LGBTQ

OITNB and Islamophobia

It’s rare to find a piece of popular culture that isn’t hugely problematic in some way. The mainstream media caters for the mainstream, an audience that finds humour in human suffering. If this sounds a bit far-fetched, consider the ways in which comedians hit back at victims of abuse when we have asked them to stop giving rapists the green light with their rape ‘jokes’, those witty bantz where the punchline is like a blow to the stomach, knocking the wind from unsuspecting victims of abuse further victimised by those extracting joy from their pain and calling it comedy, and then some more, by defenders of free speech but only the sort of speech that maintains existing structures of power and control and hierarchy; hate speech most often espoused by the white middle class commentariat, framed as genuine concerns for the maintenance of society, for the betterment of us all, yet translates into violence against the most vulnerable; women of colour, trans people, Muslim people.. Those voices we never hear because they are so marginalised, the ones who cannot defend themselves against the charges made against them because the white middle class heteronormative media controls our perceptions on all.

This is why Orange is the New Black was such a resounding success. Women in prison as a genre is a sure fire way to pull in the viewing numbers; if you’re old enough to remember Prisoner Cell Block H (or have been watching Wentworth – a 21st century spin off based in the same Australian prison), this has been a winning formula in reaching a specific audience because they are so frequently overlooked; those working class women doing time for survival in a patriarchal world. There are the shoplifters; women criminalised for stealing food or nappies, serving disproportionate sentences when comparing with males because women are not supposed to commit crime and are therefore punished more harshly to serve as a deterrent, but there are also those women encumbered by their acts of resilience, those who finally snapped and stabbed their abuser to death. We may not have served time at her majesty’s convenience but we do know what it is to suffer a woman’s lot in life, and this exploration of hardship and injustice keeps us hooked.

It should be easy to maintain focus on the inequalities women face without resorting to microagressions; however I was disappointed to find that my latest fave is threatening to be just as problematic as the rest. Before I begin to take it apart I feel it is relevant I make a full disclosure about my beliefs because I am frequently told I have only reacted in this way because I am a Muslim.

I am not a Muslim. I was once but I ran away as fast as I could. It took many years for me to come to the conclusion that I could not blame every last Muslim for the horrendous ways in which God was used by some of them to control me. It is not God who demands murder and rape, rather humans using the authority of God to justify their abusive practices. God, in any religion, acts for peace. It is with this fair conclusion I judge the writers of OITNB for being so disingenuous in their not so subtle reinforcement of the mind-set that Muslims are there for the ridiculing.

SPOILER ALERT – The prison is infested with bedbugs, all soft furnishings and books must be incinerated to prevent the pests from spreading further. A small gathering discusses the books that were burned, the Catholic nun character is on hand to correct Morello when she states all of the books were gone. “Not true” she asserts “there was one book they were afraid to burn” which Sister Ingalls immediately follows with a dramatic sigh as though she was suggesting that even she, as a Catholic – with all their pomp and ceremony – thinks it ridiculous to consider it a sacred text exempt from the rules to which we must all adhere. Morello responds “I stand corrected – there is a bug infested Quran.”

If this was the first mention of the Quran and a bonfire in western history you may be forgiven for thinking I am seeking issues where there are none, but you’d have had to been living on the moon to deny the continuity of this theme, especially when it’s a bunch of Americans alluding to it. Not a week goes by without another story of some Yankee yahoo threatening to buy up all the Qurans and burn them, a flagrant attempt at fanning the flames of bigotry, because those sorts of people actively seek war and know which buttons to press. Burn a bunch of poppies and see the calm Christians and even secularists fired up for vengeance because burning a book or a paper flower isn’t the random inconsequential act antagonists profess it to be.

Later on in the show, Vause is seen reading the Quran and makes an unnecessary statement about how she is probably forbidden from touching/reading the Quran but she washed her hands and figures an omniscient God would appreciate this. Just a suggestion but perhaps the show’s producers could have asked a Muslim queer for the lowdown on what is and isn’t permissible? They could even look into the positive things Islam does and encourages in its followers, for eg, recognising that trans people have a right to state funded surgery because Allah has made it our duty to save all people and treat them to good health if it is within our power to do so. This doesn’t fit western narratives though.

Yes, the Quran is a sacred book to its followers. Yes, it is given the respect one affords to a sacred artefact, it is kept in a safe place and one must be ritually cleansed in order to touch it. This is a fact. Similar could be said for the Bhagavad Gita or even the bible. That’s the thing about religious texts; they are sacred to their followers. Just because that Catholic nun thought it preposterous the Quran was given special treatment doesn’t mean there aren’t evangelical Christians who’d justify killing you for disrespecting their holy bible. Again, it is people who are fundamental in their interpretations of religion and like there are some Christian fanatics murdering abortionists yet failing to see the incongruence between their beliefs and their actions there are Muslims who will use God to justify misogyny and violence. There are also atheists demanding the culling of religious sorts because they allegedly cause war and stuff without an awareness of how ironic their solution to dehumanisation and depravity is to mirror those things we protest in extremists.

This is the crux of my ill feelings towards the framing of social narratives in the 3rd season of OITNB. The Quran and its followers have not only been posited as these people who consider themselves above the laws governing everyone else but also as the worst offender. Consider the makeover given to Pennsatucky. Be reminded that she was actually a homophobic bible bashing snitch who was employed by prison staff to rat out inmates suspected of lesbian activity. Suddenly she’s a reformed ally and lover of all things LGBTQIA, supporting Boo in her butchness? Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that Pennsatucky isn’t so violently racist and sexually shaming as she once was, I just object to the fact she’s elevated to a human position where she is capable of empathy and being part of a system even if it means completely demolishing her belief system and replacing it with an idea of what an acceptable human should be; the two are too far removed from each other for it to be a natural process, especially when they’re driving home the message that Islam is the one to watch. Instead I believe this to be an intentional move in which the writers, or whoever, get their childish jabs in at something they don’t understand or care for, in a bid to improve their ratings, reaching out to the mainstream they’re appealing to by confirming prejudices, showing solidarity to those on the same side (because Muslim queers don’t exist and therefore won’t be offended because they wouldn’t have seen the show cos it so full of sin or something).

I loved OITNB for its portrayal on the diversity of women and sexuality. For every racist, sexist trope the show explored there was a positive character to speak out for that way of life but as time goes on the characters fall into lazy racial stereotyping; homophobic Latinas and white queers, as though queer women of colour do not exist in equal numbers. Trans women for eg found a beautiful representative in Laverne Cox, she gives as good as she gets (the transphobia doesn’t let up much, even in the 3rd season) making her a perfect role model for those seeking out idols. The same cannot be said for Muslim women, perhaps because in reality they’re immediately shipped off to Guantanamo without trial, whatever the offence.


Only four episodes in, but this new series is way worse so far. The points you mention seem symptomatic of it reaching out for some mainstream populism which is totally diluting what made it great. I find it quite bizarre that we’re supposed to want the prison stay open, and cheer when it survives due to privatisation! I don’t want the prison to stay open, I want a work strike which unites everyone against the authorities, or I want the place to burn.

Adam Ford

(Since writing this piece I have seen a little more of the 3rd season and it doesn’t get any better. Soso makes an entirely irrelevant reference to stoning women in Iran and various characters join in with antisemitic remarks, no doubt triggering for some considering the nature of the ‘jokes’, and later on we get a reference to a Somali pirate thrown in for good measure. The disparaging comments against Jews don’t let up either.)

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.

I speak as someone who expected better

Ah, Twitter feminism. I had such high hopes. Remember ‘I did not report’? Wasn’t that ground breaking? When we told each other ‘I believe you’ it felt like finally, everyone understood and we really could be seen as equals because when twitter feminism allowed for us to be heard it was something many of us had never experienced before. I suppose we took it for granted we could expect solidarity on the back of successes like these. I know that Twitter gave me a voice. I thought people enjoyed listening to it, I really believed I was being heard and that was very empowering. Week Woman, Glosswitch, these women joined Twitter at the same time as I did and I thought of them as friends, sisters definitely. It was all going so well so what happened?

Well y’see, my peers hadn’t actually had a direct falling out with me. As a result of some pretty serious transphobic abuse Twitter feminism was about to suffer a crisis. There were those of us that were horrified at the sort of language leftie white feminists felt entitled to use and we responded accordingly, with refutations on our blogs and zero tolerance for the abuse and oppression of any marginalised group under our feminism. They responded by turning their backs on us. They responded by telling us we were not feminists. They did this by writing their own blog. Many of the older more experienced cisters made their feelings known by simply unfollowing and locking down their accounts. At least that way they could be abusive without being called out. It was perhaps one of the youngest in their set who expressed their feelings for them and consequently suffered a large part of the fallout when it was published. In essence what Hannah was saying was stop telling the white commentariat cisters off for being transphobic; you don’t have to agree with what’s being said but solidarity in the face of patriarchy. She wanted the right to say problematic things and not face the shame of being called out for abusive behaviour; why should she have to dm things that were probably none of her business, dammit, she should have the right to say stupid, hurtful, HARMFUL things whenever she wants. Except what Hannah failed to see was we were protesting because in fact that kind of behaviour was patriarchal in its very nature.

Patriarchy doesn’t like femininity. Radical feminism doesn’t care for it much either. I can’t be the only one to have noticed the difference in how trans men and women are treated, by wider society and in this context, Twitter feminists. Yes, trans men do also suffer abuse but it is trans women who face the worst kinds of persecution. Around half of all trans people will commit suicide. How can anyone actively side with a feminism which encourages behaviour that ensures that figure? Cathy Brennan, assigned female at birth receiving your solidarity is more important than the lives of countless trans women? How the hell do you expect us to react to this? Do you really think we have any option to fall in line? The raddest of radfems were charged by the support of Twitter feminism and they continue their campaigns to stalk and manipulate the most vulnerable people with abandon. If you, Caroline, or you, Cath had given trans women your solidarity then, they would not have to suffer the doxing and harassment they still do. Your silence, your politician’s style of answering the challenges thrown to you meant that you were complicit in the transphobe’s actions; you were complicit in abuse, regardless of whether or not you were showing cister solidarity. You are just as much to blame for the suffering our trans sisters face. When will YOU apologise for this?

We get accused of making people ill by not letting up. What about our mental/physical health? Oh I see, the onus is on us, the oppressed, to make the first step. We must submit and admit we’re wrong. It doesn’t matter that many of us are medicated because we have been denied/minimised/made to feel insignificant/worthless our whole lives and Twitter feminism continues to do that. We must do as we’ve always had to do, apologise when we are victimised, engage with abusers against our will. Yes, it comes back to me because I know me better than anyone else; when I was whizzing off my face on antidepressants and enough codeine to knock out a horse you all stood by while the commentariat lied and fucked me over. Weren’t you worried about my mental health then?

It does amuse me when I see the white cisters exasperated at other white twitter feminists for not siding with them. They can’t understand why anyone would support a cause as though they’re just riding on our coat tails and are defying the cisters out of spite or some shit, what other reason could they have for being so vocal about privilege? I am not trans* but I felt the need to show my solidarity at The Guardian protest. Does that make me a fake? I wasn’t there to fight racism, I was just there as an ally. Do the white cisters know what it means to be an ally? I guess not, perhaps that’s why they struggle with intersectionality so much.

Hey Caroline, how psychologically scarred do you think I am as a result of the past year? I know you literally don’t give a shit. Do you see why you drive me up the wall? How mentally draining is it for me do you think to be perceived as just some Asian girl with a chip on her shoulder when you KNOW the amount of abuse I have suffered on here? Do you remember when I tried to express how wrong it was of Bobbie to repeatedly refer to me as an Indian girl? What did you say then? You didn’t listen did you? You tried to tell me I was wrong for feeling that way about her on account of what a lovely person she was. I think that was more or less the last time we had a civil word. You don’t get to define racism, people experiencing it do. As PoC we are often infantilised and if I had a pound for every time someone assumed my heritage, I’d bury them in it. You’re saying you don’t know this? Or did you think I was lying? Or did you simply not care?

Caroline, if you want our support, issue a statement of YOUR support for marginalised women. You are in a position of privilege and power now you’ve had ‘success’ with your banknotes, you are in a position to do some good. Condemn the abuse our trans sisters face and make changes, you have the following to achieve that. Unless you’re afraid of losing that following? Maybe contact Southall Black Sisters and lend your support to their next campaign, I think that would be amazing really. You could get your Sky News contacts to do a piece about it. No?

I don’t find any pleasure from yet another Twitter feminism fight. I was sad in the early days, angry for a long time and just very bitter now. I am sorry Twitter feminism failed so spectacularly but I am not worried about this. What we say play out was an example of feminism irl. It doesn’t matter that feminism looks broken from the outside or that some women don’t even want to be feminists at all, feminism isn’t dead, it’s evolving. The only people who think it’s had its day are the ones who subscribed to the old equality for white women brand. That’d be patriarchy and the white cisters. In my opinion there has never been a more exciting time for all those who didn’t belong. Twitter feminism gave us our voices and the opportunity to meet up irl. Our protests are getting bigger and louder because unlike the white cisters, we’re all in it together.

There is no anarchism without feminism

I’d never been to bookfair before. I was very excited to be attending; had been looking forward to looking at books and collecting badges and I knew everyone I loved would be there. Not a lot of that happened though. I went home with two badges (the best two badges there in my opinion ‘my body is my business’ and ‘keep your rosaries of my ovaries’) and a stiff body and sore throat.

Within an hour of arriving we had to face the dreaded white man from down under. I’d heard there was some drama at last year’s bookfair but my memory isn’t the best so had forgotten the details apart from the fact that he was a misogynist and had upset some of our fem bloc. Well, it was clear to see and hear why this might have been. Stood on a bench he was spouting the usual Assange rape apologist bullshit about how there is “no rape without a charge” and that it simply didn’t happen. Of course we weren’t going to let that go. “Rape apologist” we shouted as his face screwed up into a grimace, a small crowd gathered round him. He started pointing at Stavvers, for some reason becoming utterly fixated with her red boots and sniping that she was an imperialist and he didn’t have to listen to her. So I stepped up and asked him what I was, surely he couldn’t excuse me in the same manner? I was wrong.

“Your culture,” he spat, “has invaded my culture for the last 800 years!” I must admit, I was a little confused by this. I might be British by birth but it certainly wasn’t my choice and my ancestors are traditionally those who have been raped and pillaged by imperialists so I couldn’t get my head around what he meant. “You’re a British imperialist!” He said this a few times but it didn’t make a difference in my comprehension. Here was this white man with an Australian accent and hefty mousey dreadlocks accusing me of racially controlling him and I wasn’t happy. This is where I got a bit sweary. I asked him what he meant by that as I made a point of looking at my skin and he replied “well, your accent is really English.” This person clearly hasn’t spent any time in this country or spoken to any people of colour living in Western societies otherwise he’d know that accents have very fucking little to do with a person’s roots. That and he’s a big fat racist. We called him that and we called him a rape apologist. A couple of his supporters really didn’t like that. One man, with his fuzzy mullet and flat cap brought his camcorder right into my face, his lips shaking, trying to intimidate me into silence. ANY anarchist worth their fucking politics knows you do not film comrades so with this in mind, we assumed he was a copper and called it as such. He didn’t like that. Dread man called us ‘hysterical’ and we all whooped. There were calls for making the most of it with a game of manarchist bingo as things went from ridiculous to brain numbingly tedious. He randomly accused two of our group of killing 11 people in Northern Ireland, accusing one of them of being Northern Irish.

The crowd around us got bigger, comrades very much on our side and the others, men who seemed utterly heartbroken (pissed off) that we were chanting “kill all men”. One well-meaning chap explained how his mum was a feminist and how he had support for women but he felt alienated by phrases such as the one we were using. Assuming he was an anarchist, I asked him if he’d ever said ‘ACAB’ or ‘eat the rich’ and then whether he said these in the absolute belief that there wasn’t a single good cop in the world or that he might actually munch on the upper classes because if he was saying it, then he obviously he meant it. There was a slight pause before he understood what I was saying but he persisted in advising that we were pushing the average man away.

Here’s the thing: we don’t give a shit about the average man. We’re not teachers, we’re not leaders, we’re not going to break it down for you in a language you understand. We are expressing ourselves, nothing more, nothing less. We say these extreme things because, powerless as we are, sometimes it is the only thing in our arsenal. Words are powerful, yes, and for those fleeting few seconds, we are in control and you can’t hurt us.

As the crowd dissipated we made our way to the foyer for the AnarchaFem conference but on the way in, we were confronted by fuzzy mullet man. His face started twitching again, he must have really been resisting the impulse to physically attack me, his whole demeanour was triggering of the men who have attacked me in the past. I felt eerily calm, pushing his finger down when he pointed it in my face and moving into his space to see how he liked it. “Do you believe in free speech?” He repeated this over and over. Comrades shouted “rape apologist cop!” at him but this didn’t change his stance. It was only when a male comrade physically put his body between us that this manz sloped off, the bulk of my male friend clearly too much of a challenge.

If we thought an AnarchaFem conference was going to leave us any more confident about the bookfair then those hopes were soon dashed. They had a safer spaces policy that I really got on board with but I couldn’t say that it made me feel any safer on the premises. I raised the point with the people facilitating the meeting. Whilst it felt safe-ish in the room, the journey to the room had left us afraid and feeling remarkably unsafe. They replied that they knew Ciaron O Reilly was back this year and were aware of the problems he had caused the previous year so we could meet at the end and discuss how we were going to tackle it. With this covered we moved on to the subject of self-defined women only safe spaces for the AnarchaFem conference. It turned out this wasn’t it but a strategy meeting for setting one up. Most of the discussion with other anarcha fems seemed progressive until one woman suggested we needed a safe space where we could “discuss divisive subjects like sex work and abortion”.  This is where the meeting went downhill. As was rightly pointed out by one of our irl comrades, we come to an anarcha fem space safe in the knowledge that if you are identifying as an anarchist you have rejected the system and discussions such as the one proposed are had by anarchists every day when combatting bigotry. This should not be the starting point; we should already have come to the conclusion that our feminism is inclusive. We might have our own feelings about sex work and abortion, heck, I have my own feelings about some Muslims but I’m not about to force my feelings on others because of the twisted experiences I have personally had. From outside the room we heard shrieking and through the small glass panel I saw some of dread man’s supporters heckling and pointing at us. When they were asked to leave, they said they didn’t follow rules cos anarchy. When advised they couldn’t drink outside a room where a safe space policy was in place, they jeered at us and said “are you gonna stop calling him a rape apologist?” We told them this was room focused on survivors and they had no business being on the landing and then another man from a meeting around the corner came to have a go but not at them, as though we were the troublemakers. On speaking to other comrades, many of the workshops had similar problems; one of them even had survivors and perpetrators in the same space with someone sat at the door to ensure people couldn’t leave. There were people crying and shaking. This is not my anarchism. This is patriarchy.

Leaving the meeting we quickly became aware that dread man was stirring trouble up again. The entrance to the building was crammed with people posturing towards a centre point. Assangites in Anon masks were taking pictures and filming people again. TELL ME, HOW IS THIS ANARCHIST? I rightly got very angry and tried to push the camera out of one of the women’s hands but she was really enjoying herself. Dread man was spouting some nonsense about ‘Branning’ and I remembered hearing somewhere many anon types were struggling with the fact that Chelsea Manning is who she is. I said her name was Chelsea Manning and it affected him for all of a split second before he went on a bizarre rant about the Clintons and Chelsea being Hilary’s daughter and imperialist conspiracies yadda yadda. We started chanting “her name is Chelsea Manning” and then he pointed at me, “America and that woman over there, she is the most dangerous woman in the world!” I won’t lie, this made me sorta happy. But seriously, me, 5 foot brownie with invisible disabilities is the biggest threat that man thinks the world has to face. I agree about America but how, HOW am I on a par with that rogue state there? Obviously he’s a completely ridiculous manz with an ego the size of Australia, just like Assange.

What can be done about Anarchism? This was my first experience of anarchists outside of my close knit activist group. I am hoping we are the majority and we can eliminate the patriarchal fucks intent on maintaining power and control structures otherwise I am seriously going to have to rethink my identity.

Feminism for all or none at all

I wish the MRAs of the world would spontaneously combust so I could express myself without thinking of them as the only reason not to. In saying this I realise they cannot be the reason I censor myself and especially not on something so crucial. I am horrified at the ways in which the cisters are conducting themselves at the moment. I am reminded of Pastor Niemoller and his infamous words “then they came for me”. I cannot in good conscience sit by whilst my comrades are dehumanised and othered in such a casual manner. I will have to object to this establishment at every turn.

A few months back I was recruited to a group hoping to set in motion the first feminist party the UK has ever seen. My initial thoughts were this was a good thing, without putting too much thought into the detail; it would be a first and a step up in the hierarchy. This before I’d discovered the principles of Anarchy and why reform is unacceptable. I took objection to the fact that I’d been recruited and wasn’t drawn to it organically and a quick glance at the names of the mailing list recipients revealed a very white middle class bunch who were actively having to recruit members to fill equal opportunity quotas. It made me feel uneasy because of its resemblance to the patriarchy.  For example, this particular line jarred me; “people we need, previously raised: economists, women of colour, disabled women.” I am having trouble understanding why this line exists as it does and would appreciate some clarification. Of course I didn’t feel comfortable approaching this with my fellow party members, they were leading the conversation and as a minority I felt unable to object. I felt at this point that I would have to take a back seat and asked to be kept informed although I would not be actively contributing.

I have watched incredulously the ways in which they discuss anyone who is not white and cis gendered. They claim to be a party for all self-identifying women yet happily invite discussion like this:

“Self-identification does not a woman make. If this party is open to ‘self-identified ‘women’, I want nothing to do with it – in fact I will lobby and campaign hard against it. This is a travesty. Trans women are *men*. Fullstop. “

“I cannot support this as woman is not something one can self-identify as. Men can not be women.” Sic

“Whilst I do accept the spirit of this wholeheartedly, I believe expressing it in these terms is likely to bring problems up in the future. Because the power to deem a term ‘discriminatory’ or ‘offensive’  will rest on the person being addressed, there’s the potential for almost anything and everything to be found ‘discriminatory’ or ‘offensive’ on almost any ground. In other words, yes to not using offensive language, but we may have to determine for ourselves what ‘offensive’ means (within reason).

ANY OTHER EQUAL OPPS RULES YOU’D LIKE TO CHANGE TO FIT YOUR OWN AGENDA? ALSO, MUST NOT LET THE MINORITIES HAVE ANY POWER; IT’S BETTER IF IT SITS WITH US, THE POWERFUL ONES.

In fairness they were discussing the motion to invite trans women and it was passed by 16 votes to 3 but in any truly equal space, comments like the ones above would have been immediately challenged not “Please see a breakdown of the voting in the attached file as well as the comments people made, some of which it would be good to address.” Why aren’t they resulting in an automatic expulsion for hateful speech?

If the party wasn’t so intent on filling quotas of people they don’t actually care for, we might see their true colours. Recruiting WoC, disabled women and accountants (FFS) seems to be an afterthought and only because the law requires them to. Is there also a law stipulating a trans woman quota? It’d be about the only reason for involving them, based on how they seem to discuss their involvement. Or is it merely a reaction to the discourse around Intersectionality? Are they aware of its rapid growth and feigning compliance to secure votes? Whatever their reasons, I cannot say they have my support.

These are my privileges

Towards the end of last year I was hit with a couple of uncomfortable truths. My immediate reaction was to balk at the suggestions and defend myself with what I thought were righteous assertions. The first, that I as a British Asian woman had the right to feel suspicious of Muslim men as a result of the hounding I had been subjected to my entire life and secondly, there was no way my age could be considered a privilege because I had spent most of those years running away from my complete lack of said privilege. I also hadn’t completely got to grips with my cis privilege and didn’t know how to react to a trans woman of colour attacking me for alienating her. I didn’t know what I had done wrong and felt it was unnecessary. But I was willing to learn. And the reason for this is because I respected the people highlighting these issues with me and I wanted us to feel equal.

I did not want to rubbish the opinions of the people I respect even if my immediate reaction was one of disagreement. It was one of my new found intersectional friends who pointed it out to me. It was easy to reject his analysis because he was a university educated white male and it felt a little bit like control. His manner was unforgiving and he sounded like all the other men who have ever told me I was wrong. I was distrusting of this guy because he felt a university education was not a privilege. Lacking a formal education myself, I disagreed. But then another of my fledgling friends said the same thing. We were from similar backgrounds so when she said it, I had the realisation that I couldn’t ignore this, I would have to tackle my prejudices. I had to realise the world for the vast space that it is. Taking into account the meta narrative, the way in which ethnic minorities and in particular, Islam is portrayed was a good start. We are socialised into feeling a certain way about a group. Growing up, a community of a few hundred Muslim men made my life a misery. Add to this the monstering of Asian men and Islam, especially post 9/11 and it’s hardly surprising I would feel this way. I could not hold billions of people responsible for the community I belonged to. And I should reject the world as it is presented to me by the ruling classes. The predominantly white ruling classes.

The privilege of age was one it took a while to get my head around. I feel like I’ve only really been alive for a couple of years, savouring the little things that make life worth living is a relatively new thing for me. Up until the point of my breakdown I was merely surviving. I resisted the notion that I was privileged just because I’d a few more years on this earth. But then, watching my young friend and the ways in which she is ignored, undermined, caricaturised and only because she was 17, I began to understand what she meant. I made a promise to myself that I would make an extra effort to hear what she had to say, actively giving her a platform before others. It’s difficult because the hierarchical structures we have in place are entrenched in our way of thinking, because we have life experience we are ‘older and wiser’ but this isn’t necessarily true. We can always think and feel a bit better. We do not know everything.

When a trans woman of colour found me on Twitter and flew into a rage before we’d even been introduced, my immediate reaction was one of fear. I didn’t understand what was happening and I was really working on the whole privilege thing so couldn’t understand why she was so angry. I was afraid that I had done/said something but could not recall anything obvious and this worried me. Had I been abusive or dismissive and not noticed? I asked my trans* friends and they explained that as white trans women, life was difficult enough, being a trans woman of colour made you invisible. I was reassured that I had said nothing wrong. I worked at understanding her reaction. I’d been through life feeling as though I didn’t exist and I had been that angry too. To the outside world it might have seemed misplaced but not in my mind. Why couldn’t anyone see me and make it better?

It is your white friends that give you an idea of what it is to feel like a whole person. For a system to work you need compliance. If, from birth, you are treated as less, you will believe it your whole life through. I know I did. It’s why I remained in abusive relationships. It’s why I went out with white men who openly treated me like a brown trophy. It is my white (thoroughly human) friends who made me aware of this. The ways in which we are treated, the things that are said to us are simply intolerable to people have been brought up free (read: white). My friends show me when I am being subtly manipulated or treated in a substandard way. Of course when I am routinely stopped at airports I am instantly aware of how I am being treated differently.

I have always felt the power structure and even though it’s not been in my best interests, I have been somewhat resistant to it. The white saviour men have been washed out of my hair. The white friends who are proud to be British show themselves for the colonial masters that they are.  I was that special Asian, the one white people warmed to “you’re not like all the others”. I had a raging distrust of my own kind; I believed what they said in the papers. Y’see, in this country we get a wave of immigration and all the immigrants that came before are eager to show how they’re not like those work shy scroungers. Britain is at its best when it’s dividing and ruling. And I totally bought it for almost 30 years. I liked being a white pet and enjoyed the privileges it afforded; less overt racism than my peers. My Asian peers didn’t like this; I was accused of wanting to be white.  Luckily for me, I have a conscience and it was only a matter of time before it dawned on me that I was just like the rest and in denying this, was a question of my own integrity.

I also found that a lot of white people will never see you as anything but brown. They are actively encouraged to be proud of their empirical heritage. Like rape, war, genocide is easily forgiven when Britain is so ‘welcoming’ to the people of its former colonies. Mind you behave how they want you to though. You are not allowed a culture, an opinion without it being heavily scrutinised for terrorism. Someone called me a fool recently for saying the white man I had been engaged to was racist. He laughed at me once when I came down wearing a pair of mismatched pyjamas. He thought it was a ‘very Asian’ thing to do. HOW? The white brain thinks all of your quirks are attributed to the colour of your skin. Never mind the fact that he was in my bed, he pointed out every little thing that made me Asian. The hair on my body, the time I rubbed his feet, the bond that I had with my family; ALL ASIAN. When you are that obsessed by someone’s race, it is fair to say you might be racist. Especially when you think having an Asian fiancé is winning one back for the team. Well, those Asian boys love a bit of white meat, it’s only fair. If I hadn’t been seriously mentally unwell at the time, I wouldn’t have given him a second look. I don’t regret it though, he taught me a lot about this world.

I’ve had many a white person challenge the racism I have experienced in the past week. They’ve been looking for the P word or the N word and because they haven’t seen any evidence of it, I must be lying and using the race card. Racism and prejudice is not limited to language but rather the way in which we’re made to experience the world. It’s how they make us feel. There hasn’t been anything unusual about the manner in which I’ve been ridiculed or challenged. It is word for word the same as it has always been. Remember it is not your intention, but how you make somebody feel. If you have any respect or love for your critics, you are willing to change or at least think about it from their angle. My anger and my reactions have come as a result of feeling deeply disrespected and unwanted.

The onus is not on me, the oppressed, to make amends.

There’s no point in online feminism if it’s not intersectional

Since we’re looking for the least privileged woman in the world I’d like to nominate my mother. True, she lives here in the West and has never gone hungry (well, at least for no more than a coupla days) but I think she’s somewhere near the bottom and a good a place as any to start.

My mother was born in a village in Kashmir. She was the fourth of 10 children and 1 of 8 girls. Her father was a community doctor and so earned a reasonable enough wage but with that many children they were never what we might think of as well off. So much so that Granddad worked hard to save enough money so that he could give his daughters a decent enough dowry. The plan was to marry them off as soon as they hit puberty thus lessening the burden on the family as a whole.

She was barely 16 when she was packed onto a plane ready to begin her new life in Great Britain. She had barely enough of an education so that she could read letters sent to her in Urdu by her mother, my nan. She was just a child. But one my grandparents couldn’t afford to feed. And so she was palmed off on the first willing man to take her on. My father was 10 years her senior and didn’t want to get married. Or at least he did, but not to her. He was in love with a woman of mixed heritage and his mother, my paternal gran was determined it wouldn’t happen, she hadn’t brought her boys to this new land only for them to mix it up. She and my grandfather had a way of ensuring their children did as they were told, mainly through violence and coercion. My great grandparents had been Muslim scholars, feared and revered by the community in Pakistan. They had a reputation to protect and this came at any cost. My grandparents were the product of an extremely insular and strict manifestation of Islamism. As a child I heard my paternal great grandmother was beaten to death barely a few months after the birth of my granddad’s younger brother. This, because she had sat on her brother’s bed, whilst he lay recovering from an illness. It was too much for great granddad’s male ego and honour. “That’s just the way they did things” was the reply I got when I protested my family legacy through tears. “I’ll show them,” is the mantra I’ve had my whole life. I will be a feminist for all my foremothers; I will take back what was stolen from the women who came before me. A life, namely. An education. Bodily autonomy. Sexual freedom.

But my mother, now divorced and estranged from me, still suffers. We don’t speak because I am alien to her. From a very young age, I believed my emancipation would come from allying myself with the white feminist. I wanted what they had. As a very small child this meant the freedom to dress as I wish and associate with boys. That’s as far as my struggle got through my teens. But as I got older, I continued to behave as my white peers did and this widened the gap between my mother’s hopes for me (she really wanted me to be an air hostess) and my desires for equal rights in a man’s world. She won’t speak to me because she is afraid of what I have become. She won’t give me the opportunity to explain I did this for her.

As soon as I was old enough to hit the men back (15), I dragged my mother away from the community she knew and set into motion the process to divorce her from my father. During this time, I gullibly confirmed to the white workers who were trying to house us in temporary accommodation that the men in my family were savages, bringing with them the patriarchal controls they had back home. When fleeing domestic violence the local authority has an ‘interim duty to accommodate’ and as I rolled out the reasons we were presenting as such, it suddenly dawned on me, I was lucky to be alive. Domestic abuse, child sexual abuse, poverty, homelessness, religious/cultural demons, immigration issues (read racism), disability, isolation, self-harm, eating disorders.. This was not an exhaustive list but my small family had been victim to them all. Sure, I had internet access at the time but I didn’t see it as a privilege, more of a necessary escape. That’s a very silly thing to say Sadie. And it is your privilege that allows you to think like that.

I wish my life had been a little easier. I wish my mother had the right to an education so that she was self-sufficient and might have kicked my dad to the kerb with her dignity intact. But she didn’t. After 20 years of unfaltering duty, irrespective of the abuse she suffered, my father granted her a divorce and gave her £6000 for the trouble. That’s how much she was worth in the end. Her body ravaged by pregnancies she did not consent to, her children traumatised and displaced. She put the miserly amount he’d afforded her towards my younger sister’s nuptials. Because, despite the living hell she’d endured, she was still afraid the community would judge her for her unmarried daughters. This is also where I fell short in my duties as a daughter.  I don’t believe in marriage and who could blame me? But my mother doesn’t see it like that. The patriarchy has controlled her life since forever and although she suffered as a result of it, it still governs her thoughts, she doesn’t know any better.

If I’m a bit mean, frankly, it’s because I’m fed up. Suzanne Moore blocked me on Twitter a little while ago. I can’t even remember what for but I was reminded of it when I tried to RT the fuck outta her tweet asking for James Delingpole to admit he’s a misogynist cock. I joked that it was a shame because even though I had my issues with her, united we would stand in the face of patriarchy. I’m assuming it got back to her because later on that evening I was able to RT with abandon. Why couldn’t Sadie Smith leave well alone? By writing her piece all she’s done is pander to patriarchy. Hell, she even admits to wanting to behave like a misogynist. How is that EVER ok Sandie?

Could it be that privilege allows you some control? The privilege of having a voice or a face that fits so that you can use a platform whichever way you want. “Feminism is not bullying and beating up other women.” Haven’t you done exactly that, Sadie?

As a result of my life, I take pills. There are the ones that keep me on an even keel and the ones that work directly on my spinal cord and brain. When I accused Mary Beard of racism, I was horrified and immediately apologised, but I was made an example of when privilege politics go wrong. I’d unwittingly caught the tail end of a Twitter storm and was held up as an example of ‘stupid’ intersectional feminists using the race card at will. I wish I had the privilege of a clear, sharp mind. I wish I could pick the days when the fog takes over; I could plan my life a bit easier.

If I’m mean or angry, couldn’t you at least try to understand why? That’s what we intersectional feminists do. We understand that some of the stuff that happens in life has profound and lasting effects on people. None of us ask to be born for if we did, I’m sure we’d all tick the white cis gendered box. Nobody would choose an existence where you are overlooked/beaten/murdered for the colour of your skin, or choose to be disabled or *trans.

It’s just how we were born and all we mean to ask is, why am I not as worthy as you?

Intersectional feminism is not a choice

Like all newborns, I came into the world with an empty memory bank. I knew only that I had to feed and poo. Loud noises came as a bit of a shock but as long as there was warmth and I was wrapped up secure; life was good, people were love and being alive mostly pleasurable (I assume). Being a twin, in my earliest memories she felt like a shadow, always there, never far behind.  There was a oneness and it was a comfort, I’d never feel alone. But then the labels society slaps us with are inevitable.

By the time we were three, I was the sensible one. My parents and grandparents had wanted the first born to be a boy, instead they had me AND another girl. I was desexualised from a very young age, my twin not so much. I could walk around the house in a skirt barely scraping my bum and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid. My sister was made to go change out of her pedal pushers. She was pretty, I was smart. She was graceful, I was solid. We were identical twins.

Struggling with my identity, I conformed to the tomboy stereotype. I liked rolling around and jumping off things. I put on a brave face and got my jabs first. We’d play ‘follow the leader’ in the back garden and I’d order them about and they’d fall into line. In role play I was the cowboy, the bus conductor, the gladiator. The doctor to her nurse. I thought girls were pathetic. Yes, it hurt when I fell and grazed my knee but the positive encouragement I got for being such a ‘brave lion’ meant I rarely expressed any pain. I wouldn’t question my appearance again till the menz began to compare us too.

Puberty came early. My emerging curves were too much for the family and I noticed a huge shift in their attitudes towards me. Suddenly I was a woman and they treated me as such. We could entice boys by merely reciprocating a glance. It was an oppressive environment, being a woman you were instantly less important and there to be ordered about. I would slouch forwards so that my chest wasn’t so prominent. I would wrap scarves around my barely there breasts when I was alone in my room, maybe I could slow down this premature transformation. But I also popped down the two halves of a kinder egg to see what I might one day look like. I decided that I’d rather keep the mounds because that is what seemed ‘normal’ for me. In fact, I felt happy. I felt powerful. I felt like me.

Imagine what it must be like to come of an age when it is made clear to you that who you feel you are (know you are) is not ‘normal’ but weird, that you cannot under any circumstances feel like yourself, in fact if you choose to ignore the threats and warnings, you could be murdered for standing by your person. Fems, imagine feeling and thinking “I am” and being told “you’re not”. Repeatedly. How does it feel to being born into the wrong body? I have thought a lot about this and I have had my own mental health struggles but the body is a constant reminder of your perceived identity and if you are treated in a way that is alien to the way you feel?

When my body started changing, I wanted it to stop. I noticed the embarrassed looks on the men folk’s faces and the worry on my mother’s. I didn’t enjoy the accompanying growing pains, I resented that boys seemed to get away scot free. For their part, teenaged boys can be cruel and I was mocked for sounding like one myself. As a child, I was taunted. As a young adult, I was sexualised for having a ‘dirty’ husky laugh. I’d even convinced myself I wouldn’t bleed; being as I wasn’t like the other girls. I began to self-harm, in various ways, cutting to disfigure my ugly skin, binging and purging to shock my body into submission. BUT I had the privilege of owning the body I would grow into. My hormones would eventually settle, I would realise my own capabilities, I would be granted the support to embrace who I am. This is what happens when you are cis gendered and society wants you to fill a role. They will actively encourage it.

Trans* people suffer from the minute they can verbalise and are able to disagree with the labels put on them. I cannot begin to imagine the depression one would suffer; it is no surprise that almost half of all transgender people have attempted suicide. When our brothers and sisters are already suffering, what kind of evil are we perpetuating when we deny them their bodies, their choices? How does a trans* person’s bodily autonomy affect us? Simple answer: it doesn’t. Much in the same way that abortion does not affect the religious and political menz up top, even though they seem to be the most vocal about it. It’s patriarchy that decides what happens to women’s bodies. It is patriarchy that dictates the differences between the two genders, as if there are only two. Their versions of masculinity and femininity are suffocating and ultimately come down to control.

I cannot stress enough how patriarchy keeps you apart to keep you down. Caitlin, Suzanne and the Jools’ are perfectly acceptable to patriarchy, that’s why he’s given them the platform they have. Well, they’re women and they say they’re feminists and because they have money and power, they must be right. But 100 years ago, they’d have been abused the way trans* people are now. Bent and shaped into a desirable figure, speaking only when spoken to. They certainly wouldn’t be allowed to raise their voices or react in an honest way. What a privilege it is to have a voice. And now that their struggle is over, they’re using their powers to silence others. That’s not feminism. THAT’S PATRIARCHY.

“Your feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”

YES. THIS.

As a feminist, I would ask that all my fems question their attitudes towards women who are the ‘other’; disabled women, WoC, trans* women. That was the point of feminism right, equality?

Equality doesn’t mean ableist cis gendered white people living happily ever after (to the detriment of the rest of us). For equality to stand a chance, we need the peoples with the most privilege to humble themselves and share some of their good fortune. And fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

My Top Tip for the commentariat: Do the exact opposite of what you’re doing right now and STFU.