You know what really ruins feminism for all of us? Those yappy, uppity, stampy women getting all angry at each other when really they should be pulling together and joining voices to fight for the same cause. Can’t you just agree, ladies? I mean, how on earth are we supposed to start smashing the system when you’re all too busy tearing shreds off each other? When you can’t even all agree what it is that you, as a collective entity of half the human race, actually want?
Here’s a blog for people who are sick of ‘feminist infighting’ or, as I like to call it ‘disagreement’.
Disagreement does not equal death
I love a good debate. I have friends with whom I’ll specifically pick fights, or raise difficult topics, because they argue well and interestingly, and because sometimes bouncing my opinions off someone thoughtful and articulate is a great way to work out whether my opinions are actually valid. Sometimes it helps me to hone arguments about things I believe very strongly, and other times it’s good to hear the walls of my certainty collapse with an almighty crunch as someone points out a point of view I never considered.
There’s nothing wrong with disagreement. If someone else’s feminism does not equal mine it does not make theirs invalid. Likewise it does not make mine invalid. What it might make is some fascinating discussion, and an opportunity for us both to think a bit harder about what our instincts might have knee-jerked us towards in the first place.
The power to disagree
You know who else disagrees with someone? Fucking every single person who has ever held power. Politicians, CEOs, generals, Newsnight presenters, newspaper columnists, comedians – everyone with influence and an opinion. But I’ve rarely ever heard people say:
“The problem with sport today is that managers all disagree on the best way to play football.”
“You know, humanitarian charities would be so much more effective if they could all just agree on the most important problems to solve.”
“Well, if only big businesses would all just sit round a table and decide what their collective priorities are, it would be so much easier to fix the problems.”
Of course they don’t, because part of being respected, part of having power, is being given the opportunity to disagree. Contrast that with any campaign for the rights of anyone in a position of less power, or who is trying to fight back against a certain type of systemic repression:
“I met a gay person the other day who isn’t bothered about gay marriage. Why can’t they all just agree?”
“But some women are actually anti-choice! So how can abortion be a feminist issue?”
“It’s sad that so many feminists spend so much time disagreeing with each other on Twitter.”
Etc, ad infinitum until I want to throw up.
You’re not a real feminist if…
I don’t want to be told that I’m not a real feminist if I like watching porn, or if I support the rights of sex workers. What I do want to be told is why you think those things might be unethical, and I’d love to be able to listen to what you’re saying, discuss the points you raise, and either change your mind, change my mind, or agree to disagree. The great thing about disagreement is that I’ll usually come away stronger for having had it – whether by learning something new or developing my arguments and ideas.
Likewise someone else might have different priorities to me. After all, if we’re talking about equality across the entire human race, there are a million and one individual battles to be waged in the wider war on inequality. The fact that we can’t all agree which problem to tackle first is inevitable, natural, and completely acceptable.
All hail debate
Perhaps this blog is actually ironic, and I’m citing my love of debate then telling them there’s one way in which they can’t disagree. But I don’t think saying “calm down ladies and stop shouting at each other” is really a disagreement at all.
The most irritating thing about the smug-smiling people who decry “feminist infighting”, is that they’re not actually contributing anything to the debate. So tell me you disagree with me, by all means, but by sighing a faux-lament about how feminists should all just get on and agree with each other, you’re contributing nothing of your own, and ignoring the valid and important arguments that we’re actually having.
It smacks of trying to keep people in their place. It smacks of telling us we’re unladylike. And yes, it smacks of patriarchy. Of course feminists don’t all agree on which problem to fix first. Of course we don’t all agree on how best to solve problems. But that is because – and correct me if I’m wrong but I believe this is one of the foundations upon which equality is built – women have opinions too. We aren’t a homogenous mass, united by our gender, incapable of disagreeing with other members of the sisterhood: we disagree.
If you genuinely think this about every issue – if you want Londoners to all ‘stop infighting’ and agree on where to put the cycle lanes, if you want all Labour MPs to vote the same way on every major issue, if you want men to all take part in Movember because they should unite to fight the issue of testicular cancer, then by all means tell feminists they should stop infighting. But if, as I suspect, you don’t, then either join the debate or leave it. Just stop telling people they shouldn’t be having it.
The right to disagree is universal, so don’t smile and sigh and lament our argumentative movement as you try to take that right away.