1. Revolutionary feminism? The SWP & #RadFem2013

    They are not always the most popular amongst the left but I have personally got a lot of time for the SWP. The activists I know are amongst the most dedicated, organised and supportive. They live their politics more than practically any other political group I know - every political protest is an opening to agitate, and no social injustice is knowingly allowed to pass without a demonstration of support.

    The SWP view of feminism is that they work alongside feminists, and share common short term goals. Ultimately international revolutionary socialism is the goal, and should be viewed as the solution for female oppression (amongst all other forms of oppression) - international revolutionary socialism, and not feminism. This is not to say that large numbers of members do not act with the same values as (marxist) feminists, and members may identify as feminist individuals. If this was all theoretical, then this could technically be a matter of semantics - broadly, any movement aiming to end female oppression could be classed as sympathetic to feminism or even feminist. However, recent events show that the reality is that there is a line in the sand.

    Following the Comrade Delta crisis, it looks as though the party line is that it is time to move forward. Party unity is seen as the ultimate key to revolutionary progress, and affirmation of the decisions made by the CC is seen as the way to continue in a unified way. There are issues surrounding how this has been dealt with which must be troubling for feminists within the party - the questions over how the complainant was examined specifically, as issues surrounding freedom of members to discuss and organise outside of the party structure, which don’t appeal to me but presumably are democratically agreed and known by members as party rules, are in a way separate. Whether this will mean an exodus of feminist members or lead to the intended level of closure remains to be seen. Can you be a feminist within a party that has the stated hierarchical goal of revolutionary international socialism above feminism, and will organise where necessary to reinforce this goal? I don’t know.

    Meanwhile, the radical Fems are organising again. After last year’s backlash it seems they are not specifically barring trans women in their entry requirements this year, though the internet is already kicking off within days of the conference being announced with the rad Fems in one corner and pretty much everyone else in the other. I think in general I probably share many more values with the SWP than I do with rad Fems. I don’t believe in biological essentialism, and I struggle with a feminist movement that excludes any women. I reject an analysis of sex-work which denies sex-workers agency, although I recognise the harm sex-work does to many women. I think it is far too simplistic to see gender as something which always privileges and enables male domination. I view the hierarchical structure of society as the source of patriarchy, not individual males. That doesn’t mean all issues they raise are automatically dubious - apparently they will be discussing how to organise mothers for recognition of labour, for example.

    Like the SWP, Rad Fems are revolutionaries who live their politics with a passion. Like the SWP they tend to reduce revolution to a specific class - in the case of Rad Fems, (cis) women are the slave class - which excludes intersectional nuance. For Rad Fems - or at least those who are particularly vocal in relation to this on the internet, who may or may not represent their sisters - frustration at the patriarchal system is crystallised into rage. Rage is good at motivating and driving, but it simplifies, and when it is directed at vulnerable others who are also restricted by the cultural power assigned to biological sex as a signifier of identity, it could be argued to be working against the overall goal of revolutionary feminism, because it stays within the (non-radical) boundaries.

  2. Hey Radfem2012: 3 reasons why excluding transwomen is anti-feminist

    Like many of the feminists I know on twitter, I was sad and annoyed the other day to hear about the way in which RadFem12 has set out an entry policy to exclude transwomen from attending. Not a massive surprise, looking at the list of speakers, and it certainly isn’t a new thing for the radical wing of feminism to set itself up in antagonist opposition to transwomen - 10 years ago I remember reading Sandy Stone for my masters, and it doesn’t exactly look like things have moved on.

    I’m not a Radical feminist, and I probably have a few views which would not be popular in that particular school - in particular the idea that gender norms harm men as well as women and that that harm should be investigated and critiqued, and the idea that the patriarchy is a structure we are socialised into rather than a specific force used by men against women. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t radical feminists who I admire, who have changed the way I think about things, and I think in any politics a radical fringe is important in terms of throwing up challenging ideas, even if these then turn out to be problematic.

    The exclusion (and the years of bile against) transwomen goes beyond problematic, however - I think it fundamentally shifts a movement which claims to be the radical core to the position of being anti-feminist.

    1) Rad-fem transphobia embodies the values which feminism, in its broadest form, encompassing a range of different strands - fights against. Oppression of minorities. Hierarchy. Restriction of knowledge and empowerment for those privileged with a body that matches their mind. Denial of multiplicity of oppression.

    2) There are real issues with biological essentialism for anyone interested in advancing gender equality. Belief in the biologically distinct essence of man and woman  - a belief which relies on and enhances the physical appearance of difference with little acknowledgement of the massive capacity for difference and or similarity between each and every human being, with sex representing only one strand - has been involved in thousands of years of life choices which can be described as restricted at best. Confine a woman to her physical sex, and you thicken the boundaries by which she will be defined by that, not by the multitude of other things which make her specifically her.

    3)Radical feminists have for a long time pointed to the violence which women experience at the hands of the patriarchy as their defining issue in the call for separatism. And yet it doesn’t take much research to discover the bloodshed in the history of transphobia, over time and now, which a narrative which confines these women to the role of other can only act to culturally reproduce.

    This summer I along with many of our movement will be joining with trans-sisters to tell RadFem2012 that excluding any woman from their conference is anti-woman and anti-feminist.

    More reading:

    An example of controlling antitrans sentiments (Autumn Sandeen) http://pamshouseblend.firedoglake.com/2011/07/29/an-example-of-controlling-antitrans-sentiments/

    Conway Hall respond on transphobia http://www.complicity.co.uk/blog/2012/05/conway-hall-respond-on-transphobia/