I have been trying to keep quiet on the ongoing schisms within feminism, and in particular the flare-ups between mainstream or ‘white’ feminism and those broadly grouped under the intersectional banner on social media. I’ve actually written and abandoned a couple of posts, realising they were going to help nobody and risked further hurting some who are already hurting.
Tonight a line was crossed and I can bite my tongue no longer.
On New Year’s Eve, Reni Eddo-Lodge and Caroline Criado-Perez appeared on BBC Women’s Hour as part of a review of the year. Along the way there was an exchange about intersectionality, transcribed here. Reni blogged her account of the experience. Caroline offered an apology. I declined to comment.
In the messy aftermath of the programme, Professor Liz Kelly, whom we might call a doyenne of British radical feminism, tweeted the most ill-advised hashtag I’ve ever seen in support of CCP – #reclaimintersectionalityin2014. I declined to comment.
Tonight, just as I sensed the passions and fury beginning to wane on both sides, Louise Mensch decided to march in with her hobnailed Christian Louboutin stilettos. In an astonishing series of tweets, the former Tory MP firstly accused Reni of bullying:
Reni was wrong and Caroline was wrong to give into her bullying. I wouldn’t have. #feminism
She then went on to describe Reni’s arguments as “rubbish” and “disgraceful” and accused her of trying to ‘silence’ other women.
I make it a personal policy these days to try not to march into debates between feminists, as it generally doesn’t help either side and it certainly doesn’t win me any friends. But this is not about feminism. This is about an embarrassingly privileged white person with wealth, fame, influence and platform on her side, stomping all over a young black person for having the temerity to offer ideas above her station.
The first point to make is that of all the people I know on the broad media left, Reni Eddo-Lodge is about the least prone to bullying and silencing others you could imagine. It is simply not her style. She does not smear others or troll opponents, she does not pick personal fights or call on people to check their privilege. Her blogs and tweets, though politically radical, are measured, studious and impeccably temperate. For what it is worth (and it is not especially relevant) they each contain more wisdom, insight and intelligence than Mensch could summon in a lifetime. I can only conclude that Mensch believes that simply by calling attention to racial dynamics within feminism, Reni is bullying and silencing… who? Well, racists, I guess. The alternative explanation is less flattering but perhaps more credible – that Mensch cannot be bothered distinguishing between one ‘intersectional’ woman and the next, and she was mixing up Reni Eddo-Lodge with some other woman. Do they all look the same to Louise?
We should bear in mind that Mensch has form on this. A few months ago, there was a polite exchange between Laurie Penny and Ava Vidal on Twitter. Laurie had advised ignoring a racist troll, Ava suggested that it wasn’t a white person’s place to decide how we should respond to racism. Laurie agreed, apologised and retracted. All would have been fine until Mensch decided this was some craven submission and wrote an article attacking intersectional feminism that was so ill-informed, ill-advised and ignorant it made your cortex bleed.
Many people are unsure how white privilege looks and is played out in modern society. This is it. This insistence that the racial dynamics structuring our society are the natural order of things and must be beyond challenge. This belief that any black person who does challenge existing systems is a disgraceful bully – however polite, educated and articulate she may be – and must be stamped on at the first opportunity. This is a grotesque spectacle of white privilege raised to an artform.
This week I’ve seen others within feminism ask why intersectional feminists and women of colour must be so mean, so intemperate, so rude. When we see how some in the white establishment treats those who are impeccably polite and mannered, I’m astonished they remain so restrained.