Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow conference

This is the speech I had written for the Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow in May 2014. I didn’t actually say what I had written. Instead, I spoke specifically to male violence as a silencing tactic and erasure of women’s work because of male violence.

I want to thank every single woman who has supported AROOO since our inception. I never thought this network would be as successful as it so thank you.

Founding A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network

 

Male domination of speech, both in public and private, has been well proven in research for thirty years now.Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing or the Sex? in 1989.[1] There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. Recently, the largest global study on violence against women found that it was the feminist movement that had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. Dworkin’s famous passage from her seminal text Intercourse is truer now than when she wrote it:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”[2]

I have been online for nearly 20 years and the abuse of women online has gotten worse. The misogynistic attacks on feminists like Caroline Criado-Perez and the racist/ misogynist abuse directed at women of colour[3] make it very clear that online spaces are not safe for women. In many ways, Dworkin’s words are an understatement of what occurs online. Men’s reactions to women’s words has become more violent, more hateful, in many ways, more socially acceptable.Women can’t hear one another when we’re forced to plough through thousands of threats of rape, torture and death in online spaces. We lock our twitter accounts, censor ourselves and hope we don’t become the next target. We don’t need a threat to be directed at us personally to act as a silencing tactic.

The media explosion in the winter of 2013 on so-called “twitter wars” was the final impetus to the founding.The level of misogyny directed at women by male media for the crime of disagreeing with one another was simply unbearable. Much of what is dismissed as ‘twitter wars’ is marginalised women seeking recognition of the multiple oppressions within their lives. Dismissing these concerns as ‘twitter wars’ is a new patriarchal silencing tactic. The recognition of intersectionality is absolutely vital to the future of the feminist/womanist movements.we do need to acknowledge that women internalise misogyny and these traumas do impact on how women interacts with each other. Considering the trauma of being raised female in a racist, disablist, lesbophobic culture where male violence against women and girls is the norm, it’s hardly shocking that many women have internalised the woman-hating messages and lash out at each other. After all, lashing out at other women is unlikely to result in you dying which is a realistic fear of calling out men.

Rather, it was the assumption, mostly from men, that disagreements on activism and theory within the feminist movement were a sign of hysterical women incapable of rational thought. In my anger, A Room of our own was born. It is a women-only space both in terms of preventing men from joining the network but also actively preventing them from joining in conversations via comments and on twitter and Facebook. I started from the expectation that members will have fundamentally different definitions of feminism/ womanism and that these differences are worth exploring, debating and celebrating.

AROOO does have members with very strong opinions on issues like prostitution and pornography but we are also one of the only online spaces where radical feminists and pro-sex industry feminists share a platform. It’s for women new to feminism and womanism and for those who kick started what is commonly referred to as the Second Wave. I work very hard to keep it a safe space in face of quite intensive abuse and whining from me. Our youngest member is only 10 years old, and writes as Sexism in Schools. Giving her a feminist platform where disagreement, debate and discussion are encouraged and not dismissed as hysterical, irrational women fells really powerful. I want feminists and womanists, new and old, to experience the same. Many of our members have disabilities which prevent them from accessing ‘real life’ feminist activism or caring responsibilities that means they are trapped in the house. Online feminist spaces are essential for these women’s participation but also their mental health.

I do get a lot of complaints about alienating men, hurting their feelings and demands that we include men lest we be viewed as man-haters. Apparently, men can’t learn about women unless we expend our energy teaching them. Frankly, any man who can’t work out how to google isn’t someone I want to waste my time on. It also isn’t women’s responsibility to ensure that men never feel excluded. After all, very few men spend any time actually considering the exclusion and erasure of women.

More importantly, men spend vast amounts of time online policing women’s conversations and even the language we use. Men don’t spend vast amounts of time policing other men, even those making threats of violence. Women-only spaces remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Women need a space to discuss and debate issues without having to worry about male violence. The violent threats of rape and death are daily and most men don’t bother to challenge it. Instead, they pretend its some other man over there when we all know its not some random man on the internet. It’s actually most of them -either engaging in violence themselves or pretending it doesn’t exist.

The only way to stop the silencing of women is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really silencing?

[1] Dale Spender (http://dalespender.com.au)

[2] Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, (http://radfem.org/dworkin/)

[3] I have chosen only to name Caroline Criado-Perez here because two people have been convicted of abusing her via twitter. Women of colour experience misogynistic and racist abuse daily on twitter and neither twitter nor the police seem all that concerned about these attacks. As their names are not publicly known via press coverage, I will leave them unnamed to protect their anonymity. Criado-Perez has waved her anonymity in press coverage of her abuse.

[4] Bidisha’s personal blog: http://bidisha-online.blogspot.co.uk

[5] A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network (http://www.aroomofourown.org)

Leave a Reply