliberately excluding people.

This is the response by the Manchester Feminist Network to a question as to whether or not the conference is trans-inclusive:

We don’t see it as transphobic to have some seperate space for born women. Some of the women in our group are vocal advocates of trans-women’s rights. Some of us advocate for trans-women’s human rights but still want to be in born woman space sometimes and don’t see the 2 as mutually exclusive. Many of us have trans-women as family members, friends and work colleagues. As a feminist network of different women we struggle with these differences and yet try to still work together. The compropmise that we came to for Women Up North was that it would generally be open to trans-women but that the sexual abuse survivors and sexuality workshops could be designated born women only as the facilitators requested this. 

The vast majority of sexual abuse is committed on women by men. Most women seek out women only services for support and recovery e.g. rape crisis centres, survivors groups or women counsellors. This doesnt mean that all male counsellors or support services are rapists, but that unfortunately under patriarchy women are understandably sometimes fearful of and uncomfortable around men (just think how differently it impacts on women when having a man or woman walking behind them when alone out at night). Sadly, some of us would not feel as safe/uninhibited in the presence of people who have lived some of their lives as men, however those individuals feel/see themselves and whether they too are survivors of sexual violence. Blame patriarchy for this, not feminist survivors of abuse. Please work with us seperately when requested, and together at all other times to challenge male violence and patriarchy. We have alot of common ground and alot of work to do! Some of us like this article by Jenny Roberts, a trans-woman who used to run the lesbian bookshop and arts festival Libertas http://www.annelawrence.com/buildingbridges.html 

This is our response on the matter and we are unlikely to respond to individual comments, apologies.

It makes me very sad when women’s voices are silence because of political lobbying. As I said in my other blogpost, all women [whether they be FAAB or transwomen] have the right to safe spaces to discuss issues which are personal. Lesbian women should not have to discuss domestic violence with heterosexual women if they don’t want. Transgendered people have the right to close spaces so they discuss issues of “passing” or surgery without feeling the need to “educate” an audience with no personal experience on the issue. In this, a little bit of kindness and listening to the needs of others wouldn’t go remiss. Personally, I think the obvious compromise is to run a second session on sexual violence which is trans-inclusive for those who choose to attend it.

#RadFem2012

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.

Intersectionality:

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.

Personal Reflections:

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.

Constructing Gender:

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:

Radical Pro-Feminist

Gender Trender

Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues

Femonade

Feministing

F-Word

How Trans Women Challenge Feminism

CherryBlossomLife

Mumsnet Thread

Update with More Resources:

Fact Check Me on Cotton Ceilings

Pleasure and Possibilities Workshop

Gender Trender

Dinosaurs and Janice Raymond

Born Genderless

Resist RadFem

Building Bridges