Did not say

In case you’re curious about why I would say “feminism today may be characterised by infighting and factionalism”, it’s because I didn’t.
Eva Wiseman from the Observer emailed me asking for a response to the Double X controversy. Here’s our actual email exchange. Some of what I said is in the Observer piece, but words have literally been put in my mouth (I never said feminism is “characterised by infighting”, because I don’t believe it), mangled, quotes spliced together.
Eva Wiseman’s email to me:
Have you been following the fallout from this?
http://www.doublex.com/section/news-politics/trouble-jezebel

I think there’s an interesting conversation to be had about online
feminism, and the changeable definitions of third-wave feminism. What is
third-wave feminism? Why is there such confusion over the term? How are
blogs and websites changing the way we discuss feminism? Do you feel
strongly about this particular debate? Does it worry you at all, this
public spat?

Any other comments would be marvellous, thank you.

My reply:
Personally, I’m not sure it has anything to do with the term third wave feminism. You might note that Double X doesn’t call itself third-wave (it seems confused about whether it considers itself feminist at all). And the feminist blogs which have critiqued it may or may not identify as third wave, but how important is it to their definition? I’d say, not very. The F-Word doesn’t call itself third wave.

The questions about the identity of online feminists are more about working towards a kyriarchal approach to feminism and the discussions are about what is happening to marginalised voices within feminism, not about ‘are we third wave’ or ‘what are we going to call ourselves’.

When it comes to Double X, I think we’re just left with questions  - is it feminist, or is it not feminist? Is it a feminist magazine, is it a women’s magazine? Why is it called Double X, which seems to immediately shut out trans women and intersex readers?

Why did it host a story blaming another woman for not reporting being raped?

Why did it begin by resurrecting the tired and frankly boring ‘debate’ over whether feminism is dead (or ‘road kill’ as one writer put it)? At a time when there are new feminist blogs popping up every day?

Before I’d finished this, Eva responded with a long list of questions, most of which you can see below, although I took out a few I didn’t answer. Here’s her questions and my responses:

Hang on, here you go - I’ve put my thoughts in order:

1 What do ‘3rd wave’ feminists consider sexist?

See what I already said about the third wave. I’m not sure I would even identify as third wave these days. As always, it’s feminisms not one single ideological feminism, with everyone agreeing on a list of what is and isn’t sexist.

2 Is there such a thing as a bad feminist? What is it?

Feminism is a social justice movement, it is not about chiding other women, or establishing yet another set of standards for women to be judged against.

We all mess up - we’ve all been raised in a sexist, racist, transphobic, heteronormative society, and guess what, that affects our behaviour. We all also differ in terms of what feminism means to us.

3 Why has the Jezebel site hit a cultural nerve? And what, if anything, can
it tell us about the state of young women’s lives?

Well, for a start let’s remember it’s a US site, writing for a largely US audience. They hit a nerve because they write about sexism, they write about issues that affect women. It’s popular for some of the same reasons that feminist blogs in general reverberate with lots of women, people are launching feminist blogs all the time, we’re seeing a rise in offline activism as well, etc.

It tells us that women of all ages are affected by sexism, which we already knew. It tells us there’s a hunger for more than ‘women’s magazines’ are offering - one of the things Jezebel does really well is actually to critique women’s magazine culture. Their series of posts on photoshopping of women appearing in magazines, their series adding up how much you’d have to spend to buy everything in magazines, their posts making fun of the coverlines of these magazines - they’re clearly tapping into a growing frustration with media austensibly ‘for’ women, but which focus on undermining women and setting beauty and ‘lifestyle’ standard.

4 MEGAN from Jezebel said: “I have seen misogyny and, most of the time, it
looks a lot like the ideology Hirshman has the audacity to call
“feminism”.”  Does she mean 20th-century feminism was misogynistic? If so,
lots of detail wanted!!

No, I don’t think that’s what she meant at all! And by the way ‘20th century feminism’ was/is just as diverse as feminism is now, feminism has never been a monolithic ideology.

What she was saying was it’s extremely problematic to call out another woman for not reporting being raped, aged (please check, but as far as I remember) 17. I suspect it’s fairly uncontroversial that berating any survivor for this decision, which we know can be extremely difficult, is not on. Don’t I remember a piece in your sister newspaper, where Julie Bindel said she wouldn’t report it if she was raped?!

6 How would you describe the “state of feminism” today?

Just look at the number of feminist groups launching up and down the UK, from the Million Women Rise march in London, from the resurgency of reclaim the night marches, from the growth of feminist blogs. That’s what I would see as an indicator that there’s a renewed interest in how a feminist analysis speaks to women’s lives, whether that be on domestic violence, sexual violence, the ambient level of sexism in the media and the workplace, in relationships, etc - although it’s questionable whether that ever went away, to be honest.

7 Are these disagreements between young women today about what feminism
means healthy or concerning?

I think you’re looking at the wrong debate, if you’re focusing on this Slate-Jezebel thing. Like I said in my email, there are major issues, but those are things such as the issue of marginalisation of women of colour within feminism.

8 What do you think are the most troubling problems with feminism today?

See last answer.

*How is today’s feminism different from that of one, two - five years ago?
Why is it changing so quickly? What is good and what is unhelpful about
that speed - is it partly why today’s, 3rd-wave feminists disagree with
each other so profoundly?

Is it really changing that quickly? I suspect the tensions within feminism now are as old as feminism.

*Feminism was a liberation movement but has it gone too far - can female
sexual promiscuity go too far (what is ‘too far’ and who makes that
decision)?

Just the use of the word promiscuity there is very telling. What is promiscuity? What does that mean? To me, it speaks of trying to slut-shame women who are having consensual sex as and when they want it. Why are you  asking about ‘promiscuity’? Why not ask whether our wider society has gone ‘too far’, when we’ve got such a terrifyingly low rape convinction rate, when rape and sexual assault and domestic violence are so incredibly common? When rape crisis centres are closing down? When just the other day, Fawcett drew attention to how the English & Welsh justice system is institutionally sexist, and failing women?

Seriously, in that context, you’re asking whether women having a consensual sex life is ‘going too far’?!

*Is there such a thing as perfect egalitarian sexual freedom?

As above, wrong question, wrong emphasis.

*Is doing what feels good to you is the only standard that is allowed - is
this what has become of the 20th century feminist mantra: the personal is
the political?

I just think that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. What do you think the criticism of Double X for posting the piece about the Jezebel journalist not reporting rape is about?! That’s about standards. I think this post says it really well:

http://iamnotacake.wordpress.com/2009/05/14/stop-it-just-stop-it/

The blogger says:

Stop policing women’s sexual choices. No. No exceptions, no ifs, buts or maybes. Just stop it.

No. My decision to have sex does not constitute ‘risky behaviour’. Dancing on train tracks constitutes risky behaviour.

Rape is not caused by my decision to have sex. It is caused by the decision of a rapist to rape me.

Rape is not caused by my skirt, my t-shirt, my halter-top, my lycra jumpsuit, my boots, my grandfather’s hand-me-down cardigan, or my goddamn see-through bra with the plastic goldfish inside. It is caused by the decision of a rapist to rape me.

Rape is not caused by my presence at a party, on a street, at a nightclub, in my car, in my home, in a park, or in a hotel room full of football players. It is caused by the decision of a rapist, or multiple rapists, to rape me.

Rape is not caused by any of my previous decisions to have sex. It is caused by the decision of a rapist to rape me.

Rape is not caused by my decision to have sex with more than one person at a time. It is caused by the decision of a rapist to rape me.

Future acts of rape are not caused by my choice to report or not report my rape. They are caused by the decision of a rapist to continue raping.

Stop trying to draw a causal link between what a woman can control, and the decision of a rapist to rape. There isn’t one. There has never been one. There will never be one.

Rape happens because rapists decide it will happen. Policing women’s sexual choices is bullshit, and a misdirection of your energy. Stop doing it.

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