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So apparently, no high profile white UK feminist has rejected intersectionality according to Helen Lewis. I find the wording of this tweet odd because of course, there is a little semantic gem hidden therein: a no true Scotsman argument disguised under “the concept” so that we cannot counterclaim with evidence like this, from Rose George, a TED Speaker and published author who rejects “the word” but not “the concept”.
Notice Julie Bindel’s retweet also rejecting “the word”.
On the last week of November, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, one of the founders of Vagenda, a publication that was originally part of New Statesman and overseen by Helen Lewis in her role of Deputy Editor, published this at The Guardian:
After talking to these young women, we wrote a column criticising academic feminists’ use of alienating terms such as “intersectionality” on the basis that most people don’t understand them. “Intersectionality” basically means taking into account the way different systems of oppression – race, class, disability, sexual orientation – relate to one another. The article raised issue with the language, not the concept, but because we deigned to criticise the method of communication, we were deemed racist.
Again, the reframing of “the concept” vs. “the word”. Ms. Cosslet goes on to explain how the use of the word itself is “privileged”. This is a new ideological framing in the sense that it positions Black women who created and developed these ideas and words and all the other Women of Color who both use the ideas and theories and continued expanding on them to explain their lives as being “more privileged” than the white women who feel alienated by their use. These words, we are told, leave us cold because we don’t know what they mean. “You are the privileged one, using words we cannot understand”. Rejecting a word created for and by a Black academic to explain her life and the lives of women like her is not an ideology free rejection. Words matter and having precise and sharp words to quickly reference a framework matter even more. It’s the difference between having to spend 10 minutes to carefully elaborate and explain an idea vs. having a tool to quickly evoke an entire body of theory and work. It’s the difference between having a scalpel vs. being handed a box of blunt knives.
At the core of this rejection of the word but not “the concept” is a rejection of knowledge produced and developed by Black women and other Women of Color. Since in the face of overwhelming evidence these white feminists cannot deny that racism is alive and kicking, then they will do the next best thing: deprive us of the use of words that help us explain how we are uniquely affected by these power structures. Again, I must insist, at the core of this denial resides an erasure of our tools, the very fabric of the theories and knowledge that explain our lives. “Use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house”. This is nothing but a blatant epistemic injustice. White feminists reject the knowledge produced by Black women and Women of Color to continue in control of discourses and public agendas in media, activist environments, government policy, etc. “Use our words because otherwise our issues will not be front and center”.
But since Lewis claim is that high profile UK feminists have not rejected the “concept”, then maybe we can look at how Caitlin Moran fared when confronted with the idea but not the word:
Oh, “I literally couldn’t give a shit about it”.
Back then, Vagenda Magazine, as I mentioned above, a publication overseen by Helen Lewis in her role of Deputy Editor at New Statesman published an impassioned defense of Moran* that included statements such as this:
And therein lies the nub of the problem: feminism is, and to an extent always has been, a white, middle class movement.[…]
And to an extent, why should it? If class or race, and not merely gender, is what is preventing you from becoming Director General of the BBC, or Prime Minister, or the editor of the Telegraph, then equal rights for women in isolation of these factors are going to make sod-all difference. […]
We would suggest that anyone with an interest in genuine equality for all adapt that phrase to “my feminism will be comprehensible or it will be bullshit.” Achieving “intersectionality” is impossible unless you can communicate clearly, with everyone. Moran at least speaks a language that we all understand. And how many other feminists can you credit with that?
In turn, Helen Lewis wrote her own defense of “simplified language” claiming “There’s no point in your language being “correct”, if only 12 of your friends can understand it.”. Again, not rejecting “the concept” but “words” as if concepts could be derived from the abstract without tools to define lives and, in turn, shape them.
Suzanne Moore also has feelings about the word intersectionality. Apparently, “intersectionality my arse” is not a rejection of “the concept” either. Because the works of Black women and other Women of Color belong up a white woman’s ass. Visuals of defecating on the ideas notwithstanding.
I do find the term ‘intersectionality’ to be both classist and educationalist – or rather, not the term itself, but the way the twitter fight had people using it as if everyone knew what they meant.
Again, that thing about “the concept” vs. “the word”.
Sarah Ditum also rejects “the word but not the concept” going as far as calling intersectionality “an icepick” and she does a whole lot of google graph explanation about how the word was never used before a certain date which what? renders the word useless? difficult? inaccessible? Your guess is as good as mine.
Louise Mensch wrote an entire article at The Guardian about “intersectional bollocks” which is pretty much unquotable because of the sheer volume of clueless statements. It’d be impossible to pick just one. “Progressive feminists” might prefer that Mensch is not included in this list, what with her being a Tory, however, she self identifies as a feminist and is considered by many, as much of a feminist as Helen Lewis, Vagenda Magazine or Caitlin Moran. We are not here to police who does and does not belong to the movement, after all. Just bringing up the archives to remind us all where we stand on “rejecting the concept” vs. “the word”.
It is no coincidence that certain words or ideas have gained popularity in the past couple of years as the number of People of Color (and Black Twitter specifically) have gained deserved attention and generated media production in their own right. Words that explain the lives of people who are using media in innovative ways are sure to follow the phenomenon. Until not long ago, a white dominated media got to shape public discourse and the only recourse left for those that wished to challenge their hegemony was to either write a letter to the editor, hand out fliers or start a small print zine/newspaper/publishing house. White dominated media did not need acknowledge the existence of these efforts. They could reject words, concepts, ideas and even people with impunity.
This white feminism can continue “rejecting the word” and in doing so, they will continue trying to limit our world. My language shapes my worldview, my political ideas and, more importantly, my praxis. The notion that we should limit how we express ourselves rather than expand these views so that they can reach more people is part of this old hegemony that has given us exclusion, lack of representation and alienation for anyone that is not white, cis gender, able bodied, etc. In this rejection of “the word” there is a demand that Women of Color create work that reproduce the ideas and patterns of white feminism. I vehemently reject that. It is white feminism that was built on exclusion. It is white feminism’s task to undo itself and fix what they broke, not the task of Women of Color who created ideas because this white feminism was not providing them. Expecting that Women of Color use “simpler words” comes with the added aggravating demand that we do not become intellectual producers in our own rights. I doubt anyone would have asked Giles Deleuze to “simplify” his ideas so that other white men who did not understand them could also feel included. This demand of “simplification” is specific to Women of Color and their (our) knowledge production. When we write, when we discuss, when we create, when we practice our feminism, when we embody our politics, we should make them accessible to white women. We are the ones to fix what they broke. And that, with no respect at all, is bullshit.
EDIT: On Twitter, Helen Lewis pointed out that Vagenda was not part of New Statesman. Instead, the two editors/founders of Vagenda were employed by New Statesman to blog under the name of “The V Spot”. A radically different publication, it seems.
* Incidentally, this is the piece that I opened a complain against at the UK Press Commission due to the fact that they quoted me without attribution and reduced my work to the status of a “meme”. As an aside, this might be another example of rejecting the word but not the “concept”, amirite? what’s more feminist and inclusive than erasing authors and denying them attribution for their work and words while using those words against them to turn them into the opposite of what they meant?
With heartfelt thanks to Jackie A. who provided me some of the links above and who is awesome in her own right.
What they are rejecting is an entire body of work (and people) they don’t feel they need to consider. This kind of positioning as beleaguered victim standing up against the ignorant (of “educationalism” in this case) dark masses, this theater, just to not have to understand a word, literally, of what Black feminists say shows there is no talking. There is only one way they will side with justice.
As an adult Korean adoptee, I knew first hand how it felt to grow up divorced from the language, culture and people of my birth country. The undeniable question for me involved whether I could reconcile my political beliefs with participation in international adoption. Could I call myself a feminist and social justice advocate and still adopt? I realized that for me, the answer was no.
I am part of a growing number of adult adoptees who view adoption as a feminist issue, part of a continuum of reproductive rights. This perspective extends to the right to raise one’s child the same importance as the right to choose whether or not to bear one.
In her book “Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States,” feminist historian Rickie Solinger examines adoption through this lens of reproductive rights. She states, “I believe it is crucial to consider the degree to which one woman’s possession of reproductive choice may actually depend on or deepen another woman’s reproductive vulnerability.” In other words, how might an individual woman’s right to choose adoption actually exploit another woman’s lack of rights?
Myths of the legitimate mother
Conventional language around child relinquishment has often fixed birthmothers in a position that simultaneously acknowledges and negates them. As an example, here is the story I was told about myself when I was a young girl: You were abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage with a note that read “Please take care of my child.” Your mother loved you very much, but since she was probably a prostitute, a very young (probably teenaged) girl, or a single woman, she couldn’t take care of you. So, she did the most loving thing a mother could do, she gave you up for adoption so that you could have a better life.
I accepted and retold-indeed, even took pride in-this story for years. This narrative, conveyed by my parents who first heard it from the adoption agency, illustrates the sort of manufactured positioning that Kim describes. It marks my birthmother with a presumed status, and this status ranks her on a social scale, at an inferior placement that highlights her lack of resources and defines her as therefore illegitimate for motherhood. Her economic and social vulnerability is an unquestioned given.
The story further implies certain suppositions about what “a better life” means. In this scenario, “better” clearly means American, but it also suggests wealthier, Caucasian, and most important, not with my birthmother. This notion of “a better life” has permeated adoption narratives since the practice began, often used as justification for its existence.
Over the years the social justice argument for adoption has proved increasingly problematic for many. In her article “Birth Mothers from South Korea Since the Korean War,” scholar Hosu Kim states, "Although it often has been understood historically as a humanitarian effort … I argue the practice of intercountry adoption is a radical example of global inequality played out at the site of actual woman’s bodies and often pits two women-the birth mother and the adoptive mother-against each other in a struggle to claim a legitimate motherhood."
As a woman dealing with the pain of my own infertility, I did not want to think through all these questions when I first considered adopting a child. Frankly, I just wanted to be a mother. My decision not to adopt after realizing that adoption was in conflict with my political beliefs is my personal choice. I do not condemn all adoptive parents, my own included, whom I love profoundly. Nor do I condemn adoption across the board. I do think, however, that we need to reframe our discussion of adoption. And though this story is about international adoption, I believe this discussion should include domestic adoption and foster care.
I believe that if the spirit of feminism creates solidarity between women across social, economic and racial barriers, feminists should work to remove the obstacles that render women around the globe so powerless, rather than using their situations as a reason to take their children from them. We should also question adoption language that carries implicit judgments of who makes a legitimate mother. Other issues to address are using children as a commodity, and racial coding of mothers and children. And we should work toward the extension of reproductive rights to include the rights of women to raise their children.
YES! finally found this link again, i’ve been searching for it again for ages (too many links in my resource list). this is a PERFECT commentary on how i feel about the fundamental problems of adoption and the right to parent.
pssst. PRO-TIP: The international adoption industry took off when an army of Western countries (everyone from Australia, Canada, Luxemburg, United States, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Norway and Denmark) went to Korea, committed genocide and war crimes, then adopted the children of Korean natives they’d killed or raped.
An open letter to the ‘nice guy’ who tried to hit me because I stopped him from taking home a drunk girl who was begging him to leave her alone (or: why you should never ask a poet if she’s really an ugly cocksucker or if that’s just her day job):
The thing is, everyone assumes that by taking away our rights, you make us weak.
In reality, just the opposite occurs. We are used to the sling of insults - there is nothing you can say that hasn’t already been said to me. We are used constantly being on the outlook for our aggressor - so yes, I can spot an asshole from across the room and it’s because I often have to.
The thing is: you are making our skins thicker and our spines stronger than anyone who doesn’t have to put up with the shit that we do. We are the same generation that can wear pretty dresses and cut up your corpse in the same moment: because trust me, we know how to get blood out of our clothing.
You think women are little helpless flowers but I know at least a quarter of my lady friends with self-defense classes under their belts, at least half who can fight their way out of a chokehold with nothing but their carkeys like daggers in their fists, at least three-fourths who are so used to any kind of slur you can throw at them that they have four witty comebacks just resting on their backburners, and all of them - all of them - are baptized in the fire of another person’s violation, whether verbal or otherwise. You are not making the submissive housewives or the shy secretaries of your wet dreams. You have made dragons.
You have made mothers with sharp teeth who can balance eight different tasks and still remember your favorite dinner. You have made CEOs who do better work because they’re used to being told they’re sub-par. You are making artists and poets and musicians who’ve seen the dark in the world. You are making social justice warriors - I use this not as a defamation but as a banner, as the way they brand themselves because it is a battle, isn’t it, and nobody’s come out without their share of scars - you are making a generation of caustically beautiful ladies who have seen more shit by six a.m. than you have all your life and they still walk better in heels than you do in your boat shoes.
We do not invite your ‘nice guy’ into our beds, you’re right, because the nice guys of our lives have been our fathers asking us if we ‘are really going out in that,’ have been our best friend telling us that his girlfriend should give up sex because he’s paid for dinner, have been our uncles and brothers and the great gentlemen who hang out of their cars and laugh when the thirteen-year-old they just honked at jumps and looks terrified (but should totally accept the compliment as if it was a gift instead of the moment she recognizes she’s never going to be safe) -
you wanna know why we don’t let nice men into our beds? Because we rarely find them.
They’re out there, I know it, but they’re not the ones wetting themselves when a woman asks ‘why do you think that?’ instead of sitting back and letting him laugh with his buddies about femi-nazis. They’re out there and they’re probably as pissed as we are that at least one third of their population has openly admitted there are times when they think it’s okay to force their significant other to have sex: they’re out there, and the sad thing is, if you’re a male, you’re statistically not one of them. As far as we know, you don’t exist. You are a white knight only you believe in.
Here’s the thing about forcing people down: eventually they’re going to get strong enough to push right on back, and when you’ve spent the whole time sitting on your ass sinking your teeth into your healthy wage gap, you’re not going to be ready for it.
You’ve hurt us, over and over. When the time comes for us to hurt back, do you know how many of us are going to ask ‘Where was the mercy when I was begging like he is now? Where was that mercy when I got pregnant? Where was that mercy when I was called selfish for being a single parent? Where was that mercy when he forced himself on me? Where was that mercy, in anything?’
The thing about oppression is that it can only last for so long. You are not making yourself dominant, you’re making yourself weak. I’ve seen men crumble because they feel uncomfortable when they get hit on by other men as if the stench of their own mistakes is strangling them. I’ve seen them get impassioned because a teacher preferred females and I’ve laughed because I had eight other classes where it was reversed and in all of those eight, it went uncontested. I have legitimately punched a boy who said that a show for girls was shameful because it tries to teach lessons instead of catering to his desire for sex - as if just by liking something, he owns it. I’ve seen boys growl about women’s history month and had to wonder if they’ve ever held a textbook where the only names of girls are tiny footnotes. I’ve seen fathers ask why the curriculum I use for my six-year-olds is carefully gender neutral, why I let his son play at cooking or his daughter be a doctor.
I have never heard a mother complain except to beg me to get her little girl to talk more, to do more, to succeed - do you see? Do you see?
Here’s the thing about stepping on us: we have learned to stop licking your boots
and now we want to ruin you.
trust me, I know actual nice guys and they are nothing like your type. p.s your fly was down the whole time. /// r.i.d (via inkskinned)
This just in, dragons are a new symbol of femininity and I am down for that.
This is a great piece, but dragons have been a symbol of femininity a long time now for “non-Western” women, and it’s actually ridiculously dehumanizing, racist, AND sexist. Let’s just take into account women of color (aka the majority of women) into this “feminist” misandry, kthnx X
This is not equal representation:
This is equal representation:
SAY IT AGAIN ONE MOE TIME
Design that matters.
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