When Choice Is Not Liberal But Radical: A Response to Meagan Tyler on Choice Feminism

choices

 

Feminism is not, nor should it be, a monolith; it would be counter-productive – even destructive – for feminists to expect women to become some sort of Borg collective, where all thoughts are one and all individuality is erased.  The idea that choice in unimportant in the collective liberation of women is fallacious: when part of the oppression focuses on denying autonomy over the body in which one lives, and the life that one leads – choice matters very much. That is why ensuring access to, for example, reproductive health care is so important, and why the right to safe abortions is so central to feminist praxis.  Preventing pregnancy or choosing not to carry a pregnancy to term are choices which I suspect most feminists would fight for.

Choices, then, matter in feminism; reclaiming the many ways that patriarchal society seeks, or has sought, to restrict or deny completely many aspects of being able to be fully autonomous goes hand in hand with dismantling the structural inequalities that perpetuate those restrictions. After all, the suffragettes did not seek to dismantle the patriarchy before fighting for the right to vote, and patriarchy did not hand in it’s resignation notice before making abortion legal here in the UK. (Or did I miss the memo…?)

There are many types of oppression which are structured to support and maintain patriarchy: sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism and able-ism for example, and none of those types of oppression operate individually – they intersect in many and various ways to rob people of their ability to make choices that would allow them to reach their potential as human beings and, in turn, contribute to and play an active part in their communities.

One of the impacts of patriarchal oppression is to ‘other’, de-humanise and demonize the bodies of those who live under those many facets of the patriarchy, and that becomes more acute when those bodies do not ‘fit’ the able bodied binary that is held as the ideological ideal. In the face of that, the choices that someone makes can be particularly powerful, and the choice to embrace the very body that is so loathed and feared can both empower others similarly oppressed, and speak with great impact against those structures which despise it.

In such a context, then, choice is not liberal but radical.

The arguments against what is disparagingly called ‘pop feminism’ fail to recognise the power of choice, because it assumes that choices are made because of imagined freedoms, when in fact those choices are usually made fully understanding the absence of them: but it also assume a function of feminism that is prescriptive of what feminism – and by extension women – should and should not be.  Meagan Dylan makes the same error that Meghan Murphy made before her because it is rooted in false notions of a universal experience of girlhood and womanhood, and therefore assumes that all women who, for example, have photographs taken of them naked, are doing so because they are in thrall to the male gaze.

It is ironic that one of Dylan’s criticisms of ‘pop feminism’ is that it supposedly ignores structural systems of oppression, when the criticism itself is so largely absent of any awareness of racial, colonial, able bodied and binary concepts of feminine beauty and sexuality.

I am not under any illusion that we ‘choose’ our way out of oppression, and the assumption that ‘choice feminism’ believes that it can is patronising and without foundation: it is a view that has assumed instead of listened, and frankly feminists, most particularly white feminists, spend far too little time listening.

What choices can do is speak truth, loudly and powerfully, to those who hold power and can it be radical, courageous and beautiful when that happens.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

The Internal Journey Feminists Need to Take: Questions for Feminism.

Not that long ago, I would have distanced myself from the word ‘feminist’. I would have held it at arms length, and maybe even  gone so far as denying that I was one. Through my late twenties and thirties the last thing in the world I would have wanted to be known as was a feminist.

Not because I didn’t believe that women should be treated equally; not because I thought that women really should be paid less and certainly not because rape, sexual harassment and the diminishing of the reality of those things didn’t matter to me.  They all did, and do, matter very much indeed – all the more so as I learn how both my faith and feminism are intertwined with each other.

What caused me to distance myself from the fiery early feminism of my youth were those things that continue to cause such arguments, difficult conversations and schisms** within that movement now: the colonial racism, the appalling transphobia, that strange dichotomy within feminism that calls for an end to a bi-gendered approach (because that keeps women in a pre-defined box of idealised womanhood) yet struggles to accept trans*/transgender women; the obsession with wanting the same power as men (best typified by the hot mess that is the ‘Lean In’ thing), yet failing to notice how our daughters still sought to define themselves by how they looked.

(**I’m a Christian – I know a good schism when I see one.)

In fact, whilst Western Women had the vote, the right to an education, access (at least in some cases) to birth control and a degree of bodily autonomy that their Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers could only have dreamed of – it seemed to me that in some very fundamental ways, the political movement that was feminism was more interested in navel gazing and a self-obsessed approach to the world than in addressing the primal motivators that prevented it from making the kind of changes of which it was (and still is capable) of.

It is not an accusation, or criticism, to say that we white western women have internalised colonial, racist, hetro-normative societies attitudes along with the rest of western society. Despite being so angry about all of these things (but without the language to articulate them, far les address them) I had also internalised these same things and no amount of ‘liberal mind set’ was going to change that.  How could it. Growing up, the People of Colour I saw were often objects of fun, I cannot recall the media giving a platform to the work of women of colour and I would be hard pressed to think of any representation of trans*/transgender people that wasn’t sensationalist and poorly informed. (And very little changes there).

So for all the ‘wins’ that feminism had achieved – or helped to achieve – the lack of both grace and generosity in the face of such victories is either startling, or not surprising.  How far can feminism really go – how  much can it really achieve – without addressing the internalised racism (both colonial and prejudicial), the patriarchy we thing we think we are actually fighting against, the transphobia.. why, if we are truly ‘liberating’ ourselves can we be so absent of joy in that liberation that we would not want to change all these other oppressions?

Stopping the daily sexism that women still have to deal with will not liberate us; ending the violence, the rape culture and the victim blaming will not free us: not if feminism remains so white/cis centric, so bound up in patriarchal, colonial structures within which we have allowed ourselves to be defined.

That is why my feminism and Christian faith are so bound up in each other: the liberation offered by Jesus was not focussed on the external, but the internal. Each of us must engage in an internal journey to free ourselves of the chains which bind us to the slavery of power. If we struggle against the powers that bind our external lives without seeking to free ourselves of power which would still bind others, the struggle will never end.

Do we want equality – or a platform for power? Do we want liberation and equity – or rights for ourselves that maintain the status quo? Are we angry about what happens to us – or driven to change the world for the benefit of society as a whole?

I want a feminism and a faith that is gracious in it’s failures, generous in it’s victories, courageous enough to hear the hard questions – and honest enough to answer them.