In the land of feminism there are many turf/TERF (boom boom)wars. It’s a natural result of many people with disparate ideologies being superficially bound together through one shared ideal- the belief that women should be equal to men. How this should be achieved and what this should look like is a matter of great contention. It can be bloody upsetting when you face bigotry, criticism or erasure from those among the ranks you feel are your natural allies, and a result of this is the oft repeated refrain that women shouldn’t denigrate/attack/ criticise etc other women. I can understand the temptation to believe that we should all just support each other in our mission for equality, but it’s not so easy when having a uterus isn’t the only form of oppression you face. Feminism has a white, cis, non-disabled, middle-upper class, well-educated problem which means that if you’re not outright hated, you are at least not visibly represented or listened to. When women facing two/three/four etc fold discrimination criticise other women they are not killing Mockingbirds, they are justifiably trying to ensure that it is a more universalised equality that is being reached.
There’s a horrible tendency within feminism to see all criticism as an attack (and this works in myriad directions, across different presentations of feminism), and this is simplified to the black and white belief that attackee = terrible person. The problem with this type of thinking is that it denies the subjectivity of personal experience, and all contrasts and contexts.
This week two non-disabled women with a horsebox parked across 3 disabled bays and blocked a fourth. Should they have been above criticism simply because they are women? Two teenaged girls with their father spoke loudly about how my being in a wheelchair at the zoo was a nuisance, despite my not being in the way. Is it wrong of me to criticise them? I have seen multiple women in my extended family defend the racist ideals of Britain First. If they claim they want equality for women, but only ever talk about matters relating to Islam, should I stay silent and agree simply because they are women? When Caroline Criado Perez experienced online harassment it led to a woman receiving jail time. Was it wrong of Caroline and other women to criticise her? When Florida teacher Jennifer Fichter had multiple affairs with her underage students, should she have been above criticism? Are we allowed to criticise Eva Braun?
Of course, these women aren’t/ weren’t generally talking about feminism but that is where the differences end. What if all of the women in these situations called themselves feminists? Would that take them from being worthy of criticism to above it? We cannot simply agree or stay silent with each other just because we share the self-identification of feminist. When you are in a position where you are under-represented, or even maligned, by feminism you have every right to speak up about it. The title of feminism does not supersede our right to seek equality on other bases. The inherent fault with “thou shalt not criticise other women” is that it is a silencing tactic and one that is often used by women with greater power and privilege (yes I used THAT word) to women who are already more disempowered by society. We can all agree that it is wrong when men silence women, but there seems to be a lack of consensus when it comes to the issue of women silencing other women. Perhaps if we all listened more, and told each other to shut up less, feminism might have more of a hope of raising the position of all women in society?