Purity politics are rapidly becoming the go-to words to shutdown debate and complaint. More recently I’ve seen it pulled into conversation when someone, usually of a lower social standing, makes a complaint about someone standing alongside a known ‘right-wing’ organisation. I know this isn’t limited to women in feminism because I’ve seen it used elsewhere online but it is always used when a person’s political values are being challenged because of a questionable alliance. It’s certainly easier to throw in a catchy label rather than take the time to justify the reasoning behind giving support to a group which have a shit-load of views you wouldn’t ordinarily be seen to spout yourself. What concerns me is the apparent lack of good faith in doing so.
Stripping it back a little
The grand leveller in this country, other than death, has always been class. Money, and whether one has enough to influence, is probably the bottom line in most countries despite claims otherwise. The cries from those who think they’re on the side of the ‘left’ and therefore somehow exempt from acting in a way which harms or further marginalises those in most need of a voice are often the first to use the term purity politics in an argument. Person A will claim to be ‘left wing’ and stand alongside a known ‘right wing’ person B in the vein of ‘any platform is a useful platform’. Person B may be outspoken in their views of being anti-abortion, homophobic, or some other not-so-progressive ideal. Remote Audience Member D will complain that Person A should not be trusted and cannot be seen to represent ‘their’ group. There’ll be attempts to highlight the obvious bigotry of Person B. Other remote audience members will then tell Audience Member D they need to stfu. They’ll accuse her of engaging in purity politics and she will be told the fight against whatever is more important than whatever it is she feels is being undermined. What usually happens at this point is Remote Audience Member D will start to feel really fucking aggrieved to the point she’ll blame the issue on western feminism being dominated by middle-class white women (and she wouldn’t be wrong). It can often take a good few days for these incidents to blow over. They never get resolved. . .people just run out of steam. And to be clear, I’m not referring to people taking part in a debate here. There’s a huge difference between choosing to sit on a wide-ranging panel organised by a politically neutral body and being a guest speaker for a known-to-be-oppressive group.
Embarrassing but necessary confession
I sometimes check the pages I’ve liked on Facebook and a few days ago I was reminded of an Australian politician I’d given support to a number of months ago. I only half remember she got a huge amount of shit for coming out against the transagenda and I know for sure it was that reason alone I ended up liking her page. So, I had a quick look on her timeline and within about three seconds I was fucking horrified; clearly a pro-lifer and very much anti-abortion. I was mortified. I unliked the page and remembered I needed to finish this post. I’ve done other shit too; liked tweets by people I wouldn’t want to stand next in the supermarket never mind share a platform with. I’ve probably shared posts by others I wouldn’t endorse too.
I’m sure I’ll do it again. I mean I’ll probably give support to someone I actually wouldn’t support if I knew what else they were spouting. What I won’t do is continue to support someone once I’m aware of their stance if it goes against something I personally stand for myself. I have to accept I’m going to get it wrong from time to time, but I’d really fucking hope I’ll always be open to correcting my mistakes. Realistically, I can’t do any more than that because I’m human, and an impulsive one at that!
What I’m concerned about is the apparent dogmatic insistence that all women should stand together and keep turning not-so-blind eyes at what amounts to an underhanded attack on marginalised groups under the guise of the ‘greater good’.
Personally, I’m not going to throw support behind any woman if she’s undermining effort elsewhere to secure or protect the rights of a group of marginalised women. Those of us accused of being purists have our reasons for not wanting to give solidarity on the basis of sex alone. Institutional racism will probably always be an issue to some degree, as will homophobia. The insidious nature of prejudice needs to be fought out in the open as often as it arises. It is unfortunate the last ten years of identity politics have weakened the power of words such as racist and homophobe. Words which have been misused and abused to the point many are now immune to their effects. The fact the word lesbophobia is so rarely used is revealing in itself – it kinda says society as a whole doesn’t even want to acknowledge women are separate from men. I mean, fucking hell, the word transphobe is already well-established and lesbophobia still barely gets an airing. But then transphobia is one of those words that is predominantly used when the wants and desires of the menz are being blocked. I do want to point out that if you’re a black woman or a lesbian and being thrown under that bus there’s a fucking good chance I’m right there beside you as a single-parent on benefits despite the whiteness of my skin or the heteronormative relationships I’ve had.
Specifically relating to feminism, it is unfortunately dominated by middle-class white women but there are plenty of middle-class black women who are also ignorant of the plight of those who simply don’t have their resources to fall back on. The same goes for lesbians. We’re supposed to pretend those black women and lesbians are still more marginalised than other women and if they’re being accepted onto ethically questionable platforms they should be applauded for at least trying to get the message out. Of course, they’re going to say that but then it’s not them being thrown under the fucking bus, is it? If you’re one of those women who cringe and get angsty every time a woman starts griping about the questionable antics of the bigger voices, maybe ask a few more questions before telling them to hush. Maybe it’s a case of those of you who are on the bus but not driving it are unaware those bumps you keep driving over are actually the marginalised women you claim to shout for? They do have a point. . .
Moving forward and trying to be productive
Despite the above rant, I actually don’t think it’s constructive to spend too much time fighting against those who are less than discerning with their alliances. It would be more productive to shout louder for those who are more conscious of their alliances. It does make us all look a bit stupid when these arguments break out and more importantly they never, and I mean never, get resolved. It creates division because everyone gets so bent out of shape and feels compelled to dig their heels in with self-righteousness. Those of us who are trying to get out from under the bus will always be mistrustful of those who can’t see the big deal of standing alongside those who threw us under there to begin with. Of course, we’re going get pissy and want to say something. The fact it creates division should be a red flag enough in itself that there’s a fucking problem and the women instigating the division by standing alongside dodgy rightwingers, handmaidens, et al are at the heart of the problem.
I think much depends on how big the audience is and whether they have any power in the world. If they’re not so important it may just be easier to pretend they don’t even exist. Many of the louder voices are only in it for the attention and the less they get the better. What concerns me is that if we’re too busy opposing and defending, we have no time left to build and create. And, if we’re fighting the people we don’t like, it means we have less time to raise awareness about issues that are, quite frankly, more fucking important.
But anyway, an observation,
If anyone says ‘purity politics’, they’re probably not thinking too much about what is being said and probably don’t fucking want to either. I actually don’t know what else to say other than this issue is neither resolved nor going away anytime soon.