Unfortunately we’ve had to take down the post ‘how I became a cis-privileged shitlord’ because the author was scared of being outed as a DISGUSTING TERF BITCH if her fellow students found out about her radical feminist views. Yet another example of radical feminist young women being bullied into silence.
I don’t know when it hit me that sex positivity was hurting me. I’d had tiny glimmers of a revelation: feeling disillusioned as my friends cheering me on while I drunkenly stumbled home with a man I didn’t know. I remember telling myself I was empowered when, at 2 AM, I was in the house of an unemployed 35 year old man I met off Tinder. I didn’t have any money for a taxi back. I’d not met him before. I felt too drunk. The next morning, I scurried back to student accommodation, where my friends high-rived me for being so rebellious and spontaneous. I remember questioning that sex may not be good for me right now, that I wasn’t having it for the right reasons. My friends reassured me that the patriarchy shamed women who were promiscuous, and I had to counter this by continuing not to care. And I tried hard not to care, so I could be the empowered young sex positive feminist I wanted to be: not when men wanted to hit me in bed, not when men pressured me into sending nude photographs, not when dependent on heavy drinking to silence my inner, questioning voice.
I stopped feeling “empowered” very quickly. I got into abusive situations. I entered a friendship with a much older mentor — a 64 year old man, a figure in the local BDSM community, another writer — who encouraged my brand of feminism. He loved that I seemed “carefree” and wasn’t dowdy, like the “anti-sex feminists” he often made fun of. He encouraged me to be promiscuous and drink to excess; he always found some kind of third wave feminist message when I told him about my one night stands, despite the fact I clearly wasn’t mentally well. A few months into our friendship, he raped me. It took me almost a year to realise what had happened because, on a physical level, the rape didn’t feel different than the other sex I was having at the time. I was having sex because I hated myself, and no one around me realised.
Using sex as self-harm is disturbingly different than other forms of self harm. For cutting, one may blame a cat and fool no one. For eating disorders, many friends will see through any “I ate earlier” excuse and try to help. For sex, when the vehicle for harm is promiscuity, liberal feminists are reluctant to point out the root of the issue, lest they criticise a woman’s choice or “slut shame”. Their antidotes were always having more rather than cutting back: to call myself sex positive and become comfortable with that label; to watch more porn until I liked it; to experiment with more men until the sex was more palatable and okay.
Liberal feminists cling so dearly to the concept of consent to the point that it becomes a fault. Any ‘consensual sex’ that is traumatic, or unwanted (despite the ‘yes’), or abusive is hard for them to understand. When I realised I was assaulted, many friends told me it wasn’t ‘real BDSM’. I was blamed by other liberal feminists for my own mixed signals. Whenever I recounted less-than-pleasant encounters, they worriedly would ask whether or not I was accusing a man of rape. When you draw a hard dichotomy between rape and happy, pleasurable sex, so many women are silenced.
This is why radical feminism, and delivering a radical message to young women, is so important. There are young women out there who are like how I used to be: vulnerable, insecure, self-loathing. The patriarchy tells women their worth is contingent on how fuckable men view them; liberal feminism, in its desperate attempts to create an identity for itself that contrasts against the “prudish, anti-sex” radical feminism, tells women to go for it. I felt like it was the only way I could be feminist. For so many women, sex positivity is the compulsory option. And within sex positive, liberal feminism, there is little room for dissent. Question whether promiscuity is healthy in a patriarchy? Slut shamer. Ask why men would get off on a woman’s abuse? Kink shamer. Is it any wonder that so many young women, socialised to put others before them, socialised to think they’re always wrong, don’t argue back?
It is often said that radical feminism is about destroying the patriarchy, while liberal feminism is about navigating the patriarchy. While I used to take this to be true, I now feel this is too charitable to liberal feminism. If it’s supposed to be a navigation, it isn’t working. I left liberal feminism utterly lost. It wasn’t until I found radical feminism that I realised both my way and my worth. Radical women must continue to have a voice despite the overwhelming opposition. After all, there are women out there right now being told the same message I was told: to fuck for their empowerment, rather than think their way to it.
by Rosie Redstockings
It was announced this afternoon that Tara Hudson has been transferred to a female prison.
I will use male pronouns in discussing Hudson – not because I wish to be provocative or offensive, but because I’m sick and tired of putting women at risk in order to appease male feelings. It’s time for the truth.
Hudson is a man. A 5’10” man, with a penis, what he describes in his escort ad as a “7 inch surprise”. He has a history of violent crime – 8 prior convictions, including for battery – what the judge described as a “worrying criminal record”. Last December, Hudson was drinking at a bar in Bath, when (in the words of the prosecutor, Neil Treharne):
“After being asked to pay her tab and leave, the victim Mr Dyer pushed a glass away from Hudson, fearing she would pick it up and assault him. The court heard that she lunged forward to grab it, was restrained by Mr Dyer, and then headbutted him in the face.
He suffered an injury to the nose and a sore chest and had to have £1,500 worth of treatment on his teeth.”
Hudson has had plastic surgery that makes him look convincing like he is female – he has opted for large breasts and long blonde hair. Based on the photos that have been circulating online, he passes convincingly, though he seems to be emulating a very hyper-sexualised, submissive, pornified image of womanhood: a man’s idea of what it means to be a woman.
When I first saw the change.org petition being circulated online, I was sympathetic to Hudson’s situation. Male prisons are violent and terrifying, because men are violent and terrifying. Gender non-conforming men (who may or may not call themselves trans) are at risk of sexual violence in prison, and feminists are uniformly opposed to male sexual violence, whoever the victim. All vulnerable men should be protected from any sort of violence while in prison, and Hudson is no exception.
Hudson’s supporters do not just want him to be protected from male sexual violence. They’re not happy for him to be placed in a separate male facility, or segregated from the rest of the prison population – as police officers are, for instance – they want him in a women’s prison. They want his gender identity to be validated.
Hudson is a sympathetic case. He is attractive, and looks convincingly like a woman. He may have a violent history, but he has no history of sexual violence. He may or may not pose a risk to female inmates – we simply don’t know. It’s easy for his supporters to dismiss radical feminist concerns as laughable – “what? You really think this person is a rapist??” Radical feminists are usually dismissed in this way. We’re paranoid, man-hating, illogical, bigoted. Critics can fall back on well-worn stereotypes about TERFs and their hateful opinions.
But I fear that Hudson is only the beginning. It used to be that a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) was required for trans women to be transferred to women’s prisons (the transferees are always trans women of course, never trans men). To be granted a GRC, the applicant has to prove that they have been living as the opposite sex for at least 2 years. Hudson doesn’t have this – he hasn’t had surgery, he is not legally recognised as being a woman. The decision to house him with women is based entirely on the fact that he looks very feminine, and so has attracted a great deal of public support. That’s it.
Women should be frightened and angry. Today we have come one step closer to granting men unfettered access to the female prison population. Even the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists acknowledge that men are likely to abuse this new liberty:
Because why the hell wouldn’t they? Why are we pursuing a system that relies on the integrity and self-control of convicted sex offenders?
What really frightens me are the numbers. According to the most recent figures, in June 2013 there were 10,498 men serving time for sexual offences in the UK prison pop (compared with 77 women). In the same month, the total female prison population came to 3,853. That means that the number of men in prison for sexual offences is ALMOST THREE TIMES the total number of women in prison.
How many of those men would be prepared to call themselves trans, if it meant they could be transferred? With no requirement to get a GRC, or take hormones, or have surgery?
Even if only 1% of imprisoned sex offenders decided to feign transition and were transferred, women’s prisons would comprise 2.6% male sex offenders.
If 10% decided to do it, then 21% of prisoners in women’s prisons would be male sex offenders.
Never underestimate that lengths that violent men will go to in order to abuse. Today’s decision paves the way for more and more of these men to get what they want. Today it was Tara Hudson – a passing trans woman, taking hormones, with no history of sexual violence. Next it will be a trans woman who doesn’t pass. And then a trans woman who has never taken hormones. And then a trans woman who has raped women.
And the people at risk – the people who have never been mentioned in the media, who have been invisible throughout this whole debacle – are the women in prison. The majority (81%) of these women have not been imprisoned for violent offences; more than half (53%) have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as children; they are disproportionately likely to be poor, non-white, and to have suffered violence at the hands of men.
These women have been betrayed by liberal feminism.
by Rosie Redstockings
I usually try to avoid using gendered pronouns when talking about trans people, particularly on twitter. Sometimes I tie myself in knots to avoid using ‘he’ or ‘she’, or I use cop-outs like ‘they’. I realise this is a bit silly, but I’m followed by a fair few people on twitter who are agnostic on the trans debate, and I want to avoid alienating them from the get-go. In some cases I’ll use preferred pronouns as a show of respect, particularly to my trans friends, both online and offline. I see it as a fairly minor issue, and I don’t want to get too bogged down in the details. But I can’t bear to call Frank Maloney ‘she’. I just can’t.
For those of you who haven’t come across Frank Maloney before, I’ll quickly summarise – he is where the trans ideology has led us. This is a man who spent 60 years enjoying and profiting from some of the most toxic forms of male privilege imaginable. He spent 30 years managing heavyweight boxing, famously managing Lennox Lewis to the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World . In 2004 he was the UKIP candidate for the London mayoral election, where he came out with charming statements like:
“I don’t want to campaign around gays…I don’t think they do a lot for society…what I have a problem with is them openly flaunting their sexuality… I’m anti same-sex marriages and I’m anti same-sex families… I don’t think it’s right for children to be brought up that way.”
Maloney is also a long-time Millwall fan, a football club historically associated with hooliganism and far-right politics. And yet (hey whaddya know!) Maloney’s former colleagues and fellow fans have publicly embraced his new identity.
This article in the famously misogynist Daily Star is a perfect example…
“Kellie” (member of the most oppressed group in society, remember?) is welcomed back to Millwall “with open arms”, while the headline is graced by photos of half-naked women. A newspaper that makes vast profits from the dehumanisation of women is quite happy to embrace this ‘woman’ simulacrum. Millwall fans, famous for their association with violent masculinity, are also right on board. In fact we’re told that:
“to make her feel really at home fans chanted: ‘Kellie Maloney is one of our own.’”
For all of the endless claims that trans women have it harder than literally anyone else ever (especially “cis” women), Maloney seems to be having a remarkably jolly time. Ever since he revealed himself to be transitioning, the media has been awash with coverage of his “brave” decision, “courageously” undertaken. Media outlets that usually interrogate every wrinkle or scrap of cellulite on a woman’s body are clamouring to tell us that “she looks amazing” and that “the star is beaming from ear to ear as she shows off her new figure”.
Compare this with coverage of celebrities like Madonna (5 years younger than Maloney), who is regularly admonished for being too old/thin/wrinkled/saggy/fat/sexual, or whatever sin is deemed unforgivable over at Femail. It seems that Maloney’s male privilege has granted him immunity from this treatment.
So far, so unsurprising. The British media have treated Frank Maloney’s transition in much the same way as the global media have treated Bruce Jenner’s: gushing, saccharine, totally oblivious to the double-standard in their coverage of women. Gender critical feminists have grown used to this bullshit. Personally, I rarely find it shocking anymore.
But I was shocked by this week’s coverage of Maloney’s new memoir, in which he confesses to having tried to strangle his ex-wife Tracey. He only stopped when his frightened daughters rushed into the room, and Maloney comments “If they hadn’t come into the room at that point I dread to think what might have happened”. This was combined with a long period of verbal abuse. He explains this as a result of his “inner turmoil and pent-up feelings” over his gender identity.
The Mirror tells us that the incident was “terrifying” and “chilling” for Frank. Yes, you read that right – Frank was the one who was terrified, Frank was the one who suffered, Frank deserves our sympathy. In an interview on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour this morning, Jane Garvey tentatively raised this issue with Maloney (and this is word for word):
“you of course had to tell your wife that this was going to happen, and that you were having these feelings, and you say in the book that you had really quite a difficult confrontation at one point didn’t you? And things got a bit violent”
“Things” got violent. Not Maloney, he didn’t get violent. “Things” were to blame – it was out of his hands, such a shame, so unfortunate.
And yet even with this absurd wording, Maloney brushed off the question and moved swiftly on to talking about his own bad experiences – how hard things had been for him, how much he’d struggled, and so on, and so on. Despite Garvey’s excellent record in broadcasting on feminist issues, this was not challenged. Because Maloney is a woman now, right? And we must all gather together to support “her” as much as we possibly can. Even when he was strangling his wife, he was always a woman.
My own experiences with an abuser have taught me that Maloney’s attempts to justify his behaviour are very typical of the abusive man. Nothing is ever his fault. He never means for these things to happen. Someone else is always to blame, and usually that person is you. Everything can be excused by the fact that you don’t respect him, or you’re more successful than him, or you don’t love him enough, or you don’t understand him, or you made him react that way. You are liable for every misfortunate and failure, and oh man will you suffer for it. During those rare moments of repentance, the calm between storms, he wallows in self-hatred. But even this involves blame: it’s so easy for you, you don’t have to deal with unhappiness like I do, you don’t feel like I do. No ones feelings could ever be as real as his.
And our society tells him that he’s right. His feelings are always, always the most important consideration. During any feminist discussion of male violence you can guarantee that a man will pop up, like clockwork, to tell us that his feelings are hurt by the discussion. Whether the issue is prostitution, rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, parenting, surrogacy, lesbianism, fashion, porn, BDSM, or really anything else, feminists will always be reminded that we shouldn’t make the men too upset. Don’t be too harsh now, ladies. Don’t leave them out, don’t make them sad. For such a noble and rational group of people, men seem to be awfully emotional when it comes to discussing feminism.
And, of course, the feelings of the autogynephile are the most important of all.
by Rosie Redstockings
I spend a lot of time reading things I really really hate. I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment. The hours that I’ve spent on The Advocate, or Jizzabel, or The Red Pill, will never be returned to me, and sometimes I think wistfully of all the novels I could have written if only I’d spent less time reading about friend-zoning and */* E.M.P.O.W.E.R.M.E.N.T. */*
But I read these things because I think it’s important to keep an eye on what’s being said about women, whether it’s downright misogyny from MRAs, or the more subtle forms of regressive politics we see from third wavers. I wish I could ignore them, but the sad fact is that a lot of people read these things, and I want to know what the enemy is thinking.
One of the publications I keep an eye on is GQ. Now it’s very important to remember here that GQ is a classy magazine, or at least bills itself as such. The GQ reader imagines himself as a sophisticated gentleman, with varied cultural tastes. So there are some (superficial, usually football-orientated) articles on politics, film and restaurant reviews, stuff about gadgets, mildly amusing advice on fashion. Sometimes they publish articles about manly-yet-sophisticated food and drink topics like BEST COFFEE IN LONDON, and even the occasional recipe. Their imagined reader seems to be a James Bond sort of figure: suave, stylish, drinks a lot of whisky, wears a lot of watches. In reality, their readers look more like this…
… youngish middle-class men in media jobs. The typical reader is a bit right-wing, shops at Waitrose, follows @JeremyClarkson, and is apparently likely to believe that…
Basically the average GQ reader is kind of a douche, but hardly an unusual brand of douche. I have met many, many men like this, and, because of our shitty society, there are an awful lot of them running the country.
Which makes it all the more disturbing when we look into the dark heart of GQ, and discover what these men really think about women.
Because one of the cornerstones of the GQ experience is their “GIRLS” section. No one at GQ seems to think that naming the soft-core porn section of the magazine after pre-pubescent female humans is at all weird. I suppose they think “ladies” would be too old-fashioned, and the word “women” brings us uncomfortably close to recognising these sex objects as actual people.
GQ want us to believe that the pornified images they print are a world away from the common muck we see in the tabloids. So they print a lot of articles about burlesque, alongside classics like ‘A gentleman’s guide to threesomes’, and (my personal favourite) ‘You can be a lingerie model and a feminist’, illustrated by a picture of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s underboob. Mostly they just post endless pictures of pretty celebrities and Victoria’s Secret models. We’ve seen this a thousand times before.
The highlight of the “GIRLS” section is the sex advice column. If you want to know what our middle-class, youngish, media type men are wondering when it comes to sex, this is the place to come. A lot of the questions are predictable – how do I deal with performance anxiety? Which sex position will make me look the most tough, brave and manly? – as well as some hilarious ones like:
Dude – NO ONE BELIEVES YOU. GO HOME.
The advice from sex shrink Rebecca Newman usually involves an expensive sex toy, or perhaps a new bra. It’s a fairly transparent advertising exercise, and I like to think that the writer isn’t really a pretty blonde, but just a fat, unshaven guy in front a computer screen, with a pile of unopened LoveHoney Climax Twist Vibrators stacked in the corner.
But there are also some darker questions, a lot of them featuring BDSM. The sex shrink never challenges the desires of the questioners, only gives lengthy, explicit, sometimes absurd explanations of what he should do to her.
An extraordinary number of sexual battle plans begin with restraining the “girl” in some way:
- “let us look to slave-girl positions… order her first to spread her knees apart (the further she spreads, the more uncomfortable it becomes)… her ass spread and vulnerable”
Otherwise the questioner is told to “have her do this” or “tell her to do that”. How can a man convince his “baby” to give him oral sex more often? “Bribery” – also known as expensive knickers – may encourage her to “worship” his penis.
“Girls”, we are told, love “bad boy behaviour” and “deceitful, exploitative Machiavellianism”. And in an article on ‘sugar daddies’, Newman delights in the fact that “group, oral, anal, bukkake etc are common or garden” on the “professional menu” (she’s talking about prostitution here). We’re reminded that “every relationship has some element of quid pro quo”. Why not make the commercial exchange explicit? After all, we’re already bribing “girls”, ordering them onto all fours, getting them to “worship” at the altar of the almighty penis.
This advice is (apparently) written by a woman, and yet not only does she legitimise her readers’ desires to dominate women, she writes them a how-to guide. Women in GQ are as horny as porn stars, and as impressionable as children – easily seduced by wealth, spanking, and the firm mastery of an expert male hand. These women never speak. They are always waiting to be “surprised”. They never refuse the £300 crotchless knickers they’re offered as a “bribe”. And they are eminently disposable. After all, we’ll soon have a new ‘Hottest Woman of the Week’, and all hot women are much the same.
They may sell themselves as intelligent and sophisticated, and they may occasionally throw around that favourite buzzword feminism™, but the woman hating is only just below the surface. On top of this, GQ adds a fresh layer of misogyny to that found in lads’ mags and tabloids. Not only are women gagging for a dominating man to show them what’s what, that dominating man is rich. Nowhere is the fetishisation of wealth more obvious than in this article from 2011. I remember reading this aged 19, after someone (presumably a man) left a copy next to my train seat. The female writer begins…
… and goes on to give a lengthy, excruciatingly detailed description of exactly how that blow job was performed. She wins her prize, and concludes “I’ve decided these deals are perfectly acceptable and a sign of a good relationship – it’s called compromise.” One of the comments underneath the article reads “Fantastic! Great column – I must get my wife to read this, haha.”
I hadn’t yet discovered radical feminism in 2011, but I was still angered and nauseated by this. My first thought was “how could a woman write this?” – how could a woman encourage men in the belief that sexual favours are commodities to be bought? That love and mutuality should be abandoned, to be replaced by cold, hard economic exchange? I didn’t realise yet that this article, and the GQ attitude towards “girls” more generally, was entirely consistent with the worldview of their target demographic.
For in GQ, everything is purchasable – the booze, the suits, the watches, the restaurants, and, yes, the women. Every woman has a price. He may not leave the cash on the nightstand, or pay her through direct debit, but the economic transaction is nevertheless blatant. And he not only buys sexual access to her body, he buys the right to dominate and dehumanise her.
Chris Hedges begins this interview with Gail Dines with a damning analysis of the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ franchise:
“[it] is a celebration of the sadism that dominates nearly every aspect of American culture and lies at the core of pornography and global capitalism. It glorifies our dehumanization of women. It champions a world devoid of compassion, empathy and love. It eroticizes hypermasculine power that carries out the abuse, degradation, humiliation and torture of women whose personalities have been removed, whose only desire is to debase themselves in the service of male lust.”
For all the carefully constructed glamour of the GQ brand, the desire to dominate others is the core of the franchise, and only thinly veiled. Wealth and status are positional advantages, and so depend on the relative poverty and low-status of others. The GQ brand cannot exist without this inequality. In the mind of the ideal reader, all that matters is material success, and female bodies are little more than material possessions. All those lefty men who rail against consumerism and big capitalism, but then excuse the objectification of women, have failed to join the dots. The GQ attitude towards money is tightly bound to their attitude towards women, and the ideological product is highly lucrative.
And our middle-class media man buys into this ideology. He may not be a sugar daddy, or exchange handbags for blow jobs, but he nevertheless chooses the buy a magazine that encourages this fantasy. His view of women as purchasable commodities is reproduced and reinforced by the female journalists who soothe his ego, and the GQ shareholders who profit from it.
Men of this demographic then go on to work in government, edit newspapers, commission books, and run businesses. Many of these men are immensely powerful and influential. And on the train, or in the office, or in their bachelor pads, they read media like GQ and their fantasy of supremacy is reinforced. These are political texts, with political consequences.
by Rosie Redstockings
It all started when Owen Jones, being a bell end, wrote a really offensive article in The Guardian. He was responding to the news that MP Simon Danczuk had been caught watching hardcore pornography and, being a bell end, Jones argued that Danczuk had done nothing more than show himself to be “a human being with flaws”. “Why should we care?” asked the bell end, since after all “it’s the political flaws that matter”, and the sexual exploitation of women is not, it seems, a political issue.
It was infuriating. Jones was rightly criticised by many feminists on twitter, and was so angry that they had the nerve to criticise HIM, darling of the lefty media, he ended up accusing lesbians of being homophobes, and feminists of being right wing religious fundamentalists. Right. Thanks dude. I’m not here to go over the rights and wrongs of Jones’ behaviour, since other women have written much more thoughtful and comprehensive responses. I wrote a very brief piece the day after his article was published – it was only 500 words, hurriedly typed out on my mobile. I didn’t really have a plan. I knew that Jones was unlikely to reply to a lowly tweeter with fewer than a hundred followers, and I didn’t think there was anything especially ground-breaking or original in what I was saying anyway. I was just so angry with his smug complacency, I wanted to get my feelings off my chest.
I wrote about how porn has affected my life. Aged 23, I’m a part of the generation that came of age under porn culture. My male peers are the first in history to have watched hundreds, even thousands, of strangers having sex before they’d gained even the slightest knowledge of what real sexual relationships are like. Unsurprisingly, to all but Owen Jones and his ilk, this has left its mark. I wrote about the men in my life who have expected me to perform like a porn star: who pressured me into painful anal sex, wanted to ejaculate on my face, held my head down during fellatio. I pointed out that my straight female friends had all had similar experiences, some worse than mine.
The real horror is that it has become so hard to say no to sex acts that are now considered obligatory. The anxiety and the guilt and the PRESSURE are just so enormous, women of my age and younger must be exceptionally brave to resist. We don’t really have any more sexual ‘choices’ than our mothers and grandmothers did – they might have been socially stigmatised if they had the ‘wrong’ type of sex, but then so are we. It’s just that the ‘wrong’ type of sex now means something different. The goalposts may have shifted, but sex under porn culture still prioritises male pleasure at women’s expense.
For Owen Jones to trivialise these experiences, chuckle over wank jokes, tell his huge readership that actually porn is all a bit of fun, all us lads do it, “why should we care?” is so grossly offensive to all of the women who have suffered as a result of porn. My generation cannot unsee these things: our sexual ideas have been corrupted forever by porn, there’s no going back, and future generations will continue to suffer unless men decide to change. This cannot happen if we continue to pretend that porn is all a bit of harmless fun. I wrote my piece, put it up on twitter, fumed a bit, and got on with my day.
I was so surprised by what happened next. My brief rant at a third-rate British journalist ended up being retweeted again and again, and I had dozens of women contacting me from all over the world to say how much my words had meant to them. I was part of a community and I hadn’t even realised it. We so often hear about twitter being a hostile and abusive place for feminists: we very rarely hear about the kindness women show to one another.
Young women told me that they had experienced exactly the same thing, and like me had felt guilty for not living up to what porn culture expected from them. These private, awful moments between two people in a bedroom were taking place the world over – these weren’t isolated incidents, and we weren’t alone in wanting things to change.
Older women were appalled to hear about this. I hadn’t appreciated how much things had changed in such a short space of time, and it soon became clear that the generation gap had blinded us all to what was really happening.Women of my age had accepted these experiences as unremarkable and had failed to tell older women what was going on. Third wave feminism is so often inward looking, interested only in the latest, trendiest ideas, that there is very little inter-generational dialogue. Sisterhood has been left by the wayside, along with the second wave, and we can no longer learn from those women who have lived this already, who have learned, and who could offer us so much.
This quite literal rejection of sisterhood was demonstrated aptly by a recent edict from the UK National Union of Students that the word ‘sister’ is no longer to be used by delegates of the women’s conference. This word is, apparently, “exclusionary”, since it excludes those non-binary or genderqueer delegates who do not fully identify with womanhood. ‘Siblings’ is now the preferred term. Why anyone would feel comfortable marking themselves as part of a “women’s” conference, but would draw the line at the word “sisters”, is a mystery to me. Similar developments have been taking place at women’s colleges in the states, where staff and students are now encouraged to curtail all talk of ‘sisterhood’. This goes alongside a strand of feminism that rejects much of what has gone before: second wave feminists are caricatured as dinosaurs and bigots, no-platformed, rejected. Older women are systematically excluded for the sake of this new, ‘inclusive’ feminism, that sees no need for sisterhood. We can, at best, be ‘siblings’.
This undermines our movement. Sisterhood is powerful, sisterhood is essential. Every single female person is marked out from birth as an object for male sexual consumption. We must be socialised into becoming passive playthings, and the process is long and slow. Every sexualised ad, magazine, or film that I have ever seen, every ‘naughty’ joke, pervy comment, grope, stare, catcall – all these, every one, have combined to produce the voice in my head that says “don’t be a prude, don’t let him down”. This isn’t a process that can be easily undone when we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us to shut up, lie down, and take it. It’s hard enough to resist as it is, and we certainly can’t do this alone.
But one of the effects of patriarchy is to make us feel as though we are alone. Moments of private agony – when we’re confronted with an abuser, or we look back at a female body in the mirror and feel disgust – can be profoundly isolating.
As my piece on OJ was being shared all over the world, this familiar feeling of isolation began to return. Some of my most degrading sexual experiences had been at the hands of an ex-boyfriend who had been particularly awful to me and who I still feared. Even though I’d written under a pseudonym, I worried that he might realise it was me and rear up out of my past to accuse me of being a lying bitch. These things had taken place in private – it was my word against his, and the word of an articulate, dominating man can seem unassailable. I dreaded seeing his name pop up in my twitter notifications and started wishing I’d never written the damn thing.
But then it occurred to me – if he were to do that, these women would stand up for me. All these women who cared enough to hail me as sister and share their own pain and love with an unknown woman on the other side of the world, who they had never met and probably never would. Some of these women were two or three times my age, our lives were very different, but the one thing that united us was a shared experience of female oppression and the desire to fight it – what feminists once called ‘sisterhood’. This was a movement that my ex-boyfriend could never be a part of, and these women would tell him so. I wouldn’t be isolated as I had been so many times before, I’d have allies who understood what I was going through and they wouldn’t take any of his shit. My anxiety disappeared with the relief of realising that I wasn’t alone.
It reminded me of the time I’d attended a talk on a controversial feminist issue at my university, in which there had been a tense feeling of division among the women in the audience. We started off sitting awkwardly in our seats, just talking to our friends, or looking at our phones. But when the talk got underway and some MRA dickhead stood up to attack the speakers and spout nonsense about ‘lying feminists’, it became very clear who we were really opposed to. The women next to him told him to shut up and he eventually sat down – I caught the eye of one of these women and we smiled at one another and rolled our eyes, understanding exactly. It was such a tiny thing, but it felt very meaningful to me. We’ve all had the experience of being cowed by sexist men and feeling too tongue tied or frightened to argue back. Perhaps, if I’d been on my own, I would have been shouted down by this bloke and would have run away with my tail between my legs. But because we’d been part of a group, with a shared cause, we were able to roll our eyes at the stupid fucker and tell him to shut up.
But we can’t organise against our oppression if we don’t have the words to describe it, and if we don’t know who we’re fighting for. ‘Siblinghood’ is a word so broad, so inclusive, that it comes to describe everyone, and so no one at all. Terry Eagleton has written:
“Any word which covers everything loses its edge and dwindles to an empty sound. For a term to have meaning, it must be possible to specify what, in particular circumstances, would count as the other of it” (‘Ideology’, 1991, p.7)
He’s right. We can’t differentiate between the abused and the abusers if the words we use could just as well describe my ex-boyfriend as they could me. A woman I have never met or spoken to cannot truly be my friend, but she can be my sister. We share something important – we are both marked by patriarchy as belonging to that despicable group ‘women’. To describe us as ‘siblings’ obscures the oppressive structure that binds us together, and hence undermines our struggle.
The postmodern ideology that tells us that ‘woman’ is a construct, and that there is more dividing us than uniting us, destroys any hope of solidarity. Feminism is a collective project, and sometimes it’s so bloody difficult to keep going you couldn’t possibly do it if you were alone. If we abandon the word ‘sister’, I fear that we’ll lose that sense of shared struggle, and we’ll end up abandoning each other. We’d have nothing left if we did that. Feminism isn’t just an abstract concept, it’s a community of women who have committed themselves to improving the lives of countless other unknown, unborn women. It’s a difficult and thankless task, and sometimes it’s so hard not to give in and be the passive, thoughtless objects we’re told we should be. We can only keep going if we act as sisters to one another.
(And no, Owen Jones never did reply)