So yes, I’m writing another – another – post on the word “cis”. Everybody quake in fear! But I’ve had so many useful comments, which have given me so much food for thought, that I’d like to get them all out and see what happens.

The other reason is the previous post is based on personal pain. It was, as these things are, read as competitive. I felt hurt; other people felt hurt. This is an attempt to be more dispassionate and to explain why, as far as I can see, the term “cis” isn’t working – and why we need to allow non-trans women to define themselves on their own terms:

1 Cis is not a necessary alternative to trans

Many people find it hard to see what is wrong with this statement:

anyone not trans is cis

But what if someone said this:

“anyone not Muslim is Christian”

It doesn’t make any sense, does it? The fact that being a Muslim is predicated on having a religious belief does not mean that anyone who is not a Muslim must have a different religious belief, let alone one specified by you.

You could amend the first statement to:

“anyone not trans is cis or non-binary or genderfluid or two-spirit etc.”

However, then the equivalent would be:

“anyone not Muslim is Christian or Hindu or Sikh or Jewish etc.”

There is quite clearly something missing: the space for people who do not wish to be defined by these belief systems at all. In the case of the former statement, that would be a huge number of feminists, with good reason.

I am not religious. I don’t define myself as an atheist any more than I define myself as a “not believer in fairies”. I just don’t wish to define myself in relation to religion in any way, shape or form. Does it mean I don’t believe Muslims are Muslims? Of course not. Similarly, does not identifying as cis mean I don’t believe trans people are trans? Clearly not. Nor does it mean that I am agender (I am female and I am a woman. Gender does not come into it). An absence of belief is not the erasure of someone else’s. On the other hand, the demand that someone actively endorses your worldview by declaring themselves a believer or risk being deemed a bigot and subjected to ongoing threats and abuse … well, what would you call that?

2 It’s morally unacceptable to demand that another person swears allegiance to a belief system they experience as harmful

This is what is being done when feminists who do not believe in gender as anything other than a construct are ordered to identify as cis. It is not merely unfair; it is cruel, a cruelty which is intensified when the consequences of not submitting are to be declared a hateful bigot and a TERF. There are non-trans women whose experience of gender is contained only within the harm that has been done to them and others. It’s not okay to then tell them that they just don’t “get” gender or that “real gender” is totally distinct from gender oppression and stereotyping. If they do not experience or believe that, merely being faced with such statements is traumatising. Gender has an absolutely real and valid meaning for them and to suggest that any attachment to this meaning encroaches on the space of someone more oppressed is manipulative and untrue. This is not about hierarchies of suffering, it is about the integrity of meanings to people who are traumatised in different but equally deplorable ways.

3 Individuals should have the freedom to identify with any gender – or none

This is linked to the previous two points and it is that basic: to be cisgendered has no meaning to someone who does not experience themselves as gendered in any way other than by the gaze of others. Indeed, to enforce cisgendered status on someone who feels this way is to double up the oppression; it’s asking someone to confess to an experience that they themselves do not believe in, in effect, to own up to ignorance of their own selves and submit to the higher authority of those who “know” their gender better (trans people will be familiar with how awful this feels, but so too will most AFAB women, who experience this in various ways from the moment they are born).

In a recent piece for the Guardian, Fred McConnell described gender as “one’s innate sense of self”. I don’t know what this means. This does not mean I am deficient or ignorant. It means I don’t think that’s what gender is. Hence when McConell says “cisgender […] refers to those whose sex and gender do match” I am 100% sure that I am not cis. I don’t experience this matching but nor do I experience a sense of allegiance with any other gender construct. It should not matter to anyone else that I don’t. It is not their business.

4 Trans women should not depend on non-trans women for self-definition

Why the hell should they even want to? My not-cis-ness says nothing about your trans-ness. You don’t need me as a foil to offer validation. You are your own person.

If we were to push this to its logical conclusion, we could say that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. Either gender exists as an innate sense of self or it doesn’t. Either God exists or he doesn’t. Why, exactly, would we want to push it to this degree? Will we ever get a final answer, a voice from on high? No. I don’t care if you don’t. Moreover this is not the same as me saying “you’re not the man or woman you say you are” (I think this can be particularly hard to grasp, not least due to the oppressive conditions under which trans people have to define themselves, but it’s true).

5 Evidence of innate difference is not evidence of innate gender difference

Or rather, it only is if you’re already someone who believes in gender as an essence rather than merely a construct. This is very straightforward but I don’t think this can be stressed enough. It is frankly absurd that radical feminists get termed flat-earthers and anti-scientific simply because they refuse to make the leap of faith that says, for instance, that evidence of different brain patterns in trans people can be linked to the concepts “male” and “female”. If other people want to make that leap, that’s up to them, but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with scientific proof. I believe Jesus existed. I also believe he was an amazing man. Is that evidence for the existence of a Christian God? No. Believing in God involves bringing together faith and evidence to form a coherent narrative. People who don’t have faith in gender won’t produce the same narrative in response to biological difference as those who do. We should be able to live with that. It’s only a problem when evidence of biological difference is used to justify gender-based oppression (which it has been, again and again). In these instances, an agnostic position on gender and biology surely seems the fairest way to proceed.

6 Beliefs are not the same as social and cultural privilege

It is self-evident that trans people suffer enormous amounts of discrimination and rejection. This does not mean that being an AFAB woman is a privilege in and of itself. In a society which continually dehumanises women it simply cannot be. Moreover, if you do not experience gender as anything innate, you do not suddenly have the choice to align yourself with the dominant gender. It’s not some liberating free-for-all. You’re just an AFAB woman dealing with a world that presents “womanhood” as something you are not.

Some trans women may think that non-trans women owe them – that our right to define womanhood on our terms is trumped by their greater suffering. Certainly, tweets such as this would suggest it:

faulty term

But such a view has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth of anyone’s experience of gender or womanhood. If you are a child who wants people to lie about their feelings so that you feel better, perhaps this is an okay solution. The rest of us would rather ask for cultural change and social acceptance for everyone. Such external acceptance would include you – but when it comes to self-acceptance, you have to do that on your own.

7 It’s important to distinguish between non-believers and extremists

Most violence against trans men and women is committed not by gender non-believers but gender extremists – AMAB men who cannot cope with the idea of anyone transgressing their strictly-bound gender rules (rules which radical feminists, who frankly don’t give a shit what you wear, how you feel or how you present yourself, wholly reject). It’s curious, then, that the feminist rejection of cis is instantly aligned with the transphobic violence of the über-cis. I think, deep down, the people who do this are conscious it is disingenuous. However, it’s easier to hit out at those whom you can claim threaten your sense of self rather than those who threaten your physical safety (just as it’s easier to rant at “militant secularists” rather than at Christian EDL members who set fire to mosques). Of course, it’s not fair. You alone are responsible for your sense of self. If someone tells you you’re shit or you’re not the person you say you are, they are wrong. If, on the other hand, someone else’s sense of self seems to contradict yours, this is not an act of aggression. It’s just people being people.

8 Gender as a construct is deeply harmful to AFAB women

This shouldn’t need reiterating, but it is. Rape, VAW, FGM, exploitation, inequality, femicide. Hence feminism. And yes, you can say “but that’s not real gender”. It might not be to you but it is to me. So let’s just leave it there.

9 No one ever gets final confirmation that they are A Real Woman

Because this isn’t a female version of Pinocchio. No blue fairy will come along and wave her magic wand. This is real life.

This was one trans woman’s response to my previous post (or rather, it’s the least offensive of her many responses):

on a plate

I’ll allow you a moment to laugh bitterly at the absurdity of it. If this person had actually read any of the previous things I’d written about the term cis (rather than cried “TERF” and “bigot” in response to the very idea that I’d had an opinion) she’d know that due to ill-health I didn’t experience puberty until I was in my twenties. I considered myself a woman before then, just as I considered myself a woman after having a miscarriage and will consider myself a woman when I go through the menopause and should I ever have a hysterectomy. Ovulation does not a woman make.

This is not to deny the political importance of defining “woman” in reproductive terms. I know a lot of people struggle to get their heads round this. But you just said … Well, yes, no one said this was easy! The oppression of women as a class is inseparable from patriarchal attempts to control reproduction. You can rebrand it by saying “pregnant people” all you like but a refusal to put misogyny in context betrays the perceived breeders/vessels/gestators (whatever we now call them if the right to use “woman” is withdrawn). They will remain a sub-class only one which has now been denied the dignity of a cultural and class heritage.

The upshot of this, of course, is that people have to share (I know, what a pain!). Pregnant trans men have to put up with being intermittently co-opted by Class Woman for the sake of political argument, and pregnant women have to accept (as, to be fair, I think most do) that their reproductive status is not a trump card in the Game of Womanhood.

There will never, ever, be a point in anyone’s life when they are handed a Certificate of Full Womanhood. Because that would be meaningless. We make of our womanhood what we can. It’s not a thing you can touch or measure in a test tube. It’s the messy context of a human life. Of course, not everyone thinks this, at least not yet. That’s why I’d argue that a push for greater acceptance of “messy, human, fuzzy around the edges womanhood” could strike a real blow against transphobia (in a way that demanding non-trans women identify as cis – and hence reinforcing the sense that womanhood truly is an absolute – never, ever can).

This post is brought to you by sex. Lots and lots of sex, which I may or may not have had in the past and/or be having right now. The precise nature of said sex shall remain undefined. Suffice it to say that it’s as rude – or not rude – as you want it to be. The point is, I’ve fucked my way to credibility – or have I?

It has come to my attention that in most discussions of porn, sex work and objectification, there’s immense pressure placed on feminists to demonstrate they have the lived experience required to take part. It’s not enough that to have grown up in a patriarchal culture, nor to have felt the daily impact of being reduced to passive flesh. You’re obliged to show your bits. After all, if you don’t do that, how can anyone tell whether you’re not just some sex-fearing neurotic? Disliking sex is not the same as, say, not liking sugar in your tea; it’s become a form of bigotry and thus, as a bigot, you’re not allowed an abstract opinion on how objectification affects womankind. Indeed, even if you’re fond of most things sex-wise, it’s probably best to express unbridled enthusiasm for anything at all that you find problematic, otherwise you may not be permitted to find it problematic in the first place. Does that make sense? (more…)

How would women talk if they knew men weren’t listening? This is something I’ve been considering a lot of late. How much is what we say to each other a performance on behalf of men? And if a woman speaks out of earshot of any man, does she really make a sound?

It isn’t true that men never listen to women. They do, all the time. When we say to men “you don’t listen” perhaps what we really mean is “you might use my words to judge me but they will never change your view of yourself”. It is not that our words are not heard, but that they don’t function in the way they are supposed to. All too often, there is no real dialogue. The listener takes our words and uses them to reform his perception of us. In doing so, he subtly changes our status; we are redefined from without. What we really wanted to achieve — an interchange of ideas, with all the shared vulnerabilities this entails — remains out of reach. “I am listening,” he says, “and later I will judge.”

So we get used to it. No point endlessly trying to achieve the impossible. If I put forward an argument, especially on twitter, I expect a large proportion of the men who hear it to understand it not as a challenge to their worldview, but as a means of positioning me in relation to them. “Where do I place this woman in relation to my rightness?” I lack the status to be an adversary or a mind-changer. Women generally do. Our words don’t penetrate. Penetrating others isn’t for the likes of us. (more…)

My four-year-old son likes the colour pink. He likes it on everything: pink socks, pink toys, pink paint, pink glitter. Sometimes he even wears a pink plastic ring to school.

My son also knows that he is a boy, and that boys are not allowed to like pink. Not one to be deterred, he’s come up with his own solution. From now on, pink will be called orange and orange, pink.

“Are you wearing your pink ring today?”

“Don’t be silly! It’s orange! It has to be orange because orange is for boys!”

Let’s be clear: there’s no real reason why pink should be pink and orange should be orange. They’re just identifying words. Sometimes it won’t even be clear which one you should use, or if either is appropriate. Is salmon pink really orange? And coral? And what if your paint was pink but then you added more and more yellow? Ultimately it doesn’t really matter. There is pink and there is orange but not everything needs to be judged on how pink or how orange it is. They’re just the outer shades, not the things in themselves. Even so, I wish my son didn’t feel the need to switch words around solely on the basis that pink is not allowed. (more…)

Women online — they’re always whinging about abuse, aren’t they? And yet it’s so hard to stop abusing them! You might even think they deserve it. After all, a thousand twitter mobs can’t be wrong, can they?

Well, here’s problem. People who abuse women always think they have a good reason for doing it. That’s how abuse works. It’s a function of widespread ignorance and fear. And since when did an abuser really see themselves as such? They always think they are doing it for the victim’s own good, so that she will learn to be better and not make the same “mistakes” again. Corrective abuse, one might call it. Find a space with women in it and trust me, thinks the abuser, some of them will need to be tamed.

You might be a woman yourself, a feminist even, but still find it hard to approach other women as though they are human beings. Perhaps you’ve found some distancing strategy that makes you feel less of a “basic” female. That’s okay. After all, it’s hard to remain a decent person in a highly abusive environment. Tapping into a special vein of misogyny that you’ve decided doesn’t apply to you is a natural reaction. It’s not right but there’s still time to change.

To help you get back on track, I’ve written this handy, deeply patronising checklist for abusive feminists everywhere. Please make the time to read it. After all, what harm can one more passive-aggressive, “stop being such a shit feminist” list do when there are so many out there already?

So, let’s begin:

1. According to the most up-to-date scientific research, women are human beings. And yes, that includes all women, even the ones you don’t like. I know this will make some of you feel a bit icky. That’s fine. It often takes people time to get used to this idea. Give yourself the space to work on your internalised prejudice (it’s hard, I know *sends solidarihugs*).

2. All women have things called “ideas” and “opinions”. It can be difficult when you first encounter this online, at least if a woman’s ideas and opinions differ to yours. A common impulse is to call her a bigot, accuse her of various phobias and invite the rest of the internet to shame her into submission. Don’t panic if that’s what you’ve been doing. You simply need to get to grips with the idea that a person not agreeing with you is okay, even if that person is a woman (I know, a woman! Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But trust me, letting women have opinions won’t be any worse than letting men have them. You just need to overcome your fear of this).

3. For a long time it was believed that only men could have what we call “real emotions”. Nowadays it’s recognised that women have them, too, but it’s still felt that a woman can forfeit them if she steps out of line. For instance, while we know that “die in a fire” or “STFU you shit-for-brains cunt” would upset the average man, a recalcitrant woman is widely held to respond only with “sadfeelz”. This is, alas, bad science. All current indications suggest that even women who lack the #twitterfeminism seal of approval have actual emotional responses to threats and abuse. That’s something to bear in mind next time you start putting a dot before the @ in your tweet.

4. Lots of us believe that older women exist only to make us feel important, stroke our bruised egos and occasionally do the housework. Hence if you encounter an older woman online, it can be terribly disappointing if she doesn’t seem utterly bowled over by your edgy sexual exploits, or has the temerity not to think your self-centred view of gender overwrites her more critical one. The thing to remember is: older women are not your mum. They’re not going to cut you some slack just because they love you. They have their own shit to deal with and don’t owe you approval. It comes back to the “women being people” thing. Keep repeating that to yourself until one day you believe it.

5. One of the oldest forms of misogyny comes in the belief that the female body is corruptive, sinful and repulsive. You might think you have ideas about sex and gender which make you immune to this reaction and if so, that’s cool. However, if your immediate response to someone mentioning words such as period and vagina (but not penis or testes) is to tweet “fuck off, cissexist scum!” it may be that you still have issues.

6. These days most cultures allow women to manage their own relationships and interact socially without the presence of a chaperone, partner or male relative. That’s something to bear in mind if you find yourself regularly checking up on whom a woman is following on twitter, quizzing her over her online “associations,” warning people not to talk to X because she’s been seen talking to Y etc..

7. Making women feel uncertain about themselves — that their views are not authoritative, their thought processes tainted by bigotry, their suffering unverified, their “lived experiences” neither real nor raw enough to count — is a common abuser’s tactic. This may be something you do without even meaning to. You might think you have the lived experiences against which all other women must measure theirs (and that theirs will invariably be found wanting). You might secretly enjoy spreading uncertainty and acquiring obedient followers, desperate not to offend you with their silly woman ideas. All this means is that you are acting like an entitled prick. But don’t worry! There’s always time to change. Read and re-read this list, then resolve to do better.

8. Being a woman isn’t meant to feel modern or cutting edge. Womanhood doesn’t need repackaging or pruning, leaving the embarrassing “waste” behind. All women who speak are women whom, as a feminist, you should feel some responsibility towards. That’s really annoying, isn’t it? But that’s people for you.

It’s okay if all this is new to you. Take your time. In the meantime, here’s a shit, babyish cartoon to help you on your journey:

Am I abusive

Still feeling uncomfortable? Patronised? Offended? Don’t worry. This is how most women feel online all the time. Terrified of saying the wrong thing. Judged simply for existing. Frightened that if they call out abuse, they’ll just be accused of bigotry. Patronised by passive-aggressive lists which outline all of the ways in which they are to blame for all social ills. Blamed for all the bad things that happen to them, tortured by the thought that those accusing them could be right.

If you feel even a tiny bit of that right now, think carefully before you launch in to your next attack. If, on the other hand, you’ve already composed a tweet in which you describe how I’ve written a post all about defending privilege, you’re nothing if not predictable and hopelessly, determinedly wrong.

Yesterday Paris Lees wrote a blog post on Avery Edison, a trans woman who was being held in a man’s prison in Canada. In it, she described “a culture that punishes difference, blames victims and lacks empathy”:

It’s a disbelief characterised by privilege: the cushy, unquestioned joy of not knowing what it feels like for the other person. To stand there, humiliated, while people you don’t know tell you what they think your gender should be. That you are fake. Inauthentic. Not what you say you are.

Powerful and beautifully expressed, this touches on something that lies at the heart of all movements for social change – this sense that you are not what others define you to be, that you are more human, more real, and as such you deserve more. That your life has a pattern and meaning other than those being imposed on it from above. We all know our realities better than anyone else. We know what forms us and we know what hurts us. We own the context of our own experiences.

I was thinking of this when reading Roz Kaveney’s response to my New Statesman piece on cis identities, gender and womanhood. It’s not a response as such, more a remarkably unfeeling lecture on how to be empathetic. It’s a curious thing, reading that what you believe and feel about yourself isn’t right, and that someone else knows better. It’s not an unfamiliar sensation of course; as a fellow woman, Roz, I’ve had people do this to me all my life. And here’s a gentle reminder, if you’re going to write about empathy again any time soon: the respect I show for your reality doesn’t render mine a poor, second-class version.

Your experiences don’t override mine, filling in the gaps, blotting out the parts no one wants to see. Your understanding of gender is different, but not heightened, not deeper, not more “real”. I am interested in the context it gives to mine, and the extent to which I may need to recalibrate in response; nevertheless, my flexibility doesn’t extend to offering up my own version of womanhood at the altar of your ego.

In a piece filled with kindly, long-suffering explanations of what I “really” think, Kaveney describes how “when someone like Glosswitch, not ill-intentioned and probably not meaningfully describable as transphobic, announces that they are going to talk about gender, alarm bells ring all over the trans* part of the internet”. I know! Just imagine, me, a feminist, having opinions and thoughts about gender! It’s bound to be total crap, right? The whole tone of this sounds disturbingly patriarchal. I picture myself in a Mike Leigh film, a seventies housewife who’s got drunk at a dinner party, my embarrassed husband making excuses for us both: “Don’t mind Glosswitch, she means well but she hasn’t a clue what she’s talking about!” Poor Glosswitch. She does get these “ideas” about womanhood. Don’t hold it against her, eh? She’s not transphobic, after all; well, not “meaningfully describable” as such (wink, wink).

Like all people who mistake projection for empathy, Kaveney seems to suggest she is being kind:

I get that, as a young cis woman, Glosswitch experienced major areas of dysphoria about body and social role; I understand that she thinks, not entirely without justice, that these give her some share of what trans people go through.

Well, actually: no. That’s not what I think. I don’t define my experience of gender solely in relation to people who experience it differently. I don’t see it as a partial, broken-off narrative, useful only if it will earn me the right to take part in a conversation that belongs to someone else. This is my story. Mine. I own it. It is every bit as complete and real as yours, and this is true of every single woman on Earth, cis or trans. This will make you uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable, too, but there we are. That’s empathy for you.

This doesn’t mean gender is arbitrary and meaningless, floating in the ether. It is embedded in all of our lives. We each make our own definitions, form our own versions. That doesn’t mean the totality of these versions is harmless. We can still read its impact. It’s not the case that when beliefs about gender kill women – or cause them not to be born at all – these women don’t really die because hey, that’s not how you see gender operating. This is no more valid than suggesting that racism isn’t that bad, really, because you recognise people of colour are equal to white people. You don’t get to deny the reality of structural inequality just because you simply don’t feel it deep within yourself.

Kaveney writes that “the range of meanings attached to the word gender are attached to a range of actual lived experiences – that is how a living language about sex and equality develops”. I am a linguist. I have PhD in languages. I might not be quoting Butler but I am not a child who needs words explaining to me. I also know that it is naïve in the extreme to pretend that language necessarily develops in a positive direction, becoming more progressive and inclusive. Any development which takes from females the means to articulate the relationship between gender, biology and oppression – and does so at a time of massive structural inequality – is not a positive one. It is, on the contrary, erasing and dangerous. Kaveney would like to suggest that any articulation of the misogyny inherent in reproductive oppression means giving in to “the people who want to abolish women’s reproductive freedom” since they are also erasing trans men. This is disingenuous beyond belief. A denial of the structural roots of oppression is not a move for inclusivity. Misogyny is real. It is no less real when it has an impact on those who do not identify as women.

Of course, like all women, I am used to people talking down to me and feeling, not angry, but disappointed. Often they sound like this:

Some of the time Glosswitch really doesn’t get it – empathy fails all together.

Oh dear :(. The trouble is, empathy isn’t saying what people would like you to say. It is about trying to understand. Kaveney doesn’t like this. You are, it appears, either right or wrong:

What’s also politically dangerous is [Glosswitch’s] assumption that there’s a possible, desirable truce between trans people and those feminists who are trans-exclusionary, or more accurately trans-eliminationist.

God forbid that anyone should operate on the assumption that, in a world in which beliefs about sex and gender oppress us all, we’re most of us trying to do our best. God forbid anyone should try to act in a way that identifies humanity and good faith even in those we disagree with. God forbid that we should hesitate before daring to look at anyone – anyone at all—and say that they are, to quote Lees, “fake. Inauthentic. Not who you say you are.” God forbid that I should believe my reality can stand toe to toe with yours.

I haven’t written this for the benefit of Roz Kaveney, or indeed anyone else. I’ve written it for me, because it makes me feel better to restate that my reality is mine. It’s important to be able to reclaim these things. You can take something from deep within yourself and lay it out for public consumption and it will be there for others to take and put into whatever context they wish. Nonetheless, it’s still yours, whoever you are. It can’t be distorted and shoved back inside you as something else, something you neither knew nor felt.  Anyone at all should be able to empathise with that, at least if they were to try.

Is having Barbie on the cover of Sports Illustrated empowering or demeaning? That’s what the Guardian wants to know, so much so that they’ve set up an online poll. Personally, I find the whole thing baffling, but then again, I don’t know what Sports Illustrated is. Is it a wank mag that everyone pretends is a sports magazine? Or a sports magazine that everyone pretends is a wank mag? I have no idea and what’s more, I can’t be arsed to find out. Hence I shall remain neither empowered nor demeaned, languishing in some liminal state of non-womanhood.

The “empowered or demeaned?” game is of course a familiar one. It’s one of those media bastardisations of feminism that ends up reinforcing the dehumanising extremes it claims to avoid. Are you empowered – a tits out, up for it, ball-breaking capitalist – or demeaned – a prudish, frigid, man-hating victim? Are you taking ownership of your life, busting out of the strictures that confine you, or are you standing back, watching while sexism is done to you? There’s no question, really, as to whether or not Barbie, or Page Three, or rape porn, or unpaid labour count as “objectively” empowering or demeaning. It’s all a state of mind. The impression is that you get to choose. There is no such thing as structural oppression. Feminist critique is no longer a challenge to patriarchy; it’s a personal statement. I am empowered, or, I am demeaned. (more…)

My feminism is not about being afraid.

Of course, I am afraid of lots of things. I am afraid of not being considered attractive. I am afraid of not being liked. I am afraid of being considered sluttish, or stupid, or frigid. I am afraid of being excluded, and I’m afraid of excluding, too.

I am afraid of being considered “just” a woman. I’m afraid of not knowing what being a woman means. I’m afraid of being a bad mother, a poor worker, a useless partner, a selfish friend. I am afraid of being poor. I am afraid of being physically or psychologically abused. I am afraid of rape and murder.

I am afraid of the structures that maintain oppression. I am afraid of describing them. I am afraid of not saying the right thing. I am afraid of saying anything at all.

A feminism whose primary aim is validating these fears – one that supports and thrives on them – is no feminism at all. It is, at best, a diversion, a support group. At worst it reinforces the oppressions it claims to challenge. It denies any possibility of change, presenting self-definition as a substitute to challenging oppression at all.

Last night a friend and I were discussing the rise of SWERF and TERF, insults that are increasingly used against feminists who attack, not sex workers nor trans people, but gendered structures of oppression. Fear-based feminism would deny that these are insults at all. It would argue that the word “exclusion” is never used in vain. It would send tweets to itself and the world at large, using capital letters: TERF IS NOT A SLUR TERF IS NOT A SLUR TERF IS NOT A SLUR. It would say “it’s descriptive,” all the while making note of the latest unsayables (gender is a construct, reproduction is a feminist issue, misogyny is associated with hatred of the female body). It would watch as all space for discussion and compassion collapsed in on itself. It would think “as long as I am safe. As long as I am neither SWERF nor TERF.”

Fear-based feminism is all about attacking individuals, not intersecting structures of oppression. “Kick up, not down.” Just as long as you’re kicking someone, and as long as the person being kicked isn’t you. As long as you are the one saying “STFU” and “sit down” and “cis white feminist tears” and shaking your damn head at someone else’s supreme ignorance. As long as you are not creating (because you might create the wrong thing!). As long as you are knocking down.

A critique of gender, objectification, sex work and reproductive oppression within the context of “being a woman” should be within the scope of anyone’s feminism. And yet, if I were a younger feminist – if I didn’t already have the support of other feminists — I would be too frightened to have written that sentence. I would think it was easier left unsaid. Best focus on the surface and the individual. I would not trust myself with more, and I’d be scared of ever wavering from this. I would want to be a good girl, one who swears and fucks in all the right places, wishes suffering on the right people, says “sorry” to those she fears and “die, scum” to those whom she doesn’t want to be. I would tweet SWERF IS NOT A SLUR SWERF IS NOT A SLUR SWERF IS NOT A SLUR. I would have no faith in my own ability to listen and make my own moral judgments. I’d be bloody terrified of ever getting this wrong, and I’d be right to be.

Internet feminism is fraught not because women cannot support one another. It is fraught because it is not a safe space. We still need the approval of heterosexual men. We don’t want to be “the wrong kind of feminist,” one who likes women too much and sucks dick too little (hence the rampant lesophobia of the most right-on masses). We want to be able to blame “the wrong kind of feminist” for everything, from slut-shaming to transphobia to the murder of sex workers. This has no bearing on reality but it makes feminism appear a far easier enterprise. Kick other women and nothing else needs to change.

The truth is that feminism is not about exclusion, or irrevocable judgment, or leaving others exposed to physical danger. Nevertheless, it challenges the structures in which we’re enmeshed and shifts the ground beneath our feet. It does not always feel protective – how could it? But it can be respectful, kind and humane, and it should also be brave.

I am a fearful person, but mine isn’t a feminism of fear. I am tortured by the fear of being a terrible person but not of being called one. There are worse things than name-calling. Most of us know what these things are. They’re what feminism should be there to challenge. And when I talk about “fear-based feminism” I do mean it as a criticism, but not as a damning description of another human being. To be a feminist and to be fearful is human. Fears can be recalibrated. This is not a slur.

On Saturday evening I was on twitter, discussing the criminal conviction of those who threatened Caroline Criado-Perez with rape. There are many ways in which people excuse the abuse of women – she asked for it, she wanted it, she’s lying – but here’s one I hadn’t heard before: Criado-Perez was just a privileged white feminist victimising working class people for whom rape threats are a normal part of everyday discourse.

This struck me as one of those bigotry double whammies, reminiscent of a Ceefax letter I once read, claiming that if the UK hadn’t legalised abortion we wouldn’t need all those bloody immigrants. Just as someone there used racism to justify their anti-choice position, here someone was using classism to justify rape threats. Marvellous! There’s an infinite number of ways you can play one prejudice off against another, or even double them up, and in this case you can even pretend you’re on the side of the underclass (poor working class people, they do not know what they do etc.). And so I tweeted this:

So that was that, at least until mid-morning on a Sunday when my tweet was discovered by the twitter feminism police and deemed to be racist, transphobic, privileged, offensive etc. Hence a whole heap of shit came my way.

Obviously I’m really sorry I sent that tweet. Only kidding. I’m not, not in the slightest. I’ll use sarcasm and hyperbole if I want to. I’ll use whatever means I choose to call out the self-aggrandising bullshit of those who excuse rape threats, patronise and slander those whom they’ve characterised as “the marginalised” and dare to think of themselves as feminist to boot. If other people decide to read that tweet out of context, twist it and use it as an excuse to intimidate me then frankly they should be ashamed of themselves. And I would just leave it at that but this isn’t an isolated event. This kind of bullying, misrepresentation and lying happens to feminists all the time and I, for one, am furious.

I know what you’re thinking. But it’s structural. You have to put the language you used within a broader context of oppression. Damn right I will, and here’s that context: I was not misrepresented and name-called because of anything I wrote. I was misrepresented and name-called for two reasons: 1. I’m a woman, and 2. I have a New Statesman blog and am therefore considered  excessively “privileged”. If that doesn’t sound sufficiently humble I don’t care. Lately, in ways I don’t tend to blog about, I’ve been through enough. Right now I’m done with the female social code that commands me to express shame at myself, assume good faith in cruel people and deny my own qualities just so that my presence isn’t too disruptive.

This abuse is because I am a woman, not because I am a white woman. I do not believe reverse racism exists, whereas misogyny clearly does. However, this abuse does need to be placed in the context of “white feminism” – after all, it’s a phrase I used in my tweet – because it’s related to the shorthand people use for a particular type of perceived female privilege (as though privilege is not a shifting, intersecting thing that everyone with access to twitter enjoys in different ways, but a line you cross which makes you less credible, less capable of experiencing pain and less capable of acting in good faith). I know that I am seen as a white feminist in terms of political positioning, in ways that others who are just as white-skinned as me are not. I think, again, this is related to misogyny and visibility and to the idea of women such as me, who don’t succumb to the pressure to create a tragic narrative out of their own twitter bio, as shameless interlopers who deserve a kicking.

Analysis of what it means to be a white woman, or a white feminist, hasn’t moved on much from Catherine MacKinnon’s 1996 piece What is a white woman anyway? There, she gives a strong summary of the misogynist mischaracterisation of white female experience (again I’d stress this is misogyny, not racism):

This creature is not poor, not battered, not raped (not really), not molested as a child, not pregnant as a teenager, not prostituted, not coerced into pornography, not a welfare mother, and not economically exploited. She doesn’t work. […] She is Miss Anne of the kitchen, she puts Frederick Douglass to the lash, she cries rape when Emmet Till looks at her sideways, she manipulates white men’s very real power with the lifting of her very well-manicured little finger. […] On top of all this, out of impudence, imitativeness, pique, and a simple lack of anything meaningful to do, she thinks she needs to be liberated. Her feminist incarnation is all of the above, and guilty about every single bit of it, having by dint of repetition refined saying “I’m sorry” to a high form of art. […] Beneath the trivialization of the white woman’s subordination implicit in the dismissive sneer “straight white economically privileged women” (a phrase which has become one word, the accuracy of some of its terms being rarely documented even in law journals) lies the notion that there is no such thing as the oppression of women as such.

Today we call women such as this Helen Lewis, or Caitlin Moran, or maybe Laurie Penny (how dare you write about your own hair!). We dehumanise them, calling their pain “cis white tears”. We don’t allow them mistakes. We are grossly, rampantly misogynist about them but this form of misogyny is supposed to be corrective, humiliating the privilege out of them. We say “we must all check our privilege” and “we must all learn” but what we really mean is “you’re privileged” and “you’re damned, you bigot”.

This doesn’t happen to men who are trying to disrupt the system but twitter and other online forums have become, for these women, the equivalent of the scold’s bridle or brank:

First recorded in Scotland in 1567, the branks were also used in England, where it may not have been formally legalized as a punishment. The kirk-sessions and barony courts in Scotland inflicted the contraption mostly on female transgressors and women considered to be “rude” or “nags” or “common scolds“.[4][5] Branking (in Scotland and the North of England)[6][7] was designed as a mirror punishment for “shrews’”or “scolds”; women of the lower classes whose speech was deemed “riotous” or “troublesome”[8]; — often women suspected of witchcraft — by preventing such “gossips or scolds” from speaking. This also gives it it’s other name ‘The Gossip’s Bridle’

What could be more “riotous” or “troublesome” than a feminist who has strength and visibility? I know what you’re thinking: a feminist who swears a lot, calls out other women, tweets pictures of her pubes and babbles on about smashing the patriarchy. But we know this isn’t true. The latter kind of feminist is ten a penny, and conservative as they come. It’s feminists who have the nerve to put honesty before radical posturing who are unsettling. Those who genuinely claim space, which is then written off as “privilege” (because what is a woman doing there?). Such women might actually make a difference. So into the bridle they go.

Of course, if you think about it for half a second, there is no point in even attempting to analyse intersections of gender, race and class if you’re not prepared to include an examination of your own misogyny, or even to admit that it exists. The woman-hatred of those who smack down “media feminists” is difficult to challenge precisely because it plays into all the sexist stereotypes outlined by MacKinnon. In addition, any challenge is portrayed as a denial of white supremacy.  As a white feminist, I would say it is easier – much, much easier – to play along with this. You get to enjoy the privilege of being white and appear superior to the “mere” white feminists who just don’t “get it”. There’s an absurdly careerist edge to this. If you view feminism not as a movement for social change, but as the route to a media career you’ve got to admit it’s a competitive arena. Using other people to play at being the best white intersectional feminist has been seen by some as a gap in the market. Donning the metaphorical tin hat to shout down “bad” peers is a USP. When you boil it down, such “feminists” are arch capitalists, seeking to commodify not just feminism but the exclusion and lived experience of others.  It is emotionally manipulative and disgracefully self-serving, but it doesn’t involve laying yourself on the line. You get to be a privileged white woman without looking like one.

I’ve done this myself (what you do is take the example of a media feminist being vilified, explain to everyone what intersectionality is and why you get it, thereby implying she doesn’t without actually referring to context, then sadly suggest you hope she’ll listen and learn, making it clear that you don’t hold out any such hope). It is easy but morally untenable, insofar as it uses ideas of intersecting oppressions not to offer context and understanding, but to reinforce privilege by the back door and to silence dissent. I think of it as a form of privilege laundering. I think it is an example of white people exploiting the narratives of women of colour and it sucks.

But now I am on the other side of that imaginary, exploitative privilege line, I see other benefits to  approaching feminism not as liberation, but as a self-interested cookie hunt. I didn’t appreciate at the time how much I shielded myself from misogyny by putting the “bad” white feminists out in front. Now I have undermined my own voice by saying the things I know to be true. Now, not only is my right to speak being questioned, not only am I being told that the more effectively I use rhetoric, the less credibility I have, not only am I being told my anger and sense of justice doesn’t matter –– all of which are everyday experiences for anyone faced with discrimination – but it is being done in the name of inclusion. None of you have the right to manage how I talk back to authority, to discredit my thought, to reposition the discrimination and oppression I seek to articulate. None of you have the right to tell me what my own words mean, to tell me what my thoughts are, to reconstruct my words and reality without my consent. None of you have the right to damage my mental health, make me doubt my capacity to think, to make me feel unable to trust anyone because of the whispering and distortion that follows. None of you have the right to do this just because I’m a feminist and, if flawed, nonetheless a bloody good one too. None of you has the right to expect perfection from me. None of you have the right to place the scold’s bridle on me, to shame and silence me because I don’t fit in with your hackneyed, conservative misreading of revolution.

Nothing I articulate will be unfamiliar to others who experience oppression in other ways. But what I experience remains unacceptable. There is no “good,” corrective sexism. To think that is simply to think that sexism is not really oppression. Interestingly, MacKinnon argues that there is a fear of not aligning yourself with another form of oppression, even at another person’s expense, “because that means being in the category with “her,” the useless white woman whose first reaction when the going gets rough is to cry”:

I sense here that people feel more dignity in being part of a group that includes men than in being part of a group that includes that ultimate reduction of the notion of oppression, that instigator of lynch mobs, that ludicrous whiner, that equality coat-tails rider, the white woman. It seems that if your oppression is also done to a man, you are more likely to be recognized as oppressed, as opposed to inferior. Once a group is seen as putatively human, a process helped by including men in it, an oppressed man falls from a human standard. A woman is just a woman–the ontological victim–so not victimized at all.

I think a skim through the twitter bios of a number of white feminists who consider themselves “more aware” than so-called media feminists makes the continuation of this misogynist impulse glaringly obvious. I don’t list all the lived experiences I have which, while I should be able to share them, I know I could misuse as “currency”. But I could. I know the lingo I’d use. It would make me more than “just” a woman, but that’s why I don’t do it. Being a woman who defines herself by her actions and words should be enough.

Obviously clicking publish on this post is not going to make me friends. I am tempted to write the responses to it in advance, to save you time, so you can copy and paste into the comments box or onto twitter. About how I don’t get it. About how I’m saying feminism should focus only on gender and not the interaction with other oppressions. About how I’m defending my white supremacy. About how I’m seeking to discredit intersectional feminism on the sly. About how I think people being mean to me is more important than those less privileged getting a voice. About how I think misogyny is structurally embedded in a way racism isn’t. Go on, take your pick and knock yourself out.  After all, you’ll never know the darkness of my soul, so why not make any possible prejudice more real than word and deed?

But know that you are not doing this for inclusion, equality, or to give the marginalised a voice. You’re doing it to silence some women because you don’t like any women. The damage you do to us is real but that’s just misogyny and the conservative impulses of the superficially radical, isn’t it? That’s not going to go away any time soon. Nevertheless, the women who answer you back sure as hell aren’t going anywhere either.

My kids are hilarious. If you followed me on twitter, you’d already know this. Rarely a day goes by without some comedy disaster involving underpants, missing homework or a mix-up between Star Wars and real life. It might not sound funny now but if you heard about their antics in real time (which twitter permits), you’d be rolling in the aisles. Or at least mildly amused. Or maybe you’d just unfollow. Anyhow, to me they will always be unwitting comedy giants.

I tweet about the funny things they say because they have no idea why I’m laughing, and I feel a bit pathetic laughing on my own (or worse, at them). The way in which a child’s intelligence develops ahead of knowledge or experience can often be tedious, but just occasionally it leads to wonderful linguistic errors, bizarrely out-of-place quotations and passionate defences of things which simply cannot be true (although mistrustful observers rarely bear in mind how much random nonsense you’ve had to get through before mining these gems). Obviously when it’s your own child you believe these flashes of hilarity may also be a sign that your offspring is a total genius (that one time my six-year-old said the Tudors were followed by the Steves, I was dining out on it for months).

I might share daft things my children say, and you may or may not find them amusing, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t make me less politically engaged. It doesn’t mean I think this is the only thing the internet is for. It doesn’t mean I am naturally conservative, unthinking, classist, fantastical, desperate for retweets from “some fifth-rate blazer ‘n’ T-shirt wearing comedian who guest-starred in one episode of Rev and has gained 2,500 followers as a result”. Except apparently it does. Some blokes – one of whom, Clive Martin, wrote a piece for Vice, the other of whom set up a “hilarious, but not in an uncool mumsy way” twitter account – have decreed that it is so. Humour is for the child-free hipsters. Iconoclasm doesn’t allow for maintaining a sense of humour while also keeping a critical focus on material reality; it’s taking the piss out of parents for not keeping out of the way while you treat the internet as one endless, pretentious undergraduate party.

Obviously I like chuckling at the edgy witticisms of youngish men as much as the next person. Like women and older people, parents can’t really do humour. They lack the intellect, moral rigour and involvement with the stuff of real life. They’re not even any good at curating the accidental bon mots of their little ones, but then that’s hardly surprising. As Clive Martin sympathetically notes in his analysis of The Sad World of Adults Pretending to Be Kids for Retweets:

Looking after a young kid must be pretty arduous and alienating at times, so you can understand why things like Mumsnet and gin exist.

I know! Such empathy from one who still has his finger on the pulse of human endeavour and suffering! The sad thing is, give us parents an inch and we’ll take a mile. We’re not just keeping to the Mumsnet talkboards, we’re now tweeting things about our kids which may not even be funny! Think of all the important twitterspace that’s taking up! Space that could be devoted to important things, such as mocking people because reasons.

While many of the current targets of mockery are male, I can’t help thinking there is a thinly veiled misogyny behind this latest round of parent-bashing (with the implication being that men who tweet about their children are in some way less intellectually engaged and honest, and therefore less “male”). Feminists have long pointed out that experiences of childcare and domestic life are edged out of public discourse, and this applies whether we’re talking about comedy or art. Such experiences are not considered “authentic” enough. When Marilyn French wrote The Women’s Room, the life of someone who cares for children was not considered novel-worthy. There’s nothing grand, nothing big or meaningful, even if it represents a person’s whole horizon. Why should the real people – those out there in proper, public life – have to come anywhere close to it? Why should anyone want to read your pathetic little domestic tweets, even in a light-hearted context? That’s not proper activism, at least not when activism is reduced to gaining retweets. But shouldn’t it be more than that?

Does it matter whether the tweets are true? Well, jokes frequently aren’t true, or are based on exaggeration (mine aren’t. My kids really are that funny. Honest). The problem, I feel, is the subject matter and the fact that individuals should gain approval for something considered so lowly. Only a tiny sector of society – youngish, child-free, male, snarky, educated yet cagey about it – are allowed that special pat on the back.

Parenting is not, in and of itself, anti-establishment. It enforces a degree of enclosure. Nevertheless, the minutiae of childrearing, the shared truths, even the shared lies, are part of how a community is formed. Mocking inoffensive jokes isn’t just hurtful; it betrays a misanthropy which shouldn’t form part of drive for social change. My children might not make you laugh but that’s not your problem.

Feminists! When setting your campaigning priorities, haven’t you ever thought it might be best to consult with a man first? After all, you might be too close to the issues, what with them affecting your life. It’s best to get an outside view, ideally from a nice white middle-class man who writes for one of the broadsheets.

Take Michael White, for instance. Amidst all the fuss over sexual harassment and what Lord Rennard may or may not have done, finally here’s a voice of reason to counter the “hysterical language and media furore”:

Homophobia remains a lethal fact of life in many parts of the world […] and – as MPs reminded David Cameron only last week – slavery, female genital mutilation and other horrors are still widely inflicted on women, even in Britain. A clammy hand on the knee is not quite the same.

Yeah, ladies. Get a sense of proportion! Sexual harassment just isn’t that big a deal! Next time you feel a hand where it shouldn’t be, just think of things that are far, far worse than that. That way you’ll know just how self-indulgent and silly it is to expect your own physical boundaries to be respected. After all, according to White that’s what just some female MPs who aren’t alive any more would have done (by contrast female MPs who are still alive have expressed views to the contrary but they just don’t know what they’re talking about, what with them having been born later than Michael White was). (more…)

This evening I found out what a bikini bridge is. I wasn’t seeking out this knowledge; I was reading the news and it popped out at me, unbidden. The trouble is, now I can’t ever un-know it (to give you a chance, I’m not linking to the piece in question). Bikini bridges will henceforth be stored in my brain alongside thigh gaps, muffin tops, bingo wings, cankles and a million other terms which exist solely to make women hate their bodies a great deal and their minds even more.

(more…)

Yesterday the Spanish government backed a proposal to toughen the country’s abortion laws. The BBC website reports Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon stating that “we can’t allow the life of the unborn baby to depend exclusively on the decision of the mother”. I beg to differ. Since the life of the fetus depends exclusively on the body of the mother, at significant expense to her, I can’t see who else’s decision it should be. Mi bombo es mío, as the twitter hashtag of pro-choice fightback puts it. Wherever a woman lives, whatever the beliefs of those around her, she should retain sovereignty over her own body, and that includes the management of her own reproductive life.

That said, I’m neither Spanish nor Catholic. Perhaps I don’t really understand the issues? Perhaps, like BPAS when they took out an advert in the Irish press stating “we’ll care for your women until your government does,” I could be accused of a form of cultural imperialism? That is, after all, the kind of crap that over-sensitive, cowardly feminists like me are meant to worry about. Sod the women of Ireland and Spain; what if I look like I’m judging their betters? Surely the liberation of women has to come second to whether or not I look bad? (more…)

“I love that moment when you first come downstairs and you can tell the turkey’s already in the oven.” So says the placard outside my local Sainsbury’s, complete with the picture of a traditional Christmas roast. This quotation has started to irritate me every time I leave the house. “That moment”? Is this something with which I’m meant to be familiar? Is it meant to be pleasant? Because to me it sounds frankly disconcerting.

For many of us, wouldn’t our first thought on sniffing the turkey-scented air be “hang on, am I in the right house?” Turkeys don’t just put themselves in the oven, or at least you’d hope not (and if that’s the sort of poultry Sainsbury’s are now selling, I’m steering well clear).

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So today I had a bit of a meltdown on twitter. Oops, is all I can say. It’s been brewing for a while. I’ve become increasingly annoyed at some of the behaviour I’ve seen and while it’s possible to ignore it, there comes a point at which it feels irresponsible to do so.

I’m sick of the way in which a minority of largely white, cis feminists and their white, cis male friends have appropriated the concept of intersectionality for self-promotion and bullying. It’s anti-feminist and it’s anti-intersectional. It’s not good enough to pretend you are giving a voice to those who are marginalised when in fact the only voice anyone can hear is you, yelling about Caitlin Moran and Vagenda and why all white feminists should shut the hell up (apart from you, of course).

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In life there are always difficult truths which, however much we’d like to avoid them, we each have to accept. Such as: we’re all going to die. The ageing process is grim. David Cameron is a total knob. Such things cannot be altered. We just have to make the best of what we’ve got.

But if that wasn’t hard enough, there are other things — things which, if true, would make our lives a whole lot easier — which can’t ever be proven. Such as: everything will work out fine in the end. Everyone gets what he or she deserves. Women are mentally, physically and morally inferior to men. It’d be wonderful if these things could be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. Inequalities would seem to make sense. The world would feel a much fairer place. There would be no need to confront injustice because you’d know that, deep down, everything was as it should be. Alas, this isn’t the world we have, which leaves us with the choice of either pretending all is well or attempting to make things better.

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After taking part in a debate on feminism, the Great British Bake Off’s Ruby Tandoh has found herself accused of elitism. According to the Daily Mail, Tandoh “has admitted she thinks The Great British Bake Off is ‘crap TV’ and that the women who watch it are ‘silly’”. Of course, that isn’t anything like the message she was trying to convey while taking part in the Elle debate on whether feminism needs a rebrand. While I’m still not sure I agree with her point, I think this distinction is important. Feminists should be able to state their beliefs without everything being sent through the anti-feminist distortion machine, in which certain key words (in this case “crap TV” and “silly”) are matched to the most appropriate off-the-peg parody of feminist belief and then thrown back in the speaker’s face. (more…)

I’ve given this post a really crap title. It’s a title so crap that if, say, Mumsnet were to arrange a debate on it as part of their annual Blogfest, you’d take one look at the programme and think “what a perfectly ridiculous question!” Then you’d swig a bit more free gin and giggle at the famous people but all the while you’d be working yourself up into a state of ever more righteous indignation. Mummy blogger! Feminist! Pah!

Finally the time for the debate would come and you’d be ready, primed to respond to any trigger words the panel (i.e. anyone on stage who wasn’t Alison Perry) threw at you. And then it would begin! They’d say words like “jam”! And “shoes”! And then, horror of horrors, Sarah Ditum would even utter the word “university”! All hell would break loose. There’d be shouting, hissing and fury. See? You just knew that debate would be shit. It was all in the title.

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I realise I’m late to the party when it comes to discussing Lily Allen’s new video, or even discussing how I’m not going to discuss it. Therefore I’m going to discuss it a bit, then discuss people discussing it, and then not discuss it any more. I reckon overall that should do.

Like many people, I liked the balloon bit in Allen’s video but thought the rest was rather like punching someone in the face while telling them you were only offering an ironic commentary on face-punching. I’d like to think it’s possible to encourage people to be critical of sexist, racist culture without simply re-creating it in order to say “LOOK! LOOK HOW BAD THIS IS!” (more…)

Not all choices are feminist choices. It’s a good thing too — what kind of pressure would women be under if, every hour of every day, every single thing they did had to be weighed up on the basis of whether or not it was passed feminist muster? It wouldn’t be fair. It would hold us back, hence we each just have get on and do what we need to.

Some decisions help improve the lot of other women. Some decisions, while beneficial to us, inadvertently send out messages which are used against others. Some decisions do neither. I’d say one objective of feminism should be to help women’s decisions become less loaded. It’s oppressive to have to represent a whole sex in everything you do. I don’t want to do it — would you?

I ask this because, following yesterday’s ‘Can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger?’ debate, I get the impression that some women feel this is precisely what they have to do. It’s not enough to make a choice that’s right for you, or to make the best of a limited range of options. You have to gain external validation for your choices otherwise you’re a bad person. If others fail to see your choice as the only one for women to take, you interpret this as them actively questioning your decisions and indeed your life.

That’s the only way I can explain anyone taking offence at a woman having the temerity to suggest her personal decision to support her family through education is a valid one. It’s the only way I can explain any woman thinking that it is judgmental for another to say having children is not a “full stop” in her life. It’s the only way I can explain a woman believing it is fair, reasonable and right to shout from a balcony that each mother’s breasts have a purpose and that this defines motherhood (sod you, adoptive mothers, mothers who’ve had mastectomies, mothers who for any reason cannot or do not wish to breastfeed — apparently you don’t count). It’s the only way I explain perfectly intelligent women so misunderstanding the difference between making jam not being a feminist act (honestly, it’s not, it’s just jam!) and it being an anti-feminist one that they’ll fire off whole blog posts on the topic, defending a right to make preserves that was never, ever under threat.

I think there was a lot of potential in the question ‘Can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger?’ (contrary to those who would rather rudely use arch-feminist Joss Whedon to refute such a position). I think there is clearly an argument to be made that some elements of mummy blogging form an extension of the 2nd wave feminist attempt to give domestic life the same status as so-called “public” life. Caring for children is not an alternative to living, it’s an essential part of it. We need to challenge the view that only those who earn and those who do things outside of caring should have a public voice. We all know that mummy bloggers (whatever one wishes to call them) have the capacity to lead this challenge. I had hoped — naively, perhaps — we could have moved the debate on to ask which forms of mummy blogging support this enterprise most effectively. Instead one panel member was castigated for failing to boost the egos of those who want constant approval for their choices simply because they’re choices (choice as a principle might be feminist but fawning over the “empowering” choices of each and every woman isn’t. It’s just patronising).

I think Sarah Ditum is a fantastic writer and thinker and I don’t believe she said anything which cast judgement on others. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Charlotte Raven says, but I respect her enormously (especially as she showed a tolerance and receptiveness to other viewpoints sadly lacking elsewhere). As a mother who’s always been in full-time paid work, I don’t take particular offence at those who suggest I’ve not done the right thing. I know what options I had and the sacrifices I had to make. That’s personal to me and while I have regrets, they’re mine, not yours. It takes a particular type of entitlement to fail to recognise that everyone’s life is shaped by different restrictions. I don’t go to the office as some great “fuck you” to stay-at-home mothers. I’m sorry, but you don’t even figure in this decision-making process, just as I’m sure I don’t figure in yours.

Until women have the confidence to take a joke about jam, to permit others to decide when the “full stop” comes in the narrative of their own life and to allow others to make their own judgements about what their tits are for, then I say we need feminism more than ever. It disappoints me to think the egos of mothers are so fragile. You should be angry. You should be shouting. But if you value choice at all, think wisely about who you choose to put in your firing line.

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