An unspeakable post
An unspeakable post
October 16, 2014
Posted by glosswitch under Feminism
In July this year I received an email from The Feminist Times, stating that they had financial concerns and asking whether I’d be willing, as a one-off, to contribute something for free (I’d written several paid articles before).
The email included the following line:
This is a chance to write ANYTHING you want to. Stuff no one else will publish.
So I decided to write about inclusion and exclusion, both in terms of physical space and in terms of definition, as both seem to me a vitally important when attempting to establish both women’s humanity and their basic safety. I expressed what I truly felt, sent off the article and waited, knowing that while it might be controversial, I had been given free rein to write ANYTHING (their caps, not mine).
Thanks for this. For obvious reasons I’ll have to run it past […] when we’re both back in the office together on Monday. I’ll keep you posted.
And then. a week later:
Sorry, we don’t think we can publish this! Keep us posted if there’s anything else you’re keen to write though.
At first I was a little disappointed. And then of course, I felt a little confused, and a little upset, and a little guilty. One thing I didn’t feel was cross. I’d obviously gone too far, overstepped some mark. I decided never to show the piece to anyone. No matter how much it meant to me, all it showed was that I was a bad person. Isn’t that how women always feel when they ask for too much?
A few months later, having finally shown this post to other women — and seen other women being silenced — I have changed my mind. Here is the piece. Here is what I think, and here is something which is considered inappropriate for a supposedly (albeit now defunct) feminist publication. This is what women, in the name of feminism, aren’t supposed to think or say. And I don’t think it makes me, or anyone else who feels it, any less of a feminist, a woman or a human being.
Feminism is about inclusion. It is about ensuring no woman is marginalised as a result of gender and other oppressions which intersect with it.
Feminism is also about exclusion. It is about safeguarding a woman’s right to set her own physical and mental boundaries, and about defending her right of refusal against anyone who seeks to overstep them.
These two principles should not contradict one another. A fully respected human being should be able to defend his or her own personal space while also sharing communal space and rights of recognition with others. That it has not been easy for feminists to achieve this is a measure of just how regressive our beliefs about “what women are” remain.
Time after time, wave after wave, feminists are accused of being exclusive and bigoted simply for defending the space that each woman should have for herself – the mental and/or physical room of one’s own. We make demands that would never be made of men, whose boundaries remain inviolable. It is only women – and to be specific, female women – who are expected to include and include to the point of self-abnegation. We are told what we are, how we think, what we should call ourselves. Our inner lives – experiences of our own bodies, our female socialisation, the discomforts we have suffered from birth – are considered accessible and transparent. We are permitted no complexity. We are the opposite, the complement, the helpmeet, the foil that grants definition to anyone who is not us. We exist, but not as complete entities in our own right.
For all our talk of the need to challenge cis norms, we have reached a point where it is expected that all those born female will enter into feminism as “traditional” women – those flexible, juggling, accommodating, motherly creatures who put everyone else’s needs before their own. That is how we are socialised to think of ourselves and, like it or not, that is what we demand of others. It is antithetical to a social justice movement which prioritises a woman’s right to active consent, but we do it anyway. We demand that gender norms are questioned while at the same time expecting females to perform in the same way as always: giving, giving, giving, never making their own imprint but always bearing that of others. For that is inclusion, is it not? Never daring to be so fickle, so mean, so exclusive, as to say “no – that is where you end and this is where I start”.
It does not surprise me one bit that an increasing number of young women declare themselves genderqueer or non-binary. It has become the one remaining get-out clause for consent. As an older woman who is a mother, it has been made clear that such a get-out clause is not available for the likes of me, regardless of what I know my relationship with gender to be. Someone has to be Cis Woman™, on hand to do the ideological equivalent of wiping arses, scrubbing floors and shutting the hell up. Widespread terror at the thought of not having such a person – the SWERF, the TERF, the whorephobe, the pearl-clutcher – available as a means of deflection is palpable. Now that we no longer do witch trials it’s fair to say that if the TERF did not exist, patriarchy would have to invent her (oh look! It did!). She is woman at her most hollowed out, a blank screen for projection, the cause of original sin – otherwise known as male violence – and a vessel to contain all bile.
It is true that if some women have to be positioned as the TERF, others may feel they don’t have to. It grants the latter a temporary place of safety. This is not the same as self-definition – the number of defensive contortions one has to go through in order not to be tarred with the TERF brush increases by the day. To give up on words – woman, man, female, male, gender – which describe the fundamentals of one’s own oppression is no small sacrifice. To do so because one has effectively been coerced, due to a culture of fear and misrepresentation, is nothing short of an intrusion on women’s mental, linguistic and psychic space.
This matters to me because the feminism that is exclusion – being able to close the door and say “this is MY understanding of what I am” – is just as important as the feminism that is inclusion. Like most women I know what it is to experience sexual and physical abuse. I know how hard it can be to feel safe within one’s own body and I don’t think we should underestimate how much this matters as regards one’s own mind. A feminism that is forceful and intrusive, denying swathes of women the right to their own inner lives, is no feminism at all. A feminism that dismisses reproductive difference and denies women the basic tools with which to describe what happens to people like them is worse than no feminism at all.
It is easy to make the majority of women say yes when they want to say no. It is easy to make them acquiescent and self-effacing. It is easy to make them consent to things they do not feel and say things they do not believe. Patriarchy has been doing this for millennia, using fear and coercion. Feminism should be granting us a safe space in which we can finally say no. This is not about whether you agree with me on gender or sex work or any other specific issues; I just want you to know that you, as a woman – any woman – should have the right to define your own body, your own experiences and your own internal boundaries.
Anonymous said: Don't confused 'oppression' with 'first world problems', it's a rookie error among feminists.
Wow, okay buddy, you’re BEGGING for a takedown here.
First world problems? Not a thing. People who say shit like “first world problems” are massive racist, imperialist, dismissive assholes.
If you’re ever tempted to say “first world problems,” do me a favor, and pull down a map. Tell me EXACTLY where the “third world” is. Make sure you correctly identify Switzerland as part of the third world, and Turkey as part of the First World. Don’t forget that Djibouti is a part of the first world.
Literally sit down and learn what “third world” means and why people from nonwestern nations think it’s a total bullshit term.
Second: you think people in the so-called third world don’t care about shit like makeup, and love, and technology? You think they don’t care about internet harassment? You think women over there don’t care about street harassment? You think they don’t care about fashion and clothes? You think they don’t care about music and video games?
Because THEY DO.
Right now, there is a woman in burundi teaching herself how to do a cut-crease eyeshadow look. Guaranteed.
"Third world" nations have fashion shows and fashion magazines. They care about street harassment. They care about the internet. They play video games. They know more about anime than your sorry ass every will. And the idea of "first world problems," which makes it sound like all women in "third world" nations are dealing with starvation, rape, war, acid attacks etc.
Women in Iran spend shitloads of money on makeup. Women in the DRC don’t just care about rape. Rape - the ONE THING westerners can be expected to know about women in Congo-Kinshasa - ranks NUMBER FOUR on the list of issues women in Congo want addressed. Political participation is number 1. Economic empowerment is number 2. Women in India are passionate about information technology, and you know what they hate? Coming to the United States, where Indian women in STEM are suddenly considered LESS GOOD than their male colleagues. My friends in Senegal taught ME how to download movies off the internet. Zimbabwe has a fashion week.
As Teju Coal points out:
"I don’t like this expression "First World problems." It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.
One event that illustrated the gap between the Africa of conjecture and the real Africa was the BlackBerry outage of a few weeks ago. Who would have thought Research In Motion’s technical issues would cause so much annoyance and inconvenience in a place like Lagos? But of course it did, because people don’t wake up with “poor African” pasted on their foreheads. They live as citizens of the modern world. None of this is to deny the existence of social stratification and elite structures here. There are lifestyles of the rich and famous, sure. But the interesting thing about modern technology is how socially mobile it is—quite literally. Everyone in Lagos has a phone.”
95% of the people who use bullshit expressions like “First world problems” have NO IDEA what life is like for people in the so-called third world. You just like sitting there derailing.
And for the record? As a white, western feminist, DAMN RIGHT I concentrate on issues in the United States. Because when white western feminists try to “save” women outside the west? We do a SHIT job of it. We’re the ones who bowl over actual congolese women, and what THEY want, and say that the #1 issue affecting them is rape. We become arms of the imperialist patriarchal complex.
Classic example: the guy who was ruling Egypt for the British got british feminists to help him in his anti-headscarf campaign in Egypt. Why did he hate headscarves? Because he wanted to *break the spirit* of Egyptians. Not because he gave a shit about women’s rights.
How do I know that?
Because he was the head of the anti-women’s-suffrage group in England.
When women who live outside the west do awesome things, I will signal-boost them, and I will do whatever they think I can do to help. But I follow their lead. Because these are THEIR issues, and THEY know what matters to them. Not me.
FINALLY: My problems are not trivial. My problems are not bullshit. My problems are not to be dismissed with your racist, imperialist logic. Dress codes and makeup and music and books and video games MATTER. They matter to me. They matter to my life.
So fuck you.
And fuck your assumptions.
And maybe consider that YOUR first world problem?
Is that you can’t “see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.”
::stands up and applauds this response::
Have I blogged this before? Still bears repeating.