Yesterday’s Guardian featured an article on the rise of “grassroots” feminism in the UK. Having read the article I would argue that it is unbalanced, unrepresentative and misleading.
Whilst reading the article and looking at the accompanying picture, several things struck me. Black Feminists UK verbalised my thoughts when they tweeted “A piece on future feminism that includes white mc girls and MEN but not word ‘black’ or ‘ethnic’? FAIL!”. But this is not the only issue. There is no mention of LGBT feminists, no mention of older feminists (because it is possible to come to feminism later in life, and not all feminists are under 25), no mention of disabled feminists and no mention of working class feminists. Put together with its complete disregard of Black feminists, this article mirrors the increasing marginalisation of these groups within our “movement”.
To ignore intersectionality when discussing feminism shows a complete lack of understanding of the one thing that must be at its heart: Equality.
At a basic level, feminism cannot survive if it is not inclusive. If every feminist is not treated as equal, then every single one of us has failed, and we need to shut up shop right now. If every article or feature fails to portray the diversity of those of us who are proud to call ourselves feminists, then we need to go underground, because we are no longer in control of our own destiny.
The danger of this type of article, is that it makes it easy for readers to assume that there is only one way to be a feminist, and if you do not agree with all of the ideas of the groups featured (which I don’t), or do not look like one of the people in its accompanying picture (and again, I don’t), then you cannot be a feminist. That is unacceptable. There is no such thing as a homogenous feminist view; we all have different experiences and beliefs. There are no stars of feminism (regardless of what the media and indeed some feminists would have you believe). It is not a brand. We do not have one mission statement.
Having a discussion last night with other BFC members, it became clear that as a sex-positive group, we found the lack of discussion about the rainbow of views and beliefs of grassroot feminist groups extremely frustrating. Here were three groups who (on top of everything else) have what I see as regressive views on personal sexuality and how women express their sexual desire, being held up as the standard.
I cannot accept the denial of women as sexual beings in our own right and I do not accept that I cannot make my own decisions about how and when I have sex. If as a grown, conscious woman, I choose to express my desire in a way that is believed to be outside of the “norm”, then that is my decision and no-one else’s. If we choose, as consenting women, to have more than vanilla sex, then that is our decision alone. I am not prepared to return to the late 1980s/1990s and allow Jeffreys into my relationship*. The denial of our conscious sexual choices is as bad as being forced to behave in an overtly sexualised way, and ultimately means that we are still being controlled by patriarchal society.
My feminism is shaped by all of the parts of my whole. I am not prepared to compromise my beliefs in order to fit in to someone else’s narrow definition of what it means to be a feminist.
Ultimately, the article was insulting in its failure to acknowledge that diversity is feminism’s strength, and whilst I understand that we must remain in the public eye to continue to be effective, unfortunately not all publicity is good publicity – particularly when it misrepresents us in such a way.
*NB: This refers to what has been described as the “lesbian sex wars” of the 1980s/1990s. Specifically, discussions which can be found in “The Lesbian Heresy : A Feminist Perspective on the Lesbian Sexual Revolution” by Sheila Jeffreys.