Lately, I can’t help but notice that there is a lot of infighting within the feminist community. Generally, people point to this as a bad thing – there’s strength in numbers, after all. Arguing with each other takes time and energy, after all. Shouldn’t we be focusing our attention on the common enemy?
Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: saying that we want the same things is not the same as agreeing on the path to take, or even what the ideal outcome looks like. As a general statement, all feminists seem to agree that pursuing gender equality is at the heart of what we do. However, some feminists (particularly those who are privileged) are content to limit their focus to only gender, to the exclusion of issues related to race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and ability. As long as there are eventually equal numbers of men and women in positions of power, they’ll be more or less happy. The structure of power itself is left untouched and unexamined. In fact, the structure is sometimes even endorsed and promoted in the pursuit of their goals.
Obviously, my vision of feminism is much different. It’s not enough that things become equally good or equally bad for men and women within demographic categories. The big picture involves social justice for everybody: men, women, and gender nonconforming people of all classes and categories. Our discussions and our activism need to address the wide net of destruction that patriarchy casts, while also being mindful that patriarchy is just one aspect of kyriarchy. We need to talk about the feminization of poverty AND we need to talk about poverty in general. We need to talk about access to child care AND we need to talk about issues facing child care workers like vacancy chains and low wages. We need to talk about access to safe and legal birth control and abortion AND we need to talk about the abysmal social supports for single mothers, our history of forced sterilization of welfare recipients and women of color, and the need to dismantle ideas about who has the “right” to be a parent. We need to talk about rape culture AND we need to talk about supporting the safety and agency of sex workers. We need to talk about the male gaze and bodily autonomy AND we need to acknowledge the valid spiritual reasons why Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women (among others) may wish to cover to varying degrees. Feminism should never be a bunch of multi-privileged white women controlling the dialogue and calling all of the shots.
So it’s been really disheartening to see the kinds of ridiculous fights that have been erupting, big and small. A couple of weeks ago Ani Difranco scheduled (and later cancelled) a songwriting retreat at a former slave plantation that serves today as an opulent hotel and museum that actually glorifies slavery. Instead of coming together to acknowledge how thoughtless and disrespectful it is to profit off of a place like this, lots and lots and lots of (primarily white) mainstream feminists rushed to Ani’s defense. Instead of ceasing to be fangirls for like, a minute, and showing some human decency, they mocked and vilified the people who were hurt and angry. While they were doing it, they bemoaned our splintered movement, and blamed women of color for racial divisions. Every day, trans-exclusionary radical feminists misgender, harass, and exclude transwomen. Sex worker exclusionary radical feminists alternately vilify or infantilize sex workers. Privileged feminist women engage in “respectability politics.” A Ukrainian feminist group called FEMEN recently mocked Islam and insulted Muslim women worldwide in their incredibly offensive “Topless Jihad” demonstrations. A Politico writer called Michelle Obama a “feminist nightmare” for making motherhood a serious priority. All of these conflicts could have been prevented, or at least resolved, with sensitivity and humility, two traits that are oten noticeably absent in the mainstream feminist movement.
And honestly, I don’t want solidarity with those “feminists”. I don’t. Not until they get their acts together, or at least learn how to self-reflect and say “I’m sorry” when they’re wrong. I wish the divide was even bigger between feminists who openly uphold various elements of the kyriarchy and those of us who strive not to, because I’m sick of people assuming that they represent me. I’m sick of them driving people away from feminism by bolstering an image of religious intolerance, classism, racism, and general disregard for others. This isn’t a call for perfect feminists, it’s a call for feminists to stop using other women (and children and some disadvantaged men) as stepladders on the way up to their goals. In doing so, they are actively hurting our movement and dragging feminism’s name through the mud. A recent study from the University of Queensland demonstrated that when activists promote a cause while degrading marginalized others, even when they get more attention, they garner less new supporters (the study in question observed the effect of sexist images in pro-vegetarian advertisements). I am not content to sit idly by and allow the people with the most privilege have the loudest voices as they trample the marginalized. If that means more infighting, I’m fine with that. We’ve got issues. We’ve got history. It’s time to start addressing that.