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On feminist infighting

You know what really ruins feminism for all of us? Those yappy, uppity, stampy women getting all angry at each other when really they should be pulling together and joining voices to fight for the same cause. Can’t you just agree, ladies? I mean, how on earth are we supposed to start smashing the system when you’re all too busy tearing shreds off each other? When you can’t even all agree what it is that you, as a collective entity of half the human race, actually want?

Here’s a blog for people who are sick of ‘feminist infighting’ or, as I like to call it ‘disagreement’.

Disagreement does not equal death

I love a good debate. I have friends with whom I’ll specifically pick fights, or raise difficult topics, because they argue well and interestingly, and because sometimes bouncing my opinions off someone thoughtful and articulate is a great way to work out whether my opinions are actually valid. Sometimes it helps me to hone arguments about things I believe very strongly, and other times it’s good to hear the walls of my certainty collapse with an almighty crunch as someone points out a point of view I never considered.

There’s nothing wrong with disagreement. If someone else’s feminism does not equal mine it does not make theirs invalid. Likewise it does not make mine invalid. What it might make is some fascinating discussion, and an opportunity for us both to think a bit harder about what our instincts might have knee-jerked us towards in the first place.

The power to disagree

You know who else disagrees with someone? Fucking every single person who has ever held power. Politicians, CEOs, generals, Newsnight presenters, newspaper columnists, comedians – everyone with influence and an opinion. But I’ve rarely ever heard people say:

“The problem with sport today is that managers all disagree on the best way to play football.”

“You know, humanitarian charities would be so much more effective if they could all just agree on the most important problems to solve.”

“Well, if only big businesses would all just sit round a table and decide what their collective priorities are, it would be so much easier to fix the problems.”

Of course they don’t, because part of being respected, part of having power, is being given the opportunity to disagree. Contrast that with any campaign for the rights of anyone in a position of less power, or who is trying to fight back against a certain type of systemic repression:

“I met a gay person the other day who isn’t bothered about gay marriage. Why can’t they all just agree?”

“But some women are actually anti-choice! So how can abortion be a feminist issue?”

“It’s sad that so many feminists spend so much time disagreeing with each other on Twitter.”

Etc, ad infinitum until I want to throw up.

You’re not a real feminist if…

I don’t want to be told that I’m not a real feminist if I like watching porn, or if I support the rights of sex workers. What I do want to be told is why you think those things might be unethical, and I’d love to be able to listen to what you’re saying, discuss the points you raise, and either change your mind, change my mind, or agree to disagree. The great thing about disagreement is that I’ll usually come away stronger for having had it – whether by learning something new or developing my arguments and ideas.

Likewise someone else might have different priorities to me. After all, if we’re talking about equality across the entire human race, there are a million and one individual battles to be waged in the wider war on inequality. The fact that we can’t all agree which problem to tackle first is inevitable, natural, and completely acceptable.

All hail debate

Perhaps this blog is actually ironic, and I’m citing my love of debate then telling them there’s one way in which they can’t disagree. But I don’t think saying “calm down ladies and stop shouting at each other” is really a disagreement at all.

The most irritating thing about the smug-smiling people who decry “feminist infighting”, is that they’re not actually contributing anything to the debate. So tell me you disagree with me, by all means, but by sighing a faux-lament about how feminists should all just get on and agree with each other, you’re contributing nothing of your own, and ignoring the valid and important arguments that we’re actually having.

It smacks of trying to keep people in their place. It smacks of telling us we’re unladylike. And yes, it smacks of patriarchy. Of course feminists don’t all agree on which problem to fix first. Of course we don’t all agree on how best to solve problems. But that is because – and correct me if I’m wrong but I believe this is one of the foundations upon which equality is built – women have opinions too. We aren’t a homogenous mass, united by our gender, incapable of disagreeing with other members of the sisterhood: we disagree.

If you genuinely think this about every issue – if you want Londoners to all ‘stop infighting’ and agree on where to put the cycle lanes, if you want all Labour MPs to vote the same way on every major issue, if you want men to all take part in Movember because they should unite to fight the issue of testicular cancer, then by all means tell feminists they should stop infighting. But if, as I suspect, you don’t, then either join the debate or leave it. Just stop telling people they shouldn’t be having it.

The right to disagree is universal, so don’t smile and sigh and lament our argumentative movement as you try to take that right away.


  • Dumb Domme says:

    Great post, GOTN!!! Kudos to you for saying this! (It desperately needs to be said)

    With all the recent attention to the feminist infighting (unfortunately, with little attention paid to the actual aims of feminism/s), I actually started drafting something similar the other day.

    My point in all of it was this: People fight about this stuff because IT’S IMPORTANT STUFF, and because it’s important stuff, they have every right to debate — they SHOULD debate. That debate should be applauded and it should be held up as evidence of how important the work is and how badly it’s needed.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thanks DD! You’re right – we debate it because it’s important. If we all just nodded, smiled and agreed, chances are it’d be because something was so obvious that it wasn’t necessary to fight for it. =)

  • Anon (male) person says:

    I love you and I want to bear your children.

    (Of course, anyone who thinks that sex-work is unethical really needs to examine their “feminism” and see if it actually is. And ditto for many of the other topics you raise and discuss on this blog.)

    • Girl on the net says:

      Cheers Anon – I’m not planning on having any children, but should it become possible for men to bear children I will certainly look into it =)

      I don’t think people who disagree with sex work are necessarily un-feminist, but I think the logic that takes someone from ‘equality for all’ to ‘sex work is wrong’ certainly includes a few principles/logical leaps that I wouldn’t personally agree with.

  • farah says:

    It depends entirely on whether I am actively trying to seek a new way, or to get something specific done. I’ve watched movement after movement go under because we lost sight of what we were fighting for (often quite small and specific like saving a local nursery) as we argued over doctrinal or very real (and problematic) differences. It’s not that I want to ignore the differences, but I get exhausted when the differences take over the issue. I know there is privilege embedded in there, I’m not blind to it. But when push comes to shove, united we stand, divided we fall, and one of the great tragedies of the left is that we have never really managed to do it more than briefly.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hi farah – I get your point, and I do think it’s important to remember that a lot of the time our aims are the same, and often disagreements come down to the way in which we want to do something rather than the end goal we’re looking to achieve. But I’m not wholly sure that we always need to stand united on things or they will crumble – one of the things I love about ‘the left’ (in which sort of nebulous group I’d probably put myself in) is that I feel like it’s actually pretty flexible. I can join a march to save the NHS, or to demonstrate for the rights of women to wear whatever the hell they like without being told they’re inviting sexual assault, then a few hours later sit down in the pub with this group of people who all joined together for the same cause, and debate with each other because we disagree on certain details. That sounds a bit idealistic, but I think that generally we’re relatively good at organising in big groups when we need to, yet also being open to details and more nuanced arguments and viewpoints. This runs counter to your nursery example, so I appreciate that it doesn’t always happen in a brilliant way, and there are times when the debate ends up taking the spotlight away from the goal we’re actually fighting for. It’s just I think that this particular problem should be tackled by those involved in the debate rather than the people on the sidelines who won’t get involved other than to say ‘stop fighting’.

  • Gloria says:

    This is very good point was shocked that for example people were vilifying people for campaigning to have a woman on £10 note and saying how they had spent time raising £16,000 for it, when this could have been spent on different causes, which seems absurd really because clearly any time or energy you spend doing one thing could be spent doing something else!

    • Girl on the net says:

      I see what you’re saying, but part of what I’m saying in this article is that it’s OK to do that – it’s OK to say ‘hey, I’m not sure this was the best use of our time’ if you’re invested in the cause. Debating priorities is important, as long as you don’t assume all of us should have the same priorities. I guess my main issue is with people who stand completely outside the debate, who wouldn’t invest in either one side or the other (in this example either for or against raising money for Jane Austen notes) and tut at all the silly women having their fights.

      If I’m completely honest, I think I probably stand on the side of ‘this wouldn’t be one of my priorities’, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to show more women who have had an impact on history. I certainly don’t object to having Austen on a tenner, and although I didn’t personally chip in, it was clearly a fantastic achievement for those involved. This sounds incredibly wishy-washy, probably or exactly the reasons I’ve stated above: we all have different priorities, and although this wasn’t one of mine that doesn’t mean I can’t say well done to those for whom it was =)

      • Gloria says:

        I see your point, i think the main thing I was saying is that although clearly those who are not involved in either view and snipe from sidelines are worse, I was shocked by some of the agression coming from people who identify as feminists and were throwing abuse at this cause, I am new to this campagning and this struck a chord with me, clearly I understand that there are other issues and I am not opposed to debating priorities, but I dont know if some of the messages could be called debate and it made me uneasy that something while not the top priority but clearly can identify as a good thing would have such vetriol thrown at it by people in support of a feminist cause? Sorry I am not doing that well at expressing what i mean here,

  • Stew says:

    Great stuff GOTN. This is going to seem a tangent, but it’s interesting you bring up the cycle lanes thing. Building cycle lanes is a “project” right? It’s a thing that a bunch of people get together and do. The key thing I think about here is that arguing about cycle lanes means they don’t get built, as people with influence don’t agree.

    Comparing this to feminism, feminism isn’t a “project” in quite the same way. It’s not something that doesn’t start because people don’t agree. It’s not a problem if there’s indecision, right?

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hmm… it’s not a project in quite the same way, but the reason I used the analogy is precisely because of what you say – it’s not like if we don’t all agree nothing will get done. And yet lots of the ‘stop your feminist infighting’ arguments seem to suggest exactly that – that disagreement is bringing feminism to a complete halt, when actually there are many things that continue to happen, and that we can continue to fight for, while we’re discussing other issues of importance.

  • TommyOD says:

    I’m all for debate, and fully support proper equality. What I find irritating though is the sheer number of articles on the Guardian attacking “Men” in vast sweeping statements which I just can not subscribe to. Fair enough there are some dodgy and shady characters out there but just because I am male doesn’t automatically make me one of them.

    There doesn’t seem to be a single goal when you read some of these articles. Some ridicule people like Miley Cyrus, others praise her, some shame Beyonce et al and others say that what they do is empowering – I can see where both are coming from. I’m not trying to suggest that Feminism should be one big monolithic ideal, of course there will be differences of opinion but there doesn’t seem to be a focus and the people that seem to bring it down more than any man are the women who snipe at each other. As far as I can see one of the biggest obstacles to feminism is other women and publications such as Heat magazine, Hello etc. If a common set of ideals could be established it would be a start – it would give something to aim for and a goal to achieve.

    This is just my, condensed, view. I know it’s a complicated issue and there are so many facets to it that I could never agree with all of them; though I admit that I found being labelled a rapist by the Guardian – purely on the basis of being male – to be beyond offensive.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Could you link me to an article that gives an example of this? I’ve seen a lot of stuff in the guardian, some I agree with and some I don’t, but I’ve never seen a simple”men are all rapists” narrative.

      • TommyOD says:

        I’ll see if I can find it :) It was sometime in 2013. It was contained quite early on in the article. I wish I could remember who wrote it.

        • TommyOD says:

          Having searched alms every article from the 10 pages of search the Guardian site will allow I have not been able to find the one that I was talking about. There are some much older articles, but I had not read them before. I remember it well though. Anyway, it was a one off but assertions like that, in my opinion, help no one.

          • Girl on the net says:

            Thanks for having a look for it. Here goes – I agree with you that this stuff needs to be challenged when it comes up, and in fact I have recently challenged it here: Because I am badass like that.

            However (and it’s a pretty big ‘however’) although this stuff needs to be challenged, I feel like your comment is making out that it is a huge and frequent problem. You mention “he sheer number of articles on the Guardian attacking “Men” in vast sweeping statements” – I honestly can’t say I’ve seen lots of articles that do this, and I read the Guardian a lot. What I *do* see is a lot of interesting debate on the nature of feminism and the problems in our society that lead us towards inequality. Some of them deal with the issues you bring up, like Heat magazine and it’s hateful, repellent ways of presenting the female body, etc.

            Unfortunately, though, it feels a bit like you’re trying to polarise this debate into one that’s ‘women vs men’, and I find that incredibly uncomfortable. Yes, some women say and do things that perpetuate societal stereotypes, but so do some men. And I think the problem is far wider and deeper than just one gender versus another. By leaving a comment in a blog about broad discussion and debate within the feminist movement and saying “but men are victims too and I find this offensive”, it feels like you’re trying to derail a debate and turn it into the conversation that you want to have about the issues that matter to you.

            I fully agree that these issues matter, and I am 100% with you that not all men are rapists and that it’s damaging and offensive to portray them as such, but I’m not entirely sure where this particular issue fits into the debate about feminist infighting.

  • TomJ says:

    The subtext of someone saying “women/feminists should not disagree with each other” is “women/feminists should not disagree with me”; it is a not very subtle implication that if there must be agreement there must be only one respectable, acceptable view and the person who knows that people shouldn’t be disagreeing is hardly going to old an unacceptable view. It has the delightful (from the pov of the person putting it forward) follow-on implication that anyone who doesn’t hold acceptable views on any issue is not a respectable person, but some sort of enemy of the Cause whose every argument can henceforth be ignored.

  • Robofish says:

    A quick comment on this one, if it’s not too late: disagreement and infighting aren’t quite the same thing. Disagreement is perfectly fine and healthy, and should be welcomed. What’s disappointing is when it overcomes a group and it descends into infighting, spending most of its time obsessed with differences among its members. Feminism is too vast, diverse and open a group to collapse in that way; but many more tight-knit political groups have, usually bringing joy to their enemies.

    What I find really depressing, though, are self-described feminists who spend far more time attacking other feminists than criticising ‘the patriarchy’, or working to advance feminist causes (very much *not* describing this blog, but certain others I’ve come across). Those are the really destructive voices that go beyond valuable criticism, and cause more harm than good to their supposed cause. For some reason you find a lot of them on Twitter…

    • Girl on the net says:

      I think I pretty much agree with you – disagreement and infighting *aren’t* the same thing, but the thing that prompted this blog is that so much genuine, useful disagreement is currently categorised as ‘infighting’ and thus written off as unhelpful and crap, when in fact it’s anything but.

      I have come across quite a few contributions that I’d personally say were deeply unhelpful, but that’s the nature of debate – realistically we’re not all going to agree on priorities, and often something that is unhelpful to me might be incredibly helpful to others. I’m not saying that we should give everything equal time, or even that every single contribution is both useful and valid, but what I am saying is that I’d much rather someone said “that’s a bad argument for these reasons” than said “why won’t you just stop fighting? You’re giving us all a bad name.”

      Hope that makes sense! And it’s never too late to comment =)

  • audren says:

    What bothers me is not so much that feminists disagree, but that feminists spend a lot of time and energy shouting other feminists down, deciding who is and who is not a true feminist, deciding which topics are and aren’t true feminist causes. I believe anyone should have the right to self-identify as a feminist, but it seems someone is de facto illegitimate in “the feminist debate” if they are :
    – privileged (as in white, cis-gender, straight, educated)
    – not a rape survivor
    – not a woman.
    And a good many times when I have tried voicing some sort of personal divergence (and god knows I am mild in the way I express disagreement) among the comments of a feminist blog, my argument has been promptly labelled as “mansplaining”, essentially shuting down any further discussion.
    So now I have stopped trying to participate in a discussion in-situ. I just write blog posts of my own when I have something to say (or I translate blog posts I love).

  • audren says:

    As to why many men routinely feel that feminism is targeting “all men”, I think I have an explanation. Most of us know that feminists do not use the term “men” to describe “all men”, but as shorthand for “male dominated culture”. However, even convinced feminists like me continue to feel uneasy and somehow targeted when the word used is actually “men”. I once wrote in the comments of “Crepe Georgette” (a great French feminist blog) that I’d really like to see the word “machos” (or something to that effect) replace the word “men” in feminist discussion, so that we male feminists or aspiring feminists would not have to feel (maybe erroneously and unconsciously) accused when we have to join the fight against some aspect of the macho-dominated culture (and I go so much flak from the author that I was definitely discouraged from commenting anymore).

    The parallel I like best is with racism: civil rights movements in the US or South Africa did not say that “white people” were the problem (although we know most were, at some point in time). It was Segregation or Apartheid that had to be fought. If they had said they were fighting “white people”, they would have had a hard time becoming consensual, even if they had been very careful to add that that they never meant “all white people”. Just saying “white people” would have been too divisive.

    Maybe it is mansplaining. It would have been whitesplaining then. Then let’s just say that when a social movement is already having to swim upstream, maybe it’s better not to go against the grain of a good many potential allies. Just good politics.

  • I have reached a point where I completely disregard ‘feminism’ as a belief for myself, simply because of all that you have mentioned above. “You’re not a real feminist if you think…” blah blah blah. I take a pro-life stance for the most part and am always attacked by feminists who tell me my beliefs don’t fit with the pursuit of equality. Well I beg to fucking differ, if I’m allowed!!!!! It’s not some private members club or religion where you have to sign an acceptance of their moral code before they let you in! And if you do, I’m inclined to tell them to get fucked & keep their feminism.

    If we start seeing and treating everyone as equal individuals rather than men, women, feminists, gays, whatever other categories we define ourselves by, where we’re convinced that we have to think in a certain way; then we might get somewhere.

    I honestly do balk at the term ‘feminist’ now, it has been completely tarred by gobby, ball breakers who don’t have an acceptance of opinions at all, unless they’re the same as theirs! That and the hardcore ones usually look like men but with hairier legs. Oops, did I just say that?

    • Girl on the net says:

      Bloody hell – obviously I’m going to disagree pretty strongly on this. I think almost everyone is a feminist (whether they own the label or not) because most people are nice, and believe that everyone should be equal. I think your portrayal of feminists as ‘gobby ball-breakers’ and ‘men with hairier legs’ is exactly the kind of propaganda that people use to discredit feminism as a movement, and it makes me a bit sad. I’m definitely a feminist, and I’m definitely gobby: as gobby, if not moreso, than your average gobby dude, because I think that to fight for equality we need people to shout and get angry and kick off.

      The main reason I wrote this post was to point out that feminism can be many things, and resorting to attacking other people ad hominem or saying ‘oh there’s no point talking to you because you don’t agree’ misses the whole point. I feel like you agree with me on one level (you don’t want people to tell you that you ‘can’t join in’ because you’re pro-life) but then massively oppose me on another (you think that feminists who do feel passionately about things are too ‘hardcore’).

      For what it’s worth: I don’t think that a pro-life stance is compatible with equality, because of the rights it takes away from women. I *do* think that it’s possible to have that discussion in a way that doesn’t negate anything else you, or I, believe about feminism/equality/etc. I think these discussions are important ones to have. Maybe for another blog post though =)

  • It’s not that I think they are too hard-core. And it’s not their passion or fire that annoys me – it’s purely the way that a lot of feminists direct this fire at people and the way they use it to affirm that they’re right and everyone else is wrong. It’s just an attitude thing and it has made people feel a certain way (specifically, irritated) towards feminists in general; and that, as you say, is totally wrong – but kind of understandable!

    What I can’t understand is why people don’t realise that the more they bang on about women’s rights and inequality, instead of just using that energy to prove that people are wrong about women and get on with how they want to live; the more it convinces people that they are right and women are all talk and no action! Some things won’t be solved by kicking off, we just need to get on with it and push for what we are entitled to get by proving that there’s no reason we shouldn’t have it. (I know that sounds too simple and things like equal pay need people to shout, I get that. But other things can be solved with less shouting and more action.)

    I don’t need to go on about why I deserve the choice to work full time and not be at home with my baby all day, I also don’t need to justify my desire to wear makeup, shave my legs and do all the other things that a lot of feminists think demean and control women. Because although I probably think more like a man, I really enjoy being a woman. It’s different to being a man and for sure, there are things, like work and salary, that should never be different because of gender. But I feel that feminism isn’t always about that – it’s often about a group of women trying to push their ideals onto everyone when half the time it’s more a questions of taste, preference and even ethics, rather than equality!

    I have no issues with your idea of feminism at all, it’s perfect – but like I say, the term is tarnished and it stands for a million and one different things to a million and one different women (and men).

    P.S. Please be assured, being a gobby, ball-breaker is not the same as being passionate, fiery, assertive or even bossy. What I’m talking about is something entirely different. It’s throwing your weight around for the sake of it with a massive chip on your shoulder! I know you’re not like that and I’m sorry if my comments offended you! Trust me, we’re on the same page.

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