Saturday, April 27, 2013

On Feminism and "privilege"

I've always believed in equal rights for women. When I was little, I had the fortune to have a wonderful man in my life who taught me I could be anything I wanted to be. He embraced my tom-boyish nature, and when I said I wanted to be a Mechanic (like Kylie's character in Neighbours) he let me help him "service" the cars on weekends. For a man of his generation my Granddad was amazingly not sexist. The only thing he wouldn't let me do because I was a girl, was go down into the mines where he worked with him. He told me that it was no place for a girl to be, and now I'm older I think it's because he didn't want to expose me to the other men that worked there. When, at 11, I told him I wanted to marry a millionaire, he smiled and told me "you can make your own millions". I grew up thinking that girls could do ANYTHING that they wanted to.

Because of this, I think, as a teenager I didn't really see the need for feminism. As far as I was concerned EVERYONE knew women could do whatever men could. Even when I became the victim of horrendous "slut-shaming" I didn't see the sexism. So, the process of identifying as a feminist was a slow one for me.

When I finally did begin to see the inequality around me, I still didn't want to say I was a feminist. By then, it had become somewhat of a "dirty" word in the liberal group that I was in. "Feminist" meant "man-hater", I associated it with the people who had chastised me for choosing to be a home-maker when I could "be so much more". "Feminists" went around being angry all the time and using silly, unnecessary words like "patriarchy". I saw them as oppressors, just as much as the sexist men. These were the "rad-fems", angry, men-hating lesbians who shunned me because I didn't choose a career.

Slowly, I began to see that there was another side to feminism, a side that embraced all choices. Where it was recognised that women could choose to be home-makers, could like men and still believe that we needed to argue against sexism. I began to identify (and still do) as a neo-feminist. The group I thought I belonged to was the "liberal feminist" group. I didn't perceive a huge chasm between us and the rad-fems, I figured we're opposite sides of the same coin. Until twitter.

Recently on twitter I've got to know some incredible women, some of whom are *gasp* rad-fems. These women were warm, and friendly and passionate  They engaged in discussion with me, and very quickly earned my respect. They sometimes said things that I disagree with, but that's life. I have amazingly close friends who disagree with me sometimes, I don't see this as meaning that we can't be friends.

So I was horrified to see these women take a barrage of abuse from so called "lib-fems" over stupid arguments about "privilege" and "intersectionality". Let me break this down for you, so hopefully you can see how I think we fit together:

There are a number of groups currently fighting against inequality in society (for the sake of simplicity here I'm going to use the term "patriarchy" as short hand). These groups include, but are not limited to, Rad-fems, LGBT groups, race equality groups, sex workers and the lib-fems. All of these groups are fighting the same war: to destroy the "patriarchy" and achieve equality. Since they represent different groups, they have somewhat different objectives. They are different regiments in the same army. Each with a specific target. Sometimes, their targets are aligned and this allows for them to work together. Sometimes they are too focussed on their individual targets. This is OK, it happens in a war. But what is needed are the "go-betweens". A group that can see the shared issues, can help to remind these different regiments that we are all on the same side, in the same war. This for me is where the lib-fems should stand. It is our job to act as facilitators of communication. We are the ones that are meant to keep these disparate groups talking, not shut down the debate.

As lib-fems we can and often do, argue for all of these groups. At least that's how I see my "brand" of feminism. I will argue for inclusion and equality for trans* women, for women of colour, for gay men and women, and even for sex workers. I acknowledge that all of these groups are fighting the same oppression. But I can also see how the rad-fems fit in here. We wouldn't be able to have our liberal attitude where it not for our rad-fem grandmothers, aunts, sisters. They fought a long hard battle to give us the privilege to be liberal. They are still needed, because whilst us liberals are facilitating communication between all oppressed groups, someone needs to keep fighting sexism.

If you liberal-fems who have been attacking women on twitter want to talk about "privilege", lets talk about yours!


  1. Comment from a lovely Rad-fem twitter friend:

    I absolutely loved this post. As a radfem I recognise that women are often unknowingly oppressed & resent the implication that they need saving. I think it's a patronising viewpoint.
    The current situation between radfems & libfems is sad but inevitable. Because there has been a refusal to listen on BOTH sides, we are now in a position where we have metaphorically turned our backs on one another.
    Your analogy of regiments in the same army is completely spot on! What a brilliant way of explaining it. You have really made me re-evaluate my stance on my own feminism & start to understand more how and why libfems approach and interact with patriarchy.
    The idea of having mediators between the groups is also a positive move. For me, the goal is women achieving their potentials and being safe to live their lives. If we can all agree on roughly the same aims then we can work together.
    Thank you for writing this, I really appreciate the thought you've put into healing the rift.

  2. Why don't we all fight sexism?

    1. Exactly! That's what we should be doing, rather than fighting each other. :)