IDENTITY POLITICS: Paper, sisters, stone and radfem2013
I had an astounding, and actually quite shocking, experience last night. As one of the proud organisers of radfem2013, I started to advertise the fact that you can now register online and that the full, downloadable, programme is available. My starting point was local feminist facebook groups. Groups I have been a member of for a long time and who organise feminist events I have, or would, attend, if time allows, in real life.
I had been a member of a particular feminist group for many months. True, unlike other local groups, I had rarely, if ever, posted but I did keep an eye on it for events in case there was anything I wanted to go to. It is called (local geographical name) “feminists”. You would think, then, that this would be a suitable place to advertise a feminist conference – albeit a particular strand of feminism.
Within minutes, several group members descended on the post advertising the conference. Someone linked a blog post, a year old, where the writer likened 2012 radfem attendees to those who had spat in their 15-year old face. I posted my own blog post about the 2013 conference because I hoped it would demonstrate why radical feminist space is important to those fighting women’s oppression. A “transphobic” accusation was made against me. Deeply offended that I was being accused of causing physical harm to another human being simply because I want to critique gender, I posted part of our 2013 conference statement which makes our position on violence and verbal abuse clear:
COMMITMENT TO HUMAN RIGHTS
We support the human rights of all people to live free from violence or verbal abuse. We support the existence of laws to ensure those rights are protected. We support the right of all groups who are disadvantaged in society to autonomously organise. Although we support the rights and freedoms of all, this conference will be focused on the liberation of females.
I was then asked if “trans women” were excluded. If they had read the “about” page, as I had encouraged them to do, they would have seen what we believe and what ideologies we oppose and so the question was meaningless. If, instead of “queer” politics, there was a focus on radfem critiques of “compulsory heterosexuality”, then an accurate analogy would be to ask if heterosexuals are excluded, making that an impossible question in context. The critique is about political analysis, how is such a question, in any shape or form, answerable? The answer is not “Yes, anyone can come“, it‘s not a social club for all and sundry – it‘s a political belief about radical social change. “Heterosexuals” do not share one political perspective and, typically, unless they are radical feminists, tend to resist analysing heterosexuality as an oppressive institution, believing that, somehow, such an analysis is aimed at attacking their individual life. Heterosexual radical feminists understand the critique is a political discourse – not a personal attack on them. I was accused of “evasion” for saying the question makes no sense, in the context of a conference for women sharing a political belief. The analogy would continue with a resulting accusation of my being “heterophobic” if such a concept genuinely existed. To anyone with an ounce of logic in their being, this makes no sense on any level.
I explained that radical feminism is about structural oppression and that they were asking me questions from an individualistic framework and the two perspectives just don‘t fit together. The starting point is completely different. I explained that our opposition to particular types of politics is political, not personal; that we have a right to critique gender from our own lived experience, and political perspectives, without being accused of bigotry. I explained that I was “queer-critical” because genderism masks the power hierarchy between men and women. A woman asked me if I, therefore, “hated queers” and whether that meant they were barred from the conference.
They literally could not read my words nor see beyond the barrage of sterotypical labels they had in their head about radical feminists. They could not see beyond the list of insults they threw at me. They did not, or could not, engage with the points I made as a result. They could only see my points in relation to individuals: excluding individuals and labelling individuals.
Someone posted that they hoped no one from the group would even think about attending the conference (group_think: “don’t you dare see there may be another way of viewing this conference other than from a place of “bigotry””). Someone else called for admin to attend to me. The admin posted that this is a “safe space” for “trans women and queers” and that, if I couldn’t accept that, I must leave. I had entirely focused on ideological differences in response to their criticisms and so I was aghast at such a post. I was the textual equivalent of speechless. One of the agitators called for the removal of my thread. And that was it. The post, and I, were gone from the group in a flash. The whole incident lasted less than half an hour.
My politics had been silenced and censored within a “feminist” space. My words deemed unsuitable for members to hear. By framing my political (one-sided) discussion to be about “identity politics”, they had used silencing techniques. Their logic was that, if a large collection of diverse individuals were being “attacked” (because our politics is our identity), then, of course, they must be afforded a “safe space”. The post-modernist politics they (almost certainly unthinkingly) express cannot be questioned because they are who they say they are and who they say they are must be protected above the politics of ideas and beliefs about the world. Their being, their identity, cannot be politically questioned because that renders the political space “unsafe” for them.
This polemic is dangerous. Really dangerous. It prevents women from talking about liberation. The organised left will be happy enough to go along with this because, as we’ve seen with numerous stories lately, and in the past, putting women’s oppression central to the fight against capitalism is the last thing on the minds of the often egotistic and ambitious male leaders of the left. And it really is the agenda of the right wing and male centred status quo – despite the confusing use of rhetoric which suggests something more alternative than malestream ideas.
That I was prevented from introducing and advertising a feminist conference within a feminist group should be the concern of all who champion the rights of alternative political debate. You don’t have to agree with radical feminist politics but, if you believe in revolution (that existing social systems are inherently oppressive and need to be dismantled), then you should be concerned about where identity politics is leading the political left.
Can it really only be radical feminists who understand this? It seems we can add one lone philosopher male to the list. (I don’t usually quote males as part of my radical feminist politics but quoting this male is useful because he, unusually, sees the bigger consequential picture of mass attempts to censor radical feminists. He understands it is to the detriment of alternative politics. I don’t agree with it all but you can read the full article here: http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=6662 ).
He re-examines the terms of the debate about what the category “woman” means and concludes it is a social category. Such a debate never normally gets off the starting block, as with me, because cries of “transphobia” close it down but, hey, he‘s a man. He has not been subjected to the levels of personal attacks and hostility that radical feminists typically face. He uses post-modernist theory to argue that to say “psyche is destiny” is a “new essentialism” and he centres the problem, as does radical feminism, on individualism.
“I think the real culprit here may then be a profound – a hyper- — individualism in our society, a kind of psychical consumerism of identity-politics that makes it seem as though any claim to identity is self-validating and must be accepted, and a wearing of victimhood as a badge such that one’s victimhood is supposed to prevent any criticism of one’s psychologically-based claims to identity.….it is just plain wrong for any victim-group to use its victim-status as a tool with which to beat other victims of oppression.”
This male philosopher (and self-claimed “feminist”) understands what those infiltrating “feminist” spaces with post-modernist theory fail to. Attempting to censor women from naming, describing and analysing our life-long lived experience as women is dangerous to anyone who values freedom of speech/freedom of ideas, within alternative, radical circles. If those spaces are to be guarded by those who defend individualism and identity politics above all other freedoms – we will never achieve radical social change. It was Margaret Thatcher who said there is no such thing as society and it is no coincidence that an extreme right-winger’s ideas about individualism are aligned with the current wave of post-modernist take-over of left-leaning spaces.
Our right to hold a peaceful radical feminist conference for women, survivors of multiple forms of oppressions, and our right to define the political boundaries of that conference, is something which should be supported by those on the left. Collusion with a post-modern/queer ideology perpetuates a block to women’s liberation. Patriarchy in action.
Despite these attempts to silence and shame women from fighting for women’s liberation, radfems have, nonetheless, managed to tweet their way through the barrage of insults on the hash tag #radfem2013 towards articulating what radical feminism is (and isn’t).
One woman tweeted this:
“The programme is great. Can’t believe I started out saying I wouldn’t come – I would have missed so much! I’m quite embarrassed tho – I had unquestioningly swallowed quite a lot of s*** about radical feminism!”
Her change of heart came about because she managed to reach beneath the identity-laden anti-radical feminist rhetoric and find our politics. They made sense to her.
We want radical feminism to make sense to other women. We cannot allow a particular lobby, fuelled by hatred and misunderstandings about what radical feminism is, to stop women from exploring our political truths. We will not be silenced. We will not be censored. We will not go underground.
Click here to register:
http://radfem2013.moonfruit.com 8 & 9 June, London, UK