A Generous Orthodoxy For Feminism – Or Why This Issue With ‘Cis’ MUST Be Resolved.

In a [Western] society, where patriarchy dominates much of our daily lives, it is too easy to forget that there are also subtle (and not so subtle) web-like power structures which too many of us fail to recognise our own role in – the able bodied and the differently abled, people who enjoy stable mental health and those who don’t, white and black or colour, straight and gay/bi/queer, trans*gender and cis gender.

This a very simplified overview and there are of course many other variants, and interweaving hierarchy’s across all those and more. As we grapple with those concepts, peeling away the layers and struggling with continuously evolving understandings, working out where our oppressions and privileges are within those structures, there is often push back from those who have prefer their theologies more orthodox – more conservative.

Those with such staunch conservative tendancies do not tolerate ‘liberals’ (a word that is often spat out with some venom) – we are heretics, false prophets threatening what they believe with dangerously tempting ideas that put the mortal souls of the laity in danger, taking them away from the One True Feminism that will keep them safe, and their liberation far from jeopardy.  But like the fire and brimstone conservatives of the Christian Church, their refusal to engage with the deepening, enriching theologies is driving away and hurting the very people we should be embracing.

I want to take on the latest Glosswatch blog post on the term cis: in part because nothing rankles me faster than a false equivalency,  but more importantly because I think it is vital for cig-gendered feminists to call out the idea that the term cis is oppressive to women for the lie that it is.

I dislike being blunt about things: I would prefer that feminists could respect each other in their disagreements – but people are flawed and as we grapple with our understandings of ourselves as human beings, our identities and wrestle with these sometimes complicated ideas, there will inevitably be friction. I would like to hope that we can show each other  grace in that process more often. But sometimes we can’t and we have sisters hurting because of these lies.

In criticising (again) the use of the cisgender as defined by sociologists Kristen Schilt (Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago) and Laurel Westbrook who co-authored Doing Gender, Determining Gender this past year – GW demonstrates false equivalencies, flawed premises and, to be blunt, painful ignorance. What Glosswatch actually clearly demonstrates is what Schilt calls ‘gender panics’:

Transgender equality has never been more visible as a key issue than it is today and with the development of every new trans-supportive law or policy, there typically follows an outbreak of criticism.  In our analysis, we find that these moments, which we term “gender panics,” are the result of a clash between two competing cultural ideas about gender identity: belief that gender is determined by biology vs. belief that a person’s gendered self-identity should be validated. These gender panics frequently result in a reshaping of the language of such policies so that they require extensive bodily changes before transgender individuals have to access particular rights.

They point out that biological essentialism – which would segregate our trans*gender sisters from us in sex segregated spaces – actually reproduces the very beliefs about female weakness against which our conservative sisters – who would deny our trans*gender sisters their very identity – claim to rail.  The idea, therefore, that ‘cis-gender’ oppresses us is fallacious – it does quite the opposite. It not only allows us to stand in solidarity with our trans*gender sisters (both binary and non-binary), it begins to free us from the strictures of patriarchal oppression that would keep us its victims, weak and powerless. Further, by denying the term cis, we actively continue to oppress further our trans*gender sisters.

I would never deny that my conservative sisters desire our freedom – but I know they do not desire it for all my sisters and I do not believe that they can provide it. And there will be more thoughts on that later.



#SurvivorPrivilege, Fairies, Unicorns and Other Myths: A Response to @georgewillf

(Note: The hashtag #survivorprivilege was started by @wagatwe – for more information on that read here).


Washington Post pundit George Will  has finally blown the whistle on the big secret – those of us who have been lucky enough not to be killed by our attackers and rapists have privilege and status.  It’s even possible that we lied to get it.

Funnily enough, just recently I was discussing this with a friend of mine (who always insists to her therapist that there honestly is no need for her to roll out an actual red carpet, and that feeding her grapes whilst she reclines on the therapist’s couch is actually quite embarrassing); we were marvelling at how it has turned out to be such a benefit to us, and how society falls over itself to treat us like royalty.

Both of us are amazed that the media now focus on the behaviour of the attacker who chose to rape us, and that girls no longer have to be told to adjust their behaviour; that nobody ever tells a rape joke anymore, and that it is great that we can feel confident that we (and every other rape victim everywhere) will see justice for the crimes committed against us.

We then flew to lunch on the back of our dragons and had a splendid time with the aliens who popped over from the neighbouring galaxy in their UFO. Sorry you missed them, but they have promised that they will be back next month.

Like many men who don’t want the status quo to be challenged, Will has a ‘women-who-do-not-endlessly-kick-and-scream-against-their-attackers-are-not-real-victims’ kind of mentality. And he cannot get his head around the fact that being educated about rape awareness only unearths more pesky ‘not-really-victims’ victims . To Will, these women (whom he comes within a hairs breadth of calling liars suggests in a less than subtle manner are of dubious morality) are simply exerting their feminine wiles because the Obama administration seeks to address the situation of college rape, and sees them as akin to getting a man to pick up the hankie you just accidently-dropped-on-purpose because – well, they’re women and they want the men [i.e., government] to come riding to their rescue.  (Just pass me another grape will you? And please pick up my lavender scented hankie whilst I recline on my chaise longue).

It’s not that this man has a view point that is grotesque in its rape apology: it is the prominence that both the Washington Times and New York Post give to this privileged white man who belittles the violence of rape in such a casually dismissive manner. (“Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, aka “sexual assault,” he writes, as though rape is some prankster-with-good-intentions hiding behind a mask and doesn’t really mean it when it frightens the crap out of you, violates you and leaves you unable to function emotionally or psychologically).

The world George Will lives in is the one where the patriarchy gets to do exactly as they please – to whomever it pleases them to do it – without ever having to be held even remotely accountable.

The world in which every woman deserves to live is very different – it is nowhere near to reality yet, but it’s not a myth and we will continue to fight for it.


Sometimes I am Rage – Sometimes I am Grace: My Feminism and the Myth of Shared Girlhood

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  ~ Vivian Greene

For those few of you who follow this little blog, you may have noticed an inconsistency in what I write (as well as in how I write), particularly about feminism: sometimes I write from a place of grace, and plead to my fellow white cis feminists to listen, to open up our minds and ears to different ideas and perspectives -and perhaps even grapple with the idea that our over loud voices could be stilled in favour of women whom we have helped to silence.

At other times I have been angry, and have felt the need to push back at what has felt like a movement which constricts us all with its demands to conform to a single homogeneous type, which forces a false sense of unity, and that can seem only to celebrate individuality on the surface – which brings me to the subject of ‘shared girlhood’.

It’s sounds like such an innocuous phrase. It’s really not.

My own premise is simple: I do not believe that holding to a notion of ‘shared girlhood’ is required to be a feminist, and feel that my own feminism is the richer for not believing in, or holding to, such misplaced ideology.

It really doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that the lived experience of my girlhood was not the same as the lived experiences of young girls in India, China or a dozen other cultures and countries, and young trans*/transgender girls around the world – and frankly was not the same as the lived experience of most of the young girls I grew up with. Growing up with MRKH I am sure will have meant a girlhood very different for those who have that condition, to my own experiences growing up with endometriosis and adenomyosis. Whilst still at junior school, one young friend struggled with the early development of her breasts, and 9 is a young age to require adult bra’s. None of us knew what she felt – how could we? We were all still at least three or four years away from even needing to think about such things.

The lives of young girls everywhere are rich and varied – each story that these different experiences speak of brings some new, brighter, better understanding of who we are. In the tears, in the joys, in the struggles and the victories of those stories there is an abundance of strength and wisdom, some of which can be shared ~ but some of which should be shared only with those who have a similar story to tell.

The reality of perpetuating some idea of one experience of girlhood shared by all is so easily seen in what happens when someone dares challenge the needless dogma we white feminists so thoughtlessly push. Let me be clear – wanting, and needing to know that we can share our experience with someone is a good and human thing.

Erasing someone else’s experience and trying to force yours on them, is destructive and dehumanising.

A little background. An excellent blog by Black Girl Dangerous hit twitter late last year called ‘The Myth of Shared Female Experience and How It Perpetuates Inequality.’  I really suggest that you read it, firstly because I am not going to quote from it and also have not had permission to do so.

And the first reaction of a white woman to it? Yes, you’ve guessed it – the white woman took upon herself to tell the black woman why her feelings and opinion were wrong. Via the hashtag #sharedgirlhood it should have become clear very quickly that whilst white cis women were saying that shared girlhood was real and needed, women, trans*/transgender and of colour were loudly saying otherwise. And perhaps not surprisingly, those women who would insist that trans*/transgender women should essentially drop off the face of the planet (or at the very least, stop breathing) used the conversation as an excuse to once again abuse and negate those women and their lives.

Even less surprisingly, the receipts from the ensuing mess were collected by a woman of colour – in this case the excellent Flavia Dzodan: you can read that on her blog here.  (Oh, and whilst you are there, read the rest of her blog too because it is brilliant and you’ll get an education).

We cannot ignore that women are saying that they do not feel their girlhood is shared with all girls everywhere, we cannot watch how it inflicts pain and hurt on other women – and yet still insist that shared girlhood is both real and vital to the dismantling of the patriarchy. It’s exactly like sticking your fingers in your ears and going ‘la-la-la’ at the top of your voice.

But there is something else too – as I was scrolling down through the conversation there was this from @Artemissian.

I’m personally deeply troubled by how some seem to define “girlhood” in terms of oppression? Does this mean that w/o oppression…

we’re no longer women? No! We still are. I feel that when #sharedgirlhood comes to mean just & only #sharedvictimhood we might…

…be internalizing the definitions of womanhood that the kyriarchry enforces, & give up our right to self-define who we are?

It articulated some of my other mis-givings, and  highlighted a further problem. Some white cis feminists push the idea of shared girlhood because they believe we all in some way share the experience of living under patriarchy, and by treating our girlhoods as a shared experience we are stronger in the face of it against the patriarchy.

When in fact the opposite is true – n0t just for each of us as women white or black, trans or cis, able bodied or differently abled; shared girlhood is just another tool to take away our right to self define.  And as a movement, that does not make us better or stronger, but weaker. A movement that is incapable of celebrating the individuals within that movement will founder. A movement that does not recognise the individuals within that movement will not succeed in empowering and improving the lives of everyone it seeks to support.

Oh… the frustration! I can see how glorious it could be.

And so oft times I rage, and also love with all my heart. And in the midst of the storms that occur as we struggle to understand, and grasp, and better and change – I will embrace the thunder. And dance in the rain.

I would like to thank both Flavia Dzodan at Red Light Politics and Alicia (@Artemissian) for allowing me to link to, and quote, them.

Confessions of a Borg Drone – Shedding My #liberalwhitelogic

Seven of Nine from Star Trek Voyager

Here’s the thing about The Borg (and if you’re not a Star Trek fan or a sci-fi geek and you don’t get the reference, here’s a link to a nice little précis) which I have lately been pondering on – they are a pretty decent parallel for Liberal White Logic.

Liberal White Logic has many sects and many schisms within those many sects – in the secular variety there is Conservative Liberal White Logic (sometimes self-referred to as ‘compassionate Conservatism‘); there is ‘Liberal’ Liberal White Logic; there is Feminist Liberal White Logic; there is Social Justice Liberal White Logic.  You get it in religion too – the Everything-Should-be-Nice-for-Everyone-Have-Cake-and-a-cup-of-Tea-Anglican-Liberal-White-Logic is the one I am most familiar with of course (and I’m really am going to have to find a shorter name for that).

Whatever the superficial differences, certain key traits mark out Liberal White Logic in all it’s guises (and vices):

  • Magical Intent
  • Colour Blindness
  • Self-Delusion
  • Assumption
  • Appropriation
  • They are bloody everywhere

The Borg had all of these things (and I realise that with at least one of the above points I am likely to be considered stretching it a bit but hey, it’s my blog and I’ll stretch the point if I want to).  You see the thing is, in the context of Star Trek the fictional science fiction programme, the viewer looking from the outside in has no problem in distinguishing The Borg as the ‘bad guy’, even if you feel a degree of pity for the individual drones whom you know are often there against their will.

The Borg do not merely invade other worlds – they eat them up and absorb that world in to itself until there is nothing left of the world that you might recognise of it. The Borg absorbs, assimilates, those who were once individuals until there is nothing of the individual left and there is only the collective Borg. The Borg want everything because The Borg assumes all things belong to it – because The Borg seek ‘perfection’ (and in some implicit way must therefore be perfect).

The viewer sees this and knows that it is wrong. The viewer has no problem recognising this as evil.

In a feminist context, let’s consider Eve Ensler for a moment – and purely for the purposes of this post, cast her in the role of the Borg Queen. No doubt some might consider this a bit harsh, but it seems a reasonable way to illustrate the point, particularly in the light of the whole appalling ‘Congo Stigmata’ thing. (For a whole host of other reasons why Eve Ensler is such a good example of the worst kind of Liberal White Logic, I would suggest you read Lauren Chief Elk, Mikki Kendall and Prison Culture to get to grips with what I am referring to. In fact, read those first because these are the voices of the women most directly harmed by all this).

Ensler is quite possibly the pinnacle of the worst that our collective Liberal White Logic ends up producing, although she is certainly not unique:

Magical Intent:

Like many ‘charitable’ white people, Ensler has (or appears to have) good motives: she wants an end to violence against women in the Congo, and has spent time with these women. She seems to have concern for their welfare. Her intent seems good; and because her intent is good, this surely means that she is beyond reproach or incapable of anything that might be deemed colonial or racist?

Have you read those articles yet?  If you have, can you see the problem? Can you see the appropriation, the centring of herself, the consumption of these women’s lives for her own benefit?


I don’t doubt for a moment that Ensler would tell you that she doesn’t judge someone by their skin colour and would certainly tell you she is not racist. But when she is appropriating and consuming Native women’s struggles, the pain and horror of the women of the Congo – do you think she is recognising their individual and communal histories and cultures? Do you think she is respecting these when she takes it upon herself to ‘speak’ for them? Do you think a white saviour is not racist?


Okay, I will admit that I am not convinced that Ensler suffers from self-delusion: call me a cynic but given how much and how many have questioned her methods, her tactics, her language, her approach and her overall behaviour (and have done so directly), I am not convinced that Ensler is at all naive about what she does.

But if she really is that naive, if she really does not understand the impact her actions have upon the women who must deal with these things – the she fools herself to a massive degree, and in order to continue to do so has to shut out not just the voices of those who seek to question her, but her own voice too.

Assumption & Appropriation:

These two really do go together – as I have already touched on, our White Liberal Logic is as imbued with colonial assumptions of superiority as the right wing demagogues we more normally fool ourselves in to associating with such thinking. The only difference is, we think we have to ‘save’ People of Colour, directed by the narrative that People of Colour are too starved, war-torn or poor to save themselves.

It is barely a step from that to the appropriation of the cultures (honestly do you, or does someone you know, have a ‘dream catcher’ in their home?), and the consumption of their heritage and their lives.

photo of Eve Ensler from the Guardian.(photo from The Guardian).

Honestly, if we – if Eve Ensler – were fully recognising the humanity of People of Colour, would this be happening?

They’re Bloody Everywhere:

One Billion Rising is almost upon us, again. There really will be millions (though maybe not a billion) ‘dancing for justice’. Millions who have not questioned Ensler’s organisations Liberal White Logic – millions who think that getting up and dancing is what justice will look like for the indigenous women whose own day of vigil and remembrance for the missing has been appropriated by ‘V-Day’. Millions who have perhaps bought into Ensler’s assertion that her own cancer was the result of Congolese women ‘entering her’, who have not questioned her desire to watch a Congolese woman’s surgery and then talk about that anonymous woman in terms of ‘holes’.

But this is the thinking I was spoon fed and weaned on, like every other white western woman: this seemingly well meaning, liberal ‘hippy’ thinking which is as guilty of the colonial, oppressive, self-centring racism that those right wing bogeymen of old are.

We white liberals look at them, and pat ourselves on the back for not being them. 

But we are. And we are everywhere. We are the Borg – resistance is futile and you will be assimilated.

Or maybe not. Maybe we will question ourselves more closely – maybe we will take a long hard look at what we’ve believed without question before, maybe we will stop thinking it is always about us and step back. And listen. And hear. And recognise – and learn.

On cookies, motivations and why no platform is a good thing

Over the last several weeks certain discussions coming across my twitter timeline have caused me to particularly notice something, which I otherwise might not have: when a woman of colour talks about white women ‘looking for cookies’ from them, I tend to check to see if that’s what I am doing because in such a context cookie-hunting would be appropriative, and even flat out racist; it would be a way of consuming women of colour, something that we white women have been doing for far too long.

But when a white woman says it, my response is usually different: it feels manipulative, as if listening to women of colour, and accepting that when they say something is racist, well it’s racist – is a betrayal of feminism.

(If you aren’t sure what ‘looking for cookies’ means or refers to, think of it as approval and reward).

I am not here for anything that could be even a little bit racist, or appropriative or colonial: but I am white and therefore part of a political and social structure which is racist.

I don’t want cookies. But I do want to do what is right and in order to do that I have examine myself thoroughly, look at my thought processes and actions and words honestly, so as to identify where I may racist or colonial. And if a woman of colour says that something is racist – then it’s not for me to doubt that.

Perhaps not having a platform, not having an audience whose approval I seek to maintain is a good thing. Maybe it means that by being part of the crowd, hidden, un-noticed gives me a freedom to see things more clearly because of it.

Because I am picking a side: it’s the side that I cannot help but pick. And I’m not picking it for cookies.

Silence, White Guilt and Colonization

So another white feminist writer says stuff and fails to grasp why it is a problem to women of colour – really, twitter is ripe with it and if being on that particular social network has taught me anything, it has taught me just how much I needed to re-examine myself and my newly re-claimed feminism to see just where it was failing to be supportive of WoC/trans WoC.

As a result of these car-crash articles that do so much to illustrate just how codified white supremacy is in white western feminism, I have been having serious (and possibly seriously radical) thoughts on the subject of silence, specifically in the context of the intersection of gender and race. These thoughts, however, led me to confront the notion of ‘white guilt’ and brought me to the inescapable conclusion the white guilt is in itself an extension of white colonial attitudes and is.. well, racist.

White guilt is racist because it keeps thoughts, attitudes, feelings and discussion centred on the white person/people/society. Whilst I am sure that feeling bad about the shit we white people have done (and are doing) to people of colour is all very well, the shit is not being done to us. And beating one’s chest in public about it means that attention is not being focussed where it should – i.e., on the shit being done to people of colour.

It’s logical really, and it doesn’t take an Einstein-like brain to figure it out. (Believe me, if Einstein had had my IQ, goodness knows what E would have equalled).

Adele Wilde-Blavatsk’s article was self-centred – but Eve Ensler (again) took the prize for best example of white colonial supremacy in feminism with her ‘Congo Stigmata’ thing, which is too sickening and awful to link to. So I have to wonder – at the intersection of gender and race – if white women should consider sacrificing their voices in favour of WoC.

There are several reasons for this – and the attitude and entitlement of Wilde-Blavatsk and Ensler is merely an illustration of many of them. But also, frankly, whilst there are white women on the fringes of mainstream debate who have a decent grasp of intersectional feminism, it wasn’t white women who developed either it’s theory or it’s practice and there are too many examples out there of it being hijacked and colonized by white women. This damages women of colour, whose struggles and concerns so often differentiate from ours; a typical colonial thought process in feminism is that it assumes itself the pre-eminent theory in tackling patriarchal structures and continues to fail to do so because it does not recognise – historically or currently – where it carries white patriarchy’s own attitudes to women of colour.

In that context, silence could be valuable – having the grace to stand back and be silent so that the pre-dominant voice is that of women of colour is something that white women could perhaps consider.

Perhaps instead of white guilt driving a conversation that silences women of colour, we could put away white guilt and stand back, shed the need to speak for others whose concerns we probably have not grasped anyway, and listen.

It’s not just the boobs in the Sun which ‘aint News…

I signed the petition to get the boobs off page 3 – of course I did. It’s a stupid thing, in this day and age, to have women used in such a way and in such a context. And it’s not just because of being feminist.

War Kills People, Others Go Hungry… now look at these tits..

Yeah… wrong on so many levels.

But the insistence of the paper to hang on to the anachronistic and misogynistic practice of having naked women on page 3 speaks to something deeply problematic in how they view people generally. Ask the people of Liverpool – in the wake of the horrific tragedy at the Sheffield Wednesday Stadium on April 15th 1989,  which killed 96 Liverpool supporters – the reporting of the disaster in the Sun essentially became an exercise in trashing a whole city of people, and of engaging in the most disgusting victim blaming.

People are fodder to be used for a cheap, fast, money making headline – and yes, I recognise that of course people still buy the paper, for all sorts of reasons. Because of the cheap holidays offered every year, as well a growing roster of offers that are designed to tempt those for whom money is tight, therefore it has a consistent and steady readership.

Tuesday’s paper (3/12) was a particular low point – and no, I am not linking to it. A 6 year old trans*gendered boy, splashed across the front page, stood next to his twin sister, the headline like freak show poster. In a world that doesn’t exist unfortunately, a child acknowledging the gender they identify with would not be an excuse for exploitation. In a world that doesn’t exist, such a journey of self-discovery would be respected, honoured even, for it’s courage and beauty and purpose.

But we do not live in that world – and from those who so energetically campaign to get the boobs out of the newspaper said… well, as far as I can see, not one word. (If I missed something, then please correct me).

I understand that that it is a perfectly valid point of view to believe that each individual feminist campaign does not have to be all things to all people. But since when was the exploitation of a child, not a feminist concern?

Is it really the case that the way a cis-gendered woman’s body is treated is more important than that of trans*gendered child?

Because here’s the thing… the problematic reasoning and thinking which is behind page 3, is the same problematic reasoning and thinking behind exploiting a 6 year old trans*gendered child.

I don’t need a feminist campaign to be all things to all people – I just need a feminist campaign to acknowledge the whole of the problem.

And not just the part of the problem relevant to cis-gendered women.

Emily Yoffe (@YoffeEmily): ‘It’s the perpertrator’s fault…except not.” (TW)

So today Emily Yoffe of Slate,(@YoffeEmily)  in the wake of Maryville and Stubenville and just in time for the new college terms, published a piece entitled “College Women. Stop Getting Drunk”.

Actually the headline sums up exactly the tone of the article, and it is one long classic rape myth trotted out, one after the other to prove Ms Yoffe’s central thesis: that the increase in young women binge drinking has created ‘a prey rich environment’.

Every trope is regurgitated: how often college women are assaulted, how drink is the ‘common denominator’ in all these assaults, how women out drinking are prey to predatory men  – and who she actually describes as ‘lions in a prey-rich environment’, an appalling illustration whereby the man is just behaving according to masculine stereotype, and women are at once both powerless prey and would also be able to control the ‘predatory behaviour’ if they were sober. If they don’t drink, the situation will be under control, of course… Drunk women, she says, ‘render themselves defenceless’.

Despite the disclaimer that ‘it’s the perpetrator’s fault’, Ms Yoffe is also particularly concerned that the bad and wicked feminism (which apparently gives women license to go out and behave in such un-lady like ways). It giving young women a ‘distorted message’: She quotes Anne Coughlin –   professor at the University of Virginia School of Law – who claims that women are being ‘infantilised’.

Beyond the shocking level of victim blaming – where everyone except the rapist bears the burden of responsibility for their actions – there is an irresponsible degree of conflating the problem of binge drinking and substance abuse and addiction with the insidious level of assault and rape that so plagues college and university campuses both in the US and the UK.

Worse is yet to come, as the level of disbelief she has for the victim is revealed – which is both nauseating and beyond irresponsible. It would seem that if you wrote to ‘Dear Prudence’ about being assaulted, she may not believe you.

“But when you are dealing with intoxication and sex, there are the built-in complications of incomplete memories and differing interpretations of intent and consent. To establish if a driver is too drunk to be behind the wheel, all it takes is a quick test to see if his or her blood alcohol exceeds the legal limit. There isn’t such clarity when it comes to alcohol and sex.”

My biggest concern (even given the above) is the 3 victims of rape she interviews – it seems incredibly clear that having picked up on the ‘common denominator’ of drink, this is where the focus of the interviews has been and I am genuinely concerned at the possible manipulation of these victims for the sake of a point about alcohol consumption amongst young people that Ms Yoffe clearly feels she needs to make.

I worry that these young women have been manipulated to prove Ms Yoffe’s central thesis; I am angry that Ms Yoffe continues to try and push a message that claims to be responsible yet places both the burden of responsibility on the victim and so loudly proclaims the age-old socialized message of ‘boys will be boys’; and I am horrified that she does this from the platform she has been given, with all the privilege she has.