Women who fail to adhere to the tenets of Woke Feminism are finding their work to combat sexual violence impeded in the name of conformity.
The war within the feminist movement is nothing new. It is the war over the increasing controversies around transgender, transsexual, and non-binary people and the various additional laws, privileges and accommodations being campaigned for.
On one side, there are the ‘radical feminists’ and women who, while not adherents to the radical feminist school of thought, have nevertheless found themselves on the same side due to their views. This group, while fully in support of acknowledgment of the struggles faced by people who do not present in typical gendered expressions, opposes the inclusion of males in the female category (especially sports and safe spaces), and vice versa. This group holds the position that the root of problems faced by women and grls worldwide is in fact their sex, so, the nature and demands of sex-based oppression must not be obscured in a hasty attempt to pay lip service to another group with unique problems.
On the other side there are the ‘woke’. A term outsourced from the social justice movement in the US, it broadly applies to the group who describe themselves variously as ‘social justice warriors’. Self arraigned protectors of marginalised groups, this school of thought is, ironically, dominated by people who subscribe to ‘intersectional feminism’. Intersectionality was a concept articulated by and introduced by Kimberle Crenshaw, a black feminist academic to draw attention to the intersections of race and sex in the context of black women. It has now been co-opted by the woke to propound unscientific postmodern mumbo jumbo composed of vicious moral grandstanding and self contradictory platitudes.
The ‘woke intersectional feminists’ (WIFs), have enormous support, and moreover, believe themselves to be morally righteous. After all, who could argue against the slogan of ‘feminism for all kinds of women, and indeed, for everyone? Lauded as the most acceptable, most inclusive (because what is a rights movement if not a stew of every problem ever) and most righteous feminists, they command large platforms at left wing media outlets such as the New York Times, The Daily Beast, Buzzfeed, L.A. Times, Vox, Vice, Jezebel etc., all claim to truly care about ALL women. The flag bearers of obvious mainstream online feminism today, they attain status through reductive memes and self congratulatory slogans. But dig a little deeper you may find that few of them engage in grassroots, everyday activism, and instead rely on their blogging, degrees in gender studies and twitter campaigns for their reputations.
The woke have decided that the other side, the ‘radical feminists’, are, in fact evil, selfish ‘white feminists’ and must be destroyed at all costs. Branding these women as ‘hateful bigots’, ‘nazis’, ‘white supremacists’, ‘right wingers’, ‘TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists)’ the woke feminists have spent considerable energy, effort and money towards shunning the radical feminists, having them deplatformed at numerous university events and talks, getting them fired – particularly from social sector jobs, orchestrating twitter pile-ons, and silencing them across a range of platforms.
Superficially, this reaction by the woke feminists seems logical, almost boring. You might think – ‘well they hate the radical feminists / TERFs, so what do you expect?’ or ‘Good riddance to the Nazi / bigot / TERFs’ or, if you’re generally tired of feminism, may say, ‘serve the radical feminists right, they are responsible for what the woke feminists have become anyway’. Or maybe you simply view it as a war between two opposing factions and find the treatment of ‘radical feminists’ by the ‘woke feminists’, a mere fallout from an ideological civil war – unpleasant, but not remotely condemnation worthy.
Here’s the problem though. The thrust of their attack, their Thor’s Hammer, so to speak, is that they, above all truly care. Their claim to moral righteousness and superiority over the radical feminists is that they, unlike the suffragettes, are the enlightened, sensitive to, and more committed towards, the welfare of the poor and marginalized women. Yet the shallowness of their commitment to women is laid bare in their actual behaviour.
Vaishnavi Sundar is a feminist South Indian filmmaker, the founder of Women Making Films which regularly showcases and highlights the work of female filmmakers and directors across the globe, spanning colour, race, and ethnicity. She has worked with marginalised women all her life, and was instrumental in securing access for women to morning after contraception in the state of Tamil Nadu. She served as a bridge to the larger feminist community for Ms. Dhivya Bharathi, another prominent South Indian filmmaker who highlighted the pitiful plight of lower caste women in India forced to engage in manual scavenging. Alison Wilson, maker of Horns on the Woman, a documentary about exploding sex trafficking in Spain, and many others, benefitted from Vaishnavi’s assistance and encouragement in raising funds for the making of a vitally important movie. For over two years, having crowdfunded its development, Vaishnavi worked on a documentary about the reality of sexual harassment in the workplace in India, a country which earned the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous country in the world for women.
Instead of glamorising or commodifying the suffering of the women with expected tragic crescendos, she produced a movie that highlights both the reality of sexual harassment, its multi-layered complexity, and the shortcomings of the law to address it, the plight of the women that the law fails to address, as well as the reasons why it’s enforcement is so difficult. In short, it is the movie that for at least any woman purporting to be concerned about sexual harassment against women and children, is a must watch. Vaishnavi however, did not toe the line of the woke, and refused to repeat the slogan ‘transwomen are women’, which is now the dominant philosophy among the western-educated and influenced Indian upper class elite that make up its English speaking social activist circles. Because of which she was cancelled by the highly influential and powerful Indian diaspora abroad; by the likes of Ms. Suchitra Vijayan of the Polis Project.
The extent of the ‘concern’, nay the ‘feminism’ shown by woke / intersectional / third wave feminists, whose entire brand is built on yelling that their ‘feminism’ is for everyone, ironically do very little besides spending a sizable portion of their time and effort in decrying and destroying other feminists who disagree with them on one issue.
Irrespective of how you feel about the specific war within feminism, take a clear look at what WIFs are capable of. The movie in question did not say, communicate, or imply anything anti-trans. If anything, by raising awareness and spotlighting the various obstacles in realistic control of male behaviour, male people identifying as transgender and subjected to similar harassment would have also benefitted.
The filmmaker, Vaishnavi Sundar, was not asking for any recognition or accolades for herself – at best, the screening would have involved a few minutes of Q&A which would have required her presence. Her position on whether trans identifying male people, whether transsexual or transgender, had nothing whatsoever to do with this film. If it had been screened in the communities of the wealthy Indian diaspora, it could have led to substantially greater awareness and solutions for sexual harassment.
This isn’t really about whether ‘cancelling’ a person is valid or not. It’s about the basis that they use to cancel, and what price they’re willing to pay for it. In this case, the feminist in question merely refused to accept that an ‘internal sense of self’ could trump material, scientific reality, and was caustic in doing so. She is not a mere entertainer looking to make money off her movies.
WIFs, the dominant strain among upper middle class english speaking activists in a country where women suffer and die of brutal sexual violence and endure unspeakable and persistent harassment by men every minute of the day, tried to suppress a documentary that highlighted the poor, and the ones without great institutional power, whose lives have been ruined by their molesters. Because they disagreed with the maker on a completely separate, tangential issue, one among many in feminism. Because apparently, their concern for women is limited to labelling, name-calling and deplatforming all women who have done tangible work for women’s rights, but diverge on one issue.
This isn’t surprising. In Canada, Vancouver Rape Relief – the country’s oldest rape crisis centre – has been stripped of funding for two years in a row for maintaining its services as single-sex – a decision supported and brandished by many WIF; the ‘feminist’ councillors who enabled it proudly declaring their decision to defund it. Branded ‘transphobic’ and nonsensically likened to a shelter that would exist only for white women and not black women (because skin colour and the female sex are apparently comparable), the Rape Crisis Centre has had to rely on donations, have faced vandalism and a dead rat nailed to their door. Droves of woke, intersectional feminists have celebrated and gloried in what they say as a deserved ‘punishment’ to a centre for relief for rape victims, disabling them from being able to function properly to service the poorest, most vulnerable rape victims who could not afford such services on their own.
The people and things they destroy may well be doing amazing, laudable work in other areas, may be leading environmental activists, working towards women’s safety, or economic empowerment. But if they do not pay homage to ‘intersectional feminism’s latest fad, they, and their work, irrespective of who it may benefit, is trashed. This isn’t really about ‘transphobia’ or which side the reader should take on the specific issue of trans identifying male people being considered as women. Even if you were to feel that the radical feminist side is wrong, even if you were so inclined to dislike them for it, that should be separated from the indisputably valuable work they do for women.
Radical feminists are not seeking to destroy woke, intersectional feminists over the divergence on this issue, because the well-being of the beneficiaries of the cause is more important. Anyone who truly cared about a cause, or group, should be able to put aside the disagreement and dislike over an issue, and achieve common progress on others. Which group indeed, would seek to destroy initiatives aimed at highlighting the plight of sexual violence against women and cancelling the people behind it? Misogynists.
That, indeed, shall be the legacy of WIFs. The insistent destruction of initiatives aimed at reducing sexual violence against women, because they are led or done by women who think the female sex class deserves to be prioritised and don’t fall in line with the slogan that ‘transwomen are women’.
Irrespective of woke feminism’s rage, we continue our work of doing what we can. If you feel as we do, and if you should choose to enable further dissemination of, and screenings of this vital resource, the steps to do so are here
Lawyer, activist against sexual violence and exploitation. You can follow her on twitter @lblwcri.