by Alex McKenzie (1st year BA Philosophy student, KCL iFemSoc member)
This article is intended as a reply to a piece written by fellow King’s student, Reece Warren; to the best of my abilities I will try and set personal feelings aside and offer a systematic critique and dissection of the article in question, working through it as it was written, which seems like the only way to attempt to make sense of it. The reason I have chosen to personally write a reply is that me and Reece are, on paper, approaching the issues addressed from a somewhat similar perspective; we are both state educated, white, cis-male first year undergraduate Philosophy students at KCL.
In the article Reece first highlights, perhaps unknowingly, a problem he sees with intersectionality, specifically the notion of white, male privilege. What he fails to grasp however is the necessity of context; it is crucial to understand that we cannot arbitrarily analyse a proposal atomistically, that is, without too examining the proposer. His judgement that highlighting instances of white privilege is ‘quasi-racism’ is clearly guilty of this misunderstanding; whilst, in a given situation, race may not be an explicit factor, it may very well be an implicit contributory element. Such privileges are societally engrained and will naturally shape one’s viewpoint in any given discussion. White privilege will frequently be relevant in a far more subtle, or nuanced, way, which the generalisation given in the article fails to understand. Naturally such implicit privilege extends to gender, which is also mentioned in the article, but too of any privilege/biases that, perhaps unknowingly, influence a persons viewpoint.
Secondly Reece argues that feminism cannot work as an ideology due to internal disputes. This position is so obviously flawed; by such logic one cannot identify with any ideology, as every position will naturally have internal disputes, however much we dissect it. That is, by extension, one could not subscribe to any general principle so long as any degree of dispute exists within those who subscribe to the principle. So either we can assume Reece holds such an impossibly high criterion for judging the coherence of principles, or ideology, or that this is nothing more than a poorly veiled attack on feminism, masquerading as academic analysis.This line of reasoning is extended, fairly incoherently, for a number of paragraphs; arbitrarily using the occasion to restate his opinions on ‘Blurred Lines’. Another strange inconsistency is the unbelievably general categorisation of ‘some/most feminists’, which is fairly characteristic of piece as a whole. A point is then made on Islamaphobia which I can’t quite grasp; he is either here suggesting that feminists are ‘‘scared’ of Islam’, or admitting to his own Islamaphobia. In no way am I suggesting that problems of this nature aren’t present within the feminist umbrella, Femen being a prime example of this, but as long as we reject his original unfounded and confused conclusion that ideology cannot have internal conflict, this clearly cannot be used to categorise feminism as a whole, much less intersectional feminism.
Jumping from this we are then given ‘the whole point’ of the article; that ‘feminism appears to be cycling off into an ideology based on hatred of certain individuals who exhibit a particular ethnicity, religion, gender and, arguably, even sexuality’. Firstly he then seems to accept that feminism can be viewed as a coherent ideology, moreover one that is defined by a minority of the membership. It’s clear that some feminist thinkers do this, Julie Bindel being a prime example in her trans* and bi phobia (though I do feel as though the suggestion here is that feminism is ‘based on hatred’ for straight white males). But to then move from this a conclusion about the umbrella of thought existing within feminism is ridiculous, and quite clearly a straw man argument. A small dig at socialism is then brought in, supposedly to reiterate the incoherence of feminism. No, I don’t really follow either. He then jumps to a criticism of the radical feminist notion of men as ‘the enemy’, which is again subject to the same critique as was given before. The notion of men needing liberation is then thrown in, which really does frustrate me. I am very much of the view that patriarchy does have a negative impact upon males, through its perpetuation of heteronormativity; essentialist conclusions on gender, with the idealisation of hypermasculinity. This is not, however, the reasoning given in the article, which, in its lack of detail, reads yet again as nothing more than a broad criticism of feminism, further perpetuating the equation of feminism with separatist ‘man haters’.
The claim that ‘Education has been comprehensively dominated by women for decades’ is unsubstantiated; to use a localised example, for Philosophy first years whilst there is a fairly equal gender balance of GTAs, seven of the eight lecturers are male. This is a clear illustration of the gender imbalance in higher roles, with King’s acknowledging the fact that ‘there is an issue of women failing to progress from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer and from Senior Lecturer/Reader to Professor’.(It is worth noting that King’s were awarded the Athena SWAN Bronze award last year for ‘commitment to gender equality in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM)’. The claim that ‘women have a significant head start’ is again naturally very problematic. Following from the claim that women dominate education, meritocratic social Darwinism is used as a reason to advocate matriarchy, with lack of ‘incentive’ used to explain current inequality ‘for [both] men [and] women’. This seems to be a clear example of victim blaming to those suffering at the hands of the engrained patriarchy, which is reduced to ‘for some rather odd reason, the most powerful (best paid, legislative etc.) positions within society are occupied by men.’
But when we’re discussing education it’s crucial to remember that, yet again, race matters. Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are faring far worse in the education system than other women and men. So broad based claims like “women are doing better in education” from the author demonstrate who you can miss by only coming at problems from one perspective.
We are told that feminism ‘has built an appearance… as an aggressive, hate-fuelled movement’ focusing on ‘hatred for straight white men’ (people have been saying this for years). Hm. We are told that ‘I have never met any man, either of my generation or the preceding one, who has viewed women as inferior to them.’. For one thing I really do doubt this is the case, with misogyny evident on a daily basis. However, even if this is true, it still provides no justification for the conclusion; concluding to a general principle from an isolated example is clearly insufficient. Contrary to the previous claim we are then told that ‘Of course there are misogynistic pigs’; as misogyny is defined as ‘hatred of women’ it is now presented as evident that misogyny does exist. However, rather than actively combatting sexism we are told to ‘pity th[ose who are misogynistic]’ as they are ‘destined for mediocrity’. Alongside the lack of criteria given for judging ‘mediocrity’, the latter claim runs counter to evidence.
To pity misogynists does nothing to combat misogyny, rather it passively perpetuates it. Internalized and ‘everyday’ sexism both directly and indirectly effect people daily and unless this is actively challenged we are tacitly allowing it to continue. Implying that feminist societies are cults is nothing more than another attack on feminists and considering Reece is not involved in the society at King’s, it’s a baseless ad hominem claim; through joining in societies or groups the feminist movement is united and the ability to actively challenge is vastly increased, alongside providing a safe space for sensitive issues.
The article closes with a throwaway essentialist comment, ‘men and women are significantly different’, and a dig at equality. I will end this one by reaffirming my belief that the personal is the political, and stressing that the only way to eliminate sexism is in active participation. Feminism will be intersectional, and active, or it will be bullshit.