This week saw two amazing events in Cambridge. One was an event by Cambridge’s trans community on the history of the trans movement in the UK and especially its relationship with the feminist movement; and the second was an event called ‘Gender and Capitalism’ which was just so reassuringly radical and exciting.
Both these things got me thinking about what is really missing in the women’s movement right now: solidarity. I see it all around me in Cambridge. The Women’s Campaign has the FLY section for BME women; the LGBT+ section and then the main forum which many women feel intimidated by. Although there are many optimistic and empathetic allies, I feel that when it comes to the crunch solidarity is really not very… well, solid at all.
At the trans history event I felt a great feeling of love swell up in me. Here was a history of women who, like me (a BME, muslim woman), had been excluded from, patronised by and othered from mainstream women’s liberation groups. They had faced horrendous persecution and many had died. Although extremely harrowing at some points, the talk really made me feel a sense of solidarity with these women and I felt it enlightened me to what intersectionality is really aiming for.
If we start at the margins and work our way in, we will have the most broad-based and allied feminism. Currently all the separate groups exist not to divide the movement, but because women have different needs and desires and identities. Safe spaces need to exist. But at the same time I don’t think we should be waiting on minority-group women to come to the ‘main’ meetings; the middle-class, straight, white women are the ones who need to be more open to the margins. They need to take a step back for a while. In all honestly a lot of barriers have been removed for them and the issues that remain remain because all the other women – those left behind because of their class, race, sexuality or other identity – still face constant and explicit barriers and issues.
If more women worked to eradicate the oppressions facing women of the ‘margins’ (actually the majority of women in the UK), then the deeply engrained sexisms of society would be much more easily vanquished.
I really find that mainstream feminist groups at Cambridge talk in incredibly imperialist tones deeply imbued with a sense of self-righteous arrogance. I don’t blame them entirely, but I do resent it. If you really want to be a feminist you can’t be anything but radical, and if you’re going to say you are radical you need to be radical. In fact, that is one of the big issues. It seems a lot of feminists get around the issue of being an actual ally and actually standing beside the women who most need liberating, by simply stating their radicalism through speech or dress. This is simply not enough.
Talk is necessary, theorising is necessary, therapeutic cups of tea are sometimes necessary. But to sit around talking about problems whose answers we can’t seem yet to find, is proof that mainstream feminism needs to stand up and reach out to those whose oppressions hold the keys to the solutions to their own oppressions.
Stand back, stand up and stand in solidarity with trans women, black women, gay women, muslim women, women who are sex workers, women who are carers, women who are young mothers, women who left school at 16, pregant women, east asian women, depressed women, scared women, women who do not meet Eurocentric beauty standards. Stand up against misogynistic oppression if you are a feminist. Stand up and do not sit back down until our work is done.
As Selma James put it on Wednesday (so exciting to see her!), the women’s movement failed the bulk of women. When middle-class, straight, cis, white women managed to get into some job sectors or some universities or to afford childcare they thought the plight was over. The truth is, the rest of us women are still sitting in the gutter and until they remember that, then solidarity is a superficial word.