[Trigger warning: transphobia]
This post has been written for about 6 months now but I’ve been hesitant to post it. I think I didn’t want it to come across too harshly or really have the energy to deal with any potential backlash from this but you know what? As my good friend quite rightly said earlier:
‘No change ever happens unless injustice is challenged.’
So, here’s me challenging it. And it also acts as a warning to those who are going/considering going in terms of what to expect.
One of my new year’s resolutions was to get more involved in activism in Nottingham and a week or so later, after publishing said blog post, I came across the planning meeting for Nottingham Women’s Conference 2014… Talk about great timing! I must admit though, I was in two minds about deciding whether or not to be involved but I’ll get into that later. In order to get a more fuller understanding of my views and politics in regards to this I’m gonna take you back to last year’s Nottingham Women’s Conference. Instead of me only recounting the bits of the conference most vivid for me I’m going to defer to my friend Jennifer (Twitter: @UnchartedWorlds) who was also at the conference as she has written a well -detailed commentary on her experience of the conference. Usually I don’t defer to other people as no-one can really represent you and your views as you would yourself but I wholeheartedly agree with everything Jennifer has written in her commentary.
It’s fairly lengthy so get a cuppa and some munchies before you sit down to it.
Here’s the link:
If you don’t have the time to read Jennifer’s post please do bookmark it for later. Here’s my brief overview of NWC 2013:
- Lack of representation of the diversity of women – only one woman of colour as a speaker/workshop leader, no apparent visibility of disabled, trans or socio-economic backgrounds apart from the usual cis white middle class women;
- Lack of diverse view points – the whole conference was geared towards one ideology with no platform of other views;
Severe anti-sex/anti-sex worker views. I remember one particular speaker referring to women in sex work as ‘toilets’ because men do their business and leave. Now, irrespective of one’s views on sex work this is an inherently anti-woman thing to say as it is shaming the women they claim to be wanting to try and help. Help in itself being problematic as if to say all women in sex work need saving;
- Also, in reference to the above, there was a lot of talk about sex work from women who weren’t involved or had left the industry. My point is that no current sex workers were seemed to be on the panel. They were outside protesting, check out Sex Workers Open University (SWOU);
- No safe-space. There was supposedly a safe-space policy as written down in one of the conference hand-outs however, it was very minimal and wasn’t actually upheld throughout the day so that failed;
- Radfem UK (a new organisation made up largely of the older members of the organisation who were bullying me online while also accusing me of being an MRA) had a stall there which, in my opinion, violates safe-space policy. However, in a bid to have a diversity of views, this wouldn’t be as problematic if other feminist views/stalls/speakers were there;
- No consideration or understanding of intersectionality whatsoever. For example, when a speaker was talking about the sexualisation of women in the media most of her pictures were of white women with the Western-normative idealised version of beauty and when Black women were shown there wasn’t a single comment on the intersections of race and sexualisation. This is the same issue with the No More Page 3 campaign which was also at the conference. The representative from NMP3 mentioned a statistic (something along the lines of) that in 40 years The Sun has had page 3 women only 1 has been black and yet this seemed to be a by-point. I did say it was brief but kinda like Pringles, once you pop you can’t stop… Anyway, moving on…
You’re probably thinking if I have had such a negative experience of the last conference why on earth would I want to get involved in the planning of the next one? Sure, the question has a lot of logic in it but my reason in wanting to get involved was to encourage the representation of the diversity of the feminist view, or rather, the views of women because that is how I understood the conference to be – given that it’s called ‘Nottingham Women’s Conference.’ As someone who is increasingly visible in my own personal diversity as a queer South Asian feminist Muslim woman I often feel like I have an obligation to get involved in things (even if they’re problematic) to use my skills and expertise to help make it better. It’s only recently through discussions with friends that I’m learning the importance of using my energy to make something completely fresh and that way I will meet the aims and objectives I set out. It will have intersectional roots and I will not spend my time consumed in negativity trying to make something less shit.
So, in terms of the first planning meeting I went to (which was the second one that had happened) here’s the low-down:
- I mentioned that we should have a diversity of views on a panel in a bid to not allow it to be one-sided. This was met with ‘So you want racists and stuff? We can’t have that.’ Yes, as a woman of colour I obviously really do want racists there, chuck in some extreme far-righters too for good measure too(!);
- One of the considered themes (‘Sexualisation and porn aimed at lesbians’) was debated. As a friend and ally at the meeting, I felt that instead of focusing solely on lesbians we should open it up to queer sexuality and this would include all types of women. This turned into a suggestion (from my friend) of having some sort of queer sexuality workshop which I fully seconded. A woman sat next to me, turned to me, put her hand on my arm and said ‘Then we must have an anti-queer one’ without a hint of sarcasm not knowing how I defined myself. She then proceeded to follow this up with ‘Oh just so you know, I don’t mean anti-trans’ as if that made her comment any better! Within the group some of the women seemed to be somewhat confused as to what queer actually meant with one woman in particular referring it to mean simply ‘bisexual’ which actually is a part of a whole lot of things which queer means. The anti-queer sentiments were born out of someone’s dislike of bisexuals along with the notion of gender being a societal construct. Now the latter of which may well be true but the irony of this statement by one of the women is that queer theory includes this critique;
- While there was some good discussion on other themes and workshops such as ‘feminist mothering’, giving air time to gender neutral toys campaigns among inviting some cool organisations like Imkaan and Southall Black Sisters for me, I felt the inaccessibility and non-intersectional attitudes running throughout the meeting by a couple of women outweighed any of the positives.
Now for the second meeting (third in total)… I was going to do this section in bullet points too in a bid to not ramble but I wasn’t there long enough to warrant bullet points. Seldom do I ever leave meetings early because of how unsafe they are and this was one of those meetings. I was late and came into a discussion of how there was an online organising group for the conference of which the new members (another woman, my friend and I) were not invited to and yet apparently a thread on this secret group on Facebook ended up discussing the new members without our knowledge and without the chance for us to respond.
So the quote which instantly comes to mind when I think about last night’s women’s conference planning meeting is this: ‘My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.’ I knew it was going to be a hard meeting and had prepared myself somewhat for it but evidently not enough. It was so so problematic and draining.
In my early days of activism I used to be so tolerant of people’s views and move to try and get them to see my way of thinking in discussions and debates. A few years later and I simply cannot and will not tolerate any oppressive behaviour which makes it hard to work with those who have non-intersectional views and seek to silence those who do not fit into their political ideology. This isn’t about silencing people., On the contrary I believe everyone has the right to their opinion and to voice it. However, I choose not to work with those people – as the solution to ending oppression isn’t working on one oppression, speaking over others and indeed speaking for others (e.g. Muslims or sex workers without actually allowing them to speak for themselves as if they are unable!) but rather understanding that all oppressions are interlinked. We have to work on tackling them all together and not putting one oppression higher than another in a hierarchy. At the same time, we must understand multiple-discrimination and the important of intersectionality.
It is with a heavy heart that the bottom line is that I can no longer work with the Nottingham Women’s Conference group for the aforementioned reasons in this post.