Just posting from Radfem 2013 with the MN feminists - couple of interesting comments :-)

(326 Posts)

I'm just posting because I'm at a conference with a few MN feminists. We've just been to a panel about feminist parenting, and the others are chatting with other feminist mums.

I've been listening in on the discussion mostly on account of not having any children - which is why I'm posting on MN instead of talking - but a couple of women mentioned the old stereotype of MN being full of anti-feminist middle-class white mothers who only talk about nappies. And a couple of FWR regulars were saying that we're actually quite nice. So, I am hoping maybe people who were at the conference will come to check out this section.

Or maybe they won't, but if they do - hello! :-)

TunipTheVegedude Sun 09-Jun-13 22:31:11

She admits she is an arsehole.
She says she does it deliberately to open up the conversation.

What I find impressive about Cathy is how often she will end up having a serious conversation with people who start off hostile. If they engage reasonably with her she will do so with them, but she does not roll over and placate when they start off being rude to her, as many do.

TunipTheVegedude Sun 09-Jun-13 22:33:07

'I'm sure it wasn't meant that way, but 'white middle class women talking about nappies' is how feminists used to dismiss SAHMs in the 70s. At least according to my Mum, who was a feminist SAHM in the 70s.'

Yes, I'm sure there were feminists who did that, though the feminist writing from that period is far more pro-motherhood than it gets given credit for.
I think that's why we bristled so much when one of the other women there dismissed Mumsnet.

kim147 Sun 09-Jun-13 22:35:27

Sorry - but if that is the same Cathy Brennan who runs bugbrennan, then I find her stuff really hard to read.

MooncupGoddess Sun 09-Jun-13 22:36:45

That's interesting, Tunip, and good that she is willing to engage with reasonable debate.

But how does being an arsehole open up the conversation? Surely it just encourages reductive aggression on the side of her interlocutors too.

Am v. glad the conference went well.

TunipTheVegedude Sun 09-Jun-13 22:42:25

Of course you're going to find Cathy hard to read, she says things that totally go against the core of your identity.
But then, a lot of the stuff by transwomen goes against the core of my identity because what they believe about what it means to be a woman totally conflicts with what I and many other women believe.

I think the best we can hope for is for the needs of both sides to be considered in the production of legislation etc, and both sides to be allowed their own spaces where appropriate (and if we can manage to work together on occasion too then that's great). There is an apparently irreconcilable conflict as things stand. We are not going to agree about everything.

I found her speech very good. I had expected it to be difficult, but it wasn't. I will try to talk about it if people would like? It was very interesting.

She was being self-deprecating about the 'arsehole' bit, if I understood right. She also claimed she was only speaking because she was loud. I don't think she meant either of them entirely seriously, because she was very passionate about what she was saying as well.

FloraFox Mon 10-Jun-13 04:23:58

LRD I'd love to hear more about CB's speech if you'd like to describe it. It looked like an interesting topic on the programme.

EarthMither Mon 10-Jun-13 06:10:39

LRD and Turnip, thanks for feeding back from RF13 - I'm kicking myself for not going now. Would love to hear more about Cathy Brennan's speech. Did either of you get to Lierre Keith's session?

I did go to Keith's session. That was also brilliant. She actually had some slides, and I asked if she might be able to make them available online, as they were so useful. So maybe that will happen. She was setting out the ways in which radical feminism is very different from either a classic right-wing or left-wing ideology.

For me personally, her speech was interesting for what she was saying about the lack of boundaries between women's bodies and the world.

She was saying that in a traditional right-wing ideology, one man needs to have access to one woman (in marriage). In a left-wing ideology, all men need access to all women (in pornography, in prostitution). And what people find difficult about radical feminism is that women are saying that there is no automatic right to access.

For me that was an important idea, because the idea of women as permeable spaces comes up a lot in my work. And the idea that women's identities blend into one another (ie., all women are basically interchangeable with one another, and not fully distinct from other categories of being), is something I come across all the time. To me, it was interesting to think that some of the ideas that postmodernists put foward about transgression always being a positive and 'empowering' activity, are really just a reiteration of these old arguments about society not seeing boundaries between women and the rest of the world.

That is really, really my interpretation though, and her handouts didn't go into the postmodernism so much.

Cathy Brennan's speech was long, so I won't be able to remember all of it and I bet other people will have thought other parts were more important. One thing that was coming over very strongly in the whole conference, was how much lesbian feminists were feeling under attack, and obviously I don't know enough about that.


Brennan started out by saying that people seem to think she wants to curtail different forms of gender expression, and this was pretty much the opposite of how she actually feels. She was making the point that she's often been mistaken for a man or addressed as a man, or asked why she dresses and looks the way she does, and her life doesn't conform at all to what people expect of her gender. So she's saying, there isn't a problem with people acting and dressing however they want.

She then spoke about the forms of discrimination and violence that she or other women might face, and we couldn't find any that weren't rooted in misogyny or homophobia - we couldn't basically find any meaningful 'cis privilege'. I thought that was a strong point coming from her, or in that conference, and it made me feel very aware of the amount of privilege I have for being someone who is married and doesn't upset the expectations of most people in terms of how women look and act.

She then got onto discussing things like the 'cotton ceiling', which I don't remember so well simply because it's an argument I should think we mostly find obvious already (if not, google cotton ceiling, but we've discussed it on here before).

In the conversation bit of her panel, what came across very strongly is how difficult it is not to be labelled as transphobic, and still to discuss things like what it is like to grow up with society treating you as a girl, what it is like to be part of the group of people who're expected to do all these things with your body that women do. Someone in the audience said that increasingly, she was finding people did not like her to speak about 'women' and 'transwomen' when she tried to make the distinction between people who've had one experience, and people who've had the other. It very much - to me - went back to what Keith was saying about the way society has always constructed women's identities and bodies as being permeable, so they can always be crowded out by something else or exchanged with something else.

Hullygully Mon 10-Jun-13 12:41:10

It sounds great lrd, loads of interesting stuff

It was. I'm really not doing justice to it, but I am knackered.

There were lots of amazing women who'd been involved in it all in the 70s who were giving the long view. Something that was very funny (in a sad way) was that someone had a poster for Andrea Dworkin's book launch, in the 70s, which happened at the Conway Centre and was women-only.

Apparently it didn't occur to anyone to make a fuss!

kim147 Mon 10-Jun-13 12:49:30

"She then spoke about the forms of discrimination and violence that she or other women might face, and we couldn't find any that weren't rooted in misogyny or homophobia - we couldn't basically find any meaningful 'cis privilege'."

Probably because you did not have any trans people there discussing their experiences.

That may well be it, of course. It is difficult to know. But I did find her very convincing.

I think the problem is, at the moment 'cis privilege' has been invented without any consent from women like her or like me - it's equally one-sided.

My feeling is, if someone feels it's a helpful term for them - they're entitled to use it. But not to apply it to other people without their consent. And it was from that perspective that it was being discussed - that you can't simply tell a group of people they have these privileges without first checking that they actually do.

MiniTheMinx Mon 10-Jun-13 13:16:34

Same could therefore be said for male privilege. We would have to sound them out. We all know that those men that benefit most from having privilege, do not want to give it up and are the same men most likely to deny having it.

TunipTheVegedude Mon 10-Jun-13 13:36:15

Yes it could Mini, I agree - privilege doesn't have to be acknowledged by the privileged person to be real. I don't think Brennan was saying that though. I understood her argument to be this:

Terrible things are happening to transwomen. The transwomen they happen to the most are very similar to the women they happen to the most - poor transwomen, transwomen of colour, and above all those working as prostitutes.
And who is perpetrating the violence against transwomen? Just the same as with all women - the people doing the beating and raping and murdering are violent men, and in particular those who sexually exploit women through the prostitution industry.

But turning this from 'men oppressing transwomen' to 'cis people oppressing transwomen' is a sleight of hand which erases that reality, just as so much male violence is disguised, and then shifts imperceptibly to 'ciswomen are oppressing transwomen', and we get told we are the oppressors and as radical feminists we are responsible for their suffering despite the fact that never, amongst all the tragic cases of transwomen being murdered, has one been killed or indeed physically attacked by a radical feminist.

kim147 Mon 10-Jun-13 13:42:25

In all honesty, that's probably not trans people's biggest worry. My biggest worry at the moment is not being able to find a job. I can get an interview no problem. I had 3 just before half term. That makes 12 since I transitioned.

No job. A massive part of me wonders if that is because I'm trans. The interviewers weren't men oppressing me. Just ordinary people - but were they worried about employing a trans teacher?

Feminists talk about male privilege in getting past the glass ceiling whilst women struggle in a career. I'd just like to get a foot in the door.

PromQueenWithin Mon 10-Jun-13 13:51:14

Wow, well I hadn't heard of the cotton ceiling before. That's a really really difficult one for me to form an opinion on. A bit like the thread a while back about disabled people and their right to purchase sex.

It must be incredibly difficult to be a trans woman and be attracted to other women who are not attracted to you because of your physical shape. But (do I mean but?) it must also be very difficult to be disabled or morbidly obese and be attracted to people who are not willing to have sex with you because they aren't attracted to your body. Is there a cotton celling for those people to break through? And what about women who aren't attractive to the men they want to have sex with?

I'd like to conclude that nobody has the right to sex with anybody. But (again) I followed a link on a blog to an email between a transwoman and a lesbian where the transwoman said that attractiveness is socially and culturally determined. So, an interesting parallel to all the arguments discussions I've had about women being socially (rather than biologically) determined to be primarily responsible for childcare.

Maybe, arguing against the biologically determined 'women's role' is the same as arguing against the biologically determined 'sexual attractiveness' of people possessing certain body parts. But the former is arguing for greater freedom, and the latter for less freedom for women to choose who they would like to have sex with without feeling guilty?

Thanks LRD, really interesting thread. I was interested in the conference, but having read a few RadFem blogs, I was put off by all the scornful references to Nigels. I like my DH and so I felt I would not be welcome smile

TunipTheVegedude Mon 10-Jun-13 13:51:47

I'd like you to get a foot in the door too - I would love you to teach my children.

It's a tricky one. Reading the awful stuff on the Daily Mail that was said about the transwoman teacher who committed suicide, it's clear that there is prejudice against trans teachers - I won't deny that. But I also know two single women with great CVs who have been unable to get teaching jobs at the moment.

PromQueenWithin Mon 10-Jun-13 13:54:36

Kim, that's tough I'm sorry to hear about your experiences. Are you open about your transition in interviews?

kim147 Mon 10-Jun-13 13:55:34

Well I've got another interview this week. It's a crap time at the moment and I have got a lot going against me - I'm old and expensive. But there is always a nagging part in my brain that just says is it because I'm trans.

And there is no way of answering that or proving it. Just like it's extremely hard to prove any kind of discrimination.

kim147 Mon 10-Jun-13 13:58:49

prom Now that is a good question. I was talking about this with my counsellor. Do I mention it or do they even know I'm trans? I always struggle whether to mention it or not - no one ever asks me about it when I'm on supply. Sometimes I say "obviously I'm trans but it's never been an issue at schools" and sometimes I don't mention it.

I was telling her that it's impossible for me to know what people think and what they see - I think they see a transwoman but what do they see and who do they think I am? Do they just see a woman with a slightly deeper voice?

TunipTheVegedude Mon 10-Jun-13 14:03:07

The thing about it not being trans people's biggest worry - I think that's really interesting. Because a lot of the hostility against radical feminists is premised on the claim that we supposedly cause transwomen to be murdered by questioning gender theory as we do.

There was a recent exchange on Twitter between a radfem I know and a trans-ally in which the radfem was told 'Words kill. You are fucking scum.' (Oh, the irony.)

I would love to support trans activists campaigning for an end to discrimination such as that faced by teachers, because frankly (and as a radfem) the idea that anybody gets punished for expressing gender identity in a way that confuses people ('OMG a man in a dress!') makes me furious, and I do believe it is rooted in misogyny. Radfems want an end to all this compulsory gender business.

And this is pretty much what Cathy Brennan is saying - all this 'you radfems are oppressing us by not letting us come to your meetings and calling us men!' is a massive distraction from what is really hurting people and prevents us working together to end male violence. But we also have to be allowed to discuss our experiences as women brought up as women in a culture that oppresses women because of their biology, without being told 'abortion is not a women's issue because not all women have wombs'. Or to be allowed to discuss menstruation without having to compound the taboo by being told to add trigger warnings.

TunipTheVegedude Mon 10-Jun-13 14:06:04

Aren't trans rights organisations doing any research on it? Obviously it's hard for you as an individual to prove what was behind a particular decision, but you would think qualitative research that looked into the attitudes of the people making such decisions would be quite illuminating.

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