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Moving beyond the idea of movement

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, June 12, 2008 23:34 EDT
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Warning: Wretched amounts of jargon will have to be used in this post.

I usually regret opening my mouth like this, but I can’t take it anymore. This Linda Hirshman article is still being dissected in listservs and on blogs, and I just have to make it known in a public way that I do not appreciate being dragged into this as an example of the supposed failures of the intersectional approach to feminism. For the record, this article by Shireen Mitchell and Adele Stan sums up my opinion on the Hirshman article. I’ll add, and return to this point in a minute, that the idea that you can somehow separate feminist ideas from other philosophies, ideologies, ideas, lens, or whatever other words in that vein you’d like to use makes no sense to me. Hirshman’s feminism is rooted in her other philosophical ideas, and so is everyone else’s view of feminism.

Anyhow, the offending passage (at hand, there are many, but other bloggers got it on that front):

Participant and blogger Brownfemipower accused participant and blogger Amanda Marcotte, who wrote an article on immigration after the conference, of not coming up “with all these ideas on her own,” and a supportive commenter on her blog, high on rebellion, put the accusation into the broad context of it being “all too easy for white women to get away with stealing the ideas of women of colour.”

A movement that uses intersectionality as a lens but banishes white, bourgeois, corporate older women might be a vehicle to glue what remains of feminism together, but it will struggle to achieve social change for women.

Like Shireen and Adele said, there’s no reason to think anyone is getting banished. I certainly didn’t get “banished”. I don’t even know what someone could banish me from. I’m still here, as you can see. This isn’t the 70s, where people have these tight-knit feminist movement groups where you can drum someone out by trashing them. The beauty of the blogosphere is that it’s not an organized thing, but a free-form entity where people can come and go as they please. Similarly, there are so many organizations out there that you can pretty much shop around for something to give your allegiance to. Or more than one! Mix and match.
I feel like I’ve been drafted to be a representative “victim” of intersectionality, which implies—wrongly—that I’m opposed to the viewpoint. I feel like it could give people the wrong impression about my views on this subject. In my eyes, the entire argument Hirshman references was not about intersectionality as a valid idea at all. There was no disagreement there, even by said commenter or anyone else. What is not disputed is that I wrote the original article because I agree with intersectionality, and was trying, perhaps clumsily but earnestly, to apply the ideas to my own work. Maybe Hirshman is holding me out as a fool for that, saying if I’d kept to the feminist circle she proposes, I wouldn’t get smacked like that. If I am a fool, it’s because I didn’t anticipate the internal politics of blogging, but it’s not a comment on whether or not intersectionality is a legitimate lens to view things through. Hirshman, contrary to what you might think, didn’t actually call me or let me know this was going to be in the story, so I can’t know exactly what she’s getting at with this example.

I bring this up not to get into ugly discussions about myself or anyone else. I bring it up because I think the misunderstanding that characterizes so many debates about feminism is that there’s a feminist “movement”. Movements generally organize around specific goals, and so there’s been an abortion rights movement, a welfare rights movement, a movement against violence against women, an equal pay movement, etc., and various people attach themselves to these different movements at different times. Movements organized around specific goals have the benefits of being more effective than some general, ill-defined movement, but also because you can create coalitions between people that might differ on some ideas, but not on this particular one. I’ve fallen for the fallacy that there’s a feminism movement, and it’s done me no good and why I came to this realization: Feminism is an idea, not a movement.

It’s really a very simple idea, the idea that men and women are equals and should be treated as equals. How you interpret that is always going to be dependent on your other beliefs, interests, and ideas. In fact, I’d argue that without a grounding in other frameworks, feminism is kind of meaningless because there’s no way to interpret it. I tend to think of feminism as a secular humanist idea, and my idea of what secular humanism is tends to drive my idea of what feminism is. And secular humanism, being humanist, is broadly egalitarian and democratic. Which means that intersectionality is pretty much inseparable from feminism.

Seriously, I’m baffled at the idea that you can water down feminism by bringing that idea into the mix with other ideas. As regular readers are no doubt aware, I’m a pretty solid and pissy atheist, and the reason for being that way is my feminist views. Religion would probably be merely irritating to me if I wasn’t a feminist, but since I bring feminism to the table, I’ve had a much more clear view of how religion functions as a way to justify sexism and misogyny, because rationality isn’t going to get the job done. Is my atheism watered down by feminism? I like to think it’s strengthened. And I think intersectionallity strengthens feminism. Because feminism is about ideas. We generate ideas and the ideas sometimes become specific movements that tackle specific goals. One goal might be electing a female President, but another goal might be ensuring equal access to reproductive care, a goal that is much harder to reach without bringing intersectional analysis to the table. To me, a goal is strengthening the separation of church and state and loosening the hold that sexist churches have on female parishioners. Other feminists might not be on board with that goal, but that’s okay, because I can line myself up with other atheists working on that goal, and maybe enlighten them to the sexual politics of religion that they might not have been aware of. See how this works? I sometimes think the attachment to the idea of “movement” is rooted in nostalgia for the 60s. Movements aren’t bad, of course, but movements are about goals. People attach themselves to the idea of movement, when they’d be better served looking towards goals.

Articles like Hirshman’s aren’t helpful. They tend to just sow seeds of discontent, and make people suspicious of one another when they don’t need to be.

And please, comments on the article and the ideas in the post. This isn’t a place to rehash gossip.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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