A Jewish survivor walks into a Sexual Assault Awareness support group...
Feminism has a PR problem. What, to me, is clearly about empowering women to expect and demand equal treatment, some people weirdly think is about "hating men."
What, to me, is clearly about encouraging women to think for themselves and make their own choices -- whether that means breastfeeding or bottle feeding; pursuing a career in physics or fashion; filing charges against an attacker (regardless of what you were wearing) or just seeking support within your community -- some people think is about imposing conformity and restricting critical thinking.
Yes, I’m talking about “intersectionality”: the idea that, in order to be a “real feminist,” you have to believe in all the exact same social causes as I do – regardless of your own thoughts, knowledge or experience on the topic. According to Everyday Feminism, I am not a “real feminist,” because I’m not convinced that “medical fat shaming” is a problem in our healthcare system. Even though I am very vocal about my feminist viewpoints (as illustrated by posts like 10 Things to Remind Your Daughter to Do Every Day That Are More Important Than Brushing Her Hair;The REAL Reason Women "Spend So Much Time in the Restroom"; and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Gif All Women Need to See ASAP)… I’m not “intersectional enough.”
And, sure, I understand that the feminist LGBT community faces some unique challenges. I see the value of examining the challenges black women face that I don’t. Feminism is far from a simple cause.
But. It is harmful to conflate completely unrelated political issues with feminism. Especially when the “politically correct” viewpoint is toxic to both feminism and the women it’s trying to help.
The best example of this is the anti-Israel stance imposed upon so many normal feminists, by radical feminists, in the name of “intersectionality.”
In November 2015, the National Women’s Studies Association voted to endorse the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Even though Israel happens to be the most progressive nation in the Middle East. It is committed to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women international treaty. It's guaranteed gender equality since the establishment of the state in 1948. Women in Israel actively participate in Israeli life. The Israeli Declaration of Independence declares: “The State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
Israel was the third country in the world to elect a female prime minister. Its parliament is 18% female -- which equals that of the US, and is well above the Arab world's average of 6%. (Also worth noting: Israel is considered to be more tolerant of sexual minorities than any other Middle Eastern country, and even recognizes gay marriage.)
Meanwhile, Palestine is plagued by spousal and child abuse, rape, incest, and "honor" killings of women.
This is not feminism.
But let's go ahead and pretend that's not something I, as a feminist, "should" think about. You know. In the name of "intersectionality." The fact remains, the Israel-Palestine conflict is an incredibly complicated issue, with an abundance of misinformation on both sides.
For one, there is no “illegal occupation.” There is a lot of history that most people don't fully understand, or even necessarily know about. Chances are, if you think that everything Israel does is right/wrong, you have no idea what is going on in the Middle East.
In fact! A board member of the Michigan State University Hillel recently told me (anonymously), “I’m Jewish, and I’m generally pro-Israel. But it would be pretty ignorant and ridiculous of me to just blindly support everything Israel does, and I have plenty of problems with their policies.”
It’s wonderful to see someone who subscribes to independent thinking, rather than a more tribal/mob mentality.
(Also worth noting: the same board member also told me that the MSU Hillel no longer lists its board members online. “It’s possible to find out who we are, but we don’t make the information public anymore, because too many of us were being harassed and targeted.” But more on that later.)
For two, Palestinians attack Israel every day. Even the "small" matter of "kids throwing rocks" at Israeli citizens and soldiers is a serious consideration for Israel -- because "rocks" can mean anything from stones to bricks, and "throwing" can mean "slinging." People have died from "kids throwing rocks," which Palestinians tout as a "nonviolent" form of protest.
A Palestinian slings a rock at Israeli soldiers in a refugee camp. Image credit: AP/Majdi Mohammed
If I believe that Israel has a right to defend itself… does that make me not a feminist? Does that make me unwelcome at feminist talks and events? Or, to use an extreme example, does that mean I need to silence a part of myself in order to attend rape survivors’ support groups?
As it turns out, yes.
A Columbia University student group called No Red Tape (NRT), which aims to raise sexual assault awareness and end rape culture on campus, recently – in the name of “intersectionality” – adopted an official “anti-Israel stance.” Which means that NRT is
It is shocking -- shocking! -- to me that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that receives funding and logistical support from American Muslims for Palestine, an offshoot of the Hamas-supporting Islamic Association of Palestine, have managed to hijack and politicize a movement that was mean to support survivors of horrific assaults regardless of politics.
Meanwhile... there's been no corresponding "intersectionality" or compassion from radical feminists for students who have suffered discrimination, harassment and other antisemitism on college campuses across the nation. For example, here is a (non-comprehensive) list of antisemitic incidents that took place on college campuses in 2015, as reported by the Anti-Defamation League:
Swastikas at UC Davis, 2015.
It's weird that in 2015, the year we obsessed over microaggressions, these total major MACROaggressions were taking place all across the country, and the "intersectional" feminists said nothing. (Except that pro-Israel feminists were no longer welcome in their movement.)
But it's not that weird. Because this kind of "intersectionality" isn't about empowering all women. It's not about fighting prejudice. It's about imposing conformity and restricting thought.
Let's look at another example of an extremely complicated issue that introduces a conflict between "intersectionality" and feminism:
Droves of young men from African and Arab nations are settling throughout Europe, fleeing violence and bad conditions in their home countries. These men come from very different cultures, where women are seen as property, exposed skin is seen as an invitation to do whatever you want, and violence against women frequently goes unpunished.
Naturally, this can -- and has! -- caused problems for women in Europe. For example, 2% of Germany's population now consists of recent immigrants... and on New Year's Eve, a group of over 400 (some sources say over 1,000) of these men assembled a mass attack against women. They formed coordinated rings around more than 600 different women in public places and robbed, groped, raped and assaulted.
This is horrifying enough... but almost equally disgusting is that the attacks were covered up for at least five days. According to The Daily Beast, the authorities and media were choosing between stirring racial tension and observing these women’s rights. By covering it up, they were effectively putting more women's lives in danger.
Germany is far from the only country that, fearful of "stigmatizing migrants as potential rapists," has put women in harm's way. (Just "stay at arm's length from male strangers," advised Henriette Reker, the mayor of Cologne.)
Protesting crimes against women in Germany.
It was later revealed that this coordinated attack... is suspected to be a "game." It might even have a name. According to the BBC, an official report describes "taharrush gamea," an "Arabic gang-rape game," in which an inner circle of men attacks, assaults an even rapes a woman, while an outer ring of men distracts onlookers from noticing or intervening. The practice is described in a short and relatively recent Wikipedia post. Here is what it looks like (TRIGGER WARNING - this is legitimately disgusting and disturbing, and will probably ruin your day, if not haunt you for the rest of your life):
While reading more about the attacks online (it is almost too shocking to be believable), I stumbled upon this comic, which was clearly written by someone who also recognizes the problem with "intersectionality":
Before "intersectionality" became the atrocity that it is today, would you see leaders dancing on egg shells instead of protecting women? Probably not. Between 2009-2011, Norway experienced a series of rapes that was attributed to immigrants who were clueless about Western values. So Norway responded. By 2011, it established voluntary educational programs that teach cultural norms to immigrants and seek to prevent sexual and other violence.
Even then, it was controversial to "suggest that all brown men were potential rapists." Forget common sense! Forget that these particular brown men come from an extremely conservative society that is largely segregated! Forget that they have never seen public displays of affection. Forget that (as per the New York Times) “people from some parts of the world have never seen a girl in a miniskirt, only in a burqa.”
Forget that, before any student ever does any kind of study abroad program -- even one that only lasts a week or two! -- they are inundated with orientations, information and workshops to teach them what to expect and how to stay safe in the new culture. (I studied abroad in Australia and Oxford -- two places full of white people who speak English, and I still benefitted from such orientations.) It is a bizarre double standard to say, "Yeah, it's fine to tell American students who are going to Morocco for two weeks how the culture works, how gender roles are different, and even how to dress in public -- but it's totally not okay to tell African/Arab people who are going to Europe for the rest of their life what to expect and how to transition more smoothly."
During orientation, I learned that I would be hunting camels, kangaroos, bush turkeys and other wildlife. I was also taught what to do and not do while hunting -- both for my personal safety, and to ensure I showed proper respect to the Matru people.
Programs like the ones in Norway, while probably not sufficient to address what's happening in Europe in 2016 (#taharrush), are beneficial to everyone! They help educate newcomers on ways to be more successful in their new lives, socially and professionally. They connect migrants with opportunities and resources in the community. And they protect unsuspecting women from harm.
And, again, sure! It is important to look at feminism as it affects people of different races and sexualities. But right now, we have this weird situation where feminist values and "cultural tolerance" are in direct contradiction with one another. Paralyzed by fear of "intersectional" feminists and "political correctness," politicians and the media are pushing the conflict under a rug. Which, again, is toxic to everyone. It means measures are not being taken to fight misogyny and protect women. And it means that people who could truly benefit from a program like Norway's are, instead, left to their own devices.
There is no good reason programs like this should:
a) Be considered "controversial"
b) Not be happening everywhere.
Except that everyone's scared of looking "racist." Everyone's scared of not being "intersectional" enough. But I think I can pretty objectively say, if the New Year's rapes in Germany didn't shock you to your core -- if they didn't make you seriously think about the "intersection" of immigration and women's safety -- then you're not thinking. You're blindly following dangerous and counterproductive dogma.
The TL;DR is that "intersectionality" is out of control. It selectively promotes tolerance of some...while isolating and excluding those who don’t agree.
Why did feminism stop being about choice? When did it go from uniting a diverse group of people to support one cause… to forcing a diverse group to agree on every cause, or be condemned?
I’m not a real feminist, anymore, because I support freedom of speech on college campuses.
I’m not a real feminist anymore, because I haven’t decided how comfortable I am sharing a locker room with people with penises. That doesn’t make me a bigot – it makes me a modest girl who has had more than her fair share of encounters with dangerous creeps, and who is undecided about what is clearly a very complicated issue that affects women of different nationalities, religions and backgrounds differently.
I’m not a real feminist, anymore, because I eat burritos and Chinese food without fully understanding and appreciating the culture, history and colonization of these foods. (To make matters worse, I’ve also attended a few yoga classes. SO MUCH APPROPRIATION!)
You know who else isn’t a real feminist? Taylor Swift. In spite of being the most powerful woman in the music industry – in spite of philanthropic efforts, and in spite of standing firm in her belief that her talent, not her sexiness or sexuality, will bring her success. In spite of bombass quotes like these:
... She’s not a real feminist because, according to Everyday Feminism, "every love interest that Taylor has ever had — both in real life and in her videos — has been a straight, cis, able-bodied, fit, middle-to-upper class, white dude." (Forget who she's actually attracted to! Forget that the videos are about her own personal experiences! Forget artistic integrity! She should date gay, trans, disabled, overweight, poor black dudes, right?)
She’s not a real feminist because she’s “not real friends” with her background dancers – a very racially diverse group of talented women. The women of color who dance with her are, allegedly, “token minorities.”
And she’s not a real feminist because she failed to rewrite history in a recent music video set in Africa… and instead donated all her proceeds to the African Parks Foundation of America.
Writing this article, I've realized something. The problem isn't that I'm not "intersectional" enough. It's that this brand of "intersectionality" is the opposite of feminism. If you truly can't accept that some of my ideas are different from yours -- and that I don't necessarily have to agree that your pet cause "should" be at the forefront of feminism -- then you are the one who is not a real feminist.
As I wrote in The Top Happy Talent Posts of 2015... and What's Next in 2016:
"If I write something you disagree with... don't unfollow me! Don't unfriend me. Just leave a comment (unlike some publishers, I will not delete it unless you are spamming or bullying). OR! Contact me about writing your own guest post. I'm looking forward to growing as a civil, open-minded adult, and I hope you are, too."
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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