Should I Stay or Should I Go?
August 14, 2008
There is a post up over at Beyond Feminism about so-called “Glamour Feminists”. This sort of post pushes several of my buttons. First, I loathe the tendency, particularly prevalent among some radical feminists to decide that they’ve found the “One True Feminism” and all other feminists can therefore be lumped into one group regardless of their differences and belittled with a stupid nickname. I also hate the tendency to divide these two groups along the lines of the very, very fine details of their opinions on prostitution or pornography, and furthermore, to caricature the opinions of the so-called “Glamour Feminists”.
I believe the New Zealand approach to prostitution is the best one; the decriminalisation of sex work (and not the criminalisation of people who buy sex, as in Sweden). This is not because I think sex work is “fun”, and I actually do think that people who buy sex should be ashamed of themselves. I think sex work, 90% of the time, is highly exploitative and that sex workers are extremely vulnerable to violence. I think that decriminalising sex work will provide sex workers with the space to organise resistance to this exploitation. I believe the Swedish model has just served to drive the sex industry further underground and further endanger sex workers.
You don’t have to agree with me on this – this is a very complicated issue. But, please do not tell me that I think sex work is “fun”, because I don’t.
What I find particularly upsetting about the discussion at beyond feminism, though, is the radical feminists who are suggesting, in as self-righteous and smug a manner as possible, that what we “Glamour Feminists” really need is to read “Ms Audre Lorde”.
I’ve read Audre Lorde. Sister/Outsider AND Zami. But I didn’t stop there. I’ve read her contemporaries, like Anzaldua and Moraga and Smith and the Combahee River Collective and hooks and their British counterparts like Parmar and Patel and Carby and Amina Mama. And, given that Lorde was writing 30 years ago, I’ve read women of colour writing today, like Bannerji, and INCITE! and Shohat and Leila Ahmed and Sarah Ahmed and Safia Mirza and Gayatri Spivak, and M. Jacqui Alexander and Mohanty as well as white postcolonial feminists like Anne McClintock. And that’s just the people I can name off the top of my head.
Reading Audre Lorde is not enough. Reading ANY of these writers is not enough. You have to incorporate what you have learned into your activism. You have to be an anti-racist, anti-capitalist feminist.
Obviously, there are some radical feminists who do just that. There are also many “non-radical” (for lack of a better term) feminists who do not engage in any kind of anti-racist or anti-capitalist analysis.
However, I tend to get disproportionately upset about orders from white radical feminists to read Audre Lorde because of my personal experience working with white radical feminists.
My time in a white British “radical”* feminist group went a bit like this:
Me: I think we should do an action in support of the No Recourse to Public
Funds campaign/ in support of incarcerated asylum seekers/
highlighting rape as a tool of sexist AND racist oppression
Rest of group: Yes racism is bad. Let’s do another anti-porn action!
This is a précis of what happened at every meeting for 6 months. And needless to say, none of those anti-porn actions ever looked at pornography through an anti-racist or anti-capitalist lens.
Like I said, I know it’s not fair to judge all white radical feminists by those women, but my time with that group was so painful and frustrating that I find it hard to be calm and fair about these issues.
The smug advice to read Audre Lorde is particularly frustrating coming from transphobic feminists. As Emi Koyama (h/t Feministe) discusses in her usual excellent way, transphobia is underpinned by racism. Believing that there is a unitary female experience open only to those born with female genitals suggests that there is a unitary female experience full-stop. Which is precisely what Audre Lorde, and Patricia Hill Collins, and all of the women of colour feminists of that generation argued against.
So, I find these discussions frustrating and depressing, exacerbating an already depressive state I’m in a the moment. And I have to ask myself, should I even bother to engage anymore? Should I bother to read any of these blogs and comment?
It’s very tempting, and possibly a good deal healthier to refuse to engage. Return to reading my books and writing in my personal journal, and scraping together the bus fare to go to London once a month for a Feminist Fightback meeting (FemFight are currently doing direct action in support of the striking tubecleaners – an action that DOES address sexism and racism and capitalism all at the same time). Most of the “radical feminists” on the internet aren’t going to listen to a word I write anyway because they’ve already decided that I’m a “Glamour Feminist” or a “sex pox” or a “sparkle feminist” and therefore can be dismissed.
But Audre Lorde would engage, wouldn’t she? Refusing to engage seems like cowardice. If I really believe in what I have to say, if I really believe in the transformative power of feminism, then shouldn’t I be encouraging everyone to be an anti-racist, anti-capitalist feminism, to ensure that feminist victories benefit all women and not just a white elite? I have a sneaking suspicion that any refusal to engage is hiding behind my privilege – I can afford to ignore Eurocentric, “class-blind” feminists precisely because I’m white and middle-class, so my survival is not at stake.
But I’m just so tired and so depressed.
* Insofar as they identify themselves as radical