Quick, probable, apology for the prose here, I’m in the middle of Work Writing, which means my head’s all full so I thought I’d get this down before it goes.
I’ve just read this really great article about Femen, and the importance of understanding them in their Ukrainian context when we’re criticising them for maybe not hitting all the right notes in intersectionality. The only criticism I’d have of this article is that it’s maybe over-praiseful of “intersectional, progressive western feminists” but that’s probably just because I’m innately distrustful of the word “progressive”; besides which, that’s a group that probably includes me, and certainly includes nearly all of the New Statesman’s readership for this piece, so fair cop.
All of the conversation around Femen here on your Friendly Neighbourhood Internet is feeding into another conversation that I actually think blogger/ tech-head/ regular tech-addicts need to have REALLY FAST and this is coming from a massive “mea culpa” position on my part.
Intersectional feminism, and a politics based in privilege analysis* operate on a “calling out” system, under the slogan “check your privilege.” The deal is, I’ll call you on your shit, you call me on mine. Now, that’s a hard thing to do, calling someone on their shit, and it’s hard to be called. Jesus, I fucked up this week and a lot of people did, in the way we attacked Helen Lewis, and I was brought pretty low when my friend called me out on it. So, when Femen have taken an approach to muslim women that we (us! Over here! White, cis-gendered, All The University Degrees – you’re the people I’m addressing) that we don’t like, we’ve denounced them really really loudly. Made fun of them, sent them up, posted, blogged, re-blogged, tweeted and re-tweeted pictures of muslim women who oppose them. Those pictures are FINE, but there’s a crowing delight, really, to the way that we’ve used them.
And I gotta ask: are you really as PISSED OFF as you sound? You really so mad you have to tweet ten times and post three pictures, and swear and attack Ukrainian women demonstrating in a culture that is ravaged by an intersection of poverty and patriarchy that, actually, our liberal sisters running big-money anti-trafficking charities are maybe more constantly aware of than we are.
Because, the internet’s a really great place for angry and sad people to find matching voices and support, and like minds maybe, or even just minds that are currently paying attention – which is pretty major for a lot of us over here on Team Dodgy Mental Health.
But it’s also a place in which, for exactly those reasons, we can become braying attack dogs, performing our radicalness as anger for one another, egging each other on to say angrier things, be more disparaging, safe behind our keyboards and yet, exultant in that feeling of Having A Gang! At long fucking last, right?
And we DO have a gang now, and that’s really great. And we’ve got to be able to call people out and have conversations. But there’s something troubling me about the current buzz on “intersectionality” and specificity all round – I haven’t figured out what it is yet, and obviously I do fundamentally believe that my feminism WILL be intersectional, or it will be bullshit. But I’ve gotta be really careful: when I attack Helen Lewis, Femen, others in the past: I’m attacking people with varying degrees of vulnerability who are varying distances from Getting It Right. We attack other women much louder and with more vitriol than we do men – this is weird. It’s weird and it’s not right, and it’s related to feelings of betrayal and in some places probably jealousy. All of those patriarchal constraints that we’re SO AWARE OF.
Like, on the Helen Lewis thing, by the way: there was such an awful lot of reason for criticism. But it was mainly I think criticism of carelessness, of callousness. We need to use the right language for the thing we’re actually feeling, at the particular time. Read the article twice, you know? And maybe start with, “hey does anyone wanna talk about this thing.” Especially if you’re not totally clear on the background of the people you want to call/ attack. There are plenty of invisible things that de-privilege people.
So I’m just saying, really: we’ve got a community of intelligent, angry people here. And critical faculties most other groups can only dream of. So, I want to be more careful. And I want the space for debate WIDER open, not with more locked-down profiles and people blocked and all that. It’s actually just causing festering and frustration.
And when the bad guys show their colours, shoot from the hip.
*(I say based: my politics are still fundamentally based in Marxist theories, but privilege is such a massive part of the stuff we interact with day-to-day over here in The Land of Much Privilege, where we can see it clearly and define it exactly).