Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Minimum Entry Requirements for Feminism

Recently, at a party, I got into a discussion about the role of intersectionality in feminism (because getting into debates* about the kyriachy is just how I roll at parties). and it got me thinking about the 'minimum standard' for feminism - what exactly do you have to say or do to be able to call yourself a feminist?

Caitlin Moran's already broached this subject in her book, where she states that, if you (a) have a vagina and (b) want to be in control of it, you are a feminist. It's nice and simple, I suppose, but to me, the inclusion of having a vagina seems to be fairly arbitrary. Last I checked, my genitals weren't releasing any special 'not being a dick' potion into my bloodstream (pun shamefully intended). Apart from the fact that it smacks of  trans* and genderqueer erasure, I completely disagree with the assertion that nobody with a penis can ever be a feminist. What's more, while (a) is arbitrary, (b) is terribly insufficient. I could be as adamant as I like that I should be in charge of my own vagina but, if I don't give a gorilla's gonads what happens to other women's vaginas, that's not feminism, that's just self-interest. I tend to assume Moran was just writing for effect here since, as a definition of feminism, it actually doesn't make much sense. What makes you a feminist is not your relationship to your own personal Sarlacc pit**, it's the views you hold and the way you engage with the world. Instead, I would define a feminist as anyone who believes that all women should be free from oppression, and act accordingly.

This is actually a much harder criteria to meet than Moran's (and she doesn't actually seem to meet it at times). The key is in the word 'all'. Any kind of vaguely useful feminism has to acknowledge that the oppression a straight, able-bodied, trans* woman of colour faces will be very different to the oppression faced by a cis, white lesbian with a disability and it's unacceptable to claim you are a feminist while maintaining that one of these women deserves equality and the other does not. This is the problem with Moran's recent tweet that she "literally couldn't give a shit" about the lack of representation of women of colour on TV. What she's effectively saying is that, as long as women like her are represented, it's all fine and dandy. That's not feminism, that's self-interest.

 I don't think my definition of feminism is that radical, but I do think that it necessitates an active engagement with race, trans* issues, sexuality, disability, class and any other axis of oppression and privilege, which the mainstream feminist movement is simply not providing. Let's face it, we are doing a terrible job of this right now. I don't know how many blog posts I've read by women of colour who feel so marginalised and oppressed in a movement that is supposed to be about their experiences and rights that they have left it, I just know it's more than I'm OK with. If women are leaving feminism because it is oppressive to them, we are doing something massively wrong. 

If we claim to be feminists, it's high time we started owning our privilege (we've all got some hidden away somewhere) and actually engaging with intersectional issues before the question 'Are you a feminist?' comes to mean, 'Are you a straight, white, cis, able-bodied, middle class woman who wants to be in charge of her own vagina, regardless of what's happening to other vaginas?' And that's not really a feminism I want to be a part of.

*The person in question was lovely and interesting and, to be fair, we didn't really disagree about very much at all so it seems a bit much to call it a 'debate.' 

**A euphemism that is definitely my favourite thing to come out of Moran's book and works, according to her, for obvious reasons as well as the fact that, no matter how much it wants Han Solo inside it, it never quite gets him. This I can relate to.

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