On The Violence and Transmisogyny of Christian Men and White Feminsim: Putting Ideology Before Love (TW/CN)

This article will discuss the violent, transphobic and transmisogynistic responses to the transgender community by – specifically – Meghan Murphy, Owen Strachan and Matt Walsh. The articles they produced, and which have rightly been received with revulsion by many, are linked using ‘do not link’: but given their content, I urge care and caution. 

Some time ago I was struggling to find the words to express what I saw as the parallels between anti-trans radical feminism and conservative (evangelical) Christianity: I recognised in both the desire to maintain the gender binary, the dismissal (in words, and in silence) of our black and of colour trans sisters, and the rigid ideology that grips tightly to a biological binary view of human beings. But my thoughts struggled to translate to words.

Dianna E Anderson, writer of Damaged Goods, whose experience living within, and studying, Christian Purity Culture adds a vibrant and vital perspective to the faith and feminist conversation, put it into words in a recent post on her blog, noting the similarity between the fundamentalist Christian thought process she had internalized during her years within that, and Radical Feminism, describing one as the ‘Church of Biblical Womanhood’ and the other the ‘Good Church of Radical Womanhood’.

In the last of couple of weeks, attacks have been made against the transgender community, one under the guise of feminism and others in the name of Christianity (and I would again urge caution before reading those articles by Meghan Murphy, Matt Walsh and Owen Strachan).

Murphy, like Sarah Ditum before her, targeted Laverne Cox: Walsh and Strachan targeted Caitlyn Jenner* following Jenner’s public revelation that they identify as a woman. There are notable parallels between their arguments; the premise from which both camps start is a conviction of the rightness of their own rigid ideologies; both camps understand patriarchy in the same black and white, binary manner (even if they come to that from different sides); both hold to an understanding of unity which is restrictive and prescriptive of womanhood (one through the idea of ‘shared womanhood’ and the other through their own understanding of Christ); both are rooted in a structural racism and colonialism from which they make no effort to divest, and both end up in a place where trans women – particularly black and of colour trans women – are met with brutal and violent resistance in word and thought, which is so often the pre-curser to violent deeds.

I want to refrain from analysing the reasons for these parallels too deeply right now, partly because there are writers out there who are doing a far better job of this that I would be able to, and because it is the distressing impact on women that is my own first concern: trans women are dying (TW) facing abuse and brutality (TW) and when both Christians and feminists – both of whom believe in the need for human liberation – express that same violence against human beings, and exclude, marginalise and de-humanise trans women in their praxis they do so because they have placed rigid ideology above the very liberation they claim to stand for.

The impact of this is real, and costs lives. The pain it inflicts is incalculable – and the message received constantly is that this is the price expected to be paid for the ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ of straight, white, cis gender men and women.  It makes gods of those who fit the binary – and expendable pawns of everyone else.

When Christian men and the feminists they supposedly oppose demand adherence to ideologies which require the same blood sacrifice from the same group of human beings – then the question is not ‘is the price worth paying’?

***

Some suggested reading for you:

Black Girl Dangerous

No Shame Movement

Sarah Moon

Joan’s Pants

Dianna E Anderson

*This article was written prior to Caitlyn Jenner revealing her new chosen name, and so has since been updated accordingly.  My apologies for any offence that may have been given for not updating this post sooner.

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When Kicking A Football Is More Important Than the Life of Girls: on @SunderlandAFC and Adam Johnson

Sunderland AFC
Sunderland AFC

On Saturday, footballer Adam Johnson will likely take to the football pitch with his Premier League team mates for their match against Stoke City. And this would not be unusual, except that Johnson has been charged with 3 counts of sexual activity with a minor and with 1 charge of grooming a minor.

It is impossible to comprehend the level of disrespect to the young girl – the child – Johnson is charged with abusing that this entails, but the message that Sunderland AFC are sending is clear: the word of a child holds no value and even less worth. Johnson is good at kicking a ball, and the trauma a girl might experience matters less than whether Johnson can put a ball in the back of the net, or help it to get there. Winning matters more than a girls life.

You would think that it could not be possible that in the 21st Century, a professional football club would consider that a young girl’s life would matter less than a game of football, and you might think such an accusation were harsh – after all they suspended him after his initial arrest in March, but when the did so they were facing two difficult matches and potentially a relegation battle.

Of course keeping Johnson playing matters more than a young girl. There seems little doubt that how the coming trial and Johnson’s continued public presence might impact on the alleged victim hasn’t even crossed the minds of Ellis Short and the management of Sunderland AFC.  But there is the wider issue.

The grooming of children and young girls for abuse is a terrifying reality for far too many, day in and day out: whether it be the young girls who – with their families – were disbelieved for years in Rochdale, or the gang of men recently found guilty of the most sickening grooming of young families and abuse of babies and small children,(CN), we hold the lives of children and young girls in little or no esteem. Victims of abuse up and down the country tomorrow will, as Johnson walks out on the pitch tomorrow, be told in no uncertain terms that nobody really, truly cares and that the privilege of a young white sportsman to ply his trade matters more than they do.

It is arguable whether this is less a problem within organised sport specifically than it is in society generally. But as the whistle blows at 15:00 tomorrow afternoon, it is certain that neither Johnson, Sunderland AFC or the fans will even be thinking about anything beyond whether or not a goal is scored.

There is a petition. Please consider signing it.

 

‘The Last Shall Be First’: Call Out Culture, Faith and Feminism

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I have been thinking, a lot, about ‘call out culture’ recently: as a Christian and a feminist, there is a tension that exists between challenging the entrenched norms that perpetuate oppression, and practising the grace and forgiveness I am called to. Criticism and self-reflection are vital tools when your conversation and activism is focussed on aspects of patriarchal and kyriarchal structures of hierarchy and power.  Often it means discussing complex and painful issues, and whilst challenging the entrenched myths and norms [both interior to, and exterior of the self] which perpetuate oppressions, how do we do that without falling to self-righteous finger pointing, or failing to speak up when justice demands it?

Critiques of call out culture can be nuanced, and reflective of the context in which our lives are lived – Flavia Dzodan’s essay on the subject for Tiger Beatdown 4 years ago remains one of the best on the issue: it is thought provoking, placing the era of blogging and social media in the context of the emergence of ‘reality show’ programming, examining the performativity of call outs and asking serious questions about what motivates people collectively and individually. (And if you haven’t read it yet, I would recommend that you do).

On the other end of the spectrum was the infamous Michelle Goldberg piece, which itself became a focus of ‘calling out’: it’s juxtaposition of ‘toxicity’ with black women and women of colour was indicative, not only of how white feminism can use words like ‘intersectional’ without a comprehensive understanding of the necessity of de-colonializing self, but how accurate Dzodan’s earlier piece had been. When call out’s are about performance in an era of Big Brother TV, magical intent and calcified liberal social politics, we act and react in the context of the cis-white-hetro-normative systems, losing sight of how other people are being subsumed in a society which forces us to clamber over one another in an un-winnable race to survive.

We cannot ignore the structural racism that exists around much of this conversation: black and women of colour – both trans and cis gendered – have faced appalling reactions from white feminists, recalling the days when Francis E Willard and other white suffragettes put white women’s votes above the lynching of black people, and the White British press tried to smear Ida B Wells.

What, then, are we ‘calling out’? Just sexism? Or are we asking not only others to look at their words and behaviour, but ourselves as well? As Dzodan’s piece challenges us – for whose benefit do we make these call out’s?

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I have been meditating on this in the context of how Jesus spoke about the last and the first – or those at the ‘bottom’ of the social heap, and those at the ‘top’ of it. In Matthew 20: 10 – 16 NRSV :

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 

Jesus topsy turvy kingdom has always profoundly spoken to me in my own calling of standing for and with the most marginalised : how God upends human systems of power and privilege, and puts the very least (in the eyes of the world) at the very top.

In the context of the work of feminism, I wondered, what might that look like?

Feminism has, through it’s many evolutions and theories, sought to challenge and dismantle the patriarchal and kyriarchal structures which diminish and oppress women in the many and varied ways which it exerts it’s oppression and rabid authority.  Feminism, whether driven by intellectual theory or grass roots activism, is built on ‘calling out’ the harmful and violent expressions of patriarchy. It might be street harassment, rape and intimate partner violence or equal pay; it might be purity culture, victim blaming, or challenging an on line article or news story.

Whatever it is, feminism is born of the need to ‘call out’ patriarchy: to challenge it, stand up to it, and to demand it relinquish its grip on society.

There are subtle ways in which patriarchy exerts itself, and how it does so has changed over time: this was brought in to stark relief to me recently during a conversation with a friend whom I have known for some years. It came up that – for her – the word ‘queer’ has incredibly negative connotations, but not because she is homophobic, quite the opposite. Having watched a close family member have to cope with what used to be called ‘queer bashing’, having loved and supported them unconditionally, her understanding of that word is within an abusive context.

Now, for myself and many others who identify as queer, the reclaiming that has occurred of that word is positive and life giving: but not for my friend. That word brings threats of danger and abuse to the family member she loves dearly. Two or three decades ago, being LGBT and hearing that word called out would have frozen you with fear down to your very marrow. (Actually, sometimes I am not sure that has changed so very much).

When she raised this with me, my first reaction could have been even more damaging – I could have simply told her not to be silly, that the word meant something positive now: but that would have been to erase her experience and that of her much loved gay family member who endured such horrible abuse.

In one simple sense, this is what it all comes down to: recognising the experience of another human being, acknowledging their own story and their own hurt and respecting that. Had I overlaid my own experience of that word on to her, I would have hurt her tremendously – but by stepping back, by hearing her without pre-conceptions, by simply saying ‘sorry’ for using that word (whatever my intention) our conversation (which could have been hurtful to both of us) was instead encouraging and uplifting for us both.

And we knew each other much better.

Suppose for a moment, that you are cis gender and a transgender woman is trying to explain to you why she feels erased by other women – what should your first reaction be, as a human being? To listen to her – or to ask her to put her own feelings aside and prioritise your feelings?

Perhaps you are white, and a black person or person of colour is trying to explain why something you did not acknowledge as racist or appropriative, is exactly that – what should your first reaction be, as a human being?

Perhaps you are straight, and a person who is gay or bi-sexual is trying to explain something about their experience of the world which you do not understand – what should your first reaction be, as a human being?

You might be a man, wondering if women are spending too much time complaining about how they are treated – but when so many are treated with violence, verbally, physically and emotionally, should that be your first reaction as a human being?

Now suppose you are a Christian too.

Is your first reaction to prioritise your idea’s and theology – or to put the last first, and the first last?

In The Silence, There Is Sound. In The Fury, There Is Peace.

Henry_Ossawa_Tanneran_Annunciation

 

I have struggled to blog recently – for the last couple of months the words have been like a vehicle pile-up in my head, a car crash with metal twisted on metal; impenetrable, indistinguishable and indefinable.

In part it is because I was metaphorically smacked between the eyes a while a go; there has been an emotional fall out from that which I had not expected, and have struggled to process. Unsurprisingly, for me anyway, this has in turn had an impact on my health – 2 long bouts of flu and an ear infection which left me in bed nursing a bucket to be sick in.

All of which sounds.. in one sense, I recognise the self pity of my words: in another sense I know how I have struggled with depression for much of my life, and whilst I have done sterling work in the last decade holding it at bay, complacency would be foolish: my good mental health is not something that can ever be left to its own devices.

There was much I wanted to do in the last couple of months: a conference I wanted to attend, declarations I wanted to make, things I wanted to do.  Time has not run out on those things of course – there will be other conferences; declarations have their time, all things can be done if you want to do them enough.

Claiming myself, however – being myself, not surrendering who I am, that has been vital in keeping myself mentally healthy. So I will take a deep breath, I will be myself – I will prize out the words and speak them.

And I will not now, nor will I ever, be silenced.

 

Being An Actor Does Not Make it Okay For You To Be A Stalker – That Jamie Dornan Interview

Jamie Dornan - 50 Shades of Creepy Stalker Dude
Jamie Dornan – 50 Shades of Creepy Stalker Dude

There is a BBC drama called ‘The Fall’, starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan. I hadn’t watched either the first or second series at all yet, and after an interview Dornan gave recently to the LA Times, I very much doubt I ever will now.

This is a really bad reveal‘, he says, as though he were disclosing that he once owned a pair of paisley print trousers, and not telling the world that he once stalked a woman to ‘get in to the role’ of a serial killer. Specifically that he ‘followed a woman off a train, and lurked behind behind her’ for a distance. You know, just to see how it feels.

(Which was ‘exciting, in a dirty kind of way’, just in case you aren’t sure just how extremely creepy this whole interview became).

I wonder if Mr Dornan has given any thought at all to the woman he so casually and thoughtlessly exposed to his stalking? I wonder if it has even occurred to him that the woman he followed and ‘lurked’ behind for what must have been several minutes or more, might have noticed – and how stomach churningly, heart-stoppingly, marrow-to-jelly terrifying it would have been for her if she had?

“I’m sort of not proud of myself. But I do honestly think I learned something from it, because I’ve obviously never done any of that. It was intriguing and interesting to enter that process of ‘what are you following her for?’ and ‘what are you trying to find out?” ~ Jamie Dornan

But never mind the potential fear of the woman who was the target of this little ‘method acting’ experiment, because the man ‘learned’ something (although what he learned, and what value that had, is clearly doubtful).

I doubt that Dornan would have been so flippant, or so prepared to reveal what he did to the woman he stalked, if we did not live in a society so ready to excuse such behaviour, or so eager to make entertainment of the daily violence and harassment that all women have to deal with on a daily basis  – whether that be cat calls or verbal abuse, or the kind of violence that puts a woman in jail if she tries to defend herself from it.

If we lived in a world where such behaviour was understood for what it is – the abuse of gender power and privilege for personal gratification – he would never have engaged in that behaviour, far less admitted to it.

But we don’t: and because we don’t Jamie Dornan can stalk a woman and get away with it.

This is rape culture. This is not okay.