Jessica Valenti’s latest article in the Guardian made me roll my eyes. It’s yet another in a long line of dreary “who gets to be a feminist” that doesn’t actually discuss what it means to be a feminist, so much as taking out 10 minutes to trash the reputation of other women who call themselves feminists. Interestingly, it’s precisely what Valenti suggests Bindel does in Bindel’s latest Guardian article.
There is a very necessary discussion of the definition of feminism to be had – both in law and praxis. Valenti’s definition rests on gender equality. My definition is the liberation of women, as a class, from male violence and that our liberation requires the abolition of gender. It recognises that capitalism is intertwined with patriarchy and that both are predicated on inequality in law and culture. Women can never be “equal” to men when capitalism requires many to live in poverty in order to allow a small group access to wealth. Gender equality means nothing when we have laws that grant women equal pay in existence for more than forty years and women are still consistently paid less than men and this is without acknowledging the fact that women of colour are paid less than white women. I believe pornography, prostitution, and all other forms of the sex industry constitute violence against women and girls.
Jessica Valenti and I have very different definitions of feminism. I think her feminism actively harms women and I’m sure she would feel the same about my definition. The difference is I don’t doubt Valenti’s commitment to feminism and to supporting women. I fundamentally disagree with her political stance but not her activism.
This is why I am quite disgusted with her article in the Guardian likening Julie Bindel to Sarah Palin. It demonstrates a complete failure to fact check Julie Bindel’s 30 years of feminist activism and erase it based on one article that Bindel wrote over ten years ago. Feminism needs critical analysis. We need to read the research, the personal testimonies, and then make judgements based on fact. Basing the entire career of one woman on one article from 10 years ago isn’t critical engagement. It ignores Bindel’s work with Justice for Women and supporting the Emma Humphreys Prize for Ending Violence against Women. It ignores Bindel’s work on the harm of pornography and prostitution – you don’t have to agree with her position but erasing her work is patriarchy in action.
Julie Bindel is a gender abolitionist – this doesn’t mean she “oppose(s) the very existence of trans individuals” as Valenti claims. It means she is a gender abolitionist who campaigns to eradicate the hierarchical oppression of gender. Bindel is extremely critical of the behaviour of a small group of transactivists, not all of who are transgender, but Bindel is very clear this is a small group who engage in abusive harassment. She is very consistent in stating that the behaviour of this small group is not representative of transgender people as a whole. This is the exact same argument that liberal feminists use when discussing “not all men”.
Critical analysis is essential to a healthy feminist movement. I have seen far too many feminists claim that Julie Bindel is ‘transphobic’ because they read that fact on the Internet. They know nothing else but that Bindel is transphobic and the NUS no-platformed her for being “vile” (the fact that the NUS engages with all sorts of violent dictators and men whose financial wealth is predicated on human rights abuses of their employees goes unremarked).
Being a feminist isn’t just about a label or recognising “gender equality”. It’s a political theory that requires critical thought. This doesn’t mean that all feminists agree with one another on issues but it does mean that we are required to come to our own political stance ourselves – and not because some dude on the internet thinks a woman is a vile because she wrote an article 10 years ago and has since retracted it. Accepting what we are told without thought is patriarchy in action – not feminism.