The privilege of feminism
I have always had problems with feminism, despite identifying as once since my early teens. Since beginning my postgraduate studies, I have yo-yoed constantly as to whether I even identify as a feminist anymore. People assure me “it’s feminisms” not a monolithic feminism, but I still have major doubts and concerns.
When I was talking with some #nomorepage3 campaigners about my problems with the campaign (blog posts on here) I remember one remark very well and it showed me how out-of-touch many young feminists are. I made the point that it wasn’t very fair that the campaign has media-savvy pundits, support and a platform, whereas the models don’t, and many wouldn’t want or have access to the resources to defend their industry. One supporter of #nomorepage3 said “Of course they do, they have the same access as anyone else”. And this is the problem. They genuinely believe that all women have the same options.
Careerists, plastic feminists, with their sexy campaigns have a lot to answer for. They get their 6 figure book deals and the publishers whack on a picture of the very ‘sexualisation’ they oppose, (sex sells, even if you’re a Feminist TM) and young women buy these how-to guides. Guides that presume everyone has the same freedom/ buying power/ literacy. Most women I know are too busy raising children/ working/ looking after other family members/ dealing with their own health issues and trying to keep their heads above water to attend feminist schools, read books, engage in twitter hashtag debates. Having these debates is a massive privilege. A privilege that the majority of the world’s people do not have. Theory should not eclipse the lived realities of people.
And yes, people will say “I’m working class, not middle class, I still find time to be a feminist” and this is another part of the problem, a complete disregard for how other people live. I would call myself working-class as that’s how I grew up and how I identify, but I went to uni as a mature student, I am now doing a funded PhD. I have access to journals, theory, books and conferences. I have a computer and books. Many women do not have these things. Their days are mapped out from morning until night. Education is privilege. I know so many women who would love to go to university or college, but they don’t have the money or the time.
This is one of the things that frustrates me with the #losetheladsmags #nomorepage3 and trying to close down lap-dancing clubs… most women do not care. It does not effect their lives, it makes no difference to them. Yes these privileged women are trying to take away the livelihoods of other women, for their own good, and for the good of us all. How this control is better than patriarchy I don’t know. I also get so angry when middle-class feminists launch into tirades about marriage, a legal contract that has protected so many working-class women. It’s ok for them, with their 40 grand a year jobs, pensions, security, but for someone who is a stay at home mum, or working damn hard for minimum wage, having legal rights in the event their relationship breaks down is essential. Not to forget that the feminist debates about marriage are extremely secular; are women of religion not allowed into the feminist club? Some of my friends cannot afford to work, their wages wouldn’t cover childcare. They can’t choose to be “independent” and “self-sufficient” if they want to be mothers. And why are we reinforcing the neo-liberal fallacy that only paid work is valuable?
Then today I came across this fine blog post: by Majorie Romeyn-Sanabria.
“I want to take the conversation a step further and postulate it’s not just solidarity that’s for white women, but feminism itself. By “white” I’m not talking exclusively about race. I’m talking about native-English speaking, upper-middle-class, educated women. They’re the only group of women for whom feminism seems to have any relevance or long-term benefit”.
“The fundamental reason I am not a feminist is that I won’t stand with a movement that leaves so many women behind. In many ways, feminism’s attitudes are just as patronizing to women as the patriarchy it dismantled. The message that women need to be “enlightened,” unchained from their stoves and dispatched on a journey of sexual self-discovery is not relevant to all women everywhere. Instead of detailing how to lift women out of poverty, educate them, get them jobs, and empower them to defend themselves against violence, feminism has been couched in academic terms that are inapplicable to the everyday woman’s plight”.
This. It is undeniable that feminism has been white-washed, and that women of colour face ginormous obstacles. I am not trying to diminished that experience. But class should not be minimized, especially given it’s relationship to race and gender. Intersectionality would ideally consider gender/race/class/disability/trans/age/religion/occupation… we should open the discussion up, not reduce it.
A feminism that only really benefits one kind of woman, the ‘right kind’ of woman, isn’t really feminism at all.