What I want in a feminist movement, pt 2

August 21, 2008

And now some actual concrete points…

1)  Campaigns that address oppression intersectionally; that tackle sexism, racism, capitalism, homophobia, etc. as they exist, which is to say, interconnected and interdependent.

 2) Clear-cut campaigns, with defined goals, as part of a larger plan to change society.  Too often these days, it seems like we go on a protest here, or an action there, but it’s all rather incoherent.  There’s no sense that we’re positively working towards anything.

 3) An “in it to win it” mentality.  I think activists in general are often far too quick to decided that we’ve “fought the good fight”, and that’s good enough.  It’s not good enough – smug self-righteousness will not actually get people out of immigration detention centres.

 4) Accountability.  Brownfemipower’s post on the subject is fantastic, but I also found it really disturbing, because in a lot of my activism I have no idea who I’m accountable too.  I want to write a longer post on this, but suffice to say that I agree with her wholeheartedly regarding the pitfalls into which Oprah fell, despite the latter’s best intentions.  How do we avoid this?

 5) A commitment to self-education and a rejection of anti-intellectualism.  There are many good reasons to be critical of academia (and I say this as someone who’s desperate to get back).  But I find that this often spills over into a rejection of any theory whatsoever (or at least any not anti-porn theory).  Whenever I’ve defended trans people, or advocated for anti-racist feminism, I’ve been told that I’m “too academic.”  What’s really elitist, I think, is deciding that some information is “not necessary” to working-class people, and therefore, can be dismissed as the purview of middle-class academics.  How can our activism be effective if we don’t understand how the systems against which we’re fighting work?  If we don’t have the analytical tools to figure out what aspects of our activism are successful and which are not?  There’s a long and proud tradition of self-education in radical movements in the UK, and this tradition needs to live on.

 6) A recognition that theory and practice should be linked.  Like I said in an earlier post, it’s not enough to read Audre Lorde.  You actually have to integrate what you’ve learned into what you do. 

 7) Flexibility.  Maybe your new activist group does not do everything the same way your old activist group does.  If there are issues of internal democracy, or you feel excluded, you should definitely speak out.  But I’ve seen at least one person quit an activist group (not a feminist group, actually, in this case) because the group was not run exactly the way she felt it should be. 

8) Listen to each other.

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8 Responses to “What I want in a feminist movement, pt 2”

  1. rachelcervantes Says:

    I haven’t read Part I, and it may well be that in practice we would disagree, but as stated here (and as I read this) I agree totally.

  2. Winter Says:

    I think I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here.

    A commitment to self-education and a rejection of anti-intellectualism […] How can our activism be effective if we don’t understand how the systems against which we’re fighting work? If we don’t have the analytical tools to figure out what aspects of our activism are successful and which are not? There’s a long and proud tradition of self-education in radical movements in the UK, and this tradition needs to live on.

    This is so important. Intellectualism is not in itself elitist and there’s a great tradition of working-class intellectualism and self-education in the UK which we should draw upon not reject.

    But I’ve seen at least one person quit an activist group (not a feminist group, actually, in this case) because the group was not run exactly the way she felt it should be.

    We had endless problems with this sort of attitude in our feminist group. People would often show up, express disdain about our failing to meet their various expectations and then either leave, or continue to come to meetings while expressing further disdain. That attitude smacks of consumerism rather than activism. No activist group is going to be perfect, but all we really wanted was more people to contribute more positively.

    I think accountability is one of the most difficult though. Who am I accountable to? That is a really good question.

  3. Winter Says:

    Oops lost control of the italics there.

  4. Zenobia Says:

    A commitment to self-education and a rejection of anti-intellectualism. There are many good reasons to be critical of academia (and I say this as someone who’s desperate to get back). But I find that this often spills over into a rejection of any theory whatsoever (or at least any not anti-porn theory). Whenever I’ve defended trans people, or advocated for anti-racist feminism, I’ve been told that I’m “too academic.” What’s really elitist, I think, is deciding that some information is “not necessary” to working-class people, and therefore, can be dismissed as the purview of middle-class academics.

    Yes to all of that!

    I remember when we decided to provide some reading materials for the group before discussion meetings, which would involve the trouble of going through stuff to find what was appropriate and what people might enjoy reading, what would be relevant to the discussion… and pretty much the only reward for that was someone sarcastically asking me if she would have to ‘swot up on’ anything before the next meeting.


  5. […] 11, 2008 at 11:56 am · Filed under Action After a couple of responses from Gwen (part 2 here) and Winter, this peetered away into nothing, so I’m bringing your attention to it again. […]

  6. Michelle Says:

    Can’t find anything to disagree with here. I like your point about self-education and how theory is necessary for successful practice. However, I think it’s important to be aware that not everyone within a group starts off at the same level of knowledge/education.

    I tend to cringe when I hear someone just start dropping words like ‘discourse’ into conversation when it’s clear they are not addressing a group completely made up of people with higher education. It can be alienating for those people.

    That’s not to say they wouldn’t want to learn what those words and concepts mean, and I think doing this via self-education in activist groups is potentially more fruitful than learning within the academy, but there needs to be an awareness that not all members start off at the same knowledge-level.

  7. Gwen Says:

    “However, I think it’s important to be aware that not everyone within a group starts off at the same level of knowledge/education. ”

    I think that’s really fair, and I know it’s an area where I have to watch my privilege. I’ve been fairly criticised in the past for being too academic – especially if I’m already angry about something.

    But I do think that theory should inform our practice, and vice versa. It’s worth slogging through difficult texts, like Gender Trouble, to see if they have anything to say to you about your activism (and if you decide you don’t find a text useful, fair enough – but don’t just dismiss something out of hand).

    Also, what are we deciding is “too” academic? In my experience, people usually start telling me I’m being too academic when I’m either speaking out against racism or transphobia. Sometimes, that’s been a valid criticism. But after I reworded what I was saying to make it more accessible, people still said I was “too” academic, basically so they could ignore me.

  8. Michelle Says:

    I agree that theory should inform our practice, my own engagement with new kinds of theory over the past year has made me re-evaluate my feminism and consider how to make my activism better in the future.

    I suppose when I say ‘too academic’ I’m thinking of the way in which ideas and theory are expressed i.e. via inaccessible language, dense passages of text, which can put people off.

    Though I would tend to think that those accusing you of being too academic when talking about racism or transphobia are just making excuses to stay ignorant. There’s being put off by theory cause it’s too wordy (which there’s a way around) and then there’s being put off by theory cause it may force you to come out of your comfort zone, and that is certainly an issue.

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