It was about this time last year that I became a member of A Thousand Flowers. Not residing in the Weeg, nor being an ex-hack from the youth wing of one of Scotland’s parties of the left, I didn’t fit the running demographic. There’s a long-winded story which explains just what led to me meeting my fellow Flowers but it involves misogyny and me being a Twitter stalker so we’ll skip past that yin.
Becoming a Flower was one of the best decisions I made last year because it has reengaged me with the politics happening around me in a way which I never could have predicted. I was reluctant at first. I’ve always felt very estranged from the “young” left for one reason or another (mainly crusty manarchists and EUSA knobs) but here were a group of people with not only great fucking politics but *without* the politics in the same breath. A deep (justified) suspicion of The Left and an unapologetic determination to hold its tropes up to scrutiny; a fierce defence of pop culture; and an impatience for fannies and fanny-apologists – I wis sold. With the honesty, humour and no-prisoners attitude of ATF, my politics were given the kick up the arse that they needed in order to be truly critical again.
For me, one of the most significant aspects to my “political resurgence” is the way in which it has forced to me re-examine my feminist politics and the feminist politics around me. For all of my adult life I have considered myself to be feminist. Fighting against patriarchy and misogyny has for a long time now been a big part of who I am as a person – in my work, my social life, in my online presence, and it has played a major role in defining and determining many of the relationships in my life. Being “feminist” has always felt like a hopeful, collective enterprise to me.
That’s why it pains me so much to admit that these days, my hopefulness and my zeal for Da Feminism has all but shrivelled up and been replaced by pessimism and cynicism. Now I feel increasingly estranged from key feminist movements and less and less convinced that they want to do any of the dismantling in a way which reflects the type of world I want to live in.
Because personal reflection and self-criticism is always hard, it’s probably natural that the most difficult part of this for me was realising that despite my belief that I was progressive, I was in fact anything but. Some might excuse that as the natural cause and effect of being a white, middle-class, cisgendered woman but really it was nothing but sheer laziness. The more I became reengaged politically, the more I started to realise the extent to which so much of feminism is so laughably ridiculous, yet so simultaneously dangerous and offensive. I am continually horrified by just how unquestioningly the majority of feminist power, platform and credibility is granted almost exclusively to similarly privileged women who espouse a “feminism” which caters only to people like them and me. What’s worse is that the widening of the mainstream feminist audience hasn’t been matched with a widening in mainstream critiques making it harder than ever for people to discern what’s shite and what’s not, easier than ever to exercise an incredibly passive and superficial “feminism”, and for the structural inequalities within feminism to be perpetuated.
What I find so ironic is that when I look at this popular “feminism”, I see a movement which for the most part caters more to the reinforcement of patriarchal norms and their imposition on women than it does to, like, actual women. From getting their knickers in twist about makeup and barefaced selfies; to positively salivating at the mouth at the chance to screech relentlessly about Beyonce asking bitches to bow down; to Caitlin “I don’t give a shit about race” Moran deciding that Rihanna is bad for women and needs to put a cardi on; to advocating that women buy into the glass ceiling smashing, retrograde shite of ‘Lean In’ and other “confidence gap” propaganda, the sneering white liberal feminist mafia merely create stifling, not liberating, standards for women.
Rather than seeking to understand the true depths of gender inequality, which means constant reflection on matters of privilege and intersectionality, and rather than then radically readdressing those depths, this feminism wants to first consolidate women into one homogenous entity and then ask them to adapt to and compete with men within the same tired, bullshit patriarchal, standards within which we’ve always lived; apply coarse respectability politics to women of colour; and slut-shame with rhetoric not very far divorced from that of rape apologism. It’s not even “one size fits all” feminism, it’s a brazenly elitist, classist and racist philosophy which is bottled and sold to women as a feminism which is “modern” and “remodelled”. Read: tired, neoliberal as fuck, and delivered day in day out by the same five variations on theme of Hardly Freewoman and Charlotte fucking Raven.
What white liberal feminism is too afraid to do.
What’s even worse, I now realise, is that what liberal mainstream feminism spews in an alienating snobbery, classism and racism, those of self-proclaimed “left” and more “radical” feminism rival in bigotry. How could we ever forget Julie Burchill’s utterly bizarre Observer piece. Y’know, the one about eating lobster and “chicks with dicks” etc etc?! (A fucking NATIONAL BROADSHEET giving free reign to a bigot who doesn’t even try to hide her contempt for transgender people whilst proclaiming to be a vanguard of contemporary feminist discourse – good one). Whilst there was widespread anger at that piece with those across the feminist spectrum quite rightly condemning this hateful shite as, well, hateful shite, I very quickly realised that this is disease which is far more endemic than Burchill’s grandiose occasional bile-fests, and that there is a substantial tribe in leftist and radical feminism who are *repeatedly* given extremely prominent and far reaching public and media platforms which they use to actively ridicule, hurt and diminish the experience of trans* women. And what’s really scary is that like Burchill, many of the key women within these spheres are women with a dangerous amount of power and platform which they use to project a clear aversion to transgender people, masquerading as a really, really fucking weird obsession with biology. Because obviously having a fanny and a uterus automatically makes me more of a woman than a trans woman, my body more routinely violated, my experiences of misogyny more valid and difficult. Yay sisterhood!
I know that many reading this will be like, “well duh”, but as someone who’s tended to tinker on the more liberal end of things in past lives and who has been thoroughly unmotivated to push boundaries (because of course I thought they were already pushed), all of this has been a really painful and difficult reality for me to come to terms with. Previously “the enemy” had always been those who didn’t support feminism, those who dismissed it as an archaic irrelevance, those who committed and perpetuated sexist and misogynistic behaviour, and those who condoned it or shrugged it off as a joke, as a minor issue, as individual rather than a collective issue. Now I find that most of the time, those who make me most angry are those within well-established factions of feminism itself. Like the day as a teenager when you realise for the first time that your parent isn’t an infallible being who can sort anything out for you, it’s a disconcerting feeling to be angry at those who you always felt should be your rightful allies.
Sometimes it really scares me. It scares me that something I have for so long regarded as such an important part of my being and my beliefs now angers me, tires me, almost bores me at times, making me want to totally disengage. It scares me because I now often find myself actively avoiding feminist debate or even discussions only just tinged with issues of gender because it makes me so anxious that I instantly start feeling hot and shaky. It scares me because more often than not I would now rather not say anything and keep my head down than challenge someone on their sexism. And most of all it scares me because I feel these things at the same time as I still feel the forces of patriarchy, misogyny and inequality more deeply as I ever have before and my belief in the need to dismantle these forces is still powerful and unwavering.
I get that this piece is at a high risk of sounding as though I think that I am now somehow better than everyone else and that I believe that I am now some sort of perfect feminist. Let me be clear –that is anything but how I truly feel. Most of the time I feel pretty fucking clueless and almost panicked by my self-perceived ignorance. Humans are tribal and it’s natural to feel like you want to align yourself with a group or a general “way” of thinking and hard to rebel against that. Like almost all political movements, we are conditioned to believe that we need to learn from those in positions of power and leadership, those who have “gone before us”. Breaking away from and challenging the norm of your general political persuasions is hard, and feminism has been no different in that regard for me.
Writing personal pieces really isn’t my usual style and I have huge reservations about the mere concept (this post has been deleted and re-written a million times!) However, what I *do* feel certain about is that whilst I often feel lost, in rejecting the key feminisms presented to me I also feel more open and receptive than I ever have before to the *shit that really matters* and I feel so fucking strongly about encouraging other women to do the same. I would never proclaim to know it all but in forcing myself to be critical, I feel as though I’ve started to challenge myself to truly explore the direct words, experiences and opinions of women and to allow these to start to inform and build my own feminist politics.
The thing is that there really isn’t an excuse not to. Online there is a momentum which is steadily building, bringing a level of accessibility across culture, nationality, gender, sexuality, race and class which is unprecedented and available to anyone with an internet connection. It’s there in books and films and tv if you look hard enough and make choices based on a need to explore and challenge yourself and if you start to look at “the experiences of women” as being about just that, not how a bunch of white women in London want you to think once you’ve read it in The Guardian or The Newstatesman. It’s in speaking to women who are different to you and actually, really, properly listening. It’s in challenging and never for a minute accepting when the world starts furiously wanking over a man who made a vaguely feminist statement once somewhere. And if that’s Identity Politics then fine and to fuck with you if you think that maintaining a blinkered ideology in the face of what affects real people’s lives is more important. There is nothing certain or even solidly collective about it, but I can almost guarantee that if you replace The Guardian with Tumblr, you’ll be helluva lot closer to understanding what life is like for *all* sorts of women. You’ll learn more about how they are hurt, how they are oppressed, how they struggle, but also what makes them hopeful, what inspires them and what changes they try to make to the world. Making the time and effort and space to seek these stories and to listen, appreciate, try your hardest to understand – that’s where the roots of a true, meaningful and truly representative feminism lie, and we owe it to ourselves and to each other as women to make that happen.