An apology to Paris Lees

This blog has hosted various pieces from a range feminists, all of whom wish to remain anonymous while exploring the implications of what it means to be a woman in a violent, exploitative patriarchal society. Some pieces have been angry, some confessional, some satirical. Today however we read a piece by activist and writer Paris Lees which made us realise we’ve been taking the wrong approach. We would therefore like to apologise.

Paris, we’re sorry. It’s only because we’re frustrated old harpies who aren’t getting enough cock and weren’t ever invited to parties while we were at school. We’ll try to change, starting from today. To prove this to you, here is a demonstration of our new approach:

You’re a sexist prat with bad eyeliner. And you smell. Probably. Lucky for us we’re having too much fun to care about any of this, you utter wanker.

Thanks for listening.

 

I am überpoor

I’ve always known I was working class, even before I had the words to articulate it. Aged three, I used to call my dinner “tea”. My father, a high court judge, hated it but I kept on doing it all the same. I’ve no idea how I just knew the word “tea” was working class for “dinner”. I guess it’s something that was just in me.

Back in the 1980s no one ever discussed working-class children who’d been falsely assigned middle-class status at birth. It was as though we didn’t exist. Because of this I’d retreat into a fantasy world where I’d been swapped at birth and Den and Angie off Eastenders were my real mum and dad. I couldn’t talk to my parents about this. My mother, a bus conductor’s daughter and the youngest of six children, was always telling me how lucky I was with my holidays abroad and ballet lessons. I don’t think she meant to hurt me; it was just her identified-poor-at-birth privilege that made her such an evil bitch. The children on the estate were even worse. They’d call me posh and make fun of my double-barrelled name. They wouldn’t let me play with them on the swings or smoke fags underneath the slide. I grew used to being excluded because of my class but it hurt.

There’s a word for people like me: überpoor (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it; your ignorance just means you’re a privileged bigot). Basically, it describes the state of being poor while enduring the added oppression that comes with having money and a middle-class background. The queer poverty theorist J’amie Olivier came up with it in his brilliant work Whipping Chav. If you’ve not read it, please do. It explains so much about how poor people are not oppressed due to having no money but due to “poorphobia”: a widespread antipathy towards dog racing, Lambrini and the Waitrose Essentials range. Hardest hit by this are the überpoor: people who have been wrongly assigned middle- or upper-class status but are in fact poor. For centuries, such people have simply been invisible. No one has wanted to talk about us and our needs.

Thankfully, the release of Park Life in the mid-1990s came as something of a tipping point for überpoor people. Damon Albarn’s affected mockney accent finally proved to the world that yes, we did exist. To paraphrase Paris Lees on Conchita Wurst, Damon wasn’t middle-class or a millionaire pop star or any of these restrictive categories: he was just Damon, showing what it means to break through all the barriers! Obviously there was some opposition to such an image of liberation. Vile bigots such as Jarvis Cocker started releasing überpoorphobic anthems such as Common People, erasing our lived experience by claiming we merely thought “that poor is cool”. I always felt the NUS should have no-platformed Pulp due to that line about how we would “never understand how it means to live [our lives] with no meaning or control”. I never forgave them for letting the band play at the £400-a-head Cambridge May Ball I attended in 1996. The Bollinger leaves a bitter taste when there’s some northern-accent-privileged tosser up on a stage behind you suggesting that you don’t even know your own class identity. Seriously, just listen to Different Class (content warning: überpoorphobia); it’s as though people like Cocker want poor people to be oppressed.

I’ve since worked hard to live my life as an überpoor person in a society in which our needs are often overlooked. One of the worst things is being continually mis-classed. For instance, last week my cleaner accidentally called me “madam” rather than “you slaaaag!”. I felt so erased I had to sack her there and then, single mother or not.

The credit crunch and age of austerity have triggered something of a backlash. I’ve tried signing on but each time I am asked to provide documentation to prove that I don’t in fact have a £50,000 trust fund. When I’ve argued this is irrelevant – I’m a fucking human being, not numbers on a bank statement – the ignorant staff at the Job Centre have suggested I am not “really” poor. What is most upsetting is that they then allow other assigned-middle-class-at-birth people to sign on simply because such people don’t have money any more. Like, how do they even know these people are genuinely überpoor and not just rich people who’ve got rid of all their cash because they’re essentialist bigots who believe that’s the only way to be poor? I call these people überpoorscum. To be honest, I don’t think they should be welcome in überpoor communities. It just creates an extra pressure on the rest of us not to be incredibly wealthy.

My hope is that eventually, more and more assigned-poor-at-birth people are able to recognise how privileged they are, welcome us into their communities and hand over all their lager and pool tables. So many APAB prople think it’s enough just not to mind if I rent a flat above a shop, cut my hair and get a job, but this implies being überpoor isn’t in fact more valid and painful than simply being poor. It’s essential that these poor people put us first given that we bear the double burden of not just being überpoor but of having lots of money while being überpoor and hence being mis-classed (it never ceases to amaze me, by contrast, how welcoming the rich are to the überrich, allowing them to adopt plumy accents while continuing to do all the former’s domestic work). The activism is increasing, though. I’ve recently set up a change.org petition to try to get Cocker’s current Radio 6 show cancelled on the basis that mainstream media should not be giving a platform to überpoorphobes. The final thing I want to do is sleep with common people.

Common people like you.

Feminists and gender: How you can be more inclusive

Feminists are human beings who believe passionately in liberation for all and an end to the gender hierarchy.
I hope this doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable. If it does, I’m guessing you’re a non-feminist. The correct term for this is “sexist”. Feminists prefer it if you use this term to describe yourself. It’s an easy way to avoid inadvertently erasing our beliefs and identity.
You might not realise how difficult it is to be a feminist in a society that is based around the needs and beliefs of sexists. That’s okay; most people with sexist privilege don’t. Happily, there are some simple things you can do to make our lives easier:
– Train yourself to think of all women as human beings. This is how feminists see the world. It can be hard to do this at first but keep going!
– Wean yourself off using terms such as TERF and cis privilege. Most sexists get a buzz out of knowing how distressing feminists find them. Once you start to think of all women as human, you’ll find it easier to stop yourself (don’t worry if you slip up at first)
– Read some actual radical feminist literature before holding forth about “what rad fems think”. Making things up is a lot more fun but remember, it’s deeply harmful to the feminist community (it also makes you look even more of a bigot)
– Check your sexist privilege. You live in a society set up to cater to your retrograde beliefs about gender – think about how this feels to people who don’t fit into this system! Ask yourself what you can do to make them feel more included.
Unfortunately, discrimination against feminists is rife in the sexist community. Many feminists are are threatened with rape, told to die in fires, excluded from venues, libelled, stalked and called bigots for holding feminist beliefs. This is in addition to the actual male violence all feminists experience simply for being women. You may find this surprising. It’s common for sexists to think that feminists aren’t really people so nothing that is done to them is of any consequence. It takes time to change such beliefs. Go easy on yourself.
Don’t feel ashamed of your sexist privilege. Feminists don’t want you to feel bad. As long as you’re working on it, listening and learning, we’ll really appreciate it 🙂

Tracking the TERFs

TT

Throughout the twentieth century women (we call them feminists) fought against a system (we call it gender) which sought to deny them any interior life or right to self-define. The gender hierarchy ensured that women’s space and time was seen as the property of men. Feminists argued that this was wrong. No one could think of a way to counter the feminist argument so it was agreed, in principle, that women were individuals in their own right (even if the practical implications of this were not always followed through).

In 2014 things changed. Misogynists had finally, after years of false starts (the mummy wars, neurosexism, “masculinity in crisis”), found their ultimate backlash tool: trans women (not trans women as individuals, deserving of respect. Simply the idea of trans women, as and when it came in useful to misogynists both trans and non-trans).

In 2014 it was decreed that all non-trans women – previously identified by misogynists as bitches, feminazis, harpies etc. — should agree to be defined by their assumed betters in the realm of gender knowledge. In order to demonstrate their allegiance to the higher power, non-trans women must:

  • define themselves as “cis”
  • confess to enjoying “cis privilege”
  • never again discuss the structural oppression of women in relation to reproduction
  • never question the authority of their gender superiors
  • perform the role of “metaphorical mummy”, giving up space, time, personal identity and emotional resources to anyone requesting it

Failure to comply with the list of edicts will lead to the following punishments:

  • one will be harassed and threatened with violence
  • one will blamed for the actual violence of men
  • one’s name will be added to various lists of “undesirables”
  • one shall be forced to bear the name TERF and one’s fellow humans will be required shun said TERFs at all times

This is happening now.

To be clear, this is backlash. This is virulent, misogynist, anti-feminist backlash. What’s more, it is all about gender non-conformity – the gender non-conformity of women like me, and a million other so-called TERFs, women who do not perform the subservient role that has been imposed on us for millennia. I have never harassed anyone, never threatened anyone, never challenged anyone’s right to self-define. I have been told I have to bear the mark of the TERF simply because I refuse to accept that the limits of my personhood are for others to define. This is wrong.

If a TERF list comes into being, all non-trans women might as well be added to it straight away. Eventually, every single one of them will fail to comply with the rules. One day, some little sliver of individuality will be exposed and it’s onto the TERF list they go.

Perhaps one day we will look back and say “this was obscene. Why did no one say anything at the time?”

The fact is, they did. But no one listened because at the end of the day, it was just the TERFs. Just the feminazis, the harpies, the bitches. Just them.

Women are not to blame for male violence. Ever.

Untitled

Are TERFs – who can, let us be clear, be any women who wish to define gender on their own terms – responsible for the murder of trans women at the hands of men? The “creating the conditions” argument does, at first glance, seem a clever one. How could anyone want to seem even remotely complicit in harm done to another? Shouldn’t cis women shut up about how they feel about gender, just to be on the safe side? This is something one could, in theory, suggest (“your feelings are less important than my life”) but it requires ignoring the fact that trans women are not the only vulnerable group of women. Do the same rules apply to everyone?

For instance, violence against women can and should be seen in the context of a society that dehumanises women as a class. Does this mean that when my colleague is casually sexist he is responsible for creating the conditions in which two women a week are murdered by their male partners? No; he is contributing to an overall atmosphere of sexism but he is in no way a murderer nor is he implicitly condoning murder. He just has an entitled, reductive view of what women are without even realising it, as do most men. There is a difference.

Is this what TERFs do? Probably not; they are less guilty than my colleague. To argue – as some do, in all seriousness – that women who set up shelters to protect others from male violence are “killing” trans women if they cannot provide for them, is entitled, sexist bullshit. To say that one vulnerable group is responsible for another (but not vice-versa), lest the former group be considered as culpable as their mutual oppressor, is to utterly ignore the first group’s needs. It is to see their primary role as providing for others (which is how patriarchy has always seen cis women). This is not okay; this is dehumanising. It needs to be recognised that females are not born with some inbuilt protection from male violence or some magic shelter-building capacity. We are not innately passive, nurturing, there for others but never permitted to set our own boundaries. We are people, too.

So what does contribute to violence against women, trans or non-trans? It is not a refusal on the part of some women to see their primary function as defining others. It is a culture of violence. It is people who argue that women push them until they “snap”. It is people who argue that threatened violence is only “a meme”. It is people who do not respect the physical and mental boundaries of other human beings.  It is people who justify violent fantasies on the basis that someone else saying “I am as human as you” is “erasing”. It is cis men having the nerve — the sheer bloody nerve — to sit at their computers and castigate those who run shelters to protect vulnerable women from the violence committed by other cis men (you know what? You may have grown up thinking cis women are all like your mummy, with no visible interior life and endless emotional resources for others, but we’re not. You give your money, time and space. You sacrifice yourself for once. You rein in the anger of your peers instead of cheering  it on). Even so, these people – even the people who do all of these things – have not lost the right to be viewed as human beings and they have most certainly not committed murder themselves.

This is something victims of male violence tend to recognise. Those for whom vilifying vocal woman is an internet game, not so much.

Women are not to blame for male violence. Ever.

I am angry

The last three weeks have passed in static-filled silence. A white noise that blankets the bottom of my brain and forms a barrier between my perception and myself. I am somewhere stranded on the other side of the steady crackle, and in the meanwhile, I go through motions, and when I come to a stop, I stare.

This is not unfamiliar. When I was young, and didn’t know myself, the absence would amplify itself interminably. The strain of disconnection and the rising panic, bouncing off the walls of my skull as time slowed to a stop. The thick afternoon light falling in fat triangles as the world goes on, purposively, outside the window. The dead weight of a blank, silently-screaming eternity.

I know myself better now. I don’t panic. I soon notice the signs. I hear the crackle, and am blessedly certain that I am still there on the other side. I am not fatally flawed or broken beyond repair. I am not consigned forever to this place that time forgot. It is futile ricocheting around my skull searching for solutions. (Breathe). Stop. Remember. (Breathe). You have been here before. (Breathe). It is simple. (Breathe). You are upset.

But it is not so simple. The crackle is created because I am upset about something I have decided I cannot be upset about. Because I am upset about something I think I can do nothing about. I am upset about something that therefore, I have forgotten.

It took years of the past to find the absent sources of these absences. I unfolded my story slowly – by following the symptoms, and emotional excavation. Below the seemingly solid crust of static, a substrata of annihilating rage wrapped around a dense core of pain, which, when unleashed, was mobile enough to shock every slice of my spine out of its alignment.

This, I came to understand, is what the incessant, immoderate violence of the needs of men does to the body of child who is powerless to protect herself. It is what inculcation in shame does to the body of a young woman unable to even think resistance, who knows that survival depends only on self-contortion, and acquiescence, and denial.

Through psychoanalysis, and feminism, and feminist psychoanalysis, I learnt the words to speak what had happened to me. I learnt that it was not okay, and that it was not my fault. I learned that the contents of the once-impervious black box at the core of my story was both comfortingly, and horrifyingly, mundane. I learnt that I was not crazy, or hysterical, or broken, or monstrous. I was not a snake-haired gorgon, or a chasm of need which would consume everything it encountered. I was not self-loathing-torpor, or abnegation, or striving or perfectionism. I was a person with needs raised in a world where persons like me are not allowed needs (unless that need is to service the needs of others). I learned to say what I wanted. I learned to say no.

And so finally I remember, that three weeks ago, the internet TERF-war reached, for me, its apotheosis. There are many formulations and intricacies, but it comes down to this. On the one side, the need of women-born-and-socialized-as-men to have their identity affirmed by women-born-and-socialized-as-women. And on the other, the need of women-born-and-socialized-as-women to say no, to anyone, but especially to those who refuse their right to do so, those who usually (and non-coincidentally) happen to be people born-and-socialized-as-men

This is fucking feminism ground zero. I know you think you are going to bring the whole thing down with your half-arsed deconstructing binaries (newsflash, you ain’t getting out of metaphysics) and your magic queering pixie dust. But you misunderstand the whole fucking problem. The problem isn’t that your brain makes distinctions between things that are actually not entirely distinct. That’s just how concepts work, and it’s a damn good job they do, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to brush you teeth in the morning, or make it to the other side of the bedroom without stepping on your cat. The problem isn’t that we’re more or less sexually dimorphic animals (with a few exceptions, and fuzzy at the edges, like all schematizations). The problem is – as has been said innumerable times, and apparently cannot be heard – that GENDER IS A HIERARCHY.

Gender is a class, not an essence. People are put into that class on the basis of their potential reproductive capacity (viz. the fact that that capacity may or may not be (able to be) exercised does not determine whether you are placed into that class). This is done because this class-system – which us old-fashioned types like to call patriarchy – is designed for the purpose of the dominating class appropriating the reproductive labour of the dominated class. Because it is a class, and not an essence, you a free to join that class if it will make your life more livable, but it would, at the very least, be respectful, to recognise that entering that class at some point in your life does make you different from those who were put there at birth and socialized to internalize beliefs and manifest behaviors which serve to perpetuate their oppression.

So, the way this works. The people in the dominated class are subjected to systematic violence from the moment they are placed in that class. When they are children, if they are lucky, that mostly consists of them being informed in more of less subtle ways that their needs are shameful, dangerous, monstrous, and that in order to be loved they must put other people’s needs – especially people in the dominant class – above their own. Their capacities for self-directed action and expression are punished and coerced, they are reprimanded for being too noisy, inquisitive, intelligent, demanding, attention-seeking, talking too much or taking up too much room. They are not allowed to move freely in and occupy space. They are taught to fold their limbs and avert their gaze and not get dirty and speak in a tremor and not notice being constantly interrupted.

And this is before puberty. Puberty is the real breaking in. A hitherto lifetime of inculcated passivity and shame is compounded a hundred-fold from the moment a girl-child shows the first indication of sexuality. From then on it’s a more or less incessant twenty-year gamut of fondling and cat-calls and stone-throwing and being forced up against walls, and pushed down on the ground. Of strange men sticking their hands between your legs, and shoving their fingers down your throat. It is having your insides clench so tightly that when you open your eyes in the morning the only way to stop the vertigo is to pretend it never happened. You exit the train carriage and as the doors close you wipe it from you mind. This is the world. There is nothing you can do. Just pretend it never happened.

And then, after years struggling with the static, you learn to remember. And you realize that you don’t have to accept. That there are words that you can use, and women you can talk to, and finally, finally, a way to resist. Together, holding each other up against the swell of the pain, we open our mouths, and we say one single word. We say NO.

Three weeks ago, after battling through the endless pretzel logic and name-calling one more time, I hit a wall. I have spent my life on justice. I care that people suffer, and I want them to have all and every support that they need in order to alleviate that suffering. But in a world in which women are bent and broken from birth in the service of the needs of men, and where, since time immemorial, we have been considered nothing but the mirrors of men’s egos, I cannot acquiesce. In a world in which we have to struggle for years to find a shred of belief in the legitimacy of our own needs, and still have to cling together to have the courage to say NO, I. Will. Not.

I did, for three weeks. I went away, sad and hopeless and defeated. We are used to defending ourselves. Against charges of hysteria. Of whoreishness and prudishness. Of blue-stockinged unfuckability. But this. This incessant stream of vitriol. This dogged insistence that my need to name my oppression is a hate-crime. That the nourishment I draw from the occasional spaces where I can freely speak that oppression is akin to murder. That my ever-contested, and hard-won, ability to say no is now, in looking-glass land, the exemplification of domination.

My will was crushed by the thought-terminating tautologies and by the hate, and by a familiar sense of violation still too painful to stare at squarely. I went away and the static set in. But I know myself better now. I look for the signs. And after a spell of staring I remembered to look inside. And there, below the crust, was the old, familiar fury.

I hear you say you are winning. And if that victory means better medical care, and more quotidian tolerance, and greater visibility, and more self-acceptance, then it can only be a good. But it cannot come at the price of erasing the violence done to the people you claim as your sisters. You cannot take our language and our space and the tools made over many years to make our lives livable in the wake of this violence and expect us – as good woman are taught – to acquiesce. You cannot demand our welcome when your own pain blinds you so utterly to why, in this world, a woman must be able to say no. And if winning means a final and decisive annihilation of our no, believe me, you will not win.

I SAY NO.

NO NO NO.

NO NO NO NO NO.

NO NO NO NO NO. NO NO NO.

NO.

NO.

NO.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

NO

NO

NO

NO.

(Breathe)

I SAID NO.

I SAID NO.

I SAID NO I SAID NO.

I SAID NO ISAIDNO ISAIDNO ISAIDNO.

NO

Means

NO.

NO.

So,

Listen,

You say that you are us.

To be us

Is to understand why we say no,

And why we must be able to say no.

 

We can only move forward from here.

 

 

Hipster misogyny: pretending female bodies don’t exist

I am female and I have a female body. I know! How retro! Weren’t they last seen in biology textbooks from the 1950s? (My bleeding vagina says no.) I am writing this having just read a trans woman’s response to Laurie Penny’s recent article on trans rights the New Statesman. I am not interested in discussing that particular “controversy”; what interests (and angers) me is the following passage:

The British feminist media cadre — particularly its triumvirate of transphobes whose filter on current events is more or less penis shaped — has given Penny heaps of abuse. I will not link their statements, nor bother to once again speak their names, but I reckon you all know who I mean. And they’ve been utterly hostile to Penny solely for having critical thinking that is resistant to the nostalgic imaginations of feminism’s nature-over-nurture iconification of the True Female Body.

It’s hilarious, isn’t it? Let’s all have a laugh. Oh, those silly, silly TERFs, thinking that the female body is something that they, mere cis women, can define. How regressive! How conservative! That’s not how it works. As the opening sentence of the blog post shows – describing “the blistering zap of laser against upper lip” – having “a female body” isn’t having a womb and a vagina and all of the shit that comes with it. It is, on the other hand, having a hairless upper lip (a surprise to sufferers of PCOS, but never mind).

Few things make me viscerally angry but I read this and I can’t help thinking “how dare you?” How dare anyone that it is okay to dismiss the reality of a female body with superiority, smugness and snark? How dare anyone who does not experience female oppression from birth ridicule those who try to locate and articulate it? How dare anyone imply the very act of describing the female body makes one complicit in the objectification to which it is subject (nostalgic … iconification)? To write something like that is cruel, mean-spirited and heartless. It pisses all over the abuses women and girls suffer every day because of the bodies they are born into. It erases the disjuncture between male fantasies of what a female body is and female experiences of having one. It sneers at feminists who passionately challenge essentialist beliefs about what female bodies mean.

The True Female Body was never a feminist fantasy; it was and is a patriarchal one. The True Female Body is fetishized, objectified, used and then rejected. That those who attempt to put a better narrative in its place – one that is based on flesh, blood and the humanity of women – should then be accused of patriarchy’s own crimes is nothing short of shameful.

Female bodies are imperfect. If you do not have one, you will not know this. You may want one, but that is by the by. You can’t erase someone else’s existence because it isn’t yours. There are things that females experience that you would not want. You will not, from the day you are born, be told to fear men because you are smaller, weaker and less valuable. You will not experience puberty as becoming a piece of meat, all tits and arse for others to devour. You will not endure the pain of endometriosis. You will never sit alone on a toilet painfully passing out the bloody clots of an embryo that didn’t make it. You will never literally piss yourself laughing because that’s what childbirth has done to your muscle tone. You will never go through a premature menopause. You will never know what it is like to be born into a body that is not supposed to shit, urinate, stink, fart, sweat, burp, grow hair in the wrong places, make too much noise or take up too much space, and which nevertheless does all of these things. You will never feel the weight of millennia of disgust for the hole that is between your legs. This is not idealisation. This is not iconification. It is the very opposite – a plea for the female body to be taken seriously, not as an object for others to describe, but as something that is inhabited and experienced by real, live human beings.

The female body is not an imagining. It is not an object to be picked off a shelf. It is not lip lasering or hormones or implants or restructuring. It is pain and blood and guts and strength. There are few things so misogynist as to dismiss all that women and girls go through with a smug, superior quip while simultaneously deciding — you, the expert — precisely which physical experiences do count as “female” (hairless upper lips? What do you think women are? Barbie dolls?).

You accuse feminists who disagree with you of “nostalgic imaginings”. You write of “iconification”. There is nothing nostalgic in granting female bodies status and meaning. There is nothing essentialist, muddle-headed or sentimental in defending bodies that have been viewed as disgusting, dirty and the source of all sin for millennia. There is nothing shameful in describing female experience of female bodies. Women are not the sum of their reproductive systems but this very fact – that they are HUMAN BEINGS and not just walking wombs – means they damn well have the right to talk about what their body is and what it means.

To treat women who seek to articulate their own physical realities as naïve, bigoted earth mothers, consenting to the hatred directed at their bodies simply for daring to admit these bodies exist, is a disgrace. To say “I am female and this means something” is not to say “I am what male observers of the female body throughout the ages have reduced me to”.  Not to be able to see this is out and out misogyny. It is hateful and it is not okay.

Dear “pro-feminist” male partner

Dear ‘pro-feminist’ male partner

You may have noticed a growing trend for writing blog posts addressed at large, loosely-defined groups of women, with the express intention of explaining to them, in patronising detail, why they are a bit shit. Dear white feminists, dear cis people, that sort of thing (yes, these titles don’t specifically state ‘women’ but we all know that is what is meant). These posts are crap for a number of reasons:

1. They make the political deeply personal while pretending not to do so, presenting personal attacks as structural analysis (and any structural analysis on the part of those being critiqued as personal attacks).

2. Instead of contextualising aspects of sexism as it is experienced by different groups, they simply deny that certain groups of women experience these aspects at all (a poor cis white lesbian? Don’t be daft – such a creature cannot exist! And denying another person’s very specific experience of oppression is, like, totes intersectional…)

3. They’re not really aimed at the people they claim to be aimed at – it’s just a passive-aggressive sport. See how much you can insult a woman without her revealing her “bigotry” by saying “enough”.

4. There’s no theory of patriarchy because to have a theory of patriarchy is, so the story goes, tantamount to saying sexism is the only form of discrimination there is and that there are no intersections with other forms of discrimination. This story is, by the way, utter rubbish, but it doesn’t stop those who tell it from thinking they’re being really deep and insightful. Silly them. Silly, sexist, patronising them.

Anyhow, those “dear group of people I shall pretend to educate, even though it’s not my fucking job and what I’m actually doing is shitting on you because I feel like it” posts — they’re awful. So I’m really, really not wanting to write one here. What I am wanting to do is explain some things about privilege, fear and male entitlement that a lot of ‘pro-feminist’ men don’t seem to get, not because they are stupid or mean but because a lot of women, having lived their entire lives being told they are inferior, don’t get them either.

Feminism excludes people. Yeah, I know, that’s what you’ve been saying all along, each time you’ve wrung your hands over feminist “in-fighting” and wished those cis fems would sit down and listen and learn (not to you, obviously, what with you being male. But you have tried to “signal boost” on behalf of more oppressed women, which isn’t the same as speaking for them, since only nasty cis fems can make that mistake). Anyhow, feminism excludes, but not for the reasons you think. Feminism tells people — those born male — that they are excluded from spaces that they thought belonged to them. Such spaces include women’s bodies and their minds. It tells them they are no longer invited to the “decide what a woman is and use her accordingly” party. This annoys men since it goes against what they’ve been told all their lives. They cry “bigot”, as do some women, who can’t imagine a life whose boundaries were not set by male superiors (why, without a man to fuck her and tell her what she is, does a woman even exist?).  The space that women need to be whole, complete human beings is suddenly off-limits to outsiders. This “keep out” sign — which we call “consent” — is recast as prejudice. This is not fair or just, but it’s what feminists have always been fighting against in one way or another.

Of course, it is convenient not to think of feminism in this way. Nice, inclusive feminism should create some space for everyone (in much the same way that nice, inclusive traditional womanhood does). Thus we pretend that the oppression of women isn’t based on a violent gender hierarchy which tramples over the very idea that those born female have a right to say no. We pretend it is just some embarrassing mix-up. Being devalued as a person because of your biological sex in relation to the gender hierarchy is suddenly reduced to the same status as wearing odd socks or being given white wine when you ordered red. We just need to tweak it a little to find out what one’s “natural” position is (hey, you know who’s best at that sort of tweaking? Trans women. Funny, that). Meanwhile, women born female might as well just carry on being cis, which is totally different to playing the same old shitty traditional inclusive womanhood role, apart from the fact that it’s exactly the same.

I know what you are thinking: this is not the whole of feminism. It’s just one particular area, those inclusivity debates that take place on twitter, and it’s hardly real life. And anyhow, setting aside all this trans-cis stuff — since risking being called a bigot is a step too far for you when it comes to standing by a woman — aren’t there more important, practical things? What about real-life violence, abuse and silencing of women? You’re ace at spotting and condemning that. Well, here’s the thing: you’re not. It’s happening all the time and you don’t notice, or rather, you only notice when a man “acts like a sexist”. The broader context of undermining, devaluing and silencing women passes you, and indeed most of us, by.

Do you know why, when you go into a meeting at work or a seminar or a classroom or down the pub, men are not yelling at women to shut the fuck up or they’ll get what’s coming to them? You think it is because most men are nice. I think most men are nice, too, but I also think the reason they are not yelling these things is BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE TO. Female socialisation — the abuse and the fear that it embeds — is massive. The effects are everywhere. Women are traumatised by it in ways they can’t even admit. In places relatively new environments (e.g. social media) men yelling at women to shut the fuck up are far more common because the knee-jerk silence response isn’t yet embedded. It will be, though. Women see what happens to other women and they know to be quiet without having to be asked.

Women feel this online but they also feel it in everyday interactions. It is part of what being a woman is (yeah, yeah, whatever, you read some Butler and Serano, you think being a woman is a contextualised performance with specific scenarios blah blah blah. But denying that the performance of womanhood is shaped within a context of extreme oppression from the point of birth is, I think, a pretty fucking selective reading of context and performance). Womanhood, if it is anything, is about feeling unsafe and unduly dependent on others for one’s own reality. Once you know this you know enough not to reinforce it

It is not enough to condemn men who explicitly abuse women and make them feel threatened. That is good and it is appreciated. But if you want women to feel safe, you owe them the reassurance that you do not implicitly expect their silence. You owe them the reassurance that you do not feel entitled to define their boundaries. You owe them the reassurance that you do not think “being a male feminist” is a game of “spot the sexist” or merely the act of sharing the housework — it is understanding that we inhabit a whole culture that makes women feel that they are less. It is understanding that women’s spaces still need reclaiming.

It has taken me a long time to understand this and I am a woman myself. I imagine it is harder for a man. I don’t condemn or judge you. I just really, really want you to understand.

On becoming a TERF

You’re not quite sure when it started. It was a creeping hysteria, progressing inch by inch, breaking down the boundaries word by word and phrase by phrase.

When the ground is being pulled from under you, you try to make the best of it. You think “well, how much space do I need anyhow?” You shuffle your feet, stand on tip-toe, say “no, it’s fine, I can live with this”. You are, you tell yourself, being practical and considerate. It might militate against what you believe yourself to be, and the space to which you feel you are entitled, but you’ve been used to this since the day you were born. You are, after all, a woman, or so you used to allow yourself to think. Continue reading On becoming a TERF

Non-binary people: A helpful guide for TERFs and non-TERFs alike

  1. How do I know if an individual is non-binary?

A common mistake is to think it’s okay simply to ask. Please don’t do this; it’s rude and individuals could find it triggering. Fortunately there are easy ways to tell. Is this individual a human being? If the answer is yes, then this person is inherently non-binary (NB one can be human regardless of whether one is male or female).

Gender is, after all, a hierarchical system of oppression arising from sex difference. People express and identify themselves in ways which overlap with presumed manifestations of sex-based oppression and/or dominance. Why they do so depends on many factors: social conditioning, class, fear of violence, caring responsibilities, economic advantage, innate personality traits. They ought to have every right to do so, but no one can claim to be more “non-binary” than the next.  No one naturally identifies with being oppressed and no one is simply born to be considered inferior.

  1. Hang on, I thought only me, my mates and a few famous arty types, most of whom are male, were allowed to be non-binary?

Then I am guessing you are young-ish, quite possibly a student or a writer, certainly not a post-menopausal woman (urgh! cis!), and your beliefs are based partly on a very sensible critique of gender and partly on a fuckload of privilege.

Listen: you are not the literal embodiment of shitty, restrictive gender stereotypes but nor is anyone else. They’re really not. So you were assigned female at birth but don’t “feel” like a woman? Guess what? Most females don’t! That’s because “being a woman” is aligned with “being a bit shit” in a patriarchal society and not because some women “naturally” align themselves with having long hair and talking in squeaky voices. You have no idea why other women make the compromises they do or fail to be as different as you. You don’t know their inner lives or what they’ve been through. You don’t know their needs. You have no right to co-opt them into a system which positions them as inferior, all the while insisting that they must be privileged to present as so woman-y. Who made you the gender police? You cannot claim an identity which relies on others being dehumanised and excluded. We’re all non-binary, all of us better than this hateful hierarchy.

  1. So if everyone is non-binary, how should I respond to them?

As though they are real flesh-and-blood humans with real fears and real needs. This can be hard if you’re not used to it. If you’ve been very immersed in reinforcing the binary-ness of others, you need to take your time and set yourself easy targets, Why not, say, go at least one hour without stalking women you don’t like on twitter, searching for an opportunity to call them vile, bigot, scum, TERF etc. on the discredited basis that you’re magically non-binary and they’re not? Once that works, set yourself a slightly longer target. You can do it!

It might be more difficult with loved ones. How does one cope, for instance, with the knowledge that one’s own mother isn’t just some off-the-shelf middle-aged cis woman? Does it mean she might stop doing your laundry, cooking your dinner and listening to you whine on about how hard it is when you’re the one being to subjected to all these rigid cis norms? Probably not. That’s gender oppression for you. That’s why half the world is underpaid or not paid at all, at severe risk of violence from the other half and without a voice in countless political systems. It’s not because we love it, silly! We weren’t born thinking we couldn’t be open, rich, complete, non-binary human beings. We get resigned, you see. You could help in small ways, though. If you’re male, for instance, taking a break from twitter activism to do some lowly “women’s work” is a brilliant way to challenge those nasty cis norms. Go on, scrub those dishes for the sake of your non-binary brothers and sisters!

  1. What other ways can I help non-binary people?

There are plenty of simple ways for the blinkered to help the other non-binary people they’ve been shitting on for months on end. Yay! Here are just a few:

  • Educate yourself about intersectionality. Funnily enough, it isn’t about treating women like crap on some flimsy in-your-head basis that has fuck all to do with structural oppression and contextualised solutions. But anyhow, it’s not my job to educate you. Have a goddam read.
  • Listen and learn from older feminists. Yeah, I know: you think older feminists are all useless “cis” bigots who haven’t had enough cock to make them human. Believe it or not, they’re as complex and non-binary as you. Now stop being such a misogynist bigot and try and engage in some actual dialogue (“die, TERF” doesn’t count).
  • Read up a bit on human reproduction and have a long, hard think about how this might tie in with gender as a system of oppression. Sex is not gender; those of us born female are not destined to be categorised in the way that “woman” is categorised now. But it’s a massive fucking coincidence that we are and it’s about time this abusive system stopped being reinforced by those who consider it valid as long as they can grant themselves permission to rise above it. We all have that right so don’t claim an identity which relies on some of us remaining the shitty foil against which you define your own glitteringly complex self.
  • Stop co-opting random people – Morrissey, Eddie Izzard, whoever – into your “yeah, I’ll let them be non-binary” system. You’re worse than my nan. She wouldn’t let me watch Bod on the basis that “you can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl”. Now you’re sitting there, deciding who’s allowed to be one of you on the basis that he, she or [insert pronoun] “looks a bit funny”. What kind of a conservative bigot are you?
  • Spend time with a diverse range of people (middle-class wannabe journalists in their twenties who live in London and all have self-pitying twitter bios does not count as diverse)
  1. What’s the best thing I can do?

Stop being a total prat. Please. Women’s liberation – and their lives – depend on it.