Intersectionality Fails

The trick to social justice is that it is generally about supporting marginalized groups because they are marginalized. It addresses power and, more to the point, the consolidation and abuse of power by the groups that wield it in an effort to protect the benefits that come with their favor within society. Even groups like homophobic crusaders that are becoming less favored socially still maintain vast control of the workings of society, so they continue to be addressed as a powerful group, despite arguments to the contrary.

That’s why when I see things like this post from Chief Conversationalist Kristycat, I cannot help but facepalm to near unconsciousness.

For those who haven’t clicked the link (click the link), Kristycat talks about the unfortunate habit of radical feminists to be extremely trans*phobic and to use the language of the people who oppress them in an effort to oppress trans*women, invisibling them and denying their right to define themselves because of some absurd idea that transitioning is some invidious plot by men to take over the female identity, simultaneously reducing “womanhood” to strictly being about genitals.

And the frustrating thing is, pretty much all of feminism is that same message!  You define yourself.  Your identity is your own.  You have agency, you own yourself, no one else is allowed to tell you who you are.  You create your own identity.  You are more than the definitions other people want to put on you; you can reject them, you can insist that other people accept you on your own terms, as who YOU say you are, not as who they think you should be.  Feminists – radical feminists like UK Feminist over here – accept that fully when it comes to themselves.  But somehow the idea of extending that same right to someone else is foreign to them.  It’s rank hypocrisy.

I would like to go on a small digression at this juncture to, again, point out that “radical feminism” is a thing, a real thing, that is not synonymous with “feminism.” Again, please click the preceding link to get a more detailed explanation of the difference. But my point is that I am not appending a scary-sounding adjective to another word to mean “feminists I don’t like” so I can later say that I’m not against such-and-such thing, but just don’t like an extreme version of it. This is very little different than people who talk about “militant homosexuality,” which apparently means “gay people who would like to not live in the closet” or “militant atheism,” which means wearing t-shirts that advertise our non-belief (because, as everybody knows, many a South American government has been toppled by militants doing nothing more than wearing Che Guavara t-shirts. Also, Che Guavara was a monster, stop wearing those shirts).

So, we’ve established that there is at least some evidence that there are radical feminists who see their marginalization is bad, but the marginalization of trans*people to be totes ok. So when Phil Mason (Thunderf00t) talks about “radical feminism”, he’s clearly talking about the trans*phobia exhibited by actual radical feminists, right?

Hahahaha. No.

Thunderf00t is one of the people who considers “radical feminism” to mean something along the lines of “you’re talking about things I don’t want to talk about!” And, of course, he compares Atheism+ to Hitler and McCarthy, because that’s a clever and original argument!

Mason is virulently anti-feminist. Now, he will claim otherwise because he knows women and some of the women he knows don’t care when he bites their legs. Again, we see much of the same brand of meaningless tripe in this video as we do in screeds from privileged groups when they seek to oppress minority groups. He speaks a lot about how “extreme” feminism is, how against critical thinking it is (this is the atheist version of a fundamentalist saying that something is “against common sense”), and then talking about “divisiveness” and the ways that feminism in the atheist movement is separating people who otherwise agree and weakening our message.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: division is not always a bad thing, and I would rather be divided and standing on the side of justice than united in injustice. These types of arguments are used to try and reframe the debate in such a way that those who are calling for positive changes are instead attempting to tear down whatever institution that are trying to change. It reminds me of the first episode of All in the Family, where Mike arrives and gets into an argument with Archie over the Vietnam War. Archie accuses Mike of hating America, to which Mike explains that it’s because he loves America that he doesn’t want it to be involved in illegal and pointless conflicts.

To which Archie replies with meaningless slogans and drowns out Mike’s arguments by singing a patriotic song. Some things never change.

So, we have radical feminists arguing against trans* rights, we have an atheist arguing against women’s rights. That’s it, right?

Nope. We now have a lesbian arguing that acronyms that include people other than gay men and lesbians waters down the QUILTBAG message and tries to determine who can be in the “Gay Club”.

In this case, the person is Ciara Mc Grattan writing for the Irish publication GCN (Gay Community News).

I propose it’s time to simplify and perhaps employ a modicum of moderation to the unwieldy beast of LGBTLMFAO initials. Do you sleep with people of the same sex? Welcome to Gay Club. In a relationship with someone of the same-sex? Welcome to Gay Club. Trans and exclusively attracted to people of your gender? Welcome to Gay Club. Attracted to both sexes? Good for you, but unless you’re with someone of the same-sex, you aren’t part of Gay Club.

On one hand, at least this acknowledges that trans* people are the gender that they identify as, but it also eliminates them from the queer umbrella, saying that the “T” was just “tacked on”. And bisexuals? Well, unless you’re actively dating somebody of the same-sex, sorry, you’re basically straight. In much the same way as the religious right, it reduces bisexuality to a function of outward expression rather than an inborn trait.

So, I’ve rambled on quite a bit now, but what point am I trying to make? The point that I’m trying to make is that I am always disappointed by failures at intersectionality. It astounds me when a group that is or has been traditionally marginalized then turns on other marginalized groups, often accusing them of trying to piggyback on their work.

The instant classic “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit!” addresses this idea pretty nicely through example.

And I am screaming this because I want to convince you, I want to get it through you that this is not a choice or an abstract concept or an intellectual exercise. I am not screaming because well, you know, I just discovered intersectionality and OMG SO COOL GUYS. YOU NEED TO READ THIS. No. My feminism NEEDS to be intersectional because as a South American, as a Latina, as someone who knows certain parts of the Global South intimately by virtue of being a Southerner, as an immigrant living in Europe, as a woman, I am in the middle of what I like to call the “shit puff pastry”. The shit puff pastry is every layer of fuck that goes on above me, below me, by my sides, all around me. And in this metaphorical puff pastry with multiple layers of excrement, I am the dulce de leche that is supposed to make it palatable so that someone else, more specifically the kyriarchy, can eat me.

I should also point out that this doesn’t mean that you have to have ALL THE FEELS for every subject. There are a lot of forms of oppression that I simply don’t discuss that often here, even when they matter to me. For example, I sincerely would like to see more acceptance of kinky individuals in the mainstream, and the word is the first of my self-description in the About section of this blog, but the fact of the matter is that even having been part of that culture for several years, I don’t feel qualified to examine that, any more than I feel qualified to talk about child soldiers.

Blogs and activists tend to find their focus, and that’s ok. As passionate as I am about highlighting the dangers of belief in demons, prayer healing, and evil witchcraft, Leo Igwe is much better at it than I am, and can more accurately portray those problems. I think that the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverful movements are terrible things that encourage cult-like behavior, but Libby Anne is much better at talking about that than I ever will be.

The thing is, while you’ll hear mostly about atheism, LGBT issues, and feminism here (and comic books and rock/folk music), there is a complete lack of denigration for the plight of those other groups. You don’t see me saying that people who complain about the Christian Patriarchy tendency to homeschool so they can control their children’s education are overreacting because the kids can always read the truth on the internet. I’m not making twenty minute videos saying kids abandoned by their parents for “casting spells” are just “professional victims.” And you don’t see me saying that kinky people can’t be feminists.

If it is wrong for the powerful to oppress the marginalized, then it has to be equally wrong to ally, explicitly or implicitly, with the powerful to perpetuate that. To fight it? Absolutely! But purchasing rights for yourself at the cost of rights for others does nothing but further entrench the status quo. We can, and should, all sit at the table without having to eat one another.

4 thoughts on “Intersectionality Fails

  1. highlighting the dangers of belief in demons, prayer healing, and evil witchcraft

    Butbutbut… what about NICE witchcraft? *puppydog eyes*

    And thank you for the link :) I have, I think, at least 2 more posts in me on this topic right now, at least one of which is specifically about intersectionality and why it’s so important. And why zero-sum games are bullshit.

  2. As soon as I saw “Intersectionality Fails”, I knew this would be about Radfem and trans* stuff. It’s kind of mind boggling to me marginalization performed by the marginalized. It actually gave me pause before switching over to an HRC-style icon (because of HRC’s reported behavior with regards to trans*people, one reason why I switched over to an HRC inspired, but not actually HRC, logo, because I still feel that small victories, even if they’re not the victories we’d like, are still victories and steps along the way to the ultimate goal… but that’s a tangent for another time.)

    As for tF00t and divisiveness: BRING ON THE DEEP RIFTS.

    • I agree that small victories can be a good thing, and it’s really a balancing act. I mean, for a while I liked HRC, I volunteered for them, the Rucksack of Equality is one of theirs. But I am also really disturbed by a lot of their behavior, so I’m less all for them as I used to be.

      And the cool thing about deep rifts? They tend to be fascinating to explore.

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