In their article “In defence of Caitlin Moran and populist feminism” , Rhiannon and Holly from the Vagenda magazine employ a heady mix of biographical context and anti-intellectualism to defend the indefensible: Moran’s dismissal of the representation of black women. They write that “feminism is, and to an extent always has been, a white, middle class movement”, which must be resuscitated from the “dust and the stuffiness” it has been cocooned within by reinventing itself. To do this the movement has to silence its most “academic [which] is almost incomprehensible” and express “its ideals in a way that thousands of women understand and identify with”.
It almost seems as though some educated women want to keep feminism for themselves, cloak it in esoteric theory and hide it under their mattresses, safe and warm beneath the duck down duvet. As long as that happens, though, the lives of many women and men in this country will remain the same. Feminism should not be a discipline far removed from the lives of ordinary people, but part of a larger social justice movement that strives to achieve a better life for everyone. Caitlin Moran may not be perfect, but she has come closest thus far. In the last few weeks some have been bandying about the oft-quoted phrase “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” We would suggest that anyone with an interest in genuine equality for all adapt that phrase to “my feminism will be comprehensible or it will be bullshit.”
Rhiannon and Holly wrote that Vagenda piece as a defence of Caitlin Moran (author of How to Be a Woman, columnist). Assigned to interview Lena Dunham, whose show “Girls” has been both much feted for showing something real about the lives of young women and much critiqued for being relentlessly white, Moran was tweeted at by someone asking whether she addressed that lack in the interview. She tweeted back, “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit about it” thus unleashing (come on, it’s the internet, what else could be unleashed) mainly a sh*tstorm but also some thoughtful commentary (see Guardian story which opens this post as one example).
One of the things I find really curious about the Vagenda “defence” (which they have of course had to defend through twitter now) is that their argument in some ways closely tracks the arguments made in Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism edited by Jessica Yee (now Danforth). Until it diametrically diverges. That book (see here for an old IFLS post) also took aim at the academy – but from a very different position. Yee and her co authors were largely women of colour, deeply concerned about the silencing of particular experiences and concerns by academic feminism, not just the academy’s more general tendency to either exclude or pirate experiences into bodies of work made inaccessible to the subjects of study.
I don’t think the Vagenda argument has much to it. They slip between class and race in both their original piece and their defences, and to the extent that they are claiming that intersectionality is incomprehensible, I don’t think they can really run with that…it’s not that hard to understand. Operationalise, detail, capture, yes, but understanding the basic concept? Please.
So that’s the story. In other news, British papers are full of articles about the netmum’s survey (if you’re reading this blog, let me warn you that clicking through will probably really piss you off) that found feminism irrelevant and used FeMEnism to “reflect women’s personal choice”. Argh. See here, here and here for examples of feminist responses.