Every morning, navigating freezing fingers on a broken smart phone, I check what the argument of the day is on twitter.
It’s become extremely polarised of late. Shit’s gone down, columnists have left twitter in a huff, the New Statesman keeps publishing online articles by confused white people who don’t really get it, swathes of feminist activists online have been chastised for ‘infighting’ and ‘silencing’.
I don’t believe in the silencing conversation that’s currently being had on twitter in response to some of the more heated debates. I understand justifiable and righteous anger and how it can change the world, I think it is patronising to chastise that or dismiss it as infighting. I also think that an online culture that encourages us to consider how language constructs truth, marginalise voices and concentrates power is only a good thing.
That being said, I’m less confident about the discussions around very emotive topics on a social network that only allows expression in 140 characters or less. It’s too small a space for big ideas. I think it’s insufficient and stifling to say the least, and am always grateful to those twitter users who use blogs to write up their thoughts in more detail.
Indeed, everything I learnt about my feminist identity I sought out through online resources like The F Word, free easy to read and accessible to those with an internet connection. No, I don’t believe in silencing on twitter, much like I do not believe that it is a place to learn about new perspectives of feminism from. Feminist twitter users across the globe are tweeting their real life experiences and opinions- not their dissertations. None of them owe me an education . Google is my friend. An author once said that ‘in the age of information, ignorance is a choice.’
No, I don’t believe in that understanding of silencing. I do however; believe that we’re all connected by virtue of what we have and what we don’t. That is my understanding of how structural inequality, oppression and privilege works. Women’s oppression doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it exists because men rely on its continuation to perpetuate their comfortable status quo. My ease as a London commuter, jumping on and off buses and darting in and out of train stations, comes at a costly social expense- a transport system that is increasingly inaccessible to many disabled people. Liverpool and Bristol aren’t built up, beautiful cities by chance, they were cities that flourished with wealth during the transatlantic slave trade, exchanging tobacco, rice, rum, and black bodies for cash.
Liberalism’s tendency to look at injustice in a vacuum without examining privilege (how those who don’t suffer from it are complicit in its perpetuation) is a bankrupt concept. We waste our time when we fail to connect the tragic death of a transgender woman with the fact that cis people positioned as ‘normal’ contributes directly a culture of trans people constantly positioned as ‘abnormal’.
And for those defiant white, cis feminists out there, let me bring it to your level. This is the equivalent of a good man’s complicity in misogyny when he chooses not to speak up against sexism.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m very aware of the wilful ignorance surrounding these issues that stems from those who are hell bent on defending the status quo. Be that a privilege denying white woman, or a chap who knows that objectification of female flesh is wrong but doesn’t want to fall out with his mates.
But I must be clear that the perceived neutrality of the status quo is actively, institutionally brutal- it is structurally racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and ableist. I don’t believe that feminism, or the left as a whole, can continue any sort of principled stance against the status quo whilst perpetuating the status quo’s worst features in its own house.
With this stance, I don’t ask for perfection in your politics, but I do ask for perspective- understanding your place in the power structure that governs us all.
Finally- and I’m embarrassed that I have to even slightly indulge in the phenomenon of tone policing- I believe that we must choose our words of attack carefully. I’ve always been more of a Malcolm X kind of person than a Martin Luther King person. (One was radical in his delivery; the other pandered more to the humanity of his oppressors.) However, it can’t be denied that both delivered their messages with razor sharp language that cut through the white supremacy they sought to dismantle.
In any liberation movement, we will face ad hominem, derailing attacks from people who wilfully choose not to listen to the crux of our argument. We’ve seen that repeatedly over the past few months with derailing tactics that seek to delegitimise intersectional arguments- ‘cis is an insult’, ‘intersectionality is educational elitism’. These are retorts that fail to engage with the argument that we’re making: an argument that makes the case for a feminism for all women- one that examines the invisibility of whiteness, the assumed neutrality of cis people.
I believe in being radical in our message and doing it with dignity. We do that shit by staying on message and not giving them anything to chuck at us. I must admit that of late I’ve felt ashamed to call myself feminist because of some of the acts that have been done in the name of it. But I also refuse to abandon the value of feminists organising online, because I remember first questioning the status quo, tapping the word ‘feminism’ into google and finally finding people who think like me. Despite all the shit that’s gone down, I remind myself that what I believe in isn’t the advancement of some, but social justice for all.
Social justice. That’s the backbone of what brought me to the movement, that’s the backbone of my politics, and in feminism, social justice can be reclaimed.