I started thinking about all this after I heard Selma James talk the other week, she was amazing and has really inspired me.
My trouble is I often feel overlooked in traditional ‘lefty’ debate, when it centres on economic issues, i.e. capital, workers, having labour to sell/exchange all that. I am unable to work enough to support myself without benefits, I can only work part time and for ages I couldn’t do that. So how do I fit into all this? In the traditional analysis , both lefty and current coalition policy, as well as labour et al, I’m a non person. If the rhetoric is you should work or strive towards work and making money then I mostly fail. I’m seen as a nuisance, a burden, any support allowed to me is given with scorn and a lecture on how I should be ‘striving towards work’ the alternative doesn’t seem to exist.
Society wants to force me to fit into a box I can’t possibly fit into, it seeks to break my bones and shove me in regardless. It doesn’t want to reshape the box to see how it could fit me without breaking me. That is how the work and being economically productive situation feels to me right now, I can’t work enough to support myself in the way our society recognises work, the only way I could is to harm myself. Sadly it seems large parts of the supposed solution, ‘revolution’ or ‘struggle’ want to break me to fit their mould too. I guess that analogy could apply to millions of people in different situations too.
Society wants to force me to fit into a box I can’t possibly fit into, it seeks to break my bones and shove me in regardless. It doesn’t want to reshape the box to see how it could fit me without breaking me.
I don’t count just being left to drift largely ignored on a pittance as an alternative, as a society we need to do better than that. If our worth to society is measured by our economic contributions and productivity then what the hell to do we with the people who will never be able to contribute? Or those who will only be able to contribute on a part time or sporadic basis? We are left out of most analysis, and certainly not deemed active participants, often being talked about and not allowed to talk for ourselves. Why should we join movements that deny us our voice or let us speak only as an afterthought or in the narrow confines of an “oh shit maybe we should do something about the *insert minority here*” afterthought. Tokenism. Equality and inclusion not as equality and inclusion but to make the majority feel a bit better about themselves.
If we are not integrated and seen as a part of the whole, allowed a voice and our concerns given the respect and attention they deserve then fuck it, why should we support you? Why should women stand back as men assert class is the real issue and once that’s solved ‘we’ (The ‘we’ used here and below refers to the collective as imagined by the dominant group/s, which doesn’t really include the marginalised people, as if it did they’d have a voice) might talk about you later? Why should women of colour stand back as white women assert that ‘we’ need to focus issues they deem more important? It is exactly because of such attitudes that people break away, form their own groups, often tagged as ‘divisive’ by the very groups they broke away from because they were not listened to or welcomed. It’s not “solidarity” or “unity” if you ignore people and expect them to deal with your issues as a priority.
That’s the trouble with non-intersectional politics, you leave people out. The traditional left arguments that class is the root issue and once we sort that out everything will be fine leaves me cold. Class is an issue, of course it is but it’s not the only issue and like all over issues it doesn’t work in isolation. Traditional actions leave me out too, ironically the one thing I don’t have an issue with is my employment, I don’t need to strike for better working conditions. I need respect that I can’t work full time, sometimes at all, I need respect and recognition that as a person outside the economically productive sphere or whatever you want to call it, I exist. Yet if you can’t work you can’t really strike. I’ve seen little analysis from the traditional left on how to involve people who can’t strike and for whom attendance at large demos, marches etc is tricky to impossible. It is not enough to tell people that we should silently support others to do stuff for us, that once we solve the ‘real issues’ we can talk about ‘identity politics’. A phrase usually used by those whose identity is not used as a way to question their very humanity, who aren’t subject to gender, race, disability, sexuality etc based insults and denials of equality. Whose identity doesn’t seem to matter much because it’s the default, the default easiest setting. That said this privilege blindness can affect anyone, not just straight , white able bodied het males, as we all tend to be privileged in some way or other. Being a woman and ill doesn’t negate the fact I’m white and middle class for example.
I can’t separate being long term ill/disabled from being a woman and I certainly don’t expect anyone else to separate themselves in such a way; it doesn’t work. You don’t wake up one day and think “right today the fact I’m working class is going to be more important than my gender” or “my sexuality will trump my race today” or myriad other combinations. To expect people to do so, to prioritise one area of their life experience over another is offensive and quite frankly bloody useless. It’s divide and rule, it leads to bitterness, when people comment on feminist posts going ‘but yeh what about working class men they have it harder than middle class women!’ or that being black and middle class is ‘easier’ than being white and working class, or gay, or disabled, or *insert identity here*. It’s not top trumps, we don’t all have a score of how oppressed we are and are banned from talking about anything unless our score reaches some arbitrary level. The Kyriarchy fucks us all over and using these interlocking and intersectional identities that are used to discriminate against us all as an excuse to divide and set us against each other is, to my mind, just playing into the hands of the system.
I refuse to and cannot decide whether it’s more ‘important’ for me to fight the cuts to disability benefits, the rise in disability hate, violence against women, the culture of victim blaming, rape culture and a billion and one other issues. I also refuse to be a douchenugget and belittle issues that not directly affect me as not worthy of me giving a shit. Because they affect other human beings who are just as entitled to have their concerns listened to as any other human being. To take the ‘Girls’ issue, no it doesn’t affect personally me as a white middle class woman, but it affects other women who have stated how it does affect them and they have every right to air their concerns and be listened to as part of a feminist dialogue. ‘Women’ or any other class of people (or people as a whole) are not a big monolith, not all issues affects all of us and they don’t affect all of us in the same way, but issues affecting women are feminist issues, for other women who said issues do not affect to turn round and say they don’t give a shit is anti feminist and just a generally shitty way for any human being regardless or race, gender, sexuality, disability or anything to behave. But when that woman is part of a privileged group who the issue does not affect, ignores those who are saying ‘this affects us, this affect me, everyday and here’s how’ that’s a whole new level of shittiness and ignores the whole intersectionality thing. To quote Bikini Kill “I’m so sorry if I’m alienating some of you, Your whole fucking culture alienates me”
I come to feminism as it often acknowledges issues left out by the mainstream male dominated politics on gender, but when feminism ignores issues on race, disability, sexuality, trans issues, class and any other marginalised identities (I worry I have left some groups out, this is not intentional this is a tired brain and I apologise) it fails. It becomes as irrelevant and ire inducing as the ‘oh no what about the menz’ we decry. We’re all, hopefully, reasonable people who should think, really think, when someone calls us out on an issue such as asserting that a whole group of women and their concerns, thoughts, feelings everyday lives, don’t matter. I know in the past I have probably said some crap, not quite got issues (and probably will in future), that is called being human. You listen, you learn, you grow, you develop. You learn to accept criticism.
To quote that amazing Tiger Beatdown post , my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit, I add all my politics will be intersectional or they will be bullshit. My whole life will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.
I can only talk of my own experiences, and I am privileged in many ways, but the one thing I have learnt since becoming more feminist and reading, learning, interacting with some amazing people in the real world and online, is to LISTEN. Sometimes the most important thing you can do as an ally is STFU and LISTEN.
Image from RHUL femsoc