May 8, 2009
There’s a really good article in current LRB by Gareth Peirce about the UK government’s possible (likely) complicity with torture in Guantanamo Bay and other overseas detention centres.
It’s interesting for several reasons, one of which is that it highlights something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: middle-class political apathy. Peirce argues that the government uses secrecy to maintain general apathy towards the possibility that the government is torturing people; people don’t know, so they can’t care. For me, what is particularly frightening, is that I think a lot of people are happy not caring.
When activists talk about the democratic deficit – the fact that a million people can march against a war and it will happen anyway, the fact that no one thinks ID cards are a good idea, and yet we all know the government will push them through anyway – we are angry and frustrated. We start trying to think of new strategies; if conventional activism isn’t working, what do we do now?
But when I talk to many non-activists about the democratic deficit, there is almost a sense of relief underpinning their words. I can’t do anything about injustice/poverty/the war/racism/torture; so therefore, I don’t have to bother.
European elections are coming up, and there’s been a lot of discussion about the BNP, and the inroads the BNP are making in traditional Labour-supporting white working-class communities. I have a lot of issues with the way this discussion is framed, which I will be talking about more in the future. But one factor in the rise of the BNP that is continually overlooked is middle-class apathy.
Part of this apathy is grounded in the fact that a lot of middle-class white people don’t actually disagree with BNP views on immigration even while condemning the BNP. If they did, then the Labour & Conservative parties wouldn’t be trying to out-xenophobe each other every election.
But even the (middle-class) people in my office who agree with the Labour & Tory immigrant scapegoating (I don’t count as an immigrant for them, what with being white & Canadian) are pretty scathing about the BNP. Yet, if I sent around an email encouraging people to vote in the European elections, or stuck a “hope not hate” postcard on my desk, I’d get in trouble.
The people in my office, by and large, are not going to vote. They will condemn the BNP verbally, but they think I’m eccentric, at best, for actually going to protests and having political opinions. They don’t understand why I actually care about stuff like this.
So the BNP might get an MEP seat, and everyone will tut-tut, feeling morally superior to the BNP while having done nothing to stop them. The government wouldn’t listen anyway. Which is just fine, because to quote Phil Ochs “demonstrations are a drag…” And I hear Debenhams is having a really good sale this weekend.
January 13, 2009
Make a date with Feminists!!
GENDER/ RACE/ CLASS: AN ANTI-CAPITALIST FEMINIST EVENT
Sat 14th Feb, 10.30am -6.30 pm, Tindle Manor, 52-4 Featherstone St EC1 (nearest tube Old St.) Fully accessible venue. This event is free!
for more info see www.anticapitalistfeminists.co.uk
to register email firstname.lastname@example.org
Discussing and organising our fight for women’s liberation – open to all those who want to learn, think and plan for grassroots feminist activism… Join us for workshops which identify the interconnections between oppressions and our struggles against them. Work together with other feminists to find ways to actually change the material conditions of women’s lives.
Workshops include: learning from feminist history/ sex workers’ rights/ challenging domestic violence/ international solidarity/ a woman’s place is in her union?/ reproductive freedoms/ rape and asylum/ community organising/ queer and trans politics/ prison abolition/ self-defence workshop/ feminists and the capitalist crisis/ films, stalls and campaign planning
Free creche – please register by email by Friday 6th February
Stalls available – email email@example.com to book
Organised by a coalition of groups and individuals. Groups involved so far include: Anarcha-Fem Kollective, All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, English Collective of Prostitutes, Education Not for Sale Women, Feminist Activist Forum, Feminist Fightback, Left Women’s Network, London Coalition Against Poverty, Permanent Revolution, RMT Women’s Committee, Women Asylum Seekers Together, Women Against Rape, Workers’ Liberty.
PLEASE FORWARD FAR AND WIDE AND ADVERTISE ON YOUR BLOG.
November 14, 2008
So at the last Feminist Fightback meeting, we were having a debate about where capitalism and racism fit in our analysis of women’s oppression. One woman, B, was arguing that women’s oppression had it’s origins in class exploitation. As is obvious if you’ve read this blog, I strongly disagree with that. What really disturbed me about some of what she’d said, however, is that she outright denied the existence of white privilege – all working-class people, in her opinion, are equally oppressed.
I was arguing for the intersection of all oppressions, but because of what she’d said about race, I spent a fair amount of time on white privilege. I figured someone in a feminist group might say that sexism is less important than class exploitation, but she’s here, right? However, white privilege is clearly a huge issue in the British feminist movement, and one which I struggle with alot myself.
Somewhere, however, things went horribly, horribly wrong, insofar as I managed to alienate B’s friend C, who is one of the few Afro-Caribbean women to ever come to a Feminist Fightback meeting, who said she felt as if I was being condescending and that she generally felt alienated and erased.
Now, I think there are things on which C & I would disagree no matter what. But clearly, I must have made several serious errors of communication if I ended up alienating C to that extent.
My comments are below. Where do you think I went wrong? I’d really, really appreciate feedback. There are very few people that I can talk to about trying to develop as an anti-racist feminist. Feminism here is really segregated, and rarely goes beyond trying to get a woman of colour to speak at your event. There’s no real commitment to fighting racism as a key structure of UK society. So I really need your help & input. And yeah, if you think I was completely out of line, please say so – there’s no need to try to soften the blow or anything. Thanks!!!
NB for non-UK readers – BME means Black & Minority Ethnic and is the preferred term (I think) for people of colour in the UK, at least in non-academic circles. I tend to use both terms.
What I said
When I went to get my visa in Liverpool, my partner and I were the only couple in the room where both parties were white. Most of the other people in the room were people of colour. At the time, we were worried because we technically did not have enough money to support ourselves – luckily, the immigration officer barely checked. She literally flipped through my paycheck and said “what’s important is you have a steady job. Come back in an hour.” Meanwhile, we couldn’t help but notice that the immigration officers treated my partner & I way better than everybody else in the room. When I came back to pick up my visa, the same woman was speaking rudely to an African couple.
This is what I mean by white privilege. It’s not my fault that the immigration officers were polite to me and rude to the BME people. I was unhappy that they were like this. But I benefited from it nonetheless, regardless of whether I agreed with the immigration officers’ behaviour.
Class exploitation does not directly cause women’s oppression. Yes, women’s oppression began in a class based society, but that does not mean it was caused by a class-based society – after all, women’s oppression also came about in a world where the atmosphere is 80% nitrogen, and women’s oppression is not caused by nitrogen.
Even if you do think that class exploitation causes women’s oppression, it should be clear that today sexism as an ideology exists independently of capitalism as does racism, as do numerous other oppressions, like transphobia, homophobia, ableism, ageism, etc. In the interests of simplicity, I am going to focus on Capitalism, Sexism and Racism.
Basically, I would argue that Sexism, Racism and Capitalism are interconnected systems of oppression. What that means is that they all feed into each other, and shape each other, and you can’t really consider them separately. I tend to think of this as a tangled ball of yarn. Sometimes, you can tug a small piece of yarn free – and women get the vote; a Black man is elected President; a minimum wage is achieved. But you will never untangle the yarn completely unless you are working at all the oppressions at once.
So, women’s oppression won’t be ended while capitalism exists, but ending capitalism won’t automatically end women’s oppression. And as a white woman, I think it’s important for me to fight against racism, not out of a sense of charity, but because I will never be liberated while racism still exists.
I think we realised this when we were campaigning in solidarity with the tube cleaners. We didn’t say that they were working-class people who happened to be immigrant women from Africa & Asia. Rather, we recognised that their gender and their race and their immigration status were also key to their oppression. That they were underpaid because their work was viewed as “women’s work”, but that the type of work they were doing is often assigned to BME women. For example, the Windrush generation of women often found themselves employed in the heavy care industry, because it fulfilled the gender stereotype of women doing care work, and the racial stereotype of black people doing the heavy lifting.
And in the tubecleaners campaign, we were able to use the privilege that some of us have of being white and holding British passports (not me, obviously) in a subversive way in service of the tubecleaners campaign, by risking arrest.
So, white privilege exists and that has to be recognised. You can’t change the world unless you recognise how the world works. And once you recognise your white privilege, you can then try to figure out who to use it subversively.
We’ve been quite properly critical of the Fawcett Society’s sexism in the city campaign because they treat the sexism experienced by the CEO and the sexism experienced by the cleaner the same. Of course, the sexism experienced by the cleaner is very different from the sexism experienced by the CEO. If we don’t recognise white privilege, I think we risk becoming the class-based version of the Fawcett Society. Women experience sexism differently because of their race and class, and our campaigns have to recognise this. We have to fight all oppressions simultaneously, not out of a sense of charity, but because while racism exists none of us will be free.
August 28, 2008
A few days late, but I’ve been busy tending bar for Workers Beer at the Leeds Festival.
I particularly identified with this part of Jess’ article:
I see a lot of people who say they believe in “intersectionality” talk about it kind of like this: Since some women are people of color, and some women are poor, and some women are queer, it’s important for feminism to take an intersectional approach that recognizes the way some women experience sexism and racism, or sexism and economic exploitation, or sexism and homophobia, or other such combinations. And then maybe they’ll go a step further, and say something about how, for women of color, sexism and racism aren’t just two separate forms of oppression experienced simultaneously, but are intertwined in really complicated ways. So, a lot of self-identified supporters of intersectionality will say, if feminism is going to be a movement by and for all women, it needs to look at how all forms of oppression, not just sexism, play out in different women’s lives. And I think that’s all true and good.
But I think a feminist politic of intersectionality goes deeper than that. To me, the really key thing about intersectionality is connecting the above analysis around individuals’ lived experiences to the insight that all systems of power are interconnected. So it’s not just that some individual people experience multiple forms of oppression, or even that all people have some kind of personal relationship with all systems of oppression (for instance, as a white woman, I experience sexism on the oppressed side, and white supremacy on the side of privilege), but also that the systems of power themselves—racism, economic hierarchy, sexism, heteronormativity, ableism, etc.—are working together.
August 19, 2008
Not only is freedom of movement an important human right, but it is CRITICAL for maintaining the excellence of rock.
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
May 18, 2008
May 1, 2008
There will be a May Day March in Machester, on 5 May, assemble 11:30 at All Saints Park on Oxford Road (MMU Campus)
Health Care for All: No withdrawal of healthcare to refugees
Keep The NHS Public. Defend Public Services. No Privatisation
Solidarity with Karen Reissman
For A Decent Living Wage: No Pay Freeze
Fight for Trade Union Rights.
The march will be followed by at the Friends Meeting House, food provided. Paul Mason, a BBC Journalist, will discuss his new book “Live Working or Die Fighting, how the Working Class went Global”; discussion of the Flying Pickets with authors Dave Ayre, Reuben Barker, Jim French, Jimmy Graham & Dave Harker; and Will Kaufman sings Woody Guthrie.
Organised by the Manchester Trades Union Council, Trades Unions for Refugees, RAPAR, human rights organisations working with displaced people, Manchester Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers.
April 28, 2008
BFP has made a final statement – read it here. And I feel I owe BFP an apology since I focused too much on the specific issue between her and Amanda Marcotte, which was not what she wanted, instead of focusing on the larger problem of white feminists appropriating the words and ideas of Women of Colour feminists. H/T to Sylvia at Problem Chylde
And then, Amanda Marcotte published her new bookIt’s a Jungle Out There, complete with really, really racist imagery of a beautiful white woman, fighting off “savages” in the “jungle”. Oh. Dear. God. Good discussion of the issue at Feministe here and here. You can read Amanda’s apology here. Beware: some of the comments are really, really frustrating (the images are ironic!! Bush is in power because lefties spend too much time criticising each other!!). And Seal Press’s “apology” here.
Seal Press, for those of you who don’t know, recently got into an argument on the blog of Black Amazon, relating to the lack of women of colour being published by them, and their inability to process this criticism. And I would link to that, but…
And I’m gutted – two of the best feminist bloggers in under a month.
Feminism is never going to be a revolutionary movement, unless it addresses all systems of oppression. That means that privileged women, like myself, have to take responsiblity for our privilege.
April 21, 2008
Southall Black Sisters has called for a Day of Action on their No Recourse to Public Funds Campaign for April 23rd.
At the moment, women (like myself) who are in the UK on a spousal visa are not allowed recourse to public funds, including housing benefit and income support. If these marriages become abusive, this means these women have nowhere to turn. Most women’s refuges collect housing benefit on behalf of their inhabitants in order to remain open – they literally cannot afford to take in women who are not allowed access to benefits.
From the Southall Black Sisters Website:
The plan for the Day of Action is to assemble at 11.00am for a demonstration at 11.30-12.30 on the Embankment opposite Portcullis House, Westminster, London (nearest tube Westminster) we were not able to get permission to gather in Parliament Square. A big, bold and beautiful banner is being made by an Amnesty artist. Please wear black on the day.
The public meeting will begin at 1pm in Portcullis House, details of the speakers will follow shortly.
For those us in the North, action is being co-ordinated by Roshni Asian Women’s Aid in Sheffield. You can contact them on on 0114 250 8898 or firstname.lastname@example.org. (Thanks to Alice from Feminist Fightback).
More information on the No Recourse Campaign from Southall Black Sisters, here
I’m hoping to have a post up about the Feminist Fightback Reproductive Freedoms teach-in later today or tomorrow, but the link between the No Recourse Campaign and Reproductive Freedoms was discussed at length. How can a woman have control over her reproductive organs if she can’t get out of an abusive marriage, because the government would happily see her starve? She may abort a wanted child out of fear of what her husband will do to her baby, or be forced to have an unwanted child by her husband. Attempting to control a woman’s reproductive capacity is a key feature of many violent relationships; the abusive husband may be forcing the woman to use to abstain from birth control.
The No Recourse Campaign is of crucial importance – I hope that as many of you as possible come out on the 23rd.