Tag Archives: minorities

Privilege and Platforms

If you’re looking for a post about shoes you won’t find it here. Sorry to disappoint any Imelda Marcos devotees. In the wake of the fallout around what has happened to Caroline Criado-Perez. It’s an unfortunate consequence, but I have noticed a lot of debate around the issues of platform and privilege.

Let me be clear and congruent. Caroline does unquestionably have a platform. In the post-I have just re-blogged, it has been noted that Caroline is having a backlash and has been accused therefore of milking the media coverage.

First of all let me ask you a question. Why would anyone milk abuse and rape threats? They are two of the most disgusting things that can ever happen to a woman or indeed anyone.

I’m quite sure that there are a million and one other places Caroline would rather be than touring the TV and radio studios telling this heartbreaking story. But if she didn’t it would be like letting those who did these things off scot free which I don’t think anyone should do. I am glad Caroline is telling her story. It is resonating with other women and making them feel able to share their own experiences.

Another thing. You don’t just get given a platform. You have to work hard at it and have interesting things to say; things that will not only resonate with you with the public at large.

I believe Caroline has worked hard and is still working hard to justify that platform. Some would say even I have a platform as a fledgeling writer who has written a few published articles now.

Nobody just handed it to me in fact it was others who put me forward who pushed me and said I should pitch my articles properly. The thing is it is hard work. Combining writing and conducting a successful campaign with full-time education as Caroline does is also hard work.

She saw an issue and went out and did something about it. That takes determination and courage. I admire her tenacious nature. Anyone can have a platform if they want it but nobody is owed a platform and nobody therefore is obliged to give you one.

As my mother said tonight Caroline comes across as interesting and intelligent.

Writing articles is hard work. It takes a long time from the writing process to the editing process and then bam you see the finished article. You sit back with a half satisfied smile and think “Yeah! I did that.”

But heartbreakingly it is easier for some it seems to be opinionated and tell people what they’re doing wrong, how they would do better without actually enacting anything themselves or making a contribution.

It’s easy. That requires no hard work at all and no effort. All you need is a degree in being opinionated.

Moving on to privilege many writers feel that they are disadvantaged compared to people like Caroline Criado-Perez and Helen Lewis, Deputy Editor of the New Statesman.

Admittedly I have been quite deliberate in choosing those two examples. I saw a Tweet earlier from Helen saying that she is tired of the backlash from feminists.

The line from the opposition is that feminists like Helen are white and middle-class. That’s a whole bag of chips on someone’s shoulder. While you’re at it I always have salt and vinegar please, no ketchup thanks.

Some in minority groups say they lack privilege compared to Helen. The whole check your privilege debate was raging at the beginning of the year I’m glad to see it consigned to the history books of the information superhighway.

But Helen’s detractors say they have no privilege and no platform. That claim is completely absurd. Even those in minority groups have some privilege when you compare and contrast.

Let me illustrate from my point of view as a woman with a disability and as a trans woman.

I look at the world through the prism of being a trans woman and a woman with a disability and I notice some things.

Some trans women look like they have stepped off the front cover of Vogue rather than set out the front door to go to work. Whilst me, I’m overweight confined to a wheelchair and I do my best, but my body is hardly Boudicca as I’ve said before in previous writing. But I’m happy I enjoy life and I have a gift and aptitude for writing. Not everybody disabled or otherwise has got that. I feel lucky

Some feminists can walk and talk. I can only do one out of those two. I require help to do almost everything else.

Going back to disability though, I have friends who cannot walk nor talk. They can’t direct their own care and have to trust completely in the integrity of others to do the right thing by them.

The point of those three illustrations although somewhat polarised on purpose, was to show that I am aware of my own privilege. We all have privilege in some areas and lack it in others.

Nobody’s odds can ever be completely stacked against them. I just wish genuinely that people would acknowledge as I have done that they do possess some privilege even though it may not feel like they do. As I always say, how many people would want to change places with me, or my friends who can’t talk? I bet you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t last a day. That my friends is what lacking privilege is in a nutshell.

I just wish that people would stop diluting the concept and misappropriating it for the purposes of attacking others on the basis of some perceived mythical privilege. Anybody can sit down and write an article if they want to. Anybody can log into their email account and send it off and get a platform if they want to.

There is not a different section of the Internet that people like Helen have access to. Yes she has connections. She got those connections by getting out and meeting people so people know who she is. You could do it too.

I realised a while ago that my own worst enemy was myself. Here comes my psychological parting shot. I put it to you that if you attack people like Caroline or Helen you’re not frustrated with them. You’re frustrated only with yourself. It’s easy to feel like the world is the enemy. It is difficult and hard and tough to change that narrative.

Once people do, once people listen to those outside of the creed of their natural opinions that’s when things start changing because you’re able to achieve balance in your life and balance in your writing. I don’t see Helen as a white middle-class feminist otherwise known as public enemy number one, I see her trying to make a contribution like everybody else. Ditto for Caroline.

I know I’ll be hated for saying this last bit. But if people put the energy they put into slagging people off on Twitter into articles solutions and genuine discussion a lot more would get done and it would be more productive and constructive as well.

We are at the end of the article and still nothing about shoes. What a let down I truly am. ūüôā

I’m aware of my privilege. I own it even though there are many privileges I don’t have. Maybe you have them maybe you don’t but still I don’t accept that privilege begins and ends at zero for everyone.

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How Intersectional Are We?

If the recent firestorm around Julie Burchill has got me thinking about anything, it is the notion of intersectionality. I am by my very nature an intersectional being, I suppose we all are really. But for most, I contend that paying heed to intersectionality, is an optional thing rather than a must do.

However, for me I have no choice since one of my intersections is fairly obvious, I am  in a wheelchair. I am also lesbian and trans. On one level, it could be said that this puts me at odds with the rest of the human race. To me this is also a victim stance.

On a positive note though, this gives me a chance to see the world through three sets of very enriching eyes, to bring something to the table that perhaps other people could not. 

I began to blog precisely because, in as much as there were some very erudite accounts of life with a disability, or life being trans, or being lesbian.  However though, I saw no stories and heard no anecdotes of all three together together in one big stew pot. Sometimes you know, in my experience they even fight, argue and squabble for attention. We need intersectionality though, and desperately. The need to live , understand and breathe by the  credo of intersectionality for the benefit and maintenance of a socially cohesive  society.It has a mandate but the question truly is , do we truly use that mandate to its full potential, and tap into it enough?

At the height of my mindset around the Julie Burchill, Suzanne Moore debacle, I was kind of thinking in a grumbly way to myself, that it was easy for the rest of the  LGB community, because they did not have to contend with this kind of resultant abuse.

Later though, I began to think again in a cool headed way. The simple truth is, it is not that the LGB community suffers no oppression, it is just that it presents itself in many inglorious and frightening forms.

The general population are en masse users of social networking. A common trick nowadays is to log into someone else’s Facebook account, and post something they absolutely would not. My friendship group is predominantly LGBT. Now , as a woman, I have a dilemma here.

A common lesbian prank is to write “I WANT C**K” on another lesbian’s Facebook. The dilemma is evident. I have two voices screaming in my head at this point.

The trans voice, inevitably will say, hang on a minute, women have c**ks too, it does not make them lesser women, which is true. 

However, the woman’s voice also presents another scenario. The c**k is also a phallic symbol. ¬†It could and maybe does trigger. We need to be empathic and alert to this possibly.

One of the problems with society at large is that it is too dichotomous, reinforcing too many binaries. 

As well as being a person with a disability, a lesbian and trans, I am a feminist. I believe that women’s rights in society are pivotal. You see friends, right from birth, I have been different, silenced and not normal. So female spaces, and feminism were always atrractive to me, it was a narrative that sp0ke to me, and pierced loudly through my heart. From my own standpoint as the feminst sociologist Dorothy Smith would have it, the world looks pretty unique, and pretty shit for women.

Women are consistently used and abused and objectified by a patriarchal society. They have 0ne night stands after which the girl is a s**t and the guy is a stud. Why is that? Due to male privilege. He gets a pat on the back and a beer perhaps, the girl gets objectified and villified.

I have had too many conversations that start with the opening gambit, “I’ve got something to tell you.”

I have grown up with and been around women all my life. One of the most painful things of my life was when a friend confided in me she was suffering from anorexia.

It is a disorder, quite simply that strips away your mind, ¬†body, energy, self esteem, confidence and soul. My friend talked to me for three hours, solid. She said to me that it meant a lot, just to be listened to. I supported her, loved her, cried with her, and heard her. I never judged her. To me, this is the quintessence of what being a woman was about. My childhood was a discourse of feminism really. Of periods, boyfriends, gossip, and fun and clothes. But the thing with it is, all the time, women are jostling to gain a voice in a society which ¬†is largely not given to them. They are oppressed. Women go through blood sweat and tears to be approved of by the rest of society. Their painful insecurities are often manifested in disorders like anorexia, and self injurous behaviour. Yet this is a hidden narrative, concealed on numerous support forums. My friend’s anorexia was a painful experience. I almost lived it with her. But the other thing is, women are strong. You will I suspect be glad to know that my friend recovered, but it was a long and painful journey for us both.

But nowhere is female oppression more evident than in the scenario of r*pe. Seeing the disregard, and the cruelty with which Fantine (wonderfully portrayed by Anne Hathaway) was maimed and objectified by her rapist in Les Miserables  was truly stomach churning. But for many women (and men too) this is a reality.The arrogance of it, and its cavalier nature. What right does anyone have to violate the body and soul of  another, leaving emotional scars and physical scars that may never heal?We read it in the news almost daily but what I see is a chilling ambivalence towards it.

I have lived through women’s problems and pain all my life. One of my friends who I went to school with said to me she was surprised I did not start growing ovaries and a womb! Another friend told me I was too much of a girl to be a guy for too long. Another said “you act like a girl , you’re like us, but you are not a girl. Why? That is what made me want to transition. For I had been pondering the same question from the moment I could talk.

I never owned my gender in my former life, which I can truly say was a living hell. I was massively proud to change that, and go from darkness to light. A former counsellor said I would lose power. I was never really interested in power though, not in that sense of patriarchal power anyway.

I am massively proud now to have a gender which matches up the inner identity and the outer.

What I am not so proud of though is the vile vituperation that was metred out to Suzanne Moore last week. I was more unhappy with the creation of the word”cuntards” in one of her Tweets and told her that.

The Tweets were nasty, and not befitting of fellow sisters. As I suggested in my original blog last week, the article contained much good food. She was arguing that welfare cuts are having a disproportionate effect on women and other minorities I guess. A point worth making. This is why I love feminism so much. It is a philosophy that speaks for the oppressed, and I include myself in that oppression frankly. Were I just looking with my disabled head on, I would say, fab! go girl! she is giving me a voice. Ditto to lesbian.

But I was upset by the Brazillian transsexual slur. I said that she spoiled the article with its use. However there was much good food there.

The reaction of the trans community was disproportionate though, and could be equally construed as hate speech by Suzanne as Burchill’s article was to the trans community. Suzanne has not picketed the homes of Tweeters though.¬†

The fundamental mistake made was to fight oppression with oppression. I see all too often that the trans community is quite happy to do to others what it does not want done to it, and that disturbs me, greatly. If Suzanne does it, it is oppression. If we do it, it is campaigning or activism. It is not right, unfeminist, and distinctly wrong. Here’s an idea, I am being quite out there I grant you.

If the trans community had not reacted the way it did, then perhaps Julie’s abhorrent piece would never have been written. It did not just float out of a vacuum. Something had to happen for it to happen. Cause and effect. Snowballs perhaps relevant.

Finally the oven ready broad porn star stuff. It reminds me of a certain bird often cooked at Christmas but that is a funny aside. I believe there is pressure on all women to look glamourous, sexy, wear lovely high heels and dresses and look sexy for men’s (sometimes) benefit. Social pressure, peer pressure and inner psychological pressure that all women, trans and not, fall vicitim to. And that my friends is fucking sad. Women should be able to be how they want.¬†

Many lesbians understandably rock against this pressure. I do not have a particular type. I love faces, eyes and smiles make me giddy. I want to get a tattoo. But I digress.

Throughout my University degree, I subconsciously weaved a narrative of oppression. Postcolonialism, feminism and other such things.

I was born othered through my disability, othered was not something  I became. I am guessing this is why I loved feminism so much.

Feminism is my narrative. What is not my narrative is seeing women oppressing women, and driving them off Twitter.

Women’s concerns should be ours too. At every opportunity, we should be shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with our sisters. The concerns of people with disabilities should be our concerns too. The concerns of lesbians and gay men should be our concerns too.

I have always been characteristically loyal, caring and empathic, before and after transition. I am not a different person but a happier one.  Women themselves made me a woman, through consistently including me in their space, not due to a smash and grab violation on my part, but, more simply, because they wanted to. The transition was gaining a  fun wardrobe and a better name. Apart from that, business as usual, but at the outset of my transition, I did feel very blessed to be  invited to a hen night.

So, how intersectional are we? The answer is not nearly enough. There is a tendency for  some to retreat into the trans bunker, and moan. That option is not open to me, because I am intersectional by proxy. I have my disability and lesbian identity too.  So in order words, it is a juggling act, rather like plate spinning in a circus.  However, I want to say categorically that none of my identities are a stigma to me. I am proud of them all.

If we want change, we have to be the change. For radical feminists, we need to see behind the lens of why they think the way they do. I do not want to invade their space, but perhaps understand it better.

Trans oppression is not the only oppression. We need to be careful not to be the perpetrators of hate speech instead of the victims. It just gives Julie Burchill more reason to think that her polemic might be true.

So how to change things? Solidarity with feminism is a good start. We also need to be intersectional. This is why disability rights succeeded. It was due to common aims, goals and objectives. What are ours?

We need articles like that penned by Burchill. They challenge us, we can rebut them and argue with them. But we do not need to respond to hate speech with hate speech. We have a responsibility to show we care not just about our own plight, but that of others too. Finally, to the radical feminists, I hear your position. You may not respect my gender. But I hope you can see that this is a decent piece written with the best of intentions.

So How Did It Happen?

How did it happen? That is the question on my mind today. How did it come to be whereby we have a situation where trans women are excluded from conferences, where gay people are told that civil partnerships are enough for them, and where telling someone “you look like a transsexual” is just a bit of fun. Yes that’s all. No less, no more. Just a bit of fun.

Being in three minorities, I see myself as part of a larger whole, or a continuum if you like. It gives me three points of difference from the majority, but by the same token, three different levels of understanding, and insight that others do not have.

Frankly, it is that across the piece insight which informs everything I do, everything I think, and everything I am.

As alluded to in yesterday’s piece, it can be tempting at times to view minority positions as a trade off. People have asked me in the past whether one minority group membership affects me more than the other. My answer is always no, because the truth is, they all interconnect and interrelate with one another.

If we imagine, for example that the three minority groups are three faders on a mixing desk, of course, we know it is possible to turn a fader up or down. And so it is with minority group membership. Sometimes one group is more turned up than the other, meaning that it affecting me more.

Being in minorities you also bear witness to the stupidity of the world on a regular basis. Thinking about Rad Fem 2012 again last night, I realised there were two fundamental flaws. I wondered if any of the conference organisers had seen Doctors or Coronation Street recently. Doctors has featured and Coronation Street  is featuring currently a storyline on the taboo subject of domestic violence against men. Therefore, it is an oversimplification of the truth for any minority to claim ownership of an issue, as though it exclusively belongs to them, and for it all to be dismissed as only down to misogyny. A very outdated and inaccurate view as well, a bit 18th century if you like. For in order to make radical misogyny stick, you have to believe that men are all born wife beaters. I want to be abundantly clear that I hate any form of abuse towards anyone. People say that hate is a strong word. I would suggest to them that strong words are required for disgusting things. I am merely suggesting that all sides of an argument ought to be represented.

When I was at University, we had to analyse and discuss the poem Leda and the Swan.

Now in terms of gender, there was a 50/50 split amongst the group. The poem is an allegory of rape. The lecturer, asked us which of us found it erotic and which did not. Please be careful and do not read further if you are triggered. The boys found it erotic, whilst the girls found it disgusting. This would have been a very cut and dry discussion for Dr Tiffany Stern, had it not been for a small spanner in the works, me of course. I was in the disgusting camp. Tiffany managed a feeble, “oh! an enlightened man”. However though, I think it definitely wrongfooted her and took her by surprise.

Looking back though, it does seem a little absurd. Enlightened thinking is not the province of a gender, it is the province of a person, or a group of them. To suggest otherwise is a falsehood.
Just because one group of men on one day found it erotic, does not mean that all men are misogynistic perverts. Let us remember – men suffer abuse too.The second flaw is one about what RadFem as a collective, claim to offer and stand for. They claim to offer;
 
“A revolutionary politics for the liberation of all women from male domination.¬† Radical feminists neither seek ‚Äėequality‚Äô with men within a fundamentally oppressive system, nor simply to extend women‚Äôs range of choices whilst leaving that oppressive system intact.¬† Radical feminists are engaged in the struggle to end all forms of male violence, and for the liberation of all women from patriarchal oppression.¬† In short, we are engaged in a struggle for total social transformation.¬† In Catherine Mackinnon‚Äôs phrase, radical feminism is ‚Äėfeminism unmodified‚Äô. “
 
Well sorry Catherine Mackinnon et al but I think quite a bit of modification is needed. How can politics be revolutionary, or even evolutionary when you exclude people intentionally from that debate, because they were not born women. They are not doing your cause any harm, nor interfering with it in any way. What if this oppression does not resonate with women, ergo, that it is something they do not experience in their daily lives. I agree with adding my voice to the scourge of domestic violence against women, and men for that matter. However, my question to RadFem is this. What is their end goal? How can they claim to be supporting all women when they will not let a trans woman, with a disability attend their conference. Let me ask a more baseline question too. How do they check? Pull down your knickers, French knickers or thong? 
 
Furthermore, let us suppose they did achieve their very fuzzy, vague, fancy lexical objective of total social transformation. What on Earth would they do then? Are they not oppressing women themselves by telling women they are oppressed and only their way is the right way? All points worth considering. Finally, if they achieved these vague objectives, would their movement, as a vehicle not be redundant.
 
I want to turn to the subject of gay, or equal marriage. Nick Herbert, the openly gay Policing and Criminal Justice Minister told the London Evening Standard ¬†that he is rather ‘fed up’ with people suggesting that civil partnerships are enough for gay couples. He said this.
 
“How would they like it if I jabbed a finger into their chests and said they should put up with a civil partnership instead of their marriage?¬†

In my view it‚Äôs not acceptable to say to a group in society, ‚ÄėYou should put up with something that is a second order institution to something that everybody else is entitled to, because we say so‚Äô. I think this is about nothing more or less than a fundamental issue of equality.‚Ä̬†
 
Firstly, I have much respect for Nick Herbert for talking about this so openly. I think some of the problem here is cisgendered ambivalence, amongst some sections of society, who it does not directly affect. So therefore you may get the usual tabloid-esque tropes trotted out. “PC gone mad. It’s all about political correctness you know”.
Secondly, the general public are aware of civil partnerships and perhaps sometimes think well they’ve got that, what’s the fuss about?
 
Constructing battle lines is the worst thing we can do. We should all work together. But this is what the fuss is about.
 
Cisgendered people would not like it if they were forced to put up with civil partnerships.
It is hard, I grant you, if you are not in a minority to understand how demoralising putting up with a seemingly indestructible status quo. But the sands and mood music, I believe are shifting, but more to the point, shifting in an encouraging direction. 
It is about equality and about rebalancing inadequate legal provision. I have two lovely friends Claire and Jess. They want to get married. Jess said to me once;
 
“I want to marry Claire, not civil partnership her”
 
Being trans myself I am a pretty open minded soul. I have to say, I cannot find any reason why they should not get married.
 
I tell you that it is simply not fair for this inequality to persist, and I am saddened that the private lives of the LGBTGQ community have entered the political arena. To the naysayers though, I say this.
 
 
Politics and legislation evolves. This whole debate reminds me of the mechanic of Jane Elliott’s brown eyes, blue eyes experiment. Those who want to get married, like Claire and Jess are the ones whose privileges are being witheld, constrained by a legal system that is not of their making nor design. The heterosexual community continue to enjoy those privileges freely, and it is my firm belief that gay marriage can co-exist alongside them, and will not damage or undermine the institution or value of marriage in general.
 
I dealt with Snog, Marry Avoid and its airing of a transphobic comment in some detail the other day, so forgive me if I do not retrace old ground, and politely ask that you read that entry instead.
 
However, I think that an account of Paris Lees meeting with Jonathan Ross is a telling one. He told her that he did a supposedly comedic item about ladyboys “because he thought he could get away with it”.
 
This is the kind of attitude we need to reverse off a cliff never to be seen again.
 
You see, as a minority, you need to set your boundaries, both as an individual, and a collective, of what is acceptable to you and what is not.
 
Also, in a minority you have to be one jump ahead. When you are trying to replace an old, accepted discourse with a new one, you have to know what the older discourse is. 
 
For the most part, people resist change. This ilk of radical feminists, those who oppose gay marriage, and those who think that bullying someone by using the word transsexual as an insult is okay are resistant to change. But you see, I am resistant to them too. No matter how many conferences Sheila Jeffreys and her mob organise, I will still be here as a thorn in their side forever. No matter how many MP’s oppose it, if Nick Herbert is to be believed, David Cameron is very much in favour of gay marriage. Finally too, no matter how many more episodes of¬†Snog, Marry, Avoid¬†¬†are transmitted, this will remain as a blotch on the BBC’s copybook.
 
Why did these things happen? Well put simply, the conflict in each scenario arises as a result of new thinking coming along to challenge the old. Historically, slightly before I was born but not much (I am 31) minorities were ambivalent, passive and submissive. You can’t beat the system was a common adage.
 
Well hey presto, now in 2012, people are realising you can. For the first time, people like Sheila Jeffreys, opponents of gay marriage, and blatant transphobia on TV is being challenged as never before. Through the Internet and social media, minorities are mobilising to create a collective force.
 
You may have seen an acquaintance of mine, Louise Hickman on Channel 4 News this week. She was charting the difficulties faced by passengers with disabilities on the London Underground in the run up to the Olympic Games.
 
A key plank of the bid was good accessible public transport links. As it was, Louise was unable to leave the train at many stations due to them having no step free access.
 
Sure, TFL came out with many platitudes, but the prevailing image viewers will have been left with is Louise stuck on the tube train, and how de-personalising that must have been. 
 
Through my experience in three minorities, I not only realise how the world feels about me, I realise how I feel about it. I do not want to live in a world where gay people cannot marry. I do not want to live in a world where Sheila Jeffreys and RadFem 2012 can disguise hate speech as credible theory, or where transsexual is an insult.
 
We have to show wider society than insulting a transsexual is just as bad as calling a disabled person a spastic, or a retard. We have to show them, and show them now.There is no spectrum here, where one insult is worse than another. All are bad.
 
I suspect that the reason Sheila Jeffreys and others are feeling so oppressed is because they are being challenged like never before.
 
My title for this piece was, so how did it happen? How “it” happened is simple. In each of the three scenarios, people thought it was acceptable to talk down to, de-humanise, and patronise and bully the relevant minority groups.
 
In other words, they thought they could get away with it.They did not detect or anticipate the new mood in the trans community, and others. Put simply, we are helping them, without malice, to realise they cannot.  That then, is one of the reasons why I am happier today than I have ever been.