By writing this post I risk pissing off a variety of women, that isn’t my intention at all so I will ask any readers to forgive me if I I mess up and to go easy on me. For those who don’t know the feminist movement has been divided into two broad camps with several diversions and cross-overs between the two. On the one hand you have intersectional feminists: women of colour, trans* women, sex workers, many gender queer people and often women with disabilities identify as such. Intersectionalism recognises that oppressions over-lap ergo a black woman isn’t just dealing with sexism, she’s having to cope with racism in addition to this. Then on the other broad side you have the mainstream feminists, who are more often than not white cis (they ascribe to the gender assigned at birth) women, and radical feminists, many of whom are self-described as being gender critical, but whom intersectional feminists describe as TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists). I tend not to call myself an intersectional feminist as I worry about appropriating the term from black women, but it’s the feminist identity most akin to my thought process.
Intersectional feminists often feel that they are silenced and erased by mainstream or what is often called “white” feminism. White, able-bodied, middle class cis women tend to have the largest platform within the media and as such only one experience of womanhood tends to be displayed. I know some very nice women on this side of the debate who feel they are representing and fighting for all women, but it’s difficult to see this as the case when the particular ways in which women who do not fit this mould are oppressed fail to be addressed. For my part I feel very critical of the movement when a larger number of women signed a petition to keep a woman on a banknote than they did to halt the government’s cuts to disability support (which also disproportionately hurts women). I don’t wholly blame the women who are given a media presence for this but I do believe we need to examine a media which doesn’t want to hear from any other group of women.
This war has raged on for some time now, often being fought over trans* women whose identities are debated and torn apart with wild abandon. It feels very much as if they are often singularly blamed for the patriarchy and treated as the embodiment of it when all they ask for is to be recognised as women and granted equality accordingly. They are routinely accused of being rapists, masquerading in female dress so that it is easier for them to sexually assault women. The fight has become so vitriolic now that many feminists spend more time trying to fight and destroy trans* women than they do looking at the patriarchy. Many readers will know a particular feminist who seems to have built her whole name doing just that. It’s cruel and does absolutely nothing to fight female oppression.
On the mainstream feminist/ radfem side of the feminist rift there is a growing body of women belittling women with specific, additional oppressions. Terms such as “oppression Olympics” and “oppression Top Trumps” have appeared on the landscape. They do not stop short of suggesting that gender identities, and sexualities which differ from the norm are simply a way to get your oppressed foot in the door. Black women have been described as “toxic”, and the fact that women with disabilities place their diagnosis in their Twitter bios has been seen as some sort of attention seeking ploy. These arguments entirely miss the point of why women of colour, trans* women, queer people, sex workers, non-binary sexualities and women with disabilities draw attention to their identities. It is simply because they do not have a voice. They do not have adequate representation within the media. They do not have privileges which offer connections. They don’t speak up so that white cis non-disabled feminists feel bad about themselves, they do it because they want feminism to realise that there are particular ways in which other types of women are oppressed that are not being spoken about in mainstream discourse. They don’t “call women out” to silence them, they do it because they want their own lives and experiences to be acknowledged. Having additional oppressions is hard. Looking at the media and only seeing other people reflected back is alienating. It is to live in a world where you are made to feel that you don’t belong, or that you do, but you have to sit at the kiddies’ table because the grown-ups are talking now. Intersectional feminists didn’t want a war, they just wanted to be acknowledged, they just wanted women to acknowledge the ways they benefit from the oppression of others and to act as allies in fighting that.
I’ve been “called out” on several occasions now. It stings. But there is no shame in it if you can only try to see the world from someone else’s perspective. We’re all on a learning curve but the structural oppressions which prevent many women from being represented will only grow whilst a huge proportion of the feminist movement are sticking their fingers in their ears and debasing the oppressions their sisters face as attention seeking and calling them “toxic”. I know not all intersectional feminists are blameless. There is aggression in all walks of the feminist movement but to dismiss these women in this way puts another supportive column under patriarchy.