In response to Louise Mensch’s woeful critique of intersectionality as somehow ‘unrealistic’ and her calls for a ‘reality based feminism’ I call for a surreality based feminism. FYI Mensch’s piece is here and I heartily reccommend the ‘debate’ pieces on Black Feminism which debunk criticisms of intersectionality from different perspectives, including an overview of the history of intersectional thought.

If intersectionality is indeed ‘unrealistic’ then I embrace surreality based feminism because clearly the lives of millions of women are clearly ‘surreal’.

I am reminded of what Frida Khalo said in response to the white male art critics who called her work ‘surrealist’ and lumped her in with the male dominated surrealist movement,  she rejected such comparisons and stated:

‘I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.’

Frida Khalo painting at her easle

Intersectionality recognises the fact that our realities are different, what one woman may assert as ‘reality’ is as real to many women as a melting watch or floating businessmen. Yes I might not be, as Mensch sneeringly and sarcastically puts it , as ‘high achieving’ as a woman whose a CEO. But my reality has put real barrier in the way, not that I’d want to be a CEO anyway. Our reality is that it’s a helluva lot easier to be a high achiever if you’re middle class, white, non disabled, cis and to ignore the many barriers society puts up with regards to race, class, ability, LGBT issues etc in ADDITION to the same old sexist patriarchal bullshit is, to be honest, really fucking insulting. The fact Mencsch believes she ‘earned’ her privilege just proves how woefully and willfully uneducated she is on the issue. How does one ‘earn’ the privilege of being white? of being middle class? of going to private school paid for by your parents regardless of how much they had to scrimp and save? Of being cis? of being lucky enough to not have (yet) developed a disability or chronic illness? How on earth does on earn that? Does she imply that I have somehow ‘earned’ by illnesses by not working hard enough? (then again this is the woman who refused to listen to the real lived experiences of people with depression who said exercise didn’t help, often due to underlying physical illness and asserted that Occupy protesters buying coffee from starbucks meant their whole campaign was rendered void, she is to use her parlance a ‘low achiever’ when it comes to intellectually nuanced arguments).

Mencsh and her ilk seem to deliberately misunderstand the ‘check your privilege’ angle, rarely have I seen it being used to ‘shut down debate’ but merely suggest that someone’s opinion may be clouded by their privilege. To take a white feminist tm (is this becoming like a nice guy tm thing?) friendly example, I once had an argument with a male friend who insisted street harassment and sexual harassment in clubs and bars ‘wasn’t that big  a problem , I think you’re exaggerating it’. His privilege as a man meant that he didn’t see it happen very often as it tends to happen to women when they are alone or with other women, rarely does it happen to women with men. That is an example of ‘check your privilege’ , his privilege means that in his ‘reality’ sexual harassment doesn’t happen very often but in my reality, the reality of many women it does. That is what ‘check your privilege’ is about, it’s not saying anyone who isn’t a member of an oppressed group can’t have an opinion or discuss matters about said group but it recognises that, due to lived experience and different ‘realities’,  some peoples opinions are more informed than others.

This in addition to the historical baggage, that we still live with today – just look at the media and the byline photos staring out at you – the the voices of people of certain groups have been listened to much more. White, middle class, cis, non disabled women are still represented in the media, on large platforms and listened to by society as a whole than women in marginalised groups.

Remember the outcry when Woman’s Hour had an all male panel discussing contraception? The ‘check your privilege’ thing is a bit like that, women from marginalised groups; women of colour, trans women, disabled women, working class women, sex workers etc we are often spoken ABOUT rather than allowed to speak ourselves. ‘Check your privilege’ is one attempt to counter this, it doesn’t say ‘shut up and never speak again your opinion is worthless and never speak again!’  Instead it says ‘yes that’s all very well but maybe we should prioritise the voices of women in this oppressed group, those with lived experience whose voices are often drowned out at the expense of voices of women like you, it’s not personal but that’s how it is, sometimes you need to step back and LISTEN’  

Intersectionality is ‘reality based’ feminism. It might not be YOUR reality but it is the reality of millions.

 

 

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  1. mraemiller says:

    “Intersectionality recognises the fact that our realities are different” Our experiences are different but actually there is only one reality.
    The problem with “intersectionality” and “check your privilege” is that at the end of the line it quickly disolves into inverted snobbery because that is the ultimate logical conclusion of judging another person’s opinions based on their skin colour and sex.
    In short… it’s Monty Python’s 4 Yorkshiremen sketch where a bunch of inverted snobs sit around competing in their accounts of deprived childhoods becoming increasingly absurd till they all sound completely insane.

    • Benjamin A'Lee says:

      Can you prove that there’s only one reality?

      • mraemiller says:

        Well here’s a thought experiment for you. A black woman and an Indian woman and a white woman all jump off the top of the Empire State Building. Will they all experience different realities? Or will they all experience the same reality? Death. Of course they will each have different experiences of the fall but basically the conclusion of all their falls will be the same. Splat.
        There may be many different realities on Doctor Who or indeed that Stephen Hawkins can find but as a basis for political constructs none of them are very useful as there is no point in lobbying for a policy if you cannot predict the outcome of implementing that policy. If you’re going to build your policy on the basis of everyone living in different universes then you’ll just end up with no concrete policy aims and trusting in blind luck.
        Here’s what’s wrong with intersectionality. The basic idea is to increase the size of the feminist movement by including more minority voices with different experiences. However, no one’s thought of a structured way to do this so what it has turned into is “check your privilege” or which is really some kind of bizarre argument over pecking order. The complex theory has been reduced down to a binary idea of telling other people to shut up. This is not an accident. The most successfully political policies are binary ideas. Single issues. Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign to get women back on banknotes was successful because it is a binary concept. It’s simple. It’s clear. It’s obvious. Tom, Dick and Tarquin on the building site can understand that possibly having all blokes on the notes is not desirable. If there isn’t a binary message people will invent one or reduce the policy or idea down to a binary one. You couldn’t put an Intersectionality Bill through Parliament – it would be too vague.
        What is wrong with it? It is some kind of attempt at positive action or affirmative action but without any parameters. Affirmative action or positive discrimination done without any thought always leads to disaster. For example years ago we tried to increase the number of women we booked. Not because we care about feminism but from a commercial perspective we thought it didn’t look good and even an old misogynist like myself gets bored of listening to the same group of rich white 20somethings all the time. The trouble with giving the ordinary person a voice is it tends to turn out to be either racist, homophobic or hating of the other sex. This applies to all races and sexes.
        There was a problem. We booked more women but less of them turned up and a higher percentage of them pulled without warning. The superficial answer to this is that women are more lazy than men, but when you actually think about it …it is more complicated than that. Then men would probably be as lazy as the women if there were as few of them. Also by booking the same people more often you can simply create a culture of dependency. If you book any person too often they tend to start to resent you. I don’t know why this is. But it is a fact of human nature. The promoter is becoming dependent on the acts which is wrong. Also simply having a target or a quota doesn’t fix the fundamental problem of women being less interested in comedy. I can book the same female acts more often but this does not automatically create more females who want to go into comedy …and it also displaces a load of men down the road to create a more male dominated club somewhere else? That isn’t to say the whole exercise is pointless but it isn’t simple – no one has ironed out the problems with implementation. If you do anything without thinking out the consequences it is counter productive or useless. And this is the problem with intersectionality – the only political message being extracted from it is “shut up white man”. Because it is reverse discrimination with no logical attempt at quantification and no knowledge of practical application.
        So what does it create? Such philosophical gems as #whiteproverbs and #DearWhiteBoyfriend hurrah! Still all publicity is good publicity, isn’t it?

        • Benjamin A'Lee says:

          Are you upset about something? You sound upset. Maybe you should stop taking things so personally.

          • mraemiller says:

            Why? This is the thing. To political extremists of all persuations people’s individual feelings dont matter. The end justifies the means. The personal life is dead in Russia. History has killed it. All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others. It’s the same nonsense the Mrs Jellybys of the world have been pumping out since the 19th century – their causes are always so important …what does it matter if there is collateral damage?

            I take the racism of hard left intersectional feminists against white people seriously because I can and also it is my responsibility to censor other people. I cant have people going about with the delusion that it’s okay to be racist against white folks because they’re the majority – because it isn’t …and I dont think that was actually the meaning “intersectionality” was intended to have. I cant apply diffferent standards to different people as to what they can and cant say – there is equality or there is nothing. To people like me who dont want the responsibility of what should or shouldn’t be said or promoted but are stuck with it as an unintended consequence of what we do we need clear paramaters – not woolly theories so what are they? What is it exactly you want people like me to do? Because all I hear a load of thick American women calling me a racist and knocking my relationship on twitter. So come on what do wimin want? ..from people like me? Other than to be rude and racist?

            By the way this is a classic…

            “Remember the outcry when Woman’s Hour had an all male panel discussing contraception? The ‘check your privilege’ thing is a bit like that, women from marginalised groups; women of colour, trans women, disabled women, working class women, sex workers etc we are often spoken ABOUT rather than allowed to speak ourselves”

            …we always hear feminists talking about how other different types of feminists are given more or less airtime than others on Woman’s Hour. There’s not no point in this but it seems to me you all spend a lot of time having pops at each other when your time would be better employed lobbying or complaining to the promoter who is the person who actually has the power to change things?

  2. Benjamin A'Lee says:

    lol ok dude. have fun with that.

Feel free to comment, I do love a good debate

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