This is not intersectionality

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).

Over the past few weeks I have seen white, cis, self-proclaimed intersectional feminists indulge in the following:

  • lecturing other white women on the terminology “most WoC use” (apart from those WoC who disagree with said white, cis intersectional feminists)
  • qualifying support for an abused woman with the detail that said woman is “a transphobic piece of shit”
  • writing about their personal lives in the Independent, Telegraph and Evening Standard while mocking all those who’ve sold out to the mainstream media
  • appropriating the struggles of trans women and Women of Colour by using the words “cis” and “white” as though, magically, they don’t then apply to the white, cis tweeter
  • making racist and transphobic claims in order to insult those they wish to accuse of transphobia and racism (“you don’t follow any black women because their names don’t look black,” “all the women in this photo library look cis” etc.)
  • creating fake twitter accounts which claim to parody white feminism by indulging in misogynist mockery of silly women with their periods, childcare issues, body image worries etc. etc.
  • blending together the plight of women who don’t have a voice with that of privileged women who somehow didn’t get given a book deal despite being more edgy than Vagenda (oh, the humanity!)
  • deciding the most important thing to do if a woman gets rape threats is to mock her for not having being as wary of the rape threat senders as you are
  • creating self-satisfied twitter accounts to boast about how you never do anything for cookies (other than create the most boastful, smug twitter account on Earth)
  • proclaim that the revolution will be achieved not by people being willing to say what they mean, but by the use of hashtags formally approved by the self-appointed intersectional elite.

This is not intersectional. This is colonialist. This is, to paraphrase Flavia Dzodan, complete and utter bullshit.

I’m sick of it. I will not be complicit in watching privileged individuals sifting through other people’s oppressions and using them as an excuse to bully those whom they envy.  I will not be complicit in the patronizing, imperialist appropriation of other women’s stories by those who claim to be shouting out on their behalf (while all the while they’re drowning out the voices we should hear). I will not be complicit in victim-blaming out of fear that I will otherwise be tainted by the victim’s alleged crimes against intersectionality. I will not go along with the lie that any white, cis, middle-class blogger who announces she is [made-up word] sexual is therefore just as oppressed as those she claims to represent. I’m sick of it.

I do not think the mainstream media operates a policy of equal opportunities. I think most people with media platforms don’t get them simply because they’re better commentators than me or you. That’s just not true. There are odd exceptions, such as Caitlin Moran, who came from an impoverished background which her more privileged colleagues are ever eager  to discuss (of course they are. It suggests all’s fair and that the fact that they got given a job straight out of Oxbridge is mere coincidence –  the same thing would have happened if a genius like them had grown up on benefits… And yes, we all know what bollocks that is).

By the same token, however, I don’t believe all those who don’t have platforms (or who pretend they don’t) are therefore The Oppressed. This is a debate which skims the surface of oppression, one in which privileged women with media platforms are pitched against privileged women with different media platforms who decide the reason why they are not editing a newspaper is because they’re too fucking edgy and shouty and WHY DON’T YOU LISTEN TO ME TELLING  YOU ABOUT HOW MUCH LISTENING AND LEARNING I DO.

This is not intersectionality. This is not a recognition of the ways in which different people experience multiple and overlapping oppressions. On the contrary, this is privilege and entitlement. This is a cross between being Ali G (“I hate all the white feminists! It’s not like I’m white!”), Edina from Ab Fab (“Look at how sex positive I am! Look at all the sex I’m having!”) and Wolfie Smith (“Up the hashtag revolution!”).

Feminism doesn’t need white retro comedy characters. It needs honesty, heart and a willingness to engage with intersectionality as an ongoing practice rather than a self-promotion tool.  And yes, that’s why I lost it on twitter and I’m sorry. But there we are.

35 thoughts on “This is not intersectionality

    1. The blog sums up my feelings perfectly. While I’m not trans, I’m also not white and not straight and not male and so I’d rather sweeping generalisations like this were avoided. While you might not agree with the points, others do.

  1. I mean this as a genuine question, because I’m not entirely sure who you’re referring to and therefore I don’t know whether I agree with you or not in your characterisation of them. I suspect I like some of them a lot, dislike some of them but think they have important things to say, feel neutral about some of them and feel like they say great things sometimes and awful things other time and so on.

    You’ve said that you won’t be a party to privileged white women appropriating or colonising WOC’s words and experiences. You’ve used a paraphrase of Flavia Dzodan’s words to do that.

    So what in your system is distinguishing you from the people you’re writing about? What tells you that your use of Flavia Dzodan’s words to berate the white cis feminists you’re writing about is OK rather than another example of a white woman appropriating a WOC’s words?

    I’m trying to write this as un-inflammatorily as possible because I don’t want this to be a silencing attack on you. I am interested in your reflection on this and what you perceive the “Twitter insectional elite” as doing that you think you’re not doing, cos I guess to me it’s a case of different styles and everyone fucking up in different ways some of the time, rather than “these guys are right”, “those guys are wrong”.

    (I don’t blog publically or get involved in most of those arguments on Twitter because I don’t know how to not be that white person shouting at other white people in a way that is anti-intersectional rather than being useful and positive. I don’t want a platform. I do tend believe that the media promotes normative mainstream voices and that the bigger the platform, the further the voice is likely to be from genuinely intersectional. But I guess the only truly intersectional thing is huge, multivoiced dialogue, probably with a disproportionately small number of white voices to compensate for the loudness of white voices historically.)

    1. How is quoting someone’s words, with attribution, “appropriation”?

      If that’s true, it makes pretty much all scholarship a pretty morally dubious enterprise.

      1. That’s why it’s a question not a statement. I’m asking about Glosswitch’s definition of “appropriating”.

        She describes white cis feminists using the words “white” and “cis” “as if they then don’t apply to the white cis tweeters” as “appropriating the struggles and WOC and trans women”. I don’t get how she can think that *other* women using those particular terms in service to their own arguments as appropriative, but then use Dzodan’s words to serve her own argument (and then the next day accuse Dzodan herself of not acting in the service of intersectional feminism.) So my question is by what measure does she judge that it’s alright for her to do that – to use Dzodan’s words in service of an argument that Dzodan doesn’t necessarily support, and which isn’t necessarily of benefit to her – that that’s not appropriative, but what she sees other people do is?

        Having seen what’s gone on over the next few days, including Glosswitch arguing with Dzodan, I personally do think it was appropriative. And I think some academic work is appropriative, too., absolutely. If you take someone’s words or ideas and use the cleverness and the originality in service of an idea that they probably wouldn’t support (and we have clear evidence in this case that Dzodan *didn’t* support this argument), then yes, I do think that’s appropriating and morally unjustifiable.

  2. Fantastically well written and true. Especially about all the shouting over every other voice about what good listeners they are.

  3. Just Googled CIS and I’m even more confused than I was before. So who’s the baddies and goodies here? I got the white privilege thing, glad I’m white poor, but the rest of it…whooosh…straight over my mostly CIS head.

    1. It’s ludicrous, isn’t it? I think not having encountered this bullying is a good thing – it’s a new form of nastiness that hopefully won’t become thought of as everyday behaviour …

        1. “Go home”? Do you mean that in the BNP sense?

          Also, this is GW’s blog. Isn’t this her home?

        2. I’m going to moderate my criticism in sudden desperate fear that it’ll provoke a reactionary response to trans people generally (sorry I can’t delete above comment)

          But I think there is a big danger of appropriating and instrumentalising “cis”, if you can’t see how yr response above is problematic.

          I think I’ll leave it there.

  4. I’d certainly criticise some people for appropriation.

    If you’re talking about Zoe Stavri and Sam Ambreen, as almost all journalist critics of anything that happens on twitter seem to be, you’re erasing the ablism and racism that can only realisticly be thought to lie behind conspiratorial journalistic attacks on them, accusations of them being “puppetmasters”, and so on.

    Also, I really don’t think either of the above have appropriated anything, and to insist they do is to erase real criticisms of some of the people I presume you’re defending (from which they may have learned in the meantime, it must be said) – Helen Lewis and Martin Robbins.

    Also, I shouldn’t be afraid to name names – I don’t think any of us can afford libel lawyers, and naming names is desperately helpful in challenging bad behaviour on “your own side”, which most of us definitely want to do.

    I’d add it is a risk to me as a trans woman to make named criticisms – a hit piece on me or a libel case resulting in Daily Mail doorstepping of my family are things I am genuinely afraid of.

    1. You obviously struggle with the definition of !appropriation” Cel, so let me break it down for you.

      Just to pull an example out of the air, let’s look at migrants: foreigners who come from abroad to participate in the cultural and economic life of a country. They suffer a lot of stigma in the press, and often many forms of overt discrimination, as well as multiple microaggressions and disadvantages. This is especially the case if they look, sound or behave in ways that mark them out as having migrated from the Global South or parts of the world in which the majority of the population is non-white.

      If, say, Person A who was not themselves non-white or a migrant from the Global South were to say to a third party: “you dislike Person X because they look like a migrant”, then they would be using an oppression not their own to make a point. If, furthermore, that person were only deploying the argument in order to score rhetorical points, then they would be actively appropriating the oppression of migrants in order to make their interlocutor look bad – not in order to protect or advance the rights of migrants.

      If by some wild chance the interlocutor were, themselves, to be such a migrant, well that would be what we call “irony”.

      Conversely, if theoretical Person B were to say “Thing A is a good thing and we should all be doing Thing A” and subsequently Person C were to point out to Person B that they have failed to apply this rule in their own actions, that is not appropriation – that is a reference to a shared ethical standard.

      If upon receiving this input, Person B accused Person C of appropriating their words in an untoward fashion, where in fact we have established that Person B was making a reference and not appropriating an oppression not their own, and furthermore if Person B were to so accuse Person C seemingly in order to deflect a negative ethical reflection on their own actions, then that would be what we call “hypocrisy”.

      I hope that helps. Have a great weekend.

      1. Oh, yes, but if person “A”, me, said no such thing, then you’d be slandering me? Thanks, Marina.

        Look. I’ve frequently heard jewish, european and other friends frequently describe, in credible detail, how English people subtly discriminate against them as they are not English enough. I came to England with a Scottish accent, it didn’t last long as I had to work. I’m comparatively extremely privileged here, as fitting in as an internal, white migrant is really easy. Anti-scottish oppression isn’t a thing, clearly.

        If it’s oppressive to point out that English people discriminate against anyone whose face doesn’t fit, go for it, let rip on me. I note my ex-girlfriend got a lot of this, despite being as English as get out, for having an italian surname.

        Have a wonderful hypocrisy free weekend.

        1. As a final note, it’s probably redundant to wonder if conservative feminists hate Zoe because of her name etc when Glosswitch called her, what, “specialosexual” above?

          Homophobia is still real, darlings; I have friends with the scars. It doesn’t cease being real because queers are awfully vocal these days. Sorry to disappoint.

        2. I’ve explained my views on this here . As for the rest, I’m not happy about naming names as it moves things from a critique of what is happening to real, live people (bullying) to a singling out of individuals, which isn’t fair given that there are many of them (and given the extent to which their Nathan Barley hyper-privileged male friends stand in the background, egging them on but never getting any of the flak themselves).

        3. For god’s sake name names. On the left the last time I saw a man called “staggeringly privileged” it was just after he’d been gaybashed. I fucking abhor this behaviour and I have *no idea* which privileged men you’re talking about. I’ve never met them and I don’t recognise them.

          Perhaps you’re referring to @ryelki. whom Owen Jones thought was our friend – well, I’ve never heard of him, and the few of us who had it seems loathe him. Perhaps the same is happening here? Or “Mooring” – assuming all nasty male trolls are trans ladies, or in this case sent by us.

    2. Has anyone actually accused Zoe or Sam of being “puppetmasters”? A search only turns up this:

      … but the quote marks imply that you are quoting someone? Or does this claim fall into the same territory as the “media blacklist” you were quite certain existed, despite – for instance – Zoe continuing to write for Indy Voices?

      1. The commenter above accused Zoe in those exact words.

        Perhaps you should also have a listen to that lovely Soho Skeptics podcast on trans issues, that talks about three people who rouse the twitter mob.

        As for blacklist, certainly I’m aware some of the commentariat stalk my tweets and keep an eye on me, and keep a list of “troublemakers”, and friends talk to friends, and don’t employ troublemakers. It’s natural. It’s also my opinion that this verges on blacklisting and is counterproductive and silly.

        I seem to have came to people’s attention when I called Laurie on her cis privilege. Terrible, not the right sort, and so on, and so on.

        It’s wonderful you think this is unreasonable, just as you seem to think trans fear of media attack and stalking is unreasonable.

        Have a darling weekend.

        1. Which commenter? Sorry, I’m confused. I can’t see anyone else using that word apart from you.

          “As for blacklist, certainly I’m aware some of the commentariat stalk my tweets and keep an eye on me”… is this not the *point* of Twitter? That you post things, because you want to say them publicly, and people can “follow” you?

        2. The commenter I’m referring to is Marina.

          The thing is, some of the commentariat still do it even though I’ve a) told them it’s stalking and it puts me in fear and has previously made me suicidal in thinking I deserve this treatment and b) though I’ve blocked them.

          It’s weird to collate someone’s tweets when you don’t follow them, and it’s definitely weird to lurk on the timelines of trans women collecting anything you don’t like about them. Weird and threatening and possibly indicative that a hate piece or Cathy-Brennan type blog is coming – do google that name, by the way; it’s stunning how often supposed left-feminist behaviour apes hers.

  5. Thanks for writing such a brave post Glosswitch.

    Some of the criticism you’ve been getting for it is baffling to me. It seems clear to me that what you’re doing in this post is making an intersectional critique of other people’s behaviour. The criticism of you seems to be that this is illegitimate, and is somehow an “appropriation” of intersectionality, simply by virtue of the fact that the people whose behaviour you’re critiquing hold themselves up to be torchbearers of the ideal, and therefore are beyond critique or reproach.

    They have proven your point by responding in this way. Nobody, no matter how saintly they regard themselves, no matter how much they are revered as the Ultimate Ally by a small group of adoring acolytes, is beyond critique. If some people think they are, they are failing to see their intersectionality through. And by using the mantle of the Ultimate Ally to justify their attacks on women they have arbitrarily decided are more privileged than themselves, it is they who are appropriating the language of intersectionality, not you, who ask them only to apply their principles to themselves and reflect upon their own behaviour. And ironically, a lot of these people berate others for the size of their platforms, all the while wilfully oblivious to the size of their own.

    If people can’t possibly reflect on their own behaviour and whether they might be in the wrong, just because the person they’re attacking appears on the face of it to be more privileged than they are, then they are failing at intersectionality. I’m sure it’s painful for them to have that pointed out, but it needed doing. So thank you.

  6. I read this post a few days ago and I’ve been thinking about it.

    I don’t feel I totally get what this is all meant to be about, despite being generally familiar with the territory & having looked back over your Twitter timeline.

    I _usually_ find that if I read back over an online argument, I can get a good sense of what’s gone on before & where it started & why people are feeling upset. So I don’t think it’s just me missing your point somehow, I think it’s at least partly down to how you’ve written the post.

    It’s been puzzling me, because I’d like to be able to respond to it constructively, but most of it I can’t tell yet whether I agree or not!

    – From what I think I’ve managed to decode, I think possibly one of the issues you’re flagging up _might_ be snarky tone aimed – as you see it – “horizontally”, from people who are speaking in the position of would-be ally. ??

    I tend to think that for people describing _first-hand_ experiences as part of an oppressed/stigmatised group X, the default space should be “no tone policing”. (Yes there are contexts where it’s better to agree limits to serve some particular purpose, e.g. to accommodate people whose mental health affects their ability to deal with conflict; that’s why I say “default” rather than “always”.)

    And I _don’t_ think that the same slack should be extended to people who are attempting to support group X as allies. So if snark in that context _is_ part of what you’re complaining about, I might at least partly agree with you. Depends.

    – I would want to distinguish between, on the one hand, satire of a group, and on the other hand, bullying of an individual. I don’t feel sure that you’re making that distinction – you may be, but it’s not clear to me if so. Specifically, I think that your example of the parody account _might_ be referring to an account from which I’ve already seen some tweets, which (the ones I’ve personally seen) I took as legitimate satire. But I don’t know if there were other tweets (or another account) which you’re thinking of, which I would think had crossed the line into bullying or other unfairness.

    – About this “smugsexual” business: I was initially just vague about what it was meant to be, but I’ve now read @stavvers’ interpretation of it as a form of biphobia, and I have to agree that as written, your phrasing does allow for that interpretation.

    I’m not thinking that by “made-up word” you’d likely be meaning the actual word “bisexual”. OK, people do stereotype bisexuality itself as fictional/nonexistent, but the word has been around for something like a hundred years with something fairly similar to its current meaning.

    But people who use words like, say, “pan” or “omni” would be welcome in the “bi community” spaces I’ve been in, and would come “under the umbrella” of bisexuality as the concept’s generally invoked. And I’m pretty sure I’ve encountered piss-takes of “pan” and “omni” as being spurious/invalid, which leads me to wonder if they’re among the words you were thinking of.

    So if that complaint _wasn’t_ a version of “These people from sexuality group X aren’t genuinely oppressed, because of their other privileges”, I think it would be helpful if you could explain further which “made-up words” you had in mind.


    In general, the feel I get from this post, and the responses to it, is that (a) you’ve lumped together a dozen or so different phenomena, and (b) you’ve summarised them so briefly and un-detailed-ly (and in some cases, I suspect, paraphrasing) that different people are thinking of very different experiences/examples while responding.

    This is fertile territory for people disagreeing unproductively with each other, probably to a degree which outweighs the usefulness which I’m imagining you possibly wanted it to have.

    (In fact, I suspect that some of the people agreeing with you aren’t actually considering all your specific examples, but are more expressing generalised distress &/or powerlessness about people being uncompassionate to each other online.)

    I think to increase the usefulness factor and decrease the yet-another-argument factor, some disambiguation would help.

    I think that – if this area were somewhere you wanted to put energy – you could usefully do a whole series of follow-up posts on these different points to make more clear what it is you actually mean. I mean like take one point at a time, and include more spelt-out/detailed/specific examples – even if you chose to make the examples fictional.

    I’m not saying that I would then agree with all the points – I think more likely I’d partly agree and partly disagree. It’d depend on what it turned out you meant! But some people clearly think there was value in the post, and agree with _their_ version of what you meant. And I am interested enough in the state of online feminism that I’m curious about what you actually meant.

    Of course it’s not up to me to tell you what to write – you could also just leave it as an ambiguous rant which you produced for your own satisfaction. Depends on your time & energy & how important you feel it is to be understood.

  7. Thank you for this post. I also think on twitter, there is miscommunication though people of different cultures and the way we use language responding to tweets. Firstly, only being on twitter about six months, I wasn’t aware that there were private forums in a public space where only certain people were allowed to comment. I responded to a tweet that said something along the lines of ‘you’ll never understand – you are white’ I responded with something like “hey well educate me” something that in my country would mean “hey, you are the expert and I’m listening, tell me, so I can understand” In my country this generally wouldn’t be a problem and would be seen as a welcoming gesture to interact and pay respect to another person’s story. But what I tweeted was taken as very offensive to people posting on this hash and the more I tried to defend myself, the worse the situation got. Once I kind of clued on to what was going on, just took a deep breath and kind of thought well these people only see a pic on twitter. They don’t know me, my line of work, my academic background in feminism studies, or even what strand of feminism I align with, what I stand for, what I’ve fought for, or what is in my heart or apart from yeh being white, I certainly haven’t led a privileged life, low socio economic status and disability being two (plus other myriad shit that has plagued my life). I understood that I had a voice that wasn’t welcome in the first place and was just supposed to remain silent and read and listen. As someone that lives in a community and a country that has a strong focus on reconciliation between white settlers and Indigenous people and along with many, I recognise the abhorrent treatment of our Indigenous people by current and previous govts and I would work with and respect the opinions and approval of indigenous women, if I were to write a letter to a minister for example on their behalf (I would never assume to speak for Indigenous people and strongly believe it must be their voices that are heard – it was very difficult for me personally to be labelled a racist in a public forum. There was no way I could explain I was not, without ending up with more ridicule and some things that were being said I had never heard of but were insulting. The retweets and ridicule went on for about 24 hours. My second tweet (upon become aware of I’d offended someone) I apologised, then the racist/white/privileged person etc., ridicule started, tried to defend myself (as a person, I didn’t have a problem with the hashtag). I had no issue with any of the women taking aim at me. (Although to me, they misinterpreted my tweet) I didn’t feel I could feel judgement or anger at any of them. I don’t know their personal experiences and some may have found voice for the first time and their voices were very valid and I am no one to judge anyone in that forum. My last tweet I clearly apologised again and said I didn’t intend to insult or harm anyone (and I meant that very sincerely). What I did have anger at, was there is a very prominent male feminist who was in this debate and used his power of popularity to ridicule me and yell at me. Even after I deleted the other lady’s name and took issue with him, he added her name back in and RTs occurred. When I said to him that what he was doing wasn’t very women friendly to women survivors of violence he said it was his pleasure as “I had been abusing her all night” This was really confusing as my only tweet to this lady was my first one. The rest (about five tweets I think) trying to defend myself explaining I wasn’t racist. I wasn’t being a smart alec or aggressive or trying to antagonise people. The only time I was, was when I accused him of thinking he was “king of the women” So I felt he was trying to have everyone think I was this horrible nasty person, abusing someone for using voice (which is what I cherish and value to the heart of all feminists strands) All this left me with was during my time of abuse (in my former life as I call it), I had no way of speaking up or defending myself as because a man told me so. I was told to shut up and no one would believe me and I would just embarrass myself (from said male abuser). And then here, in a public forum, to have another aggressive male (who labels himself a feminist) do the same thing and to top it all off told me “I was embarrassing myself” then when trying to defend myself to him and calling him on it expressed his pleasure on his part in the abuse. I was mortified. This person I thought was quite decent, but now all I have is doubt. This resulted in my first anxiety attack in two years. When you work hard to keep anxiety at bay (and for those who know it is really hard work) I was angry. Angry at him and angry at myself for letting him get to me and angry for me allowing flashbacks to occur (but sometimes it happens so fast we can’t help it). Sorry for the long rant, but I’ve really found nowhere to share this experience. I did go to write a piece on my own blog on the day, but I was so over-emotional I deleted it. I understand some women may reply and say ‘it isn’t about you’ yes, I’ve heard that a lot and this isn’t about me either. Its about others like me. All I’m saying is some women aren’t trying to ‘derail’ ‘insult’ and are not racist simply because we are white. Also, whilst these hashtags are a powerful tool and are a great platform for the women who use them and those that sit and read everyone’s comments – , some may not be clued in to the Twitter protocol of these hashtags (Private spaces in a public space ie don’t say anything unless you identify with said hashtag) can get caught in the crossfire due to ‘newbyism’ and the misinterpreting of words used and how people say things across many countries. I also think that what is excluded is some people in some countries have gone through a process of witnessing blatant discrimination, ridicule and oppression of indigenous people, to more listening to others experiences and have moved to respect and sharing and from what I’m gathering from some of the tweets, this process has not begun for some at all. We are all not in the same space, regardless of colour. Country and direct environment can make a difference as well. Now I don’t comment on anything at all to do with feminism on twitter. I just shut up. I just favourite or RT. I have read a fair few posts on this blog tonight. I really enjoyed every post and the discussions following. Liked and followed.

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