I spent a long time refusing to identify as a feminist. I repeated the arguments I’d absorbed from the culture around me about what feminism was, a movement gone ‘too far’ led by a crew of hysterical hairy-legged harridans. But I still believed that women didn’t have equality, that we needed to fight for the rights of all members of society to have an equal and fair chance, and I started finding out what feminists thought feminism was all about and I started calling myself one too. After all, who wouldn’t want to be part of a movement that thinks, on a fundamental level, that women are people?
As I entered the feminist movement, I started finding out more about what the mainstream elements of feminism were really about. A movement led by people from a very specific demographic, primarily concerned with the interests of that demographic. A movement that can and would do anything to advance itself, even over the backs of other women. A movement that does so routinely, casually, and evidently without any regrets. An academic industrial complex, as Jessica Yee puts it.
One of the rotating taglines on this site used to read ‘[everything] is a feminist issue’ because I used to believe that, and I thought other feminists did too.
‘This is not our fight,’ they tell me, when I try to integrate class, race, gender, disability, religion, national origins, environmental degradation, into the feminist movement. ‘Your issues,’ they tell me, ‘are not important right now but we will get to them eventually.’ The feminists who want to work in solidarity with us are too few in number, are unable to push back against the tide.
The feminist movement does not believe I am a human being. It dehumanises me. It uses my body and my lived experiences for its own ends and throws me away when it’s done. I am something disposable; I am the sacrificial planking on the hull of the feminist movement. It took me a long time to learn that I was being left out for the sea worms to eat, not actually playing an integral role in the movement, to learn that, fundamentally, many people believed that ‘my issues’ were not feminist.
My ‘issues’ being things like the rape of people in institutions, the fact that the average transgender person can expect to live for 23 years, forcible institutionalisation of people whom society doesn’t want to look at, ridiculously high domestic violence and sexual assault rates for transgender people and people with disabilities. The widening pay gap between white women and women of colour, the fact that the median net worth for Black women is $5. The fact that fat patients die without treatment due to fat hatred in the medical community. The fact that industrial pollution disproportionately impacts communities of colour, that class mobility is at an all time low, that the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer, that protections for worker safety are steadily being eroded, that unions are under attack in the United States.
These barely scratch the surface of ‘my issues.’ Because I believe that no human is free until all humans are free, no human is equal until all humans are equal, no gains for one group at the cost of another are acceptable. I believe in social justice, in liberty for all. These are my issues. And many people who identify themselves as feminists tell me the issues need to wait. They pay lip service to them until something more important comes along and then it becomes all-consuming. They repeat the same mistakes make by older generations and appear surprised at the inevitable outcome.
The feminist movement right now is fighting an escalating attack on reproductive rights in this country. Most of the discussions about this attack have erased people with disabilities and transgender people. Have refused to explore the complicated intersections between our ‘issues’ and reproductive rights. Have used our bodies to score political points while at the same time telling us that bringing up issues like ableism in the reproductive rights movement is ‘splitting the movement’ and makes us ‘tools of the right.’
People who continue to be celebrated as feminist heroes leave a legacy of ableism, racism, classism, transphobia in their wake. The feminist movement has never gotten away from this, despite the best attempts of many of its members.
For a long time, I genuinely believed I could change the feminist movement from within. I thought if I fought hard enough, and long enough, feminism would make a place at the table for me, that I would be welcome in the feminist community. But it’s painfully evident I am not wanted, not in mainstream feminism, which is the ‘feminism’ most people are exposed to. I know well enough to know where I’m not wanted. The leaders of the feminist movement don’t just have a lack of interest in ‘my issues,’ they actively want to suppress my voice, and the voices of people like me. They want us to shut up and go away. It’s evident from the palpable sighs of relief when they manage to quash us, it’s evident from the total silence when a disabled women talks about why she is leaving feminism and not one person, not one, says anything about it.
So many disabled people, nonwhite people, transgender people, people of colour, poor people, adamantly refuse to identify with feminism in its current incarnation in the United States. ‘Feminists’ talk about this in the sense that we’re all really feminist in how we think, behave, and act, we just have some irrational resistance to the label. No, we’re not really feminist. The model of feminism we see is one where oppression perpetrated in the name of ‘activism’ is acceptable, where casual ableism, racism, classism, transphobia run so deep that many of us don’t even bother to point it out anymore. The model of feminism we see is one where a handful of people profit at the expense of others. And that’s not how we think, behave, and act. That is not what we believe.
Our resistance to the label is not ‘irrational.’ Feminists have made it clear that their only interest in us is as periodic tools; for advancement, as scourges people can use to flagellate themselves publicly for their ‘privilege’ to great praise from their fellow feminists, as pawns.
I’ve been accused of being a pawn to a number of conservative movements for disagreeing with some aspects of the feminist movement, but the only pawn I’ve been is a feminist one. Today, that ends.
I’m happy to work in solidarity with some of you, because I firmly believe that there are some feminists who are doing very good, important work, who are fighting to change the movement from within, who are making a difference. And I do not fault you for remaining feminist. It would be an honour to work beside some of you in almost any venue I can name, and I hope to continue to do so.
But I am no longer one of you.