When I told a friend that I was going to write an article about the fact that “whatever we do, it’s wrong”, we realized after a few minutes of slightly chaotic dialogue that we didn’t mean the same thing. I meant that whatever a woman does with her sexuality, she is judged and criticized for it. And my friend thought that I meant that whatever, as feminists, we do, it’s never completely right and satisfactory, because it’s never truly intersectional.
I first thought it was a misunderstanding, and we moved on. Then I thought that it was a meaningful misunderstanding, and that I had to take it into account as such: as a sign from the god that doesn’t exist (or from my friend) that my politics are not intersectional enough. And now I think that even though I didn’t think so when it happened, my friend and I were talking about the same thing. Or rather, I should have considered that we were talking about the same thing even though I didn’t. Because we were both talking about how to fight domination – any domination, including the one we exercise on other people, on other women whom we call sisters and who could legitimately call us enemies. I should have considered that we were talking about the same thing because MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT. I cannot separate the two; writing about one means writing about the other, otherwise, yes, it is bullshit.
In this article, I first address various inventive patriarchal criticisms of my sexual and affective behaviour, and then try to make a link between the fact that all these criticisms are very hurtful whoever utters them, and the necessity for my feminism to be truly radical and intersectional.
What follows is a transcript of notes taken from a recent presentation given by The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child [SPUC] at a local Cambridgeshire school. An audio recording was made of the presentation by members of Feminist Action Cambridge with the intention of exposing SPUC’s lies and misinformation.
As we all enter the lecture theatre there is a large projection with film and music overlaid. The looped video shows children playing outside, a baby lying on a man’s chest asleep, then sitting up and eating, an [extremely lifelike] animation of a baby in the womb. The text: ‘I feed’, ‘I grow’, ‘I move’ fades in and out.
Recently a man friend asked me if I thought he was being a feminist in his behaviour, and if not, how he could improve. That conversation led to me writing this post. My ideas below are all indebted to conversations with feminists, including those at Feminist Action Cambridge. There are so many more we could add.
A note on gendered language. I use ‘men’ and ‘women’ here to refer to the cultural categories of gender, and not the biological categories of sex. By saying ‘men’ I do not mean biologically-born male people, but people who call themselves men and act as men in the world. This works for my use of the word ‘women’ too, and I explicitly include trans women under the umbrella term ‘women’. If my trans sisters and comrades can help me make this blog post less cis-centric in any way – please do.
Also, this list is pretty specific to the groups of people I know, many of whom are activists and/or academics, single or multipartnered and normally childless people, often queer, sadly mostly white and mostly middle-class. So the list needs extending and diversifying.
I would like to date feminist men. I would like to live with them and work with them and stand by their side in political struggle. I haven’t met that many feminist men, and neither of the men I have had relationships with has described himself as a feminist. They were hot but being feminists would have made them hotter. I also date women and gender-queer people, and I can’t remember ever dating a woman or a gender-queer person who has not been explicitly and actively a feminist before, during and after our relationship. This is, obviously, mind-blowingly hot. Read the rest of this entry »
Trigger warning for homophobic and racist violence and bullying.
I remember being told as a kid that I should be grateful that I lived in a country where there was freedom of speech. No-one would be arrested for writing a book or newspaper article, and no-one had to fear being arrested for criticizing the government. We were free to say anything we wanted.
Even as a kid, I knew it wasn’t really true that you could say whatever you wanted. I had already learned that if I mentioned the not believing in god thing to anyone other than my parents, the person would likely get extremely angry and upset. (And it was best not to tell my parents that I sometimes went to church with my friend’s family on Sunday after a Saturday night sleep-over, because it would lead to a half-hour grilling to determine whether or not I was being indoctrinated into Christianity).
There were so many secrets that hiding things was second nature. If I’d told my school friends that I secretly wasn’t that attracted to Corey Haim*, but thought Micheal Jackson was cool, I would have been punished with social exclusion. Micheal Jackson was considered to be ‘gay’ among my friends (who I suspect had only the haziest idea of what the word ‘gay’ meant, and mostly used it as a synonym for ‘bad’). And then there was the fact that I spent large amounts of time making up elaborate stories in my head, completely ignoring the world around me – I always knew that there would be trouble if I revealed that to anybody.
A couple of weeks ago, my multi-talented colleague and I went to a local school to run pro-choice workshops for their Year 10s (14-15 year olds).
The school had approached us last year as they were organising a medical ethics day, in which the students would be discussing abortion (among other issues). The teacher we were in contact with told us he’d had no trouble finding a group to do the anti-abortion (‘pro-life’) side of the ‘debate’, but it was pretty impossible to find groups willing to talk about pro-choice issues. One local youth charity had branded it ‘too political’ for them to be able to get involved (and in the current funding climate you can see why they want to be careful). The school had arranged for the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) to go in and present their views, so we felt it was really important for us to go in as well, and make sure the students could hear some woman-centred, pro-choice, non-religious views.
In the States, SPUC are involved in quite militant anti-abortion activism, while here in the UK they take a slightly different tack. We asked SPUC for a copy of their talk in advance but they said they wouldn’t give it to us because they were worried it would be leaked to the media (this is the same talk they are giving to thousands of school children every year!). While we didn’t have any recent information on the talks they give in schools, in the presentations they were giving a few years ago they were giving medical misinformation, such as saying there was a link between abortion and infertility, and between abortion and breast cancer (both of which the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say are unproven).
Luckily for us, the wonderful two-woman charity Education for Choice shared their workshop resources with us. They do pro-choice workshops in London schools but they are too small to travel to schools outside London. With their help we put together a workshop which included ‘why is abortion a feminist issue?’, a true or false quiz, including a discussion of how to tell whether your evidence is really evidence, and a brilliant exercise in empathy where students in pairs pretended they were in a pregnancy testing clinic. We had also brought resources to distribute to students including frequently asked questions on abortion, and a useful information list with phone numbers and websites such as Scarleteen that we thought the students might be interested in.
The workshops went really well and the students seemed to particularly enjoy the pregnancy testing exercise – in pairs they came up with a back story as to why they thought they might be pregnant, whether they wanted to have a baby or not, and what they would do if they were pregnant. Then we gave them their ‘pregnancy tests’ in which half of the students were pregnant and half weren’t, and discussed their responses. It was a particularly nice way of getting the boys involved – with a pair of boys, one of them had to pretend they were a woman, and might be pregnant. I felt this allowed them to imagine what it might be like to be a woman in this situation. One pair of boys decided they were a gay couple, and one of them was a trans man – they were thrilled to find out that they were pregnant.
Overall the response from the students was lively and engaged and hopefully they all felt they learned something as well as thinking about the issues. We emphasised of course that pro-choice is not the same as pro-abortion, and I felt it was particularly important to respect the decision of each ‘couple’ as to whether they wanted to go ahead with their ‘pregnancy’ or not. As Education for Choice argue, this is not an issue that lends itself well to a ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ stance. Pro-choice is about choice – so of course this is something that individuals have to think about for themselves, but presenting it as ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ seems to encourage people to impose their ideas of right and wrong on others, and increase the burden of guilt on those women who do have abortions.
We hope to do more pro-choice workshops in Cambridgeshire schools, now that we have our workshop all prepared and tested, so if anyone knows of any schools that would like us to do these workshops please put them in touch.
I woke this morning at 7:03 am. I was supposed to be having the lie-in I haven’t had for about 3 weeks. And I couldn’t sleep last night for thoughts replaying and rattling my brain.
I had made the choice to go to a different event instead of going to the DSK protest on the same night. I wasn’t sure I’d know anyone at the protest and I wasnt sure I’d be able to ‘keep it together’ in a crowd full of strangers if there was discussion of sexual violence, and then possibly have to deal with police and aggression. I am so glad there were many brave people there, and so glad that important written documents and accounts are being made of what happened and what was experienced. And that these come from the inside of a movement, out, and from inside of one person, out.
The event I attended instead was called ‘Why atheism needs feminism, and feminism needs atheism’ which was a talk given by comedian Kate Smurthwaite. It was held in Sidney Sussex College, at the same time as the protest. I literally stopped on Hobson Street, wondering which way to go. I had planned to go to the talk and not the protest beforehand, I had prepared mentally for the talk and not the protest. It felt strangely against my instincts, but I went to the talk. I had never found an event which was going to refer to atheism and feminism together- it might be a long time before another one pops up- I must take the opportunity I told myself. Read the rest of this entry »