A speech given at the International Women’s Day Conference Cambridge 2012Posted: 10 March 2012
First, these are the words I most wish I had authored, which pale my words by comparison:
”The second wave of feminism, rather than having crashed on the shore, is still far out to sea, slowly and inexorably gathering momentum. None of us who are alive today will witness more than the first rumbles of the coming social upheaval… female power will rush upon us in the persons of women who have nothing to lose” Germaine Greer in The Whole Woman
What follows is the five minute speech i prepared as a member of the conference panel for The International Women’s Day Conference Cambridge 2012 held at Anglia Ruskin University on Saturday 10th March. The theme of the panel was ‘Looking Forward… Where Next?’
I wasn’t able to read the speech in full, as it was an open forum style based around questions from the audience members. But i hope i was able to communicate the bulk of these messages over the course of the panel and the workshop held by a FAC colleague and I, called ‘I’m a Feminist- Now What? Putting the ACT in Activism’ which was attended by around 25-30 inspirational and insightful women who gave so much support, encouragement and kind words.
Remember far out to sea is that wave. That wave is coming. We can feel the rumble of the coming revolution in the ground. It is inevitable.
slowly and inexorably gathering momentum…
slowly and inexorably gathering momentum…
*Trigger Warning! for some description of sexual harrassment and violence, and apologism for these*
”So, how do you galvanise women to act? How do you get the average woman on the street angry?
Well, you don’t have to look around for a remote issue and persuade women it’s important.
The catalyst issue is male violence against women. Because it cuts across class and race.
Male violence against women is intruding on the lives of all the women I know without exception. It is epidemic. Women know the violence against us is real because we experience it, we just have to get women to understand these experiences politically to ignite activism.
Repeatedly we hear women say: nothing bad ever happened to me BUT- there was that guy who followed me through a shopping centre, oh and that man who groped me on the bus, that time my boyfriend hurt me, or that experience I don’t have a name for.
Violence against women is banal. It doesn’t look like it does in films. It’s not about one unfortunate woman- wrong place, wrong time, wrong outfit, or one exceptionally mad lone rapist stalking the night. It’s the oppression of women as women.
Let me spell it out now clearly:
Everyday sexism, street harassment and sexual violence is terrorism against us.
It is enacted against us by men because we are women, in order to support male dominance as the fundamental organising structure in society.
Once you understand it like this, as a system, you must either be involved in a fight back or abandon your human dignity. So, onward to activism…
What we have found is that we are feminist theory ahead, but feminist activism behind. You can catch up your activism to your theory- it’s actually EASY to get activism going- the difficulty is mental. Women are taught that they are not QUALIFIED to speak out, to represent others, to interfere. But we are the authority on our own experiences. In the activism we do everyone can be involved up to the level of their own comfort, contribute what time and what different skills they have. Not all activism looks the same.
But there are so many post-feminist blind alleys and post-modern trapdoors- what direction do we go in?
I propose we use men as a BAROMETER to test out the effectiveness of our action or our politics to affect liberation. If men love it or don’t notice it- it is nowhere near radical enough because it’s not a threat to their privilege. And we must make ourselves a threatening movement.
Men love the ‘subversion’ of pole-dancercise and burlesque strip clubs, men support the ‘slut’ in slut walks, therefore this isn’t the way. When you talk about women only spaces, lesbian separatism and you challenge porn you will be under attack from these same men. And you know you’re onto something. Don’t back down. Push further.
My next recommendation is obviously, to get radical. Way. More. Radical. We don’t have to hide the most radical analysis in order to popularise feminism, ordinary women can handle it.
Young women interested in feminism, at first investigation meet the most compromised, most co-opted kinds of pseudo-feminism. And they think, is that what feminism is? Because, it looks like an episode of sex and the city…
For me and other women in Feminist Action Cambridge radical feminism connects deeply and personally with my life. The work has been done, it just needs to be communicated. The coup is that we have been convinced to reject the great women who came before us and their work, and start from scratch when we don’t need to. We mustn’t let the most radical thinkers of the second wave like Dale Spender, Kate Millett and Mary Daly quietly disappear in favour of younger sexier feminists. Don’t reclaim the word slut, reclaim Andrea Dworkin. If you’ve ever heard bad press about this or that type of feminist go out of your way to find out about her, read her work, decide for yourself. You don’t need a Cambridge degree, you just need a library card.
My final point is that after this first year of Feminist Action Cambridge, we are beginning to realise that WE must be the ones to record and document our movement- in words, pictures, film, in the press, online, to make it accessible, to create a living archive. The more we archive the less and less space there is for undermining, misrepresentation and backlash.
Looking back we find writers out of print, unknown names, unknown histories, unknown methods. It’s practically a cover-up. We’re receiving only fragments of the history that was made for us, so we must force our way into history by taking control of technology for activism.
You know why men spend so much money on laptops and iPhones and computer gadgets and techy bits? It’s because technology is power.”