I have been watching the fallout around Feminism in London with a sinking heart.
Like many, I was surprised to see Jane Fae’s name on the FiL program as they are very clear on prostitution and pornography constituting violence against women and are vehemently pro-Nordic model. I am aware that they have refused to offer a platform during their conferences to feminists who are pro-sex work on panels talking specifically about prostitution. I assumed that their rules either applied only to panels specifically on prostitution and pornography or that they weren’t aware of Fae’s writing on the subject. Both were equally valid since it not every single feminist in the UK has a full working knowledge of the full employment history and writings of every single person who self-defines as feminist.
I’m not involved in the conference so I have no idea who and what were involved in the conversations surrounding Fae’s continuing participation once a number of exited women raised concerns. The public statement is that Fae chose to withdraw and I have no problem accepting this version of events repeated in numerous places by the organisers. In many ways, this was the only acceptable solution once women who were speaking on their experiences in prostitution spoke out.
Fae wasn’t no-platformed for being transgender. FiL is a trans-inclusive conference. It is asinine to suggest that they would remove a speaker for being transgender when the conference is trans-inclusive. It makes everyone look ridiculous to push a narrative which is clearly false. Without a doubt, a number of radical feminists raised questions about a transwoman speaking at a feminist event – as is their right. It is also the right of the conference organisers to ignore questions raised about a transgender speaker at a trans-inclusive conference.
Personally, I don’t believe that no-platforming is the correct term to use in this particular situation. FiL may be the largest feminist conference in the UK but it is an entirely different situation to the NUS. Julie Bindel was no-platformed by the NUS for being ‘vile’ – not for violating a specific policy but for the judgment ‘vile’ (the fact that Bindel has apologised repeatedly for the article written over 10 years ago is a tiny fact the NUS prefers to ignore). The NUS decision has an impact on all student organisations that receive funds from the NUS across the UK. One conference who have a specific policy on prostitution and pornography choosing not to have speakers who do not support their policies is not the same as a campaign to have someone publicly banned from speaking or writing at student unions, ALL feminist and academic conferences as well as rendering a woman unemployable as has happened to Bindel. There are other feminist conferences in the UK which are not trans-inclusive and ones which see sex work as empowering. Every feminist in the UK is free to create their own conferences -funding is a major impediment but many feminists have overcome this by holding them in women’s houses. You may not be able to get 1500 women into your house but it’s unlikely that any one woman will find 1500 women who agree with them on absolutely everything.0
I also understand why Julie Bindel and Caroline Criado-Perez have chosen not to speak at FiL following Fae’s withdrawal from the conference as both signed the public letter about the no-platforming of feminists written by Bea Campbell. I also signed the letter and disagree that withdrawal was the way forward – feminism being a political movement and not a dictatorship means women get to have different views on how to achieve the goal of liberation of women and fight the no-platforming of non-media friendly feminists.
I wrote parts of the above several days ago but chose not to publish it as I did not want to get embroiled in feminist disagreements amongst women I love and respect. I was tempted to delete this post even 30 minutes ago but far too many women have been hurt in the past few days that it feels cowardly to stay silent.
Feminism isn’t circle time at kindergarten. We aren’t required to sit in a circle quietly whilst sharing cookies and listening to stories. It’s a political movement that involves anger, trauma, distress, conflicts but also love and support. We need to stop replicating patriarchal language patters and public shaming techniques. We need to lose the perforative aspects of feminism and concentrate on the politics.
Whilst the fall-out was happening in numerous online feminist communities, a woman I respect and admire reshared an article called ‘We need to talk about the process’ on Trouble & Strife. I love this quote from the the Black feminist Combahee River Collective in 1977 included in the article. I haven’t had a chance to read the full statement from the Combahee River Collective but it’s on my list for tomorrow:
In the practice of our politics we do not believe that the end always justifies the means. Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving ‘correct’ political goals. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. We believe in collective process and a non-hierarchal distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society. We are committed to a continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism, and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our politics.
Recently, I have seen too many reactionary and destructive acts done in the name of real feminism. And, I’ve seen far too many women get hurt in the process.
Sharing information from private groups or posting FB/ twitter conversations for the express purpose of humiliating other women isn’t a feminist act. We need to be able to challenge each other, disagree and be downright horrified by the comments, statements and beliefs of other feminists. Sisterhood doesn’t involve ignoring inappropriate or destructive behaviour and it shouldn’t involve publicly trashing other women.
Public shaming is as damaging to the feminist movement when it is done by radical feminists as when it is done by liberal feminists. No side of feminism has a monopoly on good practice. I know I have fucked up numerous times failing to recognise my own privilege. I also know I’ve stayed quiet too long when I’ve seen women lashing out in anger or trauma but who cross the line into personal attacks. And. I’ve stayed too quiet when those who get pleasure out of causing pain attack a new person. I would like to say it’s because I’ve chosen not to give a bigger platform to someone behaving abusively but mostly it’s been because I’ve been afraid of becoming the target of abuse – even though silence never actually protects you.
Online spaces do so much to share feminist views – ones that are regularly no-platformed and ignored by the mainstream media. These spaces are vital to the health and future of our movement, but so are the individual members and we need to start cutting each other some slack.
The process of liberation matters as much as the end goal. We will not achieve full liberation of women if we continue to treat each other as objects of ridicule or pretend that racism and classism can be viewed as distinct entities from misogyny. Women are harmed as a class but BME women and working class women cannot separate the misogyny they experience from the racism and classism they experience. Ageism and lesbophobia can’t be separated either.
I’ll be at Feminism in London this year because it was the place that I met many incredible radical feminists for the first time. Some I had ‘met’ previously on Mumsnet and others on the day. Being with 1500 women is a powerful experience even if you don’t agree with many of them on issues fundamental to your politics.
None of us are perfect and we all start somewhere. For some women that somewhere is Feminism in London. Being with other women on their journey through feminism is a beautiful thing – painful, frustrating, enraging, but also beautiful.
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that other women are hurting too.