Stop trying to change feminism to suit your own personal ideology
On March 8, 2017, millions of women all over the world refused work and marched in the streets to protest for the rights of women everywhere. First called for by a group of leftist feminists that included Angela Davis, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Rasmea Yousef, the strike was soon endorsed by organizers of the Women’s March on Washington in an overlapping event called “A Day Without A Woman.”
On a beautiful, late winter day in Washington Square Park, I watched as a diverse program of speakers emphasized what true feminist resistance means: A movement that stands up for all women, even (especially) the most marginalized among us. Fighting for sex worker women, transgender women, Palestinian women, immigrant women, women of color, and the largest category of all, poor women, is essential to any feminism worth a damn. “Feminism for the masses, not just the ruling classes!” we chanted.
As someone who’d previously expressed doubts as to whether all those white ladies in pink pussy hats were ready for an intersectional critique of not only the Trump regime, but capitalist patriarchy in general, I was impressed. After a long political season of being misused by centrists as a cudgel against the left, it seemed identity politics were finally regaining their original purpose: As a crucial component of a broadly egalitarian, radically inclusive movement. Millions of women who’d never attended a protest before January 21 are now getting woke to ideas like general strikes and direct action.
Not everyone is happy with this state of affairs. Writing at Harpers Bazaar, rally attendee, Zionist, and self-proclaimed feminist Marisa Kabas relates how “othered” she, a white Jewish woman, felt by organizers who insisted that standing up for the right of Palestinian women not to live in an apartheid state was essential to their feminist project.
Via Harpers Bazaar:
[A Palestinian speaker’s] extreme pro-Palestine declaration wasn’t totally surprising, given the International Women’s Strike platform page states “We want to dismantle all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.” As a Jewish American woman whose grandfather is a Holocaust survivor and with many family members in Israel, the sentiment alone upset me. But I was mostly struck by its binary nature. When has leaving no room for nuance ever helped promote open dialogue between groups of differing opinions?
“You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none,” Linda Sarsour, one of the main figures behind this current feminist movement, told The Nation a few days after International Women’s Day. “It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, ‘Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?’ There can’t be in feminism.”
Here Sarsour seems to say there is no room for people who unabashedly support the state of Israel and believe the occupation of Palestine is just.
Sarsour didn’t just “seem” to say it, she fucking said it. And she was right, too.
Kabas is similarly upset at the organizers’ refusal to recognize the feminism of those who stand against the rights of their fellow women, specifically: The right to a living wage, adequate healthcare, and meaningful autonomy over our bodies.
There are plenty of women who could say they feel “othered” by this modern feminist movement. There are male feminists and capitalist feminists and feminists who don’t necessarily believe in the $15 minimum wage and feminists who don’t believe in free abortions, and yes, feminists who don’t believe in abortion at all.
(As if a living wage is not a feminist fight when the majority of the world’s low-wage workers are women.)
Her issue with this is not that it hurts the vulnerable (which, as sharp eyed readers may note, it doesn’t), but that it makes her and other self-proclaimed feminists feel like bad people, personal morality being a common liberal stand-in for any type of coherent politics:
As a firm believer in reproductive choice, the idea of denying a women the right to a safe and legal abortion if her pregnancy is unwanted is, to me, wrong. But it doesn’t make [anti-choice “feminist” Elizabeth] Bruenig bad, and because she’s a firm believer in creating better living circumstances for all people through inclusive economic and healthcare policy, I know I can engage her in a civil conversation.
It’s as if the highest goal of activism is “civil conversation,” and not seizing power to improve the lives of women around the world by any means necessary, and centering the feelings of oppressors is more important than fighting to make sure everyone can access the basic building blocks of human dignity.
While there’s certainly room for disagreement, the modern feminist movement holds that basic human rights are not up for debate. These include food, shelter, healthcare, abortion, education, a living wage, and unionization. They also include the rights of sex workers to safely make a living, and the rights of trans women to be accepted as women, because they are. If any of these things make you uncomfortable, you might consider re-evaluating your views, rather than expecting feminism to contort itself to accommodate you.
If feminism means “literally anything I want it to,” and includes such “unabashed” oppressors as Sarah Palin, Ivanka Trump, and — you knew this was coming — Hillary Clinton, it ceases to function as an ideology and a movement. If it means everything, as Kabas seems to want it to, then it effectively means nothing. I’ve often thought we’d avoid a lot of fights if we just started calling intersectional/socialist feminism and white/bourgeois feminism two different things entirely, like “neo-feminism” and “corporate lady power.” That way, the Marisas and Sheryl Sandbergs of the world can go back to their civil conversation, and the rest of us can go back to getting shit done.