This blog was inspired by two of my favourite feminist opponents on Twitter, @pennyred (the journalist Laurie Penny of the New Statesman and the Guardian) and @jonanamary, the activist, who was so delighted by my comment about her that she “raises intersectional bollocks to an art form” that she put it in her Twitter bio.
There has been lots of debate about Conservative feminism but I want to talk about the way that most of the modern feminist movement, at least on line, appears to be wasting most of its time in frenzied internal debate about absolutely nothing, and in the process, solving absolutely nothing. It has come to be alien to the vast majority of women, who do not self-identify as feminists, and yet who, if asked, would support feminist goals.
“Intersectional bollocks”, in other words. “Check your privilege.” “Cis”. “Are white middle class stories the only ones worth telling?” and so on and so forth. Notable from their absence from these debates about terminology and frame of reference are male feminists; at some point even the most left-wing and right-on guy just tunes out. We have the unfruitful spectacle of some of the most left-wing commentators in Britain wondering if they are being left-wing enough, or if their background even gives them the right to make an argument. “Check your privilege”, for example, is a profoundly stupid trope that states that only those with personal experience of something should comment, or that if a person is making an argument, they should immediately give way if their view is contradicted by somebody with a different life story. It is hard to imagine a more dishonest intellectual position than “check your privilege”, yet daily I see intelligent women who should know better embracing it.
Laurie Penny is an absolutely prime example; she does it all the time. The other day on Twitter she told people not to rise to what she felt was a race-baiting article by Rod Liddle in the Spectator. She was quite right. Everybody with a blog knows what “don’t feed the trolls” means. However, she was angrily contradicted by the black comedian @AvaVidal who told her that people of colour were striking back and they should rise to it. Instead of defending her position, Penny caved, recanted, and commented mournfully that “having your privilege checked” was painful. Not for a minute did she consider that another person of colour might have agreed that you shouldn’t feed the trolls. Or that she was just as entitled to her opinion as her interlocutor. No, the woman debating with her was a woman of colour and therefore, despite being clearly and obviously correct, Penny had to back down.
@jonanamary (to give an example I’m just pulling directly out of her twitter stream) approvingly RTed an article by one Shelly Asquith, objecting to mockery of the racist EDL (English Defence League) thusly:
Tacky ‘designer’ clothing”
We mustn’t do this, she says, because it is a class-based insult. Now we must watch how we insult racists. Never mind that a) the insult is a bang-on accurate description of EDL members and b) she is effectively saying that all of the above epithets are somehow working class, which seems more classist to me than the purported original insult.
Jonanamary took issue with an early unfashionista blog over on Jux in which I said in passing that “vertical stripes don’t make you look thinner, jogging on the treadmill for half an hour five times a week makes you look thinner.” Why would I want to look thinner? This was fattist. Why should anybody want to have a healthy body weight? How dare I say that fashion models aren’t “normal women”. What about those women who are just naturally the size of spaghetti sticks? Anyway, what are normal curves? This is cis-ist to transsexual women who don’t have wombs…
At this point, I had drifted off into Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where Stan and Judith are debating whether they should stick up for Stan’s “right to have babies” even though he can’t have babies.
And that is what the modern feminist movement has become. Full of intersectionality, debates about middle-class privilege, hand-wringing over a good education (this is again “privilege” and not well deserved success), and otherwise intelligent women backing out of debates and sitting around frenziedly checking their privilege.
It does nothing. It accomplishes nothing. It changes nothing.
American feminism gets organised. It sees where power lies, and it mobilises to achieve it. It gets its candidates elected. Feminism here is about running for office, founding a company, becoming COO of Facebook or Yahoo. It is power feminism that realises that actual empowerment for women means getting more money, since money and liberty often equate, and being able to legislate or influence. Hillary Clinton shifted from First Lady to Senator. Before that she was a powerful lawyer. Before that she went to Yale. Today’s keyboard valkyries would be sneering at the graduates of Yale and asking them to take a long hard look at their privilege before offering an opinion to somebody not as high-achieving as they are.
Ultra-feminism’s mournful obsession with words and categories is making the movement a joke. In my piece below about What Men Want: Identity I pointed out that Penny’s recent article on how masculinity oppresses men (yes really) had come up with the eye-popping “myth of the male breadwinner”, when men have been the primary breadwinners in all cultures at all times in history. Today, we must apparently check not only our privilege, but also reality, at the door. Men are not providers and are oppressed by the idea of providing, we would like to thank Big Brother for the increase in the chocolate ration and we have always been at war with Eurasia.
And by the way, reality-based feminism – where you achieve, try to earn lots of money, run for office, campaign for measurable goals like defeating Sen. Todd Akin – is not a province of Conservative feminism alone. When I think of a true feminist of the left that I admire I think of Stella Creasy MP and her campaign against payday loans. She’s doing something. She ran for office. She got involved in the Labour party. She matters immensely. She will change things.
This is not to say I don’t admire the two women I’ve singled out – I do, because they both write very well. But for now, they and all those like them leave the impression of a feminist version of Monty Python’s splinter groups – the Judean People’s Front screeching “Splitters!” at the People’s Front of Judea.
The picture at the top is of me at school aged 14. Big glasses, nerdy, feminist, ambitious, idolising Thatcher, and determined to be famous, to be an author, and to be rich. I was at private school my parents couldn’t really afford because I bust my ass and won a 100% academic scholarship. I always believed in myself and I had and have no intention of checking my privilege for anyone. I earned it. I hope the next generation of young women feel the same.