Following the UK Feminista conference, Nichi Hodgson reflects on the ‘silent victim’ and inclusion in feminism. Nichi is a 26-year-old lexophilic, omnisexual journalist, who pines for a sausage dog but refuses to entirely invoke Diane Keaton’s character in Manhattan.
From female domestic slaves, and victims of honour killings, to prostitutes, and those identifying as trans, feminism has always had a special responsibility to fight for the rights of some of the most marginalised in society. But ever since the Suffragettes were accused of being ladies of leisure with time on their hands to liberate working women, the movement has run the risk of perpetuating a two-tier system, whereby the ‘privileged’ feminists speak for the so-called ‘silent victims’. As excitement gathers about a potential fourth wave, the recent UK Feminista conference highlighted that the problem lingers on.
On the second day of the conference, at a panel discussion on the future of feminism, Dr Aisha Gill of Roehampton University, criticised the contemporary media for its sensationalist Sadean framing of the ‘good victim’. Whether Albanian au pairs or Pakistani child brides, reporters need better training, she advised, if they are to avoid endlessly replicating the cliché of the exploited female. The discussion then segued into a ‘construct the caricatured victim’ game, with each panel member, in true red top style, helping to mock up the stereotype of an Eastern European sex slave – (‘thrown into a lorry’ – Bidisha; ‘always Natasha’ – Julie Bindel). And yet, the panel, better intentioned or otherwise, was no more ‘voicing’ the view point of the victims than the papers they were criticising. The irony that they may be contributing to the victims’ ‘simultaneous oppression’, as gender theory has it, seemed lost on them.
How often have you been to a feminist event where strippers or women in hijab are afforded the title of feminist, let alone allowed to sit on a discussion panel as a feminist representative? Former strippers, yes. Those who saw the light, despite their swaddling, yes too. But the real minorities are still not being represented, despite the fact there are credible, intelligent defences for both opting to disrobe, and to cover up, and despite the fact too that the mantra of contemporary feminism claims to be choice, choice and choice again.
Prior to the panel debate, Sharon Jacobs, UK Feminista’s Campaigns Officer, led a Feminism and Diversity workshop, aimed at encouraging participants to think about the issue of inclusion when running a feminist group . Along side presentations from male feminist, Matt McCormack-Evans of Object, Michelle Daley of Disability Awareness in Action, and Tonya Boulton, of the Women’s Networking Hub, (all self-presenting minorities), Jacobs made two salient points: 1) Let those who’ve experienced it lead on it; 2) Never forget your privilege.
At the end of the debate, Bidisha offered up what she called a titbit of ‘fortune cookie feminism’, advising delegates to forget their hair splitting differences in ideology, to concentrate on the common cause, and to remember, simply, to ‘be on the girls’ team.’ And yet in calling on participants to ‘unify’, Bidisha drew attention to the fact that some who would identify as ‘feminist’ are barely allowed access to the term in the first place, let alone allowed to join the rally. The real minorities aren’t those visible in diversity discussions, but the subjects of some of the most heated and complicated feminist debates, still resigned to the shadows when it comes to actual in the flesh representation at such events. Until the feminist movement puts them on panels too, ‘inclusion’ will remain anything but.