***Long read for the weekend***
Some people thrive on passion and drama. Some people believe they need it in order to feel alive. If you like a quiet life, you should probably avoid working with people like that. If you can’t think or act effectively around noise and drama, you should most definitely avoid working with people like that. Of course, being dramatists by nature, they’ll no doubt make a bit of a hoo ha over it. Never mind. It will pass.
Some organisations share some goals with you but not others. You may decide you can work with them on specific issues, but you need to fade out of the group when they are working on others – or you may decide that your differences are awkward enough that it’s counterproductive to work together at all.
Every organisation and every individual has the right to make decisions about who they do or do not wish to work with. Usually, those decisions can be made quietly and don’t need justifying or shouting (or publishing press releases) about – but if an organisation has been significantly disadvantaged by slander or misrepresentation, if you then add to the mud being thrown, they may find it necessary to give details of what you said/did, so they can publish a rebuttal. That’s upsetting/annoying/embarrassing – but inevitable. It’s not personal. Best accept it and move on.
Many organisations, and some individuals, have defined ‘red lines’ to help them steer clear of policies and organisations that work against their own aims. As a general idea, I think that’s logical. The problem is, if they don’t define their red lines clearly, they can get into arguments over who has crossed one and how – and yet if they do define them clearly, they are in danger of rejecting people over misunderstandings or semantic differences. They also risk ‘weaponisation’ – just think of the party-political nonsense you get when one group decides they want rid of some members, so they start picking at their words, looking for something that can be construed as ‘over the line’. How would you judge that? Tricky things to administer, red lines.
Red grey areas
I ask myself if I have red lines. I am a socialist and a feminist, currently sufficiently involved in the women’s rights campaigns to be worried when spats and feuds and such like things spring up. We know – we’ve known from the start – that this is inevitable. To name two of the current threats to women’s rights, the Roe v Wade situation in the States (and similar problems in other countries), and the proposals for ‘self-ID’ for trans people being considered by the UK parliament (an idea currently rolling around the world), these issues affect all women and girls – that is, they affect more than a half of the world’s population.
That’s why I talk about women’s campaigns (plural) not ‘the women’s campaign’. The campaigns are many and varied – they are bound to be, and because of that it is not reasonable to expect all women everywhere to agree. We are very different. As a result, one of the things I’ve really enjoyed in recent years is the variety of women I’ve worked with on women’s rights campaigns. Of course there are some women and some organisations I won’t work with. I’m sure the same is true of everyone but I try to tread carefully, and make informed decisions on a case-by case basis. If you asked me what my ‘red lines’ were, I’d have trouble telling you. I leave a bit of elbow room for others around me, not least because sometimes, listening to people I find difficult proves to be an opportunity to learn something new. I hope you do the same, and let others make their own decisions without giving them a hard time over it.
Lately, I’ve been pretty appalled by some organisations that claim to be socialist and yet don’t back women’s rights campaigns, or can’t be bothered to back genuine anti-racism work, or don’t attempt to reach across socio-economic classes. If you’re not doing your best to work with and for all those groups, I would have to say I don’t think you’re a socialist. (Of course, if it had no relevance to me I wouldn’t bother saying it – why start arguments unnecessarily). If you do work in all those areas, you are bound to be dealing with people who have different vocabularies, different social and moral rules, and different ways of going on. You won’t always agree.
Feminists and others
I insist on the idea that feminism is not just a critique of, but an outright challenge to, gender. We see gender as a set of stereotypical ideas and expectations used to oppress women and girls and, indirectly, to prevent men and boys living their best lives. No-one has given me any comprehensible explanation of what feminism is, if not opposition to gender. If you are a feminist, you need to be supporting the development of all the rights women need to control their lives and their bodies, and aiming to put an end to the tyranny that is gender. That doesn’t mean you’re working against any people. You are working to dismantle an idea. That means you need to be able to talk calmly to people who don’t agree with you.
There are lots of women on the women’s rights campaigns who aren’t feminists – some even go out of their way to say they aren’t. Fair enough, I wouldn’t attempt to do feminism with them but they may well have a useful part to play on the women’s rights campaigns anyway. I do worry that if they can’t see that ‘gender’ is the enemy, they may start to think that classes of people are the enemy, so we need to keep talking about what gender is, in the hope of spreading awareness.
Socialism AND feminism
For me personally, single issue politics is often a waste of my time. The root cause of our biggest problems is systemic. Because I’m a socialist, I want to look for solutions that work for everyone so I don’t want to work with people who diss other groups in order (as they see it) to further their own. We can do without the ‘oppression Olympics’. For me personally, feminism is, as someone famously said, “the radical notion that women are human”. That means, all women must be given the same leeway to live their own lives and define their own selves and their boundaries as anyone else. So if I come across women on the campaign who are only interested in one aspect of women’s rights – well okay, I’ll march with them while I’m there, but they aren’t the people I seek to work with.
The nearest I get to a red line is this: because I want solutions that work for all, and because I want to work on breaking down the whole range of issues that make life hard for women and girls, I choose not to work with people who encourage splits and rows, either by abusing and mistreating others, or by being a mass of red lines themselves. I prefer to avoid them than to shout at them, though.
The whole movement
It was Andrea Dworkin who said feminism is for all women – even the ones you don’t like. I think the socialist version of that works too – if it doesn’t work for everyone, it isn’t socialism. Nevertheless, whilst there are some people I choose not to work with, I am glad they are out there working, when we’re working for the same things and if I need to criticise them (unless they are a corporation, a government or a billionaire b’tard who’s well protected and yet walking on everyone else) I will do so as quietly and constructively as possible.
Except if I lose it on Twitter
I never lose it on Twitter for the simple reason that I don’t have a personal Twitter account but please consider joining me in the spirit of this idea… It is tempting, in the over-heated, conflict-oriented arena of social media, to start hurling abuse and accusations around. I think it’d be a really good idea if we sit on our hands or go do something else when we feel that temptation. “I prefer not to work with her/them” would do as a substitute for 99% of the accusations and condemnations I’ve seen in recent days.
Analysis is different, of course. I have seen some useful critical analyses of different groups’ and peoples’ work in recent days, too. Now here’s a really, REALLY advanced idea – am I up to following my own advice here? – I admit what you’re reading here today is mostly a “memo to self” by me: don’t react to critical analysis as though it were abuse. It isn’t. If you see someone criticising your work, your organisation or your favourite activists, don’t respond by telling them they are a stupid *** ****er. Critical analysis is supposed to help you think and decide. Just read/listen and decide whether you agree or not. That’s all that’s needed.
You may well be thinking “I need to let off steam”, that might even come out as “X deserves everything they get.” Okay – as to the first one, my goodness, so do I. THIS IS THE MOST INFURIATING, FRUSTRATING, DISTRESSING CAMPAIGN I’VE EVER EFFIN WELL BEEN INVOLVED IN. But I do my damnedest to do my sounding off amongst friends, or at the end of the garden. The point of campaigns is to win them, and we win when enough of us are working together. Stoking rows by sounding off at people does not help us. Which brings me to…
Please, please resist blocking everyone who annoys you on social media. I know, every now and then, it’s necessary but if you do it whenever you get annoyed, or if you use “I feel offended” as your red line for blocking, until you can’t even remember who you’ve blocked, how the heck are we ever going to communicate ideas and grow a movement?
Peace, love, freedom of speech etc except for fascists/racists etc
Well, that’s why the yobs call feminists fascists, isn’t it? So they can give themselves the right to be abusive and violent? Have they put you off believing in women’s rights? Have they killed off the campaign? If anything, they’ve fired it up. There’s a lesson there, and no mistake.
I understand that sometimes, you have to block/obstruct/chase off dangerous mobs, if they intend to attack or really harm others but please don’t over-extend that idea. I understand that some people are so dangerous, so difficult to redeem, that we need them kept right away from vulnerable people permanently (that is supposed to be what prisons are for) but those are rare extremes.
As to the rest of it – Never forget, just like sex and class, the enemy use racism to divide us. That can be done just as effectively by getting us all fighting over who’s a racist as by making us fear people who are different to us. Look what happened to Kate Clanchy…
Real anti-racism is no easy task. Here below is Blood, Sweat and Tears – a report detailing just how much time, effort and work goes into a real anti-racism project. Yelling “you’re an effing racist and I’m not working with you.” Just does not cut it. If you’re doing women’s rights, just quietly arrange things so you’re not working with racists. If you’re doing anti-racism, there’s a link beneath the image below to read about a project that involves absolutely no yelling of “you’re an effing racist” but one that does, eventually, to some degree, work. Most people do not actually have the time or the patience to run real anti-racism projects, so shouldn’t waste their time making angry gestures – you know how we hate pointless virtue-signallers.
Can you help me?
I haven’t made up my mind whether organisational red lines work or not, or if they do, whether they need to be – or should not be – closely defined. If you’re in the mood to post some thoughts about that in the comments below, I’d love to see them.
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