intersectionalitywhiteladies

2013 – The year Intersectionality gave WoC their own voice

It’s that time of year, where journalists take a break from ‘serious reporting’ and instead compile lists reviewing the past year and their predictions for the coming year ahead. This is sort of like one of those lists except you won’t find it in any of the mainstream publications or on the lips of the commentariat. It seems pertinent to review the impact of intersectionality on marginalised women on the back of a year where many of us felt hopeful that, for the first time, we were challenging white supremacy with a legitimate ideology they’d have serious trouble rejecting and they responded in kind by abusing us, questioning our mental health and threatening us with rape and death threats; by painting us as liars and agent provocateurs, about as black and working class as Owen Jones. No one said it would be easy.. But it wasn’t so bad when our efforts paid off in the friendships we forged and the growing promise of true equality with the advent of intersectionality.

Almost a year ago I was accused of making it all up, for presenting a false version of myself, one that suffers racist abuse where there is no racism. I felt alone especially when the umpteenth person accused me of making things up for attention. If I had been a little sicker (I am heavily medicated at times), it would have probably been the end of my online mission to expose the rapists/racists one by one. What it inadvertently demonstrated was the typical ways in which WoC are ridiculed and caricaturised by white supremacists who don’t need to prove their assertions, their word alone is all another white person need hear. Yes, this was devastating for me, but not unusual. When I accused the wrong person of racism, it wasn’t that the racism hadn’t taken place at all, it had, it was just the WRONG person. I should have called David Starkey a vile racist and condemned BBC Question Time for giving him a platform but I’d got the wrong person. It is telling the racism perpetrated was lost in that debacle, the apology that was issued without question and forgiveness from the person I had personally offended also seemed to have vanished from the dominant white narrative, and the legacy is one of white people pulling ranks. It set the tone for 2013. It is telling that the year ended with Helen Lewis writing a piece where she exclaimed without a hint of irony “we should all be more open about the times when we were wrong” (of course it is one rule for white women and another for the rest).

If they thought I was the only woman of colour holding up the whole of intersectionality and slandering me was going to harm it in anyway then they are terribly naive and probably need to catch up. Here, I provide this service and present my Twitter feminist WoC (women I have had the pleasure of befriending post white feminisms) on their highs and lows of 2013 and how intersectionality spoke to them and brought us all together.

Aniqah (@AniqahC)

I hadn’t heard of intersectionality before this year. I only found out about it when I joined twitter again and started seeing “intersectional feminist” in people’s profiles. I can truthfully say that learning about intersectionality changed my life in that I felt comfortable in my own skin for the very first time. I used to separate and loathe each little part of myself; my dark skin, my religion, my gender, my sexual orientation- they just didn’t go together in the eyes of mainstream society. For the first time I feel INCLUDED in feminism as a Muslim, as a WoC, as a queer woman and it feels AWESOME. It’s also the first time I realised that yes- race, class, religion, identity ARE feminist issues and that I wasn’t any less of a feminist when dealing with these things.

Why isn’t intersectionality more well known? Why don’t I see all the wonderful WoC, LGBTQ feminists in the mainstream media? I grew up thinking that feminism was a WHITE movement and feeling ashamed of my own culture but I was wrong! There are and have been loads of WoC feminists all over the world. I feel very disappointed that these women DID exist but were just not allowed to sing from the rooftops like their white counterparts.

I feel very positive about 2014. I really think that intersectional feminism- a movement that fights for women across all walks of life- is only getting bigger and louder. Much louder.

Sook Min (@doloresonthedot)

Growing up as a working class WoC I was always aware that my relationship with oppression and privilege was different to the white women I was surrounded by, and always felt frustrated because I didn’t have the language to describe the racism I experienced and the differences of my experience to theirs. Using Twitter was a really revolutionary experience for me because it showed me that the language I need *does* exist and connecting with so many fantastic WOC who let me sound ideas off them and recommended me reading materials was incredibly liberating.

My personal highlight of the year #NotYourAsianSidekick, created by Suey Park, felt like a huge catharsis for me – finally I was able to speak openly about my experiences as an Asian woman and articulate the fears and concerns I have regarding anti-blackness within Asian communities – and instead of being shut down by other Asians, I was supported. It was a low point when I came to the realisation that white feminism as an ideology does not support WoC and other marginalised groups (trans* people, sex workers, disabled women, WoC who fall into all these oppressions too!) and would rather focus on “banknote feminism” than really addressing its own issues.

In the coming year (along with a few other wonderful women) I am planning to host a few discussions to examine different facets of the experiences of European PoC and our legacy of colonialism. I also think 2014 will be a great year for rejecting White Feminist values and hopefully translating some of the energy I feel into practical action!

To the cisters, the supremacists, the commentariat: We’re not here for you. We’re not here to make you comfortable. We’re not here to make this easy. We’re going to rock your world and dismantle your structures, and there’s nothing you can do about it!

Natalia (@SandiaElectrica)

I guess, as with many WoC, intersectionality was something I’ve always been aware of in a way. We live this stuff every day – this simultaneously gendered & racialised oppression. Then add into the mix a queer sexuality and mental health issues and I’ve known full well how these things interact and compound each other. From time spent on social media I have become more aware of the nuances and subtleties of how these things play out though. I’ve learned a lot from other WoC, especially black feminists, Trans* women and Disabled WoC.

There have been many highlights for me – although almost always tinged with some sadness or discomfort – but then I think that’s in the nature of progress against oppression. I’d say one of my favourite moments was when Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) started the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag. It was like a portal to the reality of WoCs lives – where you could see others and in turn be seen by them – a backlash against the usual erasure. It felt like a real turning point. Of course there were the usual white tears and tone policing – the monstering & accusations of ‘reverse racism’ and calls for assimilation under the guise of unity are still going on now, but I feel like we built a stronger sense of community in that moment. We can see each other more clearly now and we know we’ve got each other’s backs.

I think the low point for me has got to be the Fisher Vampire’s castle/Russell Brand period. It’s weird because this also had a sort of dual, bittersweet nature in terms of what it brought up. It was really crushing to see people who had previously made all the right noises with respect to feminism laud this profoundly hateful attack – it was like a big fat fuck you to everything that is of the deepest concern to myself and those like me. The same with Brand – the willingness to sweep the inconvenient misogyny under the carpet so people could align themselves with this faux-everyman predator. Having said that, it’s been said many times now, it did polarise people and force many off the fence. It was painful at times to see which camp people chose, but also heart-warmingly surprising to find allies you never knew you had. It’s forced a praxis to the seemingly empty words that irritated me for so long.

I expect in 2014, racists, sexists, transphobes etc. will probably double down on their denial or hatred – and I think the reason for this is that despite all this talk of fractures and a lack of unity there is actually a growing unity among the marginalised. I think some of our voices are starting to break through and I feel like we are less afraid in a way. I feel like we’re getting louder and harder to ignore and it’s because we’re doing it for ourselves rather than holding our hands out, asking to be ‘tolerated’.

My end of year message to white feminism? You are fast becoming as irrelevant to us as we are to you.

Jude (@judeinlondon)

Prior to this year I was aware very vaguely of the term intersectionality but hadn’t explored it. I came to understand it better from following fantastic feminists & women and I realised that intersectionality was merely the term for every experience I’d had in life since birth.

I think primarily it was just the bringing together of women who had long been silenced to shout back louder in unison. There were many individual highlights but that was the most heartening for me, personally. A good thing really considering the constant misapplication & wilfully ignorant understanding of intersectionality from white mainstream feminism. I predict mainstream feminism will step up its attempts to co-opt and appropriate intersectionality. They’ve seen it’s not going away and now they regroup to try and control it.

They’re worried, and they should be. 2014 is not their year, it’s ours.

Fatiha (@Hijabinist)

Intersectionality has been a part of my feminism for years because I’m a Muslim women and I wear hijab, so intersectionality is my lived experience. A lot of islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry is very gendered and a lot of the gender based discrimination I face is tied to the fact that I’m muslim, a convert and a ‘hijabi’.

I’ve done a lot of my intersectional learning on twitter and I think it’s a great forum for marginalised folks to share ideas and support each other. The support I’ve got on twitter has been a highlight for me. It’s my experience that people we think of as mainstream, white cis feminists generally aren’t supportive of muslim women and have a very simplistic and patronising understanding of the issues we face. Meanwhile trans women, women of colour, and sex workers have all been very supportive. Women who find themselves pushed to the margins by mainstream cis white feminism end up sticking together.

There have been some real low points this year that had me facepalming to myself. One was during the Stand With Wendy protests in Texas, when someone dressed up in a burqa with a crown and sash saying “Ms Texas”. How can feminism support Muslim women when Muslim women’s bodies are used as a symbol of oppressive misogyny? When I spoke up about it of course a bunch of people leapt in to defend the costume. There was another incident where Boris Johnson made a remark about women only going to university to meet husbands. This got picked up by the Everyday Sexism project and they spent several hours tweeting and retweeting women’s (non-marriage-related) reasons for going to university. In fact the comment had been made specifically about Muslim women of colour. There was an added racial and religious connotation to the remark but of course that got erased in the rush to play a fun new hash tag game. Then at the end of the year Laurie Penny had to nerve to write an article claiming that it was racist men who were corrupting feminism with their nasty islamophobia! If this year has taught me anything it’s that feminists are quite capable of bringing in the islamophobia, racism and transphobia all on their own.

Fortunately twitter and blogs remain a great platform for us to push back against this kind of exclusionary feminism. I think we’re going to see the push back get more organised and more vocal in the coming year and I expect to see a lot more subversive hashtags and twitter movements. Someone said to me recently that they felt that a seismic shift was coming and I agree with that.

So to the Cis White Feminism Brigade I say this: your time has well and truly passed.

29 comments

  1. Sorry, I got cut off. Interesting blog, but I’m afraid it doesn’t seem very intersectional. From this reading, intersectional feminism appears to be about letting young, childless women “find themsevles”.

    That’s laudable in its way, but there is a huge swathe of women’s experience that doesn’t even figure here – maternity leave rights, childcare provision, the pay gap, what it’s like to be low paid in a rural community where you have to get two buses to work. What about caring responsibilties, which women should much more of the burden of? What about older women, who face ageist discrimination at work, and reduced pensions because they took time out to care for children and didn’t pay enough NI contributions? What about the physically disabled (all the focus here seems to be on mental health)?

    I don’t see any of that here. Obviously I am pleased that the feminist movement is getting less white, and middle-class, and straight and cisgendered. But that’s not an end in itself.

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  2. The blogpost even has “WoC” in the title, and you, Louise, seem to be complaining that it’s too focused on erm…WoC. *Goes to B&Q to complain they don’t sell sausages*

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    1. Exactly! This piece offers the experience of several women who have gained deeper understanding, mutual support and commitment to activism through an intersectional approach and praxis in feminism. It doesn’t claim to confine intersectionality to those experiences or to specific principles.

      If anything, it says to me that as Intersectionality has given a voice to Women of Colour, it can likewise give a voice to other marginalised women, including older women, women with physical disabilities, women with care responsibilities, rural women, etc.

      There is nothing to stop them likewise learning, sharing and collaborating – and I’m aware that many ARE doing just this. It’s not for the women contributing to THIS article to do that.

      However, why do you assume that none of the contributors haven’t also experienced some of these forms of marginalisation, just because they haven’t mentioned it in THIS particular piece? Your comment about “young, childless women finding themselves,” comes across as extremely patronising.

      Whether intended or not Louise, your contribution actually illustrates why many women who DO experience multiple and intersecting forms of oppression feel alienated and excluded from “mainstream” feminism.

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    1. Yeah, it may well be the case that all these women are cis. But when my trans sisters, brothers and siblings are having difficulties with TERFs and other transphobic “feminists”, who comes to help us and give solidarity and to say “Hey, that’s Not Okay” and to stick by us? It’s overwhelmingly women of colour, disabled women and sex-working women. Those women that cis white feminism still regularly exclude and leave behind. That is what intersectionality looks like in practice, people working together to fight *all* the oppressions facing women, not just those they directly affect them individually.

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  3. I am white (half English/half Arab) and I have been reading a great deal about intersectionality. I appreciate it isn’t “for me”, but it has opened my eyes and increased my understanding of how WoC view the world and different issues. I think it’s made me a more open minded and thoughtful person. It has helped me accept some of the identity issues I have felt in that I am very blond, but half Arab and why I get so offended when people say in a complimentary way “well you don’t look Arab”. It has also helped me understand why my father is frustrated at post colonial attitudes in the UK. Therefore, thank you!

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  4. I applaud you giving others a chance to speak and share their experiences as they are interesting and heartfelt.
    To be honest, this will help the intersectional movement more than your pledge to take on racists one by one, as since you don’t seem to have moved on from Helen Lewis, it’s not going very productively. Especially as to those of us new to Twitter, but who read her work and your blogs, it’s not clear how or why she is. I would urge you to look at some of the big themes your contributors have brought to the table – including Louise – and move past your own experience of a single historical episode concerning a single woman, otherwise we’re going to drown in micro-identity-politics.

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    1. Amazing. Did Helen Lewis lie about me? Yes. Did she affect my reputation? Yes. Did she say she was going to delete her skewed version of events and then republish because she didn’t like being called out on her bigotry? Yes. Has she since apologised and admitted she got it wrong? No. So what exactly are you asking of me? Roll over like a good little Asian girl and accept the rape and death threats she and her clique brought my way? How very white feminist of you.

      Never letting it go. Might seem like a useless waste of my time to you but then it would, it’s not your life white supremacists are fucking with. Seriously, do one.

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      1. I didn’t see any lie. I saw her ask you, person to person, what the evidence was for calling another woman a racist. As it turned out, you didn’t have the right person so her challenge was fair.
        But this doesn’t fit the narrative you seem to have created so nothing I can offer here. Just that I think you’re clearly a bright person with a passion for politics and this introspection is not going to help you achieve your goals, ultimately. Goodbye.

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      2. Genuine question: what specific lie did HL tell about you? I’ve tried digging around but couldn’t see a reference/link to the actual incident. I’d like to have it in my back pocket when needed, if that makes sense.

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      3. When I made the false allegation of racism, as soon as I discovered my error which was as a result of meds induced brain fog, I immediately apologised to the person I’d offended and she graciously forgave me. Helen decided to leave this bit out. She originally deleted her version of events when she agreed that it was bullying and I wasn’t in the best health but then republished it out of spite. She’s since harped on about admitting when you’re wrong can be this wonderful thing yet when I did it I was hung out to dry. Racism is not limited to the word ‘paki’ it is the way in which we are misrepresented, vilified, made a scapegoat/an example of. Helen Lewis is a racist and I would very much like her to sue me for libel so I can prove it isn’t by showing the world the truth.

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  5. Jude said:

    “Prior to this year I was aware very vaguely of the term intersectionality but hadn’t explored it. I came to understand it better from following fantastic feminists & women and I realised that intersectionality was merely the term for every experience I’d had in life since birth.”

    These words are the most poignant & righteous STFU to any feminists who attempt to co-opt intersectionality while derailing, silencing and erasing Women of Colour

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  6. Speaking as a white working class bloke who used to hold the view that the issue of class was all important and trumped pretty much everything else, I find this piece and the collection of voices on it incredibly useful in introducing a lot of much needed nuances into my world view. For some strange reason, as I get older I seem to be bucking the trend and getting less dogmatic in how I see the world and more open to new thinking. It was about a year ago that I heard the term intersectionality – I admit that my first reaction to a six syllable word was that it was just another academic term that wouldn’t relate to my day to day political work. However, curiosity took over and I started doing some reading around and while there’s a lot to take on board in terms of nuances, intersectionality started to make a lot of sense…

    For starters, it has made me think a lot more about the range of oppressions in the world, where they originate and how they overlap. It’s also made me recognise where I do have privileges – and also where I don’t.. I’ve always been aware of the range of oppressions but hadn’t put in the effort to start thinking in depth about the inter-relationships between them. The positive bit for me was that once I started to get more of a grasp of how various oppressions work and inter-relate, I could see more clearly how different struggles can start to relate to and work with each other. Sadly, there are still a lot of so called radicals who don’t see this… One instance of this was the mindless uncritical fawning over a few glib comments about ‘revolution’ Russell Brand made to Paxman on Newsnight. The number of so-called comrades who were falling over themselves to excuse Brand’s misogynistic behaviour was to my mind a sign of how bankrupt the thinking of some people in the radical movement is.

    For those white working class male activists who have been dismissive of feminism, quite possibly because they have only experienced the white middle class version of it, I’d recommend taking a look at intersectionality because it offers an interesting way of linking struggles and making everyone stronger in the process. As a white working class bloke, the conventional view is that I should feel excluded / offended by the way intersectionality is presented – yet the more I read about it, the more it makes sense and offers a positive way forward from the ‘call out’ culture practised by certain white middle class feminists. It also makes me realise that there is still a lot of work to do at the radical end of the political spectrum to make sure that marginalised voices are given a genuine hearing and not patronised. In other words, I’m starting to learn when to STFU and really listen to someone’s experience of oppression and to take that seriously and do whatever I can to show then some meaningful solidarity. I realise that I’m not perfect and will still make mistakes but I’m on the journey…

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    1. thank you very much for your comment. all too often intersectionality is dismissed for being too academic but people like us get it , with just a little reading and the will to want to learn, change, grow. so it’s just an excuse to scoff at it when they’re really afraid the world might actually turn on its head and they won’t be so special after all.

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  7. I’ve considered myself a feminist and male ally to women for quite some time. When I took my first Women’s Studies class two years ago with Professor Denise Witzig, little did I know that it would take me down an unsuspecting, beautiful, and transformative path towards feminism. Below, I’ve complied a list of 101 everyday ways for men to be allies to women. I must acknowledge that this post was written with cisgender, heterosexual men as a possible, target audience due to the lack of support from this group. However, I feel that many of these points are applicable on a broader scale. If you have suggestions or additions to this list, I’ve included my email at the end of this post. I’m totally open to dialogue. While some of these points were suggested to me by friends, most of them come from my personal experience with allyship and feminist activism.

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