Who gets a say? The sex work lobby & the silencing of feminist voices.

It’s become so predictable that, now, I just sit back and wait. I’ve written several pieces about prostitution and the abolitionist movement, and several more that don’t directly address these issues, but perhaps mention the word “prostitution.” And really, that’s all it takes these days.

What I’ve come to realize is, no matter what I write, no matter what argument I make, no matter the points I bring up, the sex work lobby doesn’t care. Because if you aren’t agreeing with them, you must be stopped.

Public use of the word “prostitution” is enough to justify skimming right past the contents of any article and heading straight to the silencing. The silencing is the most important work, after all. It is the goal. “If we can bully them into shutting up, maybe we’ll win,” is what they seem to be thinking.

In October, I wrote a piece exploring, what I saw as a neoliberalist take-over of the feminist movement. I argued that we needed to focus our efforts on building a progressive feminist movement that looked at freedom and empowerment for women as a collective effort, rather than focusing on individual (and temporary) feelings of empowerment or catharsis. Real change means liberation for all, not a privileged few.

I mentioned the efforts to decriminalize (I realized, after I wrote the piece, that it is probably more accurate to name these efforts as efforts at legalization as, really, it is the abolitionists who are fighting for decriminalization of prostituted women, whereas so-called decriminalization advocates argue for the legalization of pimps and johns as well as prostituted women) as an example of, and a manifestation of,  American neoliberalism’s impact on the feminist movement. And, according to the sex work lobby, that’s all she wrote.

Almost every comment was the same (and, of course, these comments are nothing new, it’s as though they came from a script):

“I cannot believe that [this site] continues to allow non-sex workers with absolutely no experience of working in the sex trade, let alone working the streets to speak on their behalf. “

“I demand that as a feminist organization, you remove this article and commission a sex worker with experience of the streets to write about why sex workers are demanding their rights and how real feminists can support their self-determination.”

“It’s also amazing to me that [this site] would let some non sex worker write a lot of stuff with zero evidence or research when there are hundreds of incredibly skilled, gifted sex work organizers with decades of experience in Canada.”

“I am shocked and appalled that the author of this article was published on this site,and discouraged that she controls a site that calls itself feminist. this is feminism at its coldest and does not deserve to be promoted.”

 

And this goes on. Not only did these commenters refuse to engage with any one of arguments being made (I am almost positive that none of them actually read the piece, if they had, I doubt they would have focused all their efforts on trying to censor an entire article on account of there being one paragraph they didn’t agree with), but the only response they could muster was to try to bully the site upon which the piece was published into removing the article. Because, you know, if you don’t agree with an argument, best-practice is to ensure that it is erased.

And this is far from abnormal. I doubt there is a feminist out there who has managed to avoid these kinds of attempts at silencing if they dare to challenge the idea that prostitution works against equality.

What is obvious is that the sex work lobby realizes it’s position is weak and, therefore, the only way they can succeed is to bully and attack those who present challenges to their arguments. Less obvious is WHY those who present themselves as feminist (as many of the sex work lobbyists do), are so heavily focused on this idea that only *certain* women may speak about the exploitation of women. Since when is feminism about erasing the voices of feminists?

All women have the right to speak out against the exploitation and objectification of women. Every single one of them. Certainly the voices of the marginalized must be privileged, and certainly many, many voices are silenced, but that isn’t what the sex work lobby is speaking to. This isn’t about listening to the voices of the women out on the streets, hiding in the shadows, getting into cars on the Downtown Eastside. Nope. This is about letting just a few, specially selected voices, be heard. They’ve chosen their spokespeople (and believe me, those voices are louder than anyone elses, and they are not, in any way, the voices of the marginalized) and they’ve decided that these are the only ones who may speak. Because they agree with them.

Not only do they refuse to acknowledge the many women who have exited the sex trade who continue to speak out against prostitution and the Aboriginal women’s organizations who name prostitution as a colonial practice and name Aboriginal women as Canada’s first prostituted women, but they are blind (perhaps intentionally blind, but blind nonetheless) to the ways in which ALL women are impacted by patriarchal systems.

As my incredible ally, Easily Riled, wrote, in post titled “December 6, 1989″:

“Those women, the women in prostitution, the women on the streets, were and are the ‘public women’ that we do not see. We do not see them as the women we are, the women we could be. We do not see them at all. They were and are for sale on the street because we are all commodified. Because they are for sale on the street, the men who put them there think we are all for sale. The men who put them and keep them there drive around and check them out. They ask every woman they see “how much?”  Especially the women on the dark streets, near the quiet warehouses.”

We are, as she says, all commodified. So long as men think women are for sale, we are all considered, “for sale.” So long as men see us as orifices which exist to be penetrated, so long as they see us as things for them to look at, as pretty objects (whether we are objects on the streets, on film, behind glass, or on stage), or things that they are entitled to have access to, none of us are free. There is no class of women who deserve to take the brunt of male privilege. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ (though, of course, we are told there is). The women who are privileged enough *not* to have to prostitute themselves, as Trisha Baptie says, have a responsibility here as well:

 “we abandon a class of women who, because of circumstance, because of systemic oppression don’t have a choice. This is also why women who have liberty and are of a privileged class need to own that and say: “this is why I’m not a prostitute” and then look at the women who are and say: ‘why are you?’”

So, while on one hand, the incredibly determined efforts to silence women and feminists who speak out against exploitation and inequity are telling, as the inability to engage speaks to, perhaps, a fear that we might not actually be the enemies they’ve made us out to be and a fear that engagement might highlight holes in their argument, on the other hand, the bullying is completely out of control.

It’s one thing to disagree and to challenge and it is another, entirely, to perpetuate untruths and exaggerations in order to discredit an argument, as we witnessed recently in John Lowman’s response to a piece by Lee Lakeman, who claimed that, at an event at UBC back in March:

“… the student organizers had to call Campus Security and close down a debate on prostitution law when a group of demand-side prohibitionists, including several former “prostituted women,” all but physically assaulted sex worker Susan Davis for suggesting that consensual adult prostitution be decriminalized.”

Several women who were in attendance at this event made clear that nothing near physical assault took place. No violence. Just one angry woman who was a little louder than Lowman would have liked her to be. It’s seems cliched at this point, but clearly many are still working with the idea that, when women get angry, the easiest way to dismiss their arguments is to accuse them of being out-of-control or crazy. Why not go one step further and accuse them of being ‘violent’? Similar accusations were made of abolitionists at this summer’s Women’s Worlds 2011 conference, also refuted by those who were in attendance.

People don’t like it when women get angry. Women are meant to be pleasant. Subdued. Passive. Feminists aren’t following the rules.

LaCles, a feminist organization working out of Quebec, wrote an open letter addressing these kinds of attacks back in June, asking Quebecois feminists to react to the “series of targeted attacks–sometimes subtle, other times blatant–aimed at abolitionist feminists.” They pointed out that which is true:

“Feminists who take the risk of naming and denouncing men’s violence, and feminists who have endured the violence of thousands of men in prostitution for periods of 10, 20, even 30 years or more–sometimes from the age of 2–are accused of committing violence against other women. Regardless of our past or our experience as feminists, we believe that it is always, and has always been, unacceptable to tolerate feminists’ use of tactics designed to silence other feminists, even when we are in disagreement. Yet, that is exactly what is happening right now.”

In September, Stella, a sex work lobby group framed feminist protest as violence. This disturbingly ironic (and common) misplacement of blame (let’s stop, just for a moment, and look at WHO is actually perpetrating violence against women) is not only untrue but is dangerous. When we frame protest and feminist action against violence and against the exploitation of women as ‘violence’, we perpetuate a million stereotypes about women who get “too angry,” “too emotional,” and “too loud,” i.e. women who are stepping out of line. This silences women. Or tries to anyway. The real abusers remain hidden, protected, and justified. “It isn’t me who is wrong, it is feminists, for trying to take away my God-given right to pussy,” is what is reinforced to men.

Women getting angry about violence against women is not violence. In fact, if you aren’t angry about the state of women in this world, it’s probably because you, in one way or another, are turning a blind eye to violence, remaining silent when you witness abuse, or maybe you are just ok with the violence. Maybe it’s become so normal that you actually believe women deserve to be treated in this way. However it’s been justified, pointing the finger at those who fight it is sick. But it is the sickness of a patriarchal society. It is that contagious disease we keep passing around because we just can’t imagine a cure. We can’t imagine healing from this mass abuse. And so we tell ourselves it is normal. And those say, “hey, wait a minute – this isn’t normal, we don’t have to live like this,” must be silenced. Because to live another way is unimaginable.

Sheila Jeffreys, renowned academic and radical feminist, has been subjected to slander of this nature for years. Accused of violence which never took place, these accusations come from MRA‘s and sex work lobbyists, alike. It’s nothing new. And it is a tactic that works, to a certain extent. People who hate feminists are more than willing to believe the hype.

These efforts to silence feminist critiques of the sex industry were in full force at the Feminist Futures conference in Melbourne, which took place in May 2011. When the sex work lobbyists found that there were feminists on panels at the conference who were critical of the sex industry they made it their goal to ensure those women were not allowed to speak. The conference organizers were bullied into altering panels and, as a result of this campaigning,  Sheila Jeffreys was forced to back out of the conference and Melinda Tankhard Reist was disinvited. The conference provided zero safe space for radical feminists and, with the exception of Kathleen Maltzahn, who was completely disrespected at the conference, feminist critiques of the sex industry were silenced.

It’s sad, yes, but it’s also frightening to witness the lengths people will go to ensure their voices are the only voices heard.

More recently I covered an incredibly powerful event organized by Vancouver Rape Relief & Shelter which looked at the issue of violence against women. One panel out of four addressed prostitution as violence against women. Predictably, the first comment on the article was a comment on language, arguing that I was being disrespectful by not using the term “sex worker” instead of prostitute. So not only are all the points in the piece ignored, but now the sex work lobby has gone so far as to demand we alter facts and quotes in order to placate them. We must lie in order not to be censored. The bullying exists to erase the truth.

Feminism is about women. It is about ending patriarchy. It is about ending violence against women. It is about liberation and equality. I realize this is a scary idea to many people. We’ve only known patriarchy. The unknown is scary. And the bullying gets real bad when you start threatening the status quo. But the feminist movement has never been about placating the masses and we will not be intimidated or threatened into silence. The feminists who have been working tirelessly in this movement for decades are used to it at this point, and I’ve learned the routine quickly. We get it. But we are women and we have a right to speak out against our own oppression and a responsibility to speak out against the oppression of our sisters. The privilege is in witnessing abuse and then saying nothing. Because it’s easier to just remain silent. But nobody said this would be easy.

One thing we can be sure of is this: you know there is a powerful movement afoot when the opposition becomes incapable of engaging and resorts to bullying and silencing tactics. In desperation, this is all they can come up with.

 

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This week in faux-feminism (or, seven days of rage)

 

Such a busy week! So much to do, so much to say. Too much to say, in fact. The rage, it is almost paralyzing.

So instead of writing a real blog post I made a list!

 

This week’s faux-feminist round-up:

1)  Article at The Huffington Post explains why, if we don’t join Slutwalk, we are ruining feminism for everyone.

2)  Blog posted at Feministing explains that anti-exploitation, anti-violence, anti-misogyny, anti-oppression, and anti-rape actually equals ‘anti-sex.’

3)  Feministing commenter explains that radical feminism is “not true feminism” and that it “does not belong on college campuses or anywhere” because of “frequent racism.” So like, in comparison to our completely free-of-racism friend Slutwalk? Possibly the least radical ‘feminist’ ‘movement’ ever? Got it, folks? Liberal feminism = good-thing-we’re-all-so-awesome-let’s-keep-patting-each-other-on-the-back-while-explaining-to-women-of-colour-that-the-n-word-isn’t-actually-racist/offensive,  radical feminism = WE’RE NOT QUITE SURE BUT WE KNOW IT’S BAD.

4)  Ms. Magazine blog readers leave Andrea Dworkin off the Top 100 (yes! 100! Sounds like a lot, right? Comprehensive-like!) list of best feminist non-fiction (how it is even possible to compile a list of 100 feminist books and omit Dworkin is a mystery to me).

5)  And finally, I don’t actually know when this happened, but I discovered, just this week, that SWAAY has compiled a virtual hit hate list of radical feminists. Just to, you know, reinforce their anti-feminist perspective. Handy!

 

Oh yes, it’s been a busy week.

 

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Slutwalk NYC: More of the same

I’ve got to be honest here. I truly believed that Slutwalk NYC was going to be different. Not different enough to lose the ‘slut’, and therefore, not different enough to convince me that this ‘movement’ was one I wanted anything to do with, but perhaps different enough to hold validity beyond personal catharsis. Maybe this Slutwalk would actually say something radical. Maybe this Slutwalk would comment on systematic oppression. Maybe even this Slutwalk would present a challenge to male power.

It didn’t.

Today, this video was posted, along with a blog which notes, among other things, the frustration felt by many about the way in which the media has focused “on the most elaborately undressed and risque marchers.”

 

 

Strangely, this video did just that. Which leads me to believe that maybe, just maybe, that’s what Slutwalks are actually like? Maybe those images we see of women marching down the streets in their underwear holding signs that read: “sluts say yes!” are an honest representation of what actually happens at Slutwalks? Is it really just the media manipulating the message?

In any case, there are a few reasons I thought this particular Slutwalk might, just might be different:

a) Slutwalk has been critiqued to death by so many feminists that one could fairly assume that some of these critiques might actually have sunk in.

b) This semi-promising promotional video which, unlike many other Slutwalks, actually mentions the word ‘feminism’:

c) I actually spoke with some Slutwalk NYC organizers who seemed to have put a lot of thought into this particular event and didn’t necessarily agree with the idea that we could or should be working to ‘reclaim slut’

d) Wishful thinking?

 

And hey, I wasn’t there. There are women who were there this past weekend, at the march, who reflected on it with mixed, though relatively positive feelings.

But then there was the video.

Between the women dancing and posing on stage in their underwear, the women with ‘tramp’ and ‘slut’ inked onto their bodies, the slogans: “I have the pussy so I make the rules”, the pole-dancing, and the men, standing on the sidelines grinning, leering, and taking photos, this video really says it all. Or it says a lot, at least.

A feminist ‘movement’ wherein men take photos of women dancing around stripper poles? Sounds radical!

I’ve talked about Slutwalk with so many people, coming from so many different places (participants, organizers, criticizers, and those who’ve never even heard of it before) that I think, at this point, I have a fairly good understanding of why women participate. Slutwalk does make many women feel empowered. It does make women feel as though they no longer are alone, or that they no longer need to feel ashamed about their sexual assault. And that’s great. But where do we go from here? How do we make change so that women actually aren’t raped anymore? So that men no longer feel that they have the right to access women’s bodies? So that women no longer feel like every move they make is being watched and sexualized?

These are all questions that I feel continue not to be addressed by any Slutwalk. Somehow, connections between objectification, the oppressive male gaze, sex industries, and rape culture are not being made. And when they are made, they are quickly shut down with retorts that accuse critics of being either ‘sex-negative’ (spoiler alert! There’s no such thing!) or of hating sex workers. And again dialogue is squashed, critiques are silenced, and Slutwalk rages on, claiming to have ‘reinvigorated the feminist movement.’

Now, I think we can reasonably excuse some of the mistakes made by the original Slutwalk held in Toronto. It was reactionary and it was organized very quickly as a direct response to an incident which happened in Toronto. This is not to say that we should not have critiqued this event, as there were many, many problematic aspects of that original Slutwalk which deserved critique and questioning, but rather that, at this point, I would have thought things might have changed a little. I thought that, perhaps, after all this discussion and debate, some of this discussion and debate might have been heard and then reflected in future events. But no. Instead, we see the same old thing.

As many have pointed out, and Keli Goff points out, once again in an article called ‘Dear Feminists, Will You Also be Marching in N***erwalk?’: “you can’t  “reclaim” a word defined by a predominant group in power unless you are a part of that group.” And to that, I would add: you can’t ‘reclaim’ the male gaze. It doesn’t belong to you and it doesn’t empower you. It is a disempowering gaze. Which is why I find it so absurd that this march, supposedly against rape culture, is so focused on performing for the male gaze and calling it empowerment.

One woman in the video states: “we should not blame women for their own sexuality,” – but what does that mean? Is pole-dancing about female sexuality? Or is it about performing for the male gaze? Is rape about female sexuality? Are fishnets about female sexuality?

There appears to be some deep, deep confusion about the difference between what men, in a patriarchy, have decided is ‘sexy’ and what ‘female sexuality’ is. The fact that we don’t even know – that we can’t even imagine such a thing as ‘female sexuality’ without dancing around on a stage in our underwear or without calling ourselves ‘sluts’ is depressing. And when we go so far as to point out that, in fact, stripping, stilettos, and the word ‘slut’ are things which are used to disempower and objectify women, rather then to celebrate women as human beings that don’t exist to service men, we are told that we are attacking this elusive ‘female sexuality’.

The reason Slutwalks have become so popular is because of the name and the sexy photo ops. It isn’t because anything is changing, it isn’t because Slutwalks are revolutionary, and it isn’t because the media are just so freakin excited about female liberation. Women on stripper poles have always been able to capture the gaze of their audience but never have these images provided women with equality or humanity. And yes, I know that lots of women do this work and that these women are not to blame for our oppression. The men who hold power and privilege and have treated women like pieces of meat for eons are to blame. But replicating and celebrating this imagery challenges nothing. It doesn’t celebrate female sexuality, it celebrates male privilege and male pleasure.

If these marches were actually challenging patriarchy and male power you can bet most of those men would not be standing on the sidelines, smiling and taking photos. They would be angry.

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Letter to the Feminist Movement

Originally posted on www.lacles.org: La Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES).  CLES is a coalition of organizations and individuals operating out of Quebec, who are critical of the sex industry. This letter was reposted with permission.

 

Letter to the Feminist Movement

Originally circulated in French on June 23, 2011

In the wake of a series of targeted attacks–sometimes subtle, other times blatant–aimed at abolitionist feminists, we call on you, as members of the feminist movement in Québec, to react.

Abolitionist feminists address the fundamentally patriarchal but also racist, capitalist and colonialist nature of the institution of prostitution. The purpose of their political education, prevention and intervention work is to equip feminists with information and tools to enable them to argue that the sex industry is illegitimate and must be eradicated. They also seek to ensure that women have the right to extricate themselves from the exploitative conditions inherent to this industry. They work with women who are or were in the sex industry to organize, pool experiences and act for social transformation. They know that all feminists do not agree with their analysis. But they demand the right to exist, think and work from this perspective.

Abolitionist feminists are publicly denigrated, and, in diverse settings such as universities (including professors) and the social media (individuals’ and group Facebook pages, blogs, websites), are characterized as: “moralizing Christians; old, fat and ugly women who have nothing to do; crazies; sluts and Nazis.” Activities addressing young audiences that are designed to publicize resources for preventing young people from entering into prostitution are criticized, even though these resources are aimed at women who could benefit from these same prevention resources. Ads or announcements about helping services for women who are being sexually exploited in the sex industry are boycotted. Abolitionist feminists are explicitly combatting male violence, yet they are told they are “endangering women in prostitution,” and–the ultimate insult–that they are “committing violence against women in prostitution!”

Feminists who take the risk of naming and denouncing men’s violence, and feminists who have endured the violence of thousands of men in prostitution for periods of 10, 20, even 30 years or more–sometimes from the age of 2–are accused of committing violence against other women. Regardless of our past or our experience as feminists, we believe that it is always, and has always been, unacceptable to tolerate feminists’ use of tactics designed to silence other feminists, even when we are in disagreement. Yet, that is exactly what is happening right now.

These strategies are unbefitting a movement that seeks collective debate and thinking that will lead to new actions and an enhanced feminist practice. It is unacceptable to say that abolitionist feminists are committing violence against women in prostitution. It is even more unacceptable when it is directed against feminists who have a past experience of prostitution! The purpose of these tactics is to silence women and it also means that some women, especially feminists, are reluctant to take a position because they don’t want to be caught up in this pressure cooker. The same tactics also prevent women in prostitution from having access to another perspective and other choices. Of course, abolitionist feminists have no intention of shutting up.

In fact, for the last 20 years in Québec, it has been very difficult to find space in which to present abolitionist feminist analysis. Some women object that abolitionist feminists are too radical or “aggressive” in defending their ideas. Others think that the debate is too emotional and don’t want to have to take a position for various reasons: fear of conflict and possible divisions in their group and/or the movement, fear of not respecting women with past experience of prostitution, etc. Even though abolitionist feminists deplore this situation and hope, through their actions, to enable increasing numbers of women to understand that abolitionist feminist analysis is most consistent with their principles of liberty, equality and solidarity, they respect the right of individual women and groups to arrive at their own position.

As signatories, we would nevertheless like feminists to exhibit feminist solidarity by opposing the tactics of denigration and boycotting. We reiterate our respect for the fact that some feminists do not share the analysis of feminist abolitionists. But to call abolitionist feminists names, to “study” them as a phenomenon of violence against women, and to call for a boycott of groups like the Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle on the pretext that abolitionist feminists are a danger to women far exceeds the threshold of fair and reasoned debate.

The feminist movement is not homogeneous in its thinking, priorities or actions. But unlike any other subject that could ostensibly divide us as a feminist movement, prostitution seems to elicit an enormous reaction on one side and devastating silence on the other.

This is why we are calling on you today to help put an end to these tactics so that we can debate freely. This is particularly important in the context of the Estates General of Feminism process. We are asking you to refuse to tolerate or endorse this denigration or to participate in any way in silencing feminist abolitionist discourse. Whatever the analysis of certain feminist groups or the issues at stake, we are asking you to act when these groups are treated as “crazy” or “violent.” Some women may not like to hear the feminist abolitionists talk. Abolitionists, for their part, do not enjoy hearing feminists defending the sex industry. But, abolitionist feminists cannot prevent women from talking and acting on their convictions and they are entitled to be treated likewise. Our discussions need to centre on ideas.

More specifically, we ask you to:

·        Sign this letter (no matter what you think about prostitution);

·        Denounce the denigration of feminist abolitionists when you witness this behaviour in discussion forums (meetings or social media);

·        Commit to working for a space free of intimidation and denigration within the États Généraux du féminisme.

 

French Version

To sign this letter, please contact: info@lacles.org

 

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Equalism? Bootylicious? Let’s call the whole thing off

Ever since Beyonce opened up her mouth about feminism, saying: “I don’t really feel that it’s necessary to define it. It’s just something that’s kind of natural for me, and I feel like… you know… it’s, like, what I live for. I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious,” the conversation about renaming or rebranding feminism has become revitalized.

A couple things are clear here: 1) Beyonce has never really thought much about feminism and, when questioned, could only reply in way that would pretty much infuriate anyone who actually had thought a lot about feminism, 2) We shouldn’t ask celebrities about their opinions on anything, and 3) The last thing feminism needs is a redefiniton a la Bootylicious.

This conversation around the rebranding of feminism isn’t exactly new. Folks are constantly claiming to, rather than identify as ‘feminist’, identify as ‘equalists’, ‘humanists’, ‘giraffes’, etc. While some might argue that this rewording of what should still be defined as feminism, simply avoids ye old hairy-legged, man-hating, angry feminazi stereotype that has been placed on feminism in order to scare us all off, in reality, when we talk about rebranding feminism, we are talking about the success of the backlash.

In a piece published on Jezebel, the author highlights some of the more ‘thoughtful’ commentary, from her perspective on the whole conversation:

One commenter named Kristy, for example, writes: “My husband often points out that while he is a feminist in thinking, he hates the word itself as he feels it excludes men. He has often called himself an “Equalitarian” when pressed, but this lacks Beyonce-style panache, so I suggest “equaluscious.”

So I don’t know about you but I think this comment pretty much sums up exactly why we shouldn’t rebrand feminism. Feminism isn’t about making men feel comfortable. As Julie Bindel writes, in fact, “If men like a particular brand of feminism, it means it is not working.”

The fact that a man feels that feminism needs to be rebranded because it would make him feel more comfortable is kind of hilarious, simply because it is just so unbelievably clueless, but on the other hand I think it is similar to many arguments coming from folks who claim that they aren’t feminists but rather ‘humanists’, for example. And these kinds of arguments are significant because they represent not only a certain level of privilege (‘oh, I don’t see gender, I only see humans’), but also that people have really bought that we are now living in a postfeminist society. White people often make the same argument around race saying, ‘oh I don’t see colour, aren’t we beyond all that’? But of course, the only person who would be so privileged to so as to ‘not see colour’ would be someone that didn’t have to see it, i.e. a white person. Humans aren’t equal. Oppression comes in many different forms and is deeply ingrained in our social structures. Feminism isn’t about being ‘equal’ to men as feminists do not believe men to be the end all be all in terms of our goals for liberation. We do not wish to be equal oppressors. We’d really love it if women were not treated as second class citizens or as less than human simply because they are women. That doesn’t mean we aspire towards masculinity either. Equality doesn’t accurately describe oppression; how it functions, who is being oppressed, and how we need to end said oppression.

Words like ‘equalist’ and ‘humanist’ may well make you feel more comfortable and less controversial than you would were you to call yourself a feminist and there’s a really good reason for that. Feminism is controversial. Feminism desires to remove power and privilege from those who have held power and privilege for a really long time. This is a pretty unpleasant prospect for those who’d like to hang on to said power and privilege. Not only that but there are many who have been hard at work, for decades, trying to make feminism seem as irrelevant, as offensive, as unreasonable, as wrong, as unrealistic and as unappealing as possible. This is what we call the backlash. And when we are talking about the need to rebrand feminism in order to make it more pleasant, we are also talking about the success of that backlash.

Another commenter, named Emily, highlighted in the Jezebel post sums this up nicely:

“Why does “fem” need to be involved in an ideology that should gain the interest of everyone, not just those that would define themselves as “fem.” Also, let’s face it…”Feminism” as a term is notoriously jaded and has a weird set of characteristics that go along with; ie-feminists must be men hating, bra burning, no shaving feminazis. Cut the crap, the new term should be “FUCK PATRIARCHY”. I mean the most fundamental usage of the term patriarchy. White male dominance that has enabled (specifically) our society to reap the benefits of and perpetuate sexism, racism, ageism et al. I’m fascinated by the new feminism of Rihanna, Beyonce, Kesha, Britney, and Nicki. They run the world.”

While I’m into the whole ‘FUCK PATRIARCHY’ angle, the fact that feminists would rebrand because of sexist and anti-feminist stereotypes that have been placed on feminism specifically in order to invalidate feminists is, in my opinion, kowtowing to those very people who are working to discredit the feminist movement.

Jezebel concluded this particular piece by suggesting that ‘Equalism’ might work as a replacement as, noted by commenter, lioljund:

“Equalism covers everybody. In each and every aspect. It covers people, and that is what unites us.”

And ‘equalism’ may well cover ‘everybody’, but it points to nothing. It is because everyone isn’t working on an even playing field that it is important that oppression be named. The reason there is a ‘fem’ in ‘feminism’ is because (and you may want to sit down for this one) women in our patriarchal culture are oppressed. So we’d just like to point that out to you. And when we demand change it is on that basis. Framing a desire to end oppression as a desire for equality is misleading. And muffling the reality of who exactly is being oppressed by whom and by what systems of power is desirable to, you guessed it, those who already won the privilege jackpot.

I don’t care if feminism makes you feel uncomfortable. It should.

 

 

 

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The purpose of the blog is to create dialogue and debate around current issues related to women, feminism, and social justice.
We enjoy active participation in the blog, however, we reserve the discretion to remove any comments that are threatening or promote hate speech.

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