‘Feminism allowed you to speak’: Maintaining intergenerational feminist solidarity in the face of sophisticated attacks
by Yağmur Uygarkızı
Illustrated by Gustave Doré (1862) ‘Le petit chaperon rouge’ Retrieved from:http://expositions.bnf.fr/orsay-gustavedore/albums/contes/index.htm
This article is part of a reflection developed for the first panel of Radical Girlsss called ‘Radical Courage: Can we be young, feminist and radical?’ hosted by the 2019 FiLiA conference.
« Little Red Riding Hoodis the story of a little girl with the eponymous nickname who one day goes to visit her ill grandmother. On her way, she encounters a wolf who asks her where she is headed to. Naively she replies. In Charles Perrault’s version, the wolf arrives at the grandmother’s house before Little Red Riding Hood. He deceives the grandmother into opening the door, eats her and dresses up as her. Once the little girl arrives, she does not recognise the wolf dressed up as the grandmother, although she remains quite puzzled at her granny’s hairy claws. The wolf eats her too. The story ends.
The author admonishes little girls against being too quick to believe what strangers say.
Wolves in granny clothing are still telling young women what to do. Today’s young feminists (radical feminism being a pleonasm, I dropped the ‘radical’) are condemned to an ever-reduced space by threats coming from all directions. In a postmodern era, it is no longer possible to maintain intergenerational transmission of the feminist movements with mothers and daughters bonding against our common oppression. The feminist approach, with focus on material reality and theory arising from evidence, is turned into a relic of a bygone positivist era. Any empirical approach is dismissed as essentialist, while simultaneously and paradoxically, male practices enforced on women are essentialised on us. The contemporary discourse on women and sex roles however, is mined with contradictions to the point that it cancels itself, shedding light on a way out.
To understand how we got to a situation where saying that ‘women don’t have penises’ has become tantamount to hate speech, we have to understand postmodernity A fancy term, it is best understood as a reaction to the preceding positivist era of the 20thcentury in which scientific approaches to knowledge and ideologies dominated. Truth ought to be sought, political ambitions abounded. Those ‘great narratives’ – all-encompassing visions and directions for society – faced crushing defeat in the form of world wars, totalitarian regimes and the failure of ideologies to deliver (ie. capitalism hasn’t been overthrown)i. New paradigms have replaced the old but all in continuity of the male reign.
Whereas long-term global political battles characterise the modern era (liberation of women from patriarchy), in postmodernity, only micro-issues matter because of lack of ambition and sight (see the anti-vaccine movement for example). Ethical relativism has replaced a universal morality; women’s rights becoming negotiable. ‘Oh, sorry I thought you were British. No please, go ahead raping little girls, s’alright love.’
The postmodern emphasis on diversity distracts from the much-needed recognition of our common experience as women: the ‘white feminism’ discourse is nothing but a discrediting of misogyny – the only existing oppression would be racism, and what a coincidence, it also affects men – and a false confirmation of the fact that our skin, our money could save us from patriarchy when really even queens, who you’d assume are on top of the dreaded ‘check-your-privilege pyramid’, are forced to lie back and think of Englandii. A great vehicle of the diversity discourse, multiculturalism is the racist policy that purports that just because you come from a different country you don’t deserve the same rights as I do: it is a form of objectification eradicating the notion of human rights, replacing them with male culture rights, that is rights for an abstract entityiii.
Most importantly, while in a modern era there is the possibility of finding the truth, make statements about reality and call for the change of that reality if necessary, postmodernity precludes this by preaching a vociferous relativismiv. Things are never really as they are, there are ‘alternative facts’. This last expression was coined by the Trump administration: it should alert us over the fact that populists and the most evident representatives of postmodern culture – queer activists – are closer to each other than they themselves would like to believe. Their superficial division can be understood as a diversion tactic to better circle us women with nowhere to exit.
Despite what the wolves tell us, ‘queer’ is not a synonym for lesbian or gay. The current queer craze – from TV shows like Queer Eyeto the rewriting of history (no, Virginia Woolf was not queer) – takes its origin from the academic work of queer theorists from the 1980 and 1990s, most notably Judith Butlerv. While feminists had demonstrated that what were considered female traits were not linked to biology but to socialisationvi, queer theorists went one step further and explained that sex itself is enforced by societal discourse. A core tenant of this theory is thus ‘gender is a doing’. It is because we repeat certain behaviours, dresses, language, etc. that we enforce the idea that there are two sexes. In reality though, this is just an illusion maintained by the almighty powerful of our societies (feminists?). In a nutshell, we would all be actresses performing our gender in the great stage of humanityvii.
Performance is a key word here: it is informed by the notion of performative utterances, which is no other than a fancy way of saying speeches that are acts. If you say ‘I promise’ you are both saying the words and executing the action of promising. As such, performative utterances can never be true or false. If you don’t keep your promise, I cannot say that what you said was not true, because you did say it. However, you did not stick to it, so it is ‘unhappy’. Speech acts can only be ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy’viii. This is where we can fully sense the deep divide between modern approaches and postmodern ones. According to performative utterances and by extension queer theory, if a man says he is a woman, his claim can only be happy or unhappy: he can only act upon it or not. It can never however be ‘false’ because the notion of truth itself is irrelevant, if not entirely eradicated. By saying it, he is performing it. When we say no, this is not true, or something as terroristic as ‘women don’t have penises’ we are clearly passé. We are evolving in a positivist approach of truth and falsity that no longer has any place in pomo world. It’s like shouting in a language no one else around you speaks because they already adopted another one you cannot learn. The means of expression are still monopolised by men and once again our voices bounce off deaf ears.
The magic circle game!
Flip it around and pick your favourite jailbreak excuse, you paedo!
Note: Not suitable for children.
There is another tenant of queer theory that although not directly relevant to this article, is worth mentioning because of its enormity and the danger it poses to women and girls. Since changing discourse is sufficient to change reality without ever acting materially, it follows that many practices that are perceived as problematic are only so because we say they are. Queer theory being more obsessed with sexuality than a horny Freudian, this approach is particularly germane for sexual practices. As Bec Wonders explains, according to queer theory any sexual normativity is bad – and here we can already see one of the many self-defeating contradictions of this academic dogma on which I will come back laterix. For example, prostitution is not the problem, stigmatisation is. Men abusing children are not paedophiles but are engaging in ‘cross-generational sex’. This is what Gayle Rubin argues in her circle of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ sexuality. She also equates the imaginary struggle of paedophile members of the infamous North American Man/Boy Love Association – a group built in 1978 to suggest that victims of paedophilia are actually lovers of older men – to the one of homosexual activists, updating an old stereotype of gay men as paedophilesx. She is not the only queer academic to come to the defence of paedophilesxi. If those words were mere ravings of one or two academics locked up in an ivory dungeon, whatever we could say. But they have not just become the dominant paradigm in universities, they swept through the media and politics too. The Global Network of Sex Work Projects is extremely active at the highest international level. It has recently published a recommendation to promote ‘youth sex work’. It invites local authorities to permit the trafficking and drugging of children in foster care: ‘offer programming that does not require young people to stop selling sex or using drugs to access services’ they call itxii.
II. The consequences: identification with oppression
‘Strippers have feelings too’
Yes, poor women who are sexually exploited by men do have feelings.
Picture from the infamous ‘Slutwalk’ where we are told that where women protest, the whores go marching in. Thank you suffragettes for your sacrifices, feminism is doing really well!
Judith Butler explains that the description of sex is already the attribution of it (hence the expression ‘assigned female at birth’). Any definition of woman is ineluctably normative: saying that women dohave XX chromosomes is to queer ears the same as saying that womenshouldhave XX chromosomes. As mentioned before, normativity being necessary exclusive is bad, so it is better not to define women and even better not to organise as women. The only possible political organisation is in the name of the deconstruction of womanhoodxiii. This queer lesson in political activism is well integrated by a vocal number of young women who instead of organising around the female sex organise around female oppressions.
Prostitution is presented as yet another sexual orientation on a par with homosexuality, itself equivalent to child abuse or sexual torture (‘sadomasochism’), as shown by the aforementioned Rubin circle. Therefore, a man does not prostitute a woman, but the woman isa prostitute – her whole being is defined by the situation she is trapped in. She has it in her to be driven to this type of ‘sex’. This approach is evident in pro-prostitution slogans like ‘strippers and women unite’. The women abused by men are scrapped from their womanhood and reduced to whatever humiliations they have to bear to survive. The same old distinction between ‘normal women vs prostitutes’ promoted by the johns or prostituters themselves, is coated with titillating rainbow glitter.
There is a similar trend with veiling. Instead of being seen as a sex-based discriminatory practice that transfers the responsibility of sexual violence from men to women, it is turned into an identity. Women who practice veiling are ‘hijabis’. This is a form of reverse objectification wherein in place of a woman turned into an object – a ‘cumdumpster’ like in pornography – an object engulfs a woman to define her whole existence. You’re no longer a woman, ‘hijabi’, you’re the cloth that hides you.
Finally, and most importantly, sex roles are no longer imposed but ingrained: gender becomes an identity. If you as a woman are foolish enough to abide by the stereotypes that constrain you, then that’s your problem: you could have just identified your way out of it. Thus is the message the disparaging ‘cis women’ expression hidesxiv.
We are witnessing an essentialisation of our oppression: what men do to us is who we are apparently. If they rape us, we are the rape. If they veil us, we are the veil. If they stereotype us, we are the stereotype. What this means is that any criticism of those practices becomes a criticism of the person. Whorephobia. Islamophobia. Transphobia. The basis of the discrimination shifts from the female sex to the sex-based discrimination itself.
In the wonderful emojis provided by Apple, all characters come in two sexes. Only the pregnant woman and the veiled one have no male counterpart. The first one will not probably last long, but I highly doubt that the second will change. For some reason the contemporary ‘feminist’ discourse targeting young women never challenges religiously motivated sex roles.
Inevitably, this nerve-racking jimjaming discourse is filled with contradictions. We have seen the first one: saying that something is bad is bad. The whole queer currentxvseems to be operating on a self-defeating double negation.
Being gay is born that way, so is by extension being a prostitute, and trans people are born in the wrong body, yet, one is not born a girl. Sex is created by discourse, yet it is also the basis of much work around the globe.
Religion is the domain of belief, inherently abstract. ‘Gender’ is fluid. Yet here we have this practice of covering up only human members of the female sex, girls and women. In this immaterial world, there is an insistence to defend the practice of something deeply tangible – the price being paid on the very real skin and hair of women.
Self-declaration is sufficient to define sex but plastic surgery is still very much necessary and must be provided by the NHS – paid by those cislly taxpaying women obviously. The body becomes a vessel entirely disconnected from the mind that you somehow slide into. This is reminiscent of the film The Man With Two Brainsstarring Steven Martinxvii. In it, Martin’s character Dr. Hfuhruhurrfalls in love with a female brain and goes on a quest to find her the ‘perfect body’ to ‘fuck’ (yet another coincidence, he finds one in the prostitution industry). In reality, it appears that men can only esteem fellow men’s brains, so it is the ‘perfect’ ‘fuckable’ female-shaped body that must be found to host the marvellous male brain. Male head and female body: the structure of our patriarchal societies reproduced on the singlexviii.
III. Why is this happening? Breaking intergenerational transmission
The contemporary queer movement as relayed by powerful media outlets like Condé Nast with Themor the BBC is a parody of feminism. It develops its own vocabulary, demands changes, it takes to the streets. But it’s grotesque. Just like the Fascist regime in Italy, it changes pronounsxix. It enforces a newspeak. The changes demanded denote not a struggle against the reality of oppression but a ‘struggle against reality’ tout court. It asks us to pretend not to see the obvious tensions and contradictions. It goes so far in its demands that it annihilates the credibility of other social movements.
Beyond the parodic function, there is the more sinuous aim of digging an intergenerational gap between women. Feminism if for the old, queer is for the young. Pornographic series like Euphoriaor Babybased on the real story of abused teenagers in Rome directly target adolescent girls. The online magazineVicetargets youth. The close friend of queer politics, Libby Libby Fem, so-called neoliberal feminism, tells young women to put that harness on and get whipped. We young women must have no knowledge of what women have done for us before, nor should we ever meet them, and how could we, given that activism is reduced to a screen?
The personal is political. What happens in the public discursive sphere is in tandem with what is going on behind closed doors. Before sisterhood, there is motherhood. Even when we don’t want to. How many of us have thought ‘I don’t want to end up like my mother’? Why would we? Our mothers are our first exposure to our female condition, clearly on the side of the oppressed in the domus. They represent the first potential female bond of our life. And yet, we do not identify with our mothers, as if doing so would protect us from the same fate. Our mothers are a temporal mirror that we break in a desperate attempt to remove our chains. Seven years of despair. More. Even if we are close though, we will be told to ‘cut the umbilical cord’. There shall be no strong mother-daughter bond under patriarchy lest there be early sex consciousness. If there is no daughterhood and motherhood, there will not be any sisterhood.
What happens when we don’t identify with other women? We identify with men. Their causes and their whims. It is no coincidence if the theoretical precursors of queer theory are men. Queer theory has no mothers only fathers. What we see today lies within a greater tradition of male creators, first of all being ‘God’. Jealous of the female power of creating life, men have come up with this figure, a male creator of all there is on earth. If we can be led to believe this storyxx, we sure can believe that men can get pregnant.
Where to next?
‘Fuck me not the climate
In a cramped lecture room in a university in London, a heated ‘debate’ on pornography takes place. Debate is a strong word given that a handful of feminists condemn pornography in a room filled with young people saturated with it. Challenging consent in prostitution is always met with great anger and a woman in her twenties goes on about how much she enjoys having her hair pulled. An older woman curbs her enthusiasm and leaves the room: ‘feminism allowed you to speak’ she says.
We forget that. The hard-won battles seem so distant and when new ones appear, there is difficulty in identifying the problem: male violence. Young women are flocking to activism as the protests against climate change and for the 25thof November show. The problem is the lack of analytical and expressive tools that render the operation clumsy if not entirely unproductive. ‘Fuck me not the planet’ is a slogan that emerged in the Thunberg protests. It is written on a placard that is always held by minor adolescent girls, sometimes with a phone number. Others say: ‘Destroy my pussy not my earth’. We will save our planet on the altar of raped girls apparently. Similarly, in protests against rape, some young women wear teeny tiny underwear with hypersexualised elements like the playboy bunny tail.
A first way to guide this vital energy is reading. Libraries can save lives. Many essentials in feminism are no longer edited. The ones that are available are forgotten. Titles need to be shared; book requests must be made in public libraries. Instead of sedimenting thought, we undertake a Sisyphean theoretical work at each generation. Young women are given answers. We need questions.
To ask questions we need a space. Reading, writing, learning is one thing, shaking up your preconceptions, disagreeing face to face and dancing wildly late at night is another. The FiLiA Conference is thus a unique experience for any feminist. It is for young women specifically that Radical Girlsss was born. The youth branch of the European Network of Migrant Women and Girls aims to foster a space of critical thinking, sisterhood and solidarity. Tired of fake activism behind our screens, the isolation that comes with it, the lies we are told about sexuality, lack of boldness, we fight back. Radically.
The doctor with the male brain and the female body
Queer theory draws inspiration from Monsieur Michel Foucault who described ‘biopolitics’, the politics of the bodies. It is a great irony that Foucault exposed the medical body for being shaped by political needs and that queer activists defend transsexualism. It is after all the British Medical Association that came up with ‘pregnant person’. The Endocrine Society is obviously over the moon. The pathologizing ‘phobia’ is the preferred term for people discriminating others.
Retrieved from https://drafthouse.com/show/the-man-with-two-brains
Cassandra is the beautiful daughter of the king of Troy. In one version of her myth, the god Apollo falls in love with her. To seduce her he gives her the power of predicting the future. She rejects him. He punishes her by cancelling the gift he had made: she will still be able to predict the future, but no one will believe her. Her mouth left open he spits in it. Her open mouth is his, she can shout but she will no longer be heardxxi.
She was already perceived as a little crazy, when she warned her fellow Trojans against the infamous horse. Her status as crazy becomes official. She is laughed at. Discarded. Insulted. In a desperate attempt against the inevitable, she tries to burn the horse. She will be stopped. They will diexxii.
In face of a mounting postmodern world order, the feminist movement is facing a dire attack. When we say: ‘name the problem: male violence’, queer activist reply: naming the problem is the problem. Don’t shoot the messenger. Or the message won’t pass on to the next generations. For the principal danger of the current political discourse directed at young women is not just about making us active agents of male violence against us but to build a wall between our feminist mothers and us, killing a radical movement at the root.
Defender of all things abusive, queer discourse is mined with internal contradictions to the point where it cancels itself. Even a fiction must have an internal coherence to keep the illusion. There are already signs of disgruntlement; after all, there can be only so much patience for nonsense. We must remain vigilant though. When the sea retreats too far, a stronger wave comes in. Once the obsession with ‘gender’ is exposed, it might even more difficult than before to make the case about sexual politics. »
iiSporenda, Francine (2016) ‘« Féminisme intersectionnel » : Antiracisme et Anticapitalisme au service de la domination masculine’. Révolution Féministe. (6 November 2016). https://revolutionfeministe.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/feminisme-intersectionnel-lantiracisme-et-lanticapitalisme-au-service-de-la-domination-masculine/ (Last accessed: 4 dec 2019).
Donati, Pierpaolo (2008) Oltre il Multiculturalismo. La Ragione Relazionale per un Mondo Comune. Roma -Bari : Laterza.
Jeffreys, Sheila (2003) Unpacking Queer Politics :A lesbian Feminist Perspective. Cambridge : Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
viA classical reference is Little girls: Social conditioning and its effects on the stereotyped role of women during infancy written by the Italian educatress Elena Giannini Belotti, first published in 1973.
Belotti, Elena G. (1973) Dalla Parte delle Bambine. Milano : Feltrinelli.
viiFor those of you who are particularly nerdy or simply still not get the queer universe (which is probably their purpose), the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s page on the sex-gender distinction is accessible and exhaustive. It provides the necessary historical and academic background to understand the theoretical underpinnings of expressions like ‘pregnant person’.
Mikkola, Mari (2019) « Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender », The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/feminism-gender/(Last accessed: 4 Dec 2019).
viiihttp://web.stanford.edu/class/ihum54/Austin_on_speech_acts.htm(Last accessed: 4 December 2019)
xiFor those who do not have the emotional energy to inflict themselves a thorough reading of queer theory in the previously mentioned book by Sheila Jeffrey, the environmental activist Derrick Jensen brilliantly and wittily summarises the paedophile penchant of queer theorists in thisshort video. Do notice that he is interrupted by queer activists during a discourse on rape culture and successfully manages to put his points across despite the atmosphere.
xiiGlobal Network of Sex Work Projects (2016) ‘Young sex workers’. Policy brief. Available online:https://www.nswp.org/resource/policy-brief-young-sex-workers. Last accessed: 2 December 2019.
xiiiMikkola, Mari (2019) « Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender », The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/feminism-gender/(Last accessed: 4 Dec 2019).
xivAs a note, the expressions cis and transwomen are actually incorrect. Cissexed/cissexual or transsexed/transsexual would be more accurate. The prefix cis means on the same side as and trans means across. There is no such thing as across women (or maybe we are to understand that on the other side of women there are men?). Also, the prefix trans requires the definition of the word it is attached to. Transport means the means used to move objects or people around (across ports). A port is a harbour. Transnational: across nations. Nation: a group of people sharing a sense of belonging in a given country. And so on and so forth. This is why the prefix trans is more widely used than cis. In the case of women though, no definition of woman is allowed, so it is not clear who is crossed. The incorrect use of the two prefixes is made evident in the translation into romance languages like French or Italian – which are much closer to the Latin roots the prefixes originate from – where trans effectively becomes a suffix: ‘femmes trans’ or ‘donne trans’ (as opposed to ‘transsexuel’ and ‘transsessuale’).
xvThere might be objections that the points I have described about prostitution, veiling and gender identity are not orthodox to queer academics. What matters to me here is not so much if queer theorists themselves have suggested all of those things exactly as I report them but how queer theory is the basis of much faux-feminist discourse today.
xixAjello, Nejo (2008) ‘La guerra dei pronomi nell’ Italia in orbace’. La Repubblica(Archivio). (27 January 2008). Available online: https://ricerca.repubblica.it/repubblica/archivio/repubblica/2008/01/27/la-guerra-dei-pronomi-nell-italia-in.html. Last accessed 4 December 2019.
xxI would have not come up with this point were it not for a conversation with U who highlight the fundamental issue with veiling. ‘If we can believe that veiling is a choice’ she said, ‘we can believe that anything is a choice. The veil is only a test of the extent of our gullibility’.
xxiCremaschini, Marilena (2016) ‘Il Mito di Cassandra e l’Impossibilità di Comunicare’. Dottssa marilena Cremaschini. (5 November 2016).http://www.marilenacremaschini.it/il-mito-di-cassandra-e-limpossibilita-di-comunicare/. (Last accessed : 4 December 2019).