“I demand rights for me, but not for thee”

Every day, transphobes engage in social media pile-ons against individuals and organisations for being trans-inclusive, engaging in abuse that’s rarely if ever reported in the mainstream media. Two days ago it was the Royal Institution, the charity dedicated to promoting science, which received so much abuse for including an image of a trans woman in a Twitter post that it deleted the message.

Today’s one is against Glasgow Women’s Library, which declined to host a meeting of an anti-trans hate group as the library is proudly inclusive of all women. The predictable result was a flood of abusive messages that’s still ongoing. This isn’t the first time the library has been under sustained social media attack for simply being trans-inclusive; previous ones ran on for months.

Glasgow Women’s Library is an important resource and it’s always struggling for money for upkeep and repairs – it’s currently dealing with a leaky roof. It could have raised a bit of cash by hosting the event but chose to value its principles over its finances. You can help support it by donating here.

Many of the people involved in these pile-ons claim to be feminists, although there’s usually a significant cohort of misogynists whose interest in feminism only began when they realised they could use it as an excuse to scream at trans women and any cisgender woman who supports trans women. But there are plenty of women who identify as feminists delighting in the fact that the Library is struggling financially: it’s guilty of the ultimate crime of being trans inclusive. They would rather see an important feminist resource destroyed than have it support trans women; cisgender women who disagree with them are abused.

There’s a word for that kind of feminism, and that word is “white”. White feminism is a subset of feminism that’s exclusive rather than inclusive: it centres the interests of a narrow group of primarily middle- and upper-class white women and ignores or even attacks everybody else: women of colour, poor women, trans women…. you get the idea.

A good example of white feminism in action took place in Ireland in early 2018, at the height of the campaign to repeal the anti-abortion eighth amendment: while cisgender and transgender women took to the streets together to improve women’s rights, a group of English feminists who had previously had no interest in Irish feminism suddenly decided that it was time to talk – not about repealing the 8th, but about the invented evils of trans women. Irish feminists handed them their arses on a plate in an open letter:

The organisers of ‘We Need to Talk’ are making a stop here in Ireland, under the guise of talking about abortion. However, their motives remain clear to us, and we write this letter to show that their exclusionary, discriminatory attitudes to trans people – in particular trans women – are not welcome here in Ireland. We will not sit in silence while the organisers of this meeting peddle ideas and opinions that are actively harmful to the well-being and safety of our comrades.

…What is it that you know of Irish feminism that you feel entitled and authorised to come here and lecture us on?

…We do not need you here. We have not had your support in our fight for #repealthe8th, our fight against the historical and ongoing impact of the Magdalene Laundries, our fight for taking back control of our hospitals from religious orders, our fight for justice for women and babies tortured and entombed in Mother and Baby homes.

Do you know, for example, that in the north of Ireland, legally part of the UK, women still cannot access safe and legal abortion? Have you campaigned on this in any way? If you have, why don’t we know about it? Did you strike in solidarity with us on March 8th last year? Did you even know we were striking and for what? Do you have any kind of concept of what a feminism in a country shaped by struggle against Empire looks like? Did you take even a second to consider that, in assuming you have the right to come here in any kind of position of feminist authority, you’re behaving with the arrogance of just that imperialism? We have had enough of colonialism in Ireland without needing more of it from you.

Cultural critic Mikki Kendall has just written a book on white feminism called Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women White Feminists Forgot. As she explains, all too often the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few.

Here’s part of a larger extract:

Whether it is the centring of white women even when women of colour are most likely to be at risk, or the complete erasure of issues most likely to impact those who are not white, white feminism tends to forget that a movement that claims to be for all women has to engage with the obstacles women who are not white face.
Trans women are often derided or erased, while prominent feminist voices parrot the words of conservative bigots, framing womanhood as biological and determined at birth instead of as a fluid and often arbitrary social construct…

The sad reality is that while white women are an oppressed group, they still wield more power than any other group of women — including the power to oppress both men and women of colour. There’s nothing feminist about having so many resources at your fingertips and choosing to be ignorant. Nothing empowering or enlightening in deciding that intent trumps impact. Especially when the consequences aren’t going to be experienced by you, but will instead be experienced by someone from a marginalised community.