So apparently, no high profile white UK feminist has rejected intersectionality according to Helen Lewis. I find the wording of this tweet odd because of course, there is a little semantic gem hidden therein: a no true Scotsman argument disguised under “the concept” so that we cannot counterclaim with evidence like this, from Rose George, a TED Speaker and published author who rejects “the word” but not “the concept”.
Notice Julie Bindel’s retweet also rejecting “the word”.
On the last week of November, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, one of the founders of Vagenda, a publication that was originally part of New Statesman and overseen by Helen Lewis in her role of Deputy Editor, published this at The Guardian:
After talking to these young women, we wrote a column criticising academic feminists’ use of alienating terms such as “intersectionality” on the basis that most people don’t understand them. “Intersectionality” basically means taking into account the way different systems of oppression – race, class, disability, sexual orientation – relate to one another. The article raised issue with the language, not the concept, but because we deigned to criticise the method of communication, we were deemed racist.
Again, the reframing of “the concept” vs. “the word”. Ms. Cosslet goes on to explain how the use of the word itself is “privileged”. This is a new ideological framing in the sense that it positions Black women who created and developed these ideas and words and all the other Women of Color who both use the ideas and theories and continued expanding on them to explain their lives as being “more privileged” than the white women who feel alienated by their use. These words, we are told, leave us cold because we don’t know what they mean. “You are the privileged one, using words we cannot understand”. Rejecting a word created for and by a Black academic to explain her life and the lives of women like her is not an ideology free rejection. Words matter and having precise and sharp words to quickly reference a framework matter even more. It’s the difference between having to spend 10 minutes to carefully elaborate and explain an idea vs. having a tool to quickly evoke an entire body of theory and work. It’s the difference between having a scalpel vs. being handed a box of blunt knives.
At the core of this rejection of the word but not “the concept” is a rejection of knowledge produced and developed by Black women and other Women of Color. Since in the face of overwhelming evidence these white feminists cannot deny that racism is alive and kicking, then they will do the next best thing: deprive us of the use of words that help us explain how we are uniquely affected by these power structures. Again, I must insist, at the core of this denial resides an erasure of our tools, the very fabric of the theories and knowledge that explain our lives. “Use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house”. This is nothing but a blatant epistemic injustice. White feminists reject the knowledge produced by Black women and Women of Color to continue in control of discourses and public agendas in media, activist environments, government policy, etc. “Use our words because otherwise our issues will not be front and center”.
But since Lewis claim is that high profile UK feminists have not rejected the “concept”, then maybe we can look at how Caitlin Moran fared when confronted with the idea but not the word:
Oh, “I literally couldn’t give a shit about it”.
Back then, Vagenda Magazine, as I mentioned above, a publication overseen by Helen Lewis in her role of Deputy Editor at New Statesman published an impassioned defense of Moran* that included statements such as this:
And therein lies the nub of the problem: feminism is, and to an extent always has been, a white, middle class movement.[…]
And to an extent, why should it? If class or race, and not merely gender, is what is preventing you from becoming Director General of the BBC, or Prime Minister, or the editor of the Telegraph, then equal rights for women in isolation of these factors are going to make sod-all difference. […]
We would suggest that anyone with an interest in genuine equality for all adapt that phrase to “my feminism will be comprehensible or it will be bullshit.” Achieving “intersectionality” is impossible unless you can communicate clearly, with everyone. Moran at least speaks a language that we all understand. And how many other feminists can you credit with that?
In turn, Helen Lewis wrote her own defense of “simplified language” claiming “There’s no point in your language being “correct”, if only 12 of your friends can understand it.”. Again, not rejecting “the concept” but “words” as if concepts could be derived from the abstract without tools to define lives and, in turn, shape them.
Suzanne Moore also has feelings about the word intersectionality. Apparently, “intersectionality my arse” is not a rejection of “the concept” either. Because the works of Black women and other Women of Color belong up a white woman’s ass. Visuals of defecating on the ideas notwithstanding.
I do find the term ‘intersectionality’ to be both classist and educationalist – or rather, not the term itself, but the way the twitter fight had people using it as if everyone knew what they meant.
Again, that thing about “the concept” vs. “the word”.
Sarah Ditum also rejects “the word but not the concept” going as far as calling intersectionality “an icepick” and she does a whole lot of google graph explanation about how the word was never used before a certain date which what? renders the word useless? difficult? inaccessible? Your guess is as good as mine.
Louise Mensch wrote an entire article at The Guardian about “intersectional bollocks” which is pretty much unquotable because of the sheer volume of clueless statements. It’d be impossible to pick just one. “Progressive feminists” might prefer that Mensch is not included in this list, what with her being a Tory, however, she self identifies as a feminist and is considered by many, as much of a feminist as Helen Lewis, Vagenda Magazine or Caitlin Moran. We are not here to police who does and does not belong to the movement, after all. Just bringing up the archives to remind us all where we stand on “rejecting the concept” vs. “the word”.
It is no coincidence that certain words or ideas have gained popularity in the past couple of years as the number of People of Color (and Black Twitter specifically) have gained deserved attention and generated media production in their own right. Words that explain the lives of people who are using media in innovative ways are sure to follow the phenomenon. Until not long ago, a white dominated media got to shape public discourse and the only recourse left for those that wished to challenge their hegemony was to either write a letter to the editor, hand out fliers or start a small print zine/newspaper/publishing house. White dominated media did not need acknowledge the existence of these efforts. They could reject words, concepts, ideas and even people with impunity.
This white feminism can continue “rejecting the word” and in doing so, they will continue trying to limit our world. My language shapes my worldview, my political ideas and, more importantly, my praxis. The notion that we should limit how we express ourselves rather than expand these views so that they can reach more people is part of this old hegemony that has given us exclusion, lack of representation and alienation for anyone that is not white, cis gender, able bodied, etc. In this rejection of “the word” there is a demand that Women of Color create work that reproduce the ideas and patterns of white feminism. I vehemently reject that. It is white feminism that was built on exclusion. It is white feminism’s task to undo itself and fix what they broke, not the task of Women of Color who created ideas because this white feminism was not providing them. Expecting that Women of Color use “simpler words” comes with the added aggravating demand that we do not become intellectual producers in our own rights. I doubt anyone would have asked Giles Deleuze to “simplify” his ideas so that other white men who did not understand them could also feel included. This demand of “simplification” is specific to Women of Color and their (our) knowledge production. When we write, when we discuss, when we create, when we practice our feminism, when we embody our politics, we should make them accessible to white women. We are the ones to fix what they broke. And that, with no respect at all, is bullshit.
EDIT: On Twitter, Helen Lewis pointed out that Vagenda was not part of New Statesman. Instead, the two editors/founders of Vagenda were employed by New Statesman to blog under the name of “The V Spot”. A radically different publication, it seems.
* Incidentally, this is the piece that I opened a complain against at the UK Press Commission due to the fact that they quoted me without attribution and reduced my work to the status of a “meme”. As an aside, this might be another example of rejecting the word but not the “concept”, amirite? what’s more feminist and inclusive than erasing authors and denying them attribution for their work and words while using those words against them to turn them into the opposite of what they meant?
With heartfelt thanks to Jackie A. who provided me some of the links above and who is awesome in her own right.
A group called Connecticut Working Mom’s has put together an AMAZING photo spread called “Lets End The Mommy Wars”. The photo shoot was about embracing their different parenting choices.
“Let’s end the mommy wars, once and for all, by tapping into our compassion and letting go of our judgments. Cause seriously people, the world needs more love and less judgment.”
Check them out on Facebook!
i like this so much
I like this idea, I would like to see it pushed waaaaay further and touch on even more realities of motherhood.
By, Leo Babauta (Zen Habits)
The shootings near Santa Barbara on Friday night hit too close to my heart: my daughter attends college at UC Santa Barbara and lives minutes from where this tragedy happened.
She’s safe, but shaken not only by the nearness and severity of this hate crime … but by the misogynistic diatribes by some men she’s been reading online. These are men who agree with the sentiments of the killer’s “war on women”, who call him their hero.
That’s unbelievable to me, but it highlights a huge problem in our society: that women are objectified, treated like toys, treated like meat, insulted, abused, raped, and then made to feel it’s their fault. Sure, not all men do it, but the fact that pretty much every woman experiences some degree of this fear and humiliation is horrifying.
It’s horrifying as a father of three daughters, who will have to experience this their whole lives, worrying about being raped if they walk alone, putting off unwanted sexual advances, being made to feel like a slut.
And it’s worrying as a father of teen-age sons, who will either participate in this type of treatment of women, or watch as it happens … or perhaps become a part of the solution.
I’d like to speak today to my fellow parents who are raising young men … whether your sons are in college, high school or middle school, let’s talk to them.
Let’s teach them what it’s like to respect women.
Let’s let them read the YesAllWomen discussion going on right now, and help them see the point of view of women who have been abused or raped, who feel degraded or unsafe, who are treated as things that must give sex to more powerful men. Let’s let them hear the stories, so they can understand, empathize.
Let’s have this discussion, because if it’s not talked about, nothing will change.
Let’s set the example for them, and treat women with respect, with compassion, as equals and not objects.
Let’s talk to them when they see TV shows or movies or music videos where women are portrayed as sex objects, and why that happens, and how to see them as fellow human beings instead.
Let’s talk to them about what it’s like to feel powerless when someone wants to violate you, use your body without your permission, treat you as less than human.
Let’s help them open their hearts, as we try to open our own, to feel the pain of the victims of abuse, without blaming them for their choices, blaming them for how they dress.
Let’s talk about how we as a society shame women for how they dress, which of their body parts they show, but never make men feel that way. A guy can go shirtless but a woman can’t show her shoulders or bra strap.
Let’s talk about “slut shaming” and how we make girls feel bad if they enjoy sex as much as a guy does. I know I’ve participated in this myself in the past, and have only in recent years been changing my behavior.
Change is possible, but it has to start with us.
Let’s make this world a better place for our daughters, our mothers, our sisters, our friends. Our fellow human beings. Because every one of us deserves to feel respected, and safe.
Look at your stories - don’t just count who gets to be the hero and the villain (what kind of hero? what kind of villain?); count who gets the redemption arcs.
this never gets old
I met the creator of this a month ago and he said he got a lot of hate mail from dudebros who thought that he was a woman complaining about these problems.
They’re scenes all too familiar to any TV viewer: A woman is shoved down, she screams or sobs, her eyes grow wide and then blank as she wills herself anywhere else in the world. Lately the small screen has felt particularly thick with such moments of sexual horror, as writers have been churning out story lines in which our saints, our heroines, and our hard and cruel women too, are raped or forced to relive their nightmare of it. Try to imagine a singular abuse endured by an equivalent number of male characters. And yet it seems whenever a female character needs a juicy arc or humanizing touch, writers fall back on the easy, awful crime of rape.
In a particularly cold-blooded move, Julian Fellowes & Co. went after Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt), the beloved lady’s maid on Downton Abbey, earlier this season. Was there really nothing anyone could think to do with her character now that she and her husband, Bates, were enjoying a spot of happiness? Fans were subjected to a scene of Anna being viciously taken down by a visiting valet—a man, incidentally, her husband had repeatedly warned her against, but she was too naive and soft to heed his spider sense. We were spared a scene of Anna’s actual rape, but the before and after were brutal. Her disheveled hair and busted lip, her cry that she’d been soiled and would kill herself if she became pregnant. When she recoils from her unknowing husband’s touch, Bates assumes he must have failed her in some way. “It must be my fault, because she is incapable of fault,” he says. Yes, Anna is a flawless character, and such goodness doesn’t always make for interesting drama, so the writers opted to rip off her dress rather than peel back some layers of her decency.
No one would accuse Scandal’s First Lady, Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young), of being a saint, and God bless that woman for her rich and weird tangle of needs and motivations. She had established herself as one of the show’s best characters—so wounded in one moment and callous the next—when we were given a flashback episode to Fitz’s early gubernatorial run: Mellie, her eye firmly on the prize, tries to engage in a late-night strategy session with Fitz’s drunken bull of a father. Suddenly the man forces her down on the sofa and rapes her.
Many fans found the act a cruel device to trigger viewer compassion for a woman it isn’t always easy to like. This strikes me as problematic. One already felt so deeply for Mellie’s toxic and vulnerable brew, so why subject the audience to yet another scene of a woman’s physical humiliation? The crime here is of unnecessity. Granted, this is a show that burns through plot, but Mellie’s rape seemed like the cheap landing of a writers’-room story-line wheel. There are countless plot-generating life obstacles that don’t involve sexual assault (see: The Good Wife or, for that matter, almost any show with a male protagonist). We didn’t need to see Mellie on her back to know or like her better.
And why must female characters be likable in the first place? Take terrifying Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) from season 1 of House of Cards, for instance. You think she cares if we like her? Talk about someone who’s never complained to her book club that she’s sick of people-pleasing and doesn’t know how to take any “me” time. So how strange, how disappointing, to learn in season 2 that Claire was the victim of a rape in college. It’s not that women like Claire don’t get raped. Or that stories of abuse and survival and the cost of resilience aren’t important ones. But on the flip side, can’t we enjoy standing aghast in the face of Claire’s ruthlessness without saddling her with such an excruciating foundation? “You think I don’t want to smash things?” Claire snaps at her husband, Frank, after he flies into a rage when she identifies her attacker. “I know what that anger is more than you can imagine.”
Here’s something else to imagine: the idea that there are stories to tell about the sources of a woman’s anger, her ambition and fear, her brokenness and resolve, that don’t involve pinning her under some man’s heaving chest.
A report from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, found that transgender people faced double the rate of unemployment of the general population, with 63 percent of the transgender people surveyed reporting they experienced a serious act of discrimination that majorly affected their ability to sustain themselves. These numbers are even worse for trans people of color, especially trans women of color, the deaths of whom have been deemed a “state of emergency.”
Trans women have been saddled with the responsibility of taking on trans-exclusionary feminists for far too long—but it’s not their issue to deal with alone.
Read: It’s Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women by Tina Vasquez at BitchMedia.org. Type illustrations by Michelle Leigh.
Chimamamda Ngozi Adiche, We Should All Be Feminists
her ted talk is still the best ted talk I’ve ever seen
"THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people."
With most superheroes, when you take away the colorful costume, mask and cape, what you find underneath is a white man. But not always. In February, as part of a continuing effort to diversify its offerings, Marvel Comics will begin a series whose lead character, Kamala Khan, is a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City.
No exploding planet, death of a relative or irradiated spider led to Kamala’s creation. Her genesis began more mundanely, in a conversation between Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker, two editors at Marvel. “I was telling him some crazy anecdote about my childhood, growing up as a Muslim-American,” Ms. Amanat said. “He found it hilarious.” Ms. Amanat and Mr. Wacker noted the dearth of female superhero series and, even more so, of comics with cultural specificity.
When they told G. Willow Wilson, an author, comic book writer and convert to Islam, about their idea, she was eager to come on board as the series’ writer. “Any time you do something like this, it is a bit of a risk,” Ms. Wilson said. “You’re trying to bring the audience on board and they are used to seeing something else in the pages of a comic book.”
Kamala, whose family is from Pakistan, has devotedly followed the career of the blond, blue-eyed Carol Danvers, who now goes by Captain Marvel, a name she inherited from a male hero. When Kamala discovers her powers, including the ability to change shape, she takes on the code name Ms. Marvel — what Carol called herself when she began her superhero career.
“Captain Marvel represents an ideal that Kamala pines for,” Ms. Wilson said. “She’s strong, beautiful and doesn’t have any of the baggage of being Pakistani and ‘different.’ ”
Ms. Amanat said, “It’s also sort of like when I was a little girl and wanted to be Tiffani-Amber Thiessen,” from “Saved by the Bell.”
Kamala will face struggles outside her own head, including conflicts close to home. “Her brother is extremely conservative,” Ms. Amanat said. “Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant. Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.” Next to those challenges, fighting supervillains may be a respite.
The creative team is braced for all possible reactions. “I do expect some negativity,” Ms. Amanat said, “not only from people who are anti-Muslim, but people who are Muslim and might want the character portrayed in a particular light.”
But “this is not evangelism,” Ms. Wilson said. “It was really important for me to portray Kamala as someone who is struggling with her faith.” The series, Ms. Wilson said, would deal with how familial and religious edicts mesh with super-heroics, which can require rules to be broken.
Marvel’s slate of titles with female or minority leads includes an X-Men series spotlighting its women and “Mighty Avengers,” whose roster includes many nonwhite heroes. Next year two more female characters will get series: She-Hulk and Elektra.
But the quest for cultural diversity in comics is not always successful. The market can be unwelcoming to new characters and attempts at inclusion can seem like tokenism when not handled well. Then there are the firestorms: In September at DC Comics, the writers of Batwoman, announced that they were leaving the series because of editorial interference, including an edict that would prohibit the lesbian title character from marrying. Dan DiDio, the co-publisher of DC Comics, said the decision was about keeping true to the mission of the Batman characters, who have sacrificed their self-interests for the greater good. They “shouldn’t have happy personal lives,” Mr. DiDio told fans at the Baltimore Comic-Con.
In 2011, when Marvel announced that Miles Morales, a black Hispanic teenager, would take on the alter ego of Spider-Man as part of an alternative take on the character, there was an uproar by those who thought that Peter Parker, white and angst-ridden, had been replaced. (He wasn’t. Miles is part of a separate series that offers fresh takes on Marvel characters.)
The most important fan assessment, though, comes later and is easier to quantify. “Fans respond with their dollars,” said Axel Alonso, the editor in chief of Marvel Entertainment, who thinks Miles has helped bring new readers to comics. “When you see Spider-Man strip down his mask and he looks like you, you are more inspired to pick up that book.” The September issue of Miles’s series sold around 32,000 copies. The more traditional version sold around 80,000 copies, though Peter Parker is seemingly dead and Doctor Octopus is acting as Spider-Man.
As for Kamala, Ms. Wilson said the series was “about the universal experience of all American teenagers, feeling kind of isolated and finding what they are.” Though here, she adds, that happens “through the lens of being a Muslim-American” with superpowers.
I think the ‘women are required to do femininity and simultaneously punished for it’ bit sums up 90% of sexism in one sentence. (via shashirosa)
"Looking back on that time—and on that movie—I remember feeling that things were shifting, finally and irrevocably. As Chocano says, ‘For the few years after the release of Thelma and Louise, the culture seemed unusually and (in hindsight) unbelievably receptive to the plaintive howls of a generation of girls who, as I did, felt exiled from the culture.’
I often think how disappointed my young self would be to see things like Seth MacFarlane’s stupid ‘we saw your boobs’ song at the Oscars or all those Republican hopefuls opining that women’s bodies know how to stop pregnancies if they’re raped, or to know that, even now, there’s really only allowed to be one admired female director at a time. I didn’t realize at the age of 23, even though history is full of examples of this happening, that in addition to bending toward justice a culture could go backward.”
A CULTURE COULD GO BACKWARD
If there was one thing I wish I could convince people of …