TERFS & SWERFS Aren’t Radical Feminists*

*Trigger warning for transphobic language and discussion of sexual assault.

TERFS (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and SWERFS (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists) have been making headlines of late.

First there was Germaine Greer and the protests surrounding her talk at Cardiff University in Wales over her trans-exclusionary history. Appearing on BBC Newsnight, Greer asserted that trans women “don’t look like women”—a completely regressive and anti-feminist proclamation if ever there was one—and “a man who gets his dick chopped off is actually inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself”, ignoring the fact that many trans women don’t undergo bottom surgery and that being trans is about more than what parts you have. Doubling down on her previous comments, Greer spat in a follow up statement to the Victoria Derbyshire Show that “just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman.”

While a petition to prevent her speaking at the college garnered over 3,000 signatures, it was ultimately unsuccessful and the talk went ahead late last month.

Meanwhile, rape allegations against the porn industry’s crown prince James Deen by his ex-partner and fellow porn performer Stoya, as well as others, have illustrated how much of the world views sex workers: undeserving of rights and incapable of being raped. Even Lena Dunham, who is usually pretty progressive on feminist issues today, has joined other famous women such as Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet in a bid to urge Amnesty International to reconsider their recommendation to decriminalise sex work, a move that could improve labour conditions in the industry.

While the title of this piece might be triggering for some in this age of click- and rage-baity headlines, you can rest assured I’m not defending TERFS and SWERFS; I’m asserting that the acronyms to describe them need to be rethought because feminists who exclude trans women and sex workers from the equality they’re allegedly fighting for aren’t radical at all. (I would go as far as to say they’re not feminists at all, but that’s another piece for another time.)

What’s radical about subscribing to widely held notions that trans women aren’t “real” women and therefore don’t deserve the rights feminists have been fighting for since the dawn of last century? What’s radical about pushing sex workers even further into the margins of society than they already are? Nothing.

Radical feminism, to me, is one that is accepting of not just all women, but all people. It’s one that supports movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, refugee and asylum seeker rights and labour conditions. It’s as concerned with tearing down the patriarchy that prescribes only one way to be for men as it is for the rigid guidelines for femininity. It wants to give visibility to old women, poor women, immigrant women, trans women, disabled women, queer women, women of colour and women in sex work alongside the predominantly white women who get to voice their opinions and have them heard, at least in some form. I would even go as far as to include environmentalism and animal rights in radical feminism, which have so often worked side by side. Not being in favour of these things, or only being in favour of them for certain people, is conservative, anti-feminist and not radical in the slightest.

Truly radical feminism—which I guess is really just intersectional feminism—needs to continue to stand up for society’s most marginalised people and take ownership of that title once again. Greer and co. are old hat and painfully conservative. It’s the women who started #BlackLivesMatter; women like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera who spearheaded the Stonewall uprisings; women like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock who are giving increased visibility to trans people and, specifically, trans people of colour; young women like Amandla Stenberg and Rowan Blanchard who are showing that young people aren’t ambivalent about human rights; women like the those who started the Sex Workers Project and those who speak out about sexism and violence in the industry, like Stoya; women who work and campaign for Planned Parenthood in the face of defunding and violence, like the post-Thanksgiving shooting; the women who started THINX, period panties for, yes, privileged women who can afford to buy them, but also for trans men and women in rural, developing areas who struggle with the stigma surrounding menstruation; and women who fight for the education of women and girls in the developing world, like Malala Yousafzai, who are the real radical feminists.

Elsewhere: [BBC] Germaine Greer: Transgender Women Are Not “Real Women”.

[The Telegraph] Germaine Greer in Transgender Rant: “Just Because You Lop Off Your Penis… It Doesn’t Make You a Woman.”

[Change.org] Cardiff University: Do Not Host Germaine Greer.

[The Guardian] Germaine Greer Gives University Lecture Despite Campaign to Silence Her.

[The Guardian] Actors Call on Amnesty to Reject Plans Backing Decriminalisation of Sex Trade.

[Thinx]

When Your Heroes Let You Down is it Time to Wave Goodbye?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 8th January, 2015.

Recently, I attended the exclusive, two-day, $800 Blogcademy workshop in Melbourne, hosted by blogging extraordinaires Gala Darling, Shauna Haider of Nubby Twiglet and Rock N Roll Bride Kat Williams, who have turned their almost unprecedented success as bloggers into an international business. For that amount of money and time, my fellow attendees and I were expecting to come away bursting with fresh inspiration and tools to turn our blogs into mini success stories in the vein of the Headmistresses own blogs. What we emerged with, however, was an hours-long lesson in taking the perfect selfie and disappointment in our former entrepreneurial role models.

Before I turned my hand to the blogosphere, I fantasised about becoming a high-powered magazine editrix the likes of former mag hag turned web impressario, Mia Freedman. Ever since I cracked the glossy spine of my first Cosmo as a teenager, I wanted to be Freedman, so much so I even named my dog after her.

But, as with the Blogcademy Headmistresses, in recent years I’ve been forced to stop gazing adoringly at Freedman and acknowledge the stray, misguided comments coming out of her mouth.

For example, in April 2013, Freedman appeared on Q&A on an all-women panel with former sex worker and author of the book-turned-TV-series Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl, Dr. Brooke Magnanti, where Freedman stumbled over the use of this preferred term—sex worker—and said she would be “disturbed” if her daughter grew up wanting to work in the sex trade. In May that year, Freedman wrote on her website MamaMia in defence of Tony Abbott’s classist comments about “women of calibre” taking advantage of his paid parental leave scheme. Two Octobers ago she victim-blamed women who are assaulted whilst drinking. Freedman tweeted in April last year that she agreed with Joe Hildebrand’s attack on Rosie Batty whose son was murdered by her ex-husband in a domestic violence incident in February 2014, in which Hildebrand essentially blamed Rosie for her son’s death for not escaping her violent partner on Channel Ten’s morning show, Studio 10. And late last year Freedman came under fire for comparing gay sexual orientation to pedophilia. To her credit, though, Freedman immediately owned up to her mistake on The Project, admitting she was “mortified” that she caused offence to a community she’d so long been a champion of.

Freedman herself is no stranger to the disenchantment that comes when your icons speak out of turn. She confronted Australia’s once-patron saint of feminism, Germaine Greer, who was also a panelist on the abovementioned episode of Q&A, about those comments she made about Julia Gillard’s body and fashion sense. Freedman further lamented that Greer had “stayed too long at the party”. The most recent example of this has been Greer’s remarks about Duchess Kate’s pregnant body.

Another woman I look up to in the publishing industry is author of the forthcoming book The Sex Myth, Rachel Hills. She wrote about a similar phenomenon when her former feminist role model Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth and, more recently, Vagina: A New Biography, equated rape charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is still evading extradition on said charges in the Ecuadorian embassy in London four years later, with “honey trapping”.

When I spoke to Hills about how she felt about Wolf proving herself to be out of touch with rape culture she had this to say:

“My initial dismay over Naomi Wolf’s Julian Assange comments weren’t so much about what she said, as the way she responded when people criticised her for it. Why was this person I admired being so pigheaded and insensitive to the criticisms of people who were on her side? That was the moment when the Naomi Wolf gloss started to wear off for me.”

Likewise, my memories of the glossy pages of a Freedman-helmed Cosmo, with its Body Love campaign and articles on sexual assault and reproductive rights, have become disillusioned by Freedman’s continued tendency to put her foot in her mouth. But, as with many public figures we insist on asking for their opinions on any and all topics (ie. asking young female celebrities if they’re feminists), they’re “damning [themselves] to irrelevancy if [they] don’t stay up to date”, Hills says. (See Wolf’s ignorance of the term “cisgender”.)

We’re all human and, in the case of Freedman, Greer, Wolf et al. and their feminist faux pas, it’s not to say that they should be foisted out of the feminist club for being “bad feminists”, as Roxane Gay might put it. When an idol or hero has shaped so many of your formative years, whether positively or negatively, you can’t just turn their influence off as easily as a switch. We all say and do things we shouldn’t at times but a reluctance to appear vulnerable or ill informed shouldn’t prevent us from using those moments for growth. Failing that, we can start looking to other influences in our lives that are perhaps a little more positive and progressive and strive to be those influences ourselves.

Related: The Blogcademy Melbourne.

Elsewhere: [The Blogcademy] 

[Gala Darling]

[Nubby Twiglet]

[Rock N Roll Bride]

[Hello Tillie] Six Things I Learnt at The Blogcademy.

[Happy Hotline] Why I Don’t Have Idols. Anymore.

[ABC] Q&A—The F Word, 8th April, 2013.

[MamaMia] In Defence of Tony Abbott.

[MamaMia] This Isn’t Victim-Blaming. This is Common Sense.

[MamaMia] A Statement from Mia Freedman.

[MamaMia] Germaine Greer, You’ve Lost Me…

[Newsweek] The Duchess of Cambridge: How Britain Stopped Believing in the Royal Fairytale.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Naomi Wolf & Me, Or Why Heroes Are Only for the Young. 

[Jezebel] Feminist Gathering Sadly Lacking in Matricide.

Event: Anne Summers in Conversation with Julia Gillard.

julia gillard melbourne conversation anne summers

Of course Sydney had to go and rain on Melbourne’s parade with all the newsworthy items from Julia Gillard’s first public interview since she was ousted as Prime Minister on 27th June this year coming out of her conversation with Anne Summers at the Opera House last Monday night.

But, from some of the reports I read (I didn’t watch the live broadcast on ABC News 24 as I wanted to be surprised for Tuesday night in Melbourne), the Sydney event was more of a girly advice session than a discussion of her time in the top job and what her future entails.

Luckily, Melbourne took the latter route, with #JuliaTalks(ing) about her sexist treatment (which spawned Anne Summers’ The Misogyny Factor) by the media, her colleagues in parliament and the general public. While the exasperated woman sitting next to me kept groaning every time sexism was brought up (seriously, considering the tone of her time in the top job, why would you go to a Julia Gillard talk with one of Australia’s most prominent feminists and not expect to hear about this?), I was pleased with the topics discussed.

Gillard talked about how she was working towards a “Labor government focussed on women and girls” but that’s now shot to shit along with the in-power government’s view of women. When asked how she feels about Tony Abbott assigning himself the portfolio of the Status of Women, Gillard reiterated her Sydney sentiments in that he should rely heavily on Tanya Plibersek and that she hopes “he finds it the most character building task of his prime ministership”.

On her famous misogyny speech—one year old today—Gillard certainly didn’t foresee it “going off on social media” but, to be fair, she certainly “didn’t foresee the level of misogyny” that marred her prime ministership, either. While on one hand, Gillard relayed an anecdote of her time as a lawyer with Slater & Gordon (“You may have heard about my time with the firm,” she joked) and the bitter clients she encountered to illustrate that she isn’t going to have that outlook on what transpired—“You can have a crap rest of your life or you can move on”, she was surprised at the “benign” reaction to her sexist treatment by the media. If the “Ditch the Witch” and “Bob Brown’s Bitch” signs and slurs had been geared towards a black politician, the media and the general public would rightly be uproarious, she said. She was also disappointed that no politicians from parties other than her own reached out to her to offer their support during the height of her misogynist treatment. (Who could really say what the “height” was? It lasted all throughout her run.)

Another high profile person she was disappointed in who criticised her unfairly and irrelevantly was Germaine Greer, who made those inappropriate comments about the way she dresses and the size of her ass. I, along with so many others, I’m sure, wish she would just admit that she said the wrong thing instead of repeatedly defending her comments.

But Gillard could take a page out of that playbook when it comes to her views on marriage equality. If Gillard truly believes that there are “different ways of acknowledging love and personal commitment than marriage”, hence why she doesn’t advocate same-sex unions, then that’s fine (except not really). But I have a sneaking suspicion that she really does believe in equality, both in marriage and otherwise. (Though her asylum seeker policies left much to be desired, and she did express sorrow for the current discourse on refugees.) I just wish she would come out and say it.

Much of Gillard’s prime ministership was steeped in disdain, but audience member Evie, 11, asked if she had “any fun being Prime Minister?” Gillard replied that she gets a kick out of the fact that her treatment whilst leading the country means that 11-year-olds know the word “misogyny”. In all seriousness, though, Gillard does hope that “more inspiration than anxiety is passed on to [the next] generation.”

Related: The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers Review.

In Conversation with Germaine Greer.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”: “ironic objectification” or just plain degradation? Apparently, because Thicke and collaborator Pharrell Williams are “happily married”, it makes it okay for them to derive pleasure from degrading women (Thicke’s words). While there are certainly much worse images and acts of misogyny out there, “Blurred Lines” is lyrically and visually blatantly upholding rape culture: “I know you want it, but you’re a good girl…” Does the fact that it was directed by a woman who instructed the basically—and uncomfortably—naked models and the fully clothed male artists in the clip supposedly love women make it a tongue in cheek exercise in pushing boundaries or raise some more problematic issues considering it’s this country’s number one song? What’s the point in even making such a NSFW video if it can’t even be shown on MTV and YouTube (semi-SFW video above)? [Jezebel]

Dear Julia Gillard,
Thank you for being the first female Prime Minister,
Sincerely,
Mia Freedman. [MamaMia]

The rise and rise of feminist parodies. [Daily Life] 

What are the differences between women who receive abortions and those who are denied them and proceed with unwanted pregnancies? [NYTimes]

Screw the “armchair commentators”; you know what your feminism is. [The Guardian]

Julia Gillard urges us to vote for Julia Gillard in spite of the sexist attacks against her (obviously written prior to Wednesday’s ousting). Kind of like that comment about her jackets, Germaine…? [The Hoopla]

Is Miley Cyrus’ latest black culture-inspired gimmick akin to a minstrel show? [Jezebel]

This week in inappropriate fashion spreads: hoarder chic. [Jezebel]

Ranking Stephen King’s 62 books. [Vulture]

Mother to Daughter: Second- VS. Fourth-Wave Feminism.

While I’ve only begun calling myself a feminist in the past few years, I think I’ve always had feminist tendencies: I’ve always believed in reproductive rights, I’ve tried never to judge a woman based on her choices and it’s been instilled in me that, as a woman, I can do and be anything I want to.

A lot of this is thanks to my mum, who is a ’70s bra-burning hippie feminist through and through.

Though recently, as I increasingly immerse myself in current readings of feminism, I see just how far we’ve come, baby, and how the second-wave feminism of my mother’s era is worlds apart from today’s discourse on gender equality.

There have been many debates between second-, third- and fourth-wavers about who did, and is doing, more for the movement.

At a 2011 Melbourne Writers Festival presentation on why we still need feminism, Sophie Cunningham asserted that feminists under 25 can’t really grasp the concept because they’re still young and beautiful and have men falling at their feet. She also observed “a sort of ‘bottleneck’ in modern feminism”, where white, Western feminists aren’t able to incorporate intersectionality into the fold, which was a criticism of SlutWalk, one of latter-day feminism’s most high-profile conquests. Pardon me, but wasn’t it foremother Betty Friedan who was accused of being racist and homophobic with The Feminine Mystique?

Perhaps the most contentious issue is the constant bickering amongst young feminists as to what, exactly, feminism is. You’ve got women undertaking such obviously feminist tasks as Marissa Mayer overseeing Yahoo! and Beyonce nearing total world domination, yet they’re reluctant to call a spade a spade. And the non-feminist media would have you believe there’s infighting going on about who is allowed to be a feminist (definitely not Taylor Swift!).

But, I think, the feminist movement of today would like to believe it’s accessible to all kinds of women (and men): straight, gay, bi, male, female, trans, black, white, mixed-race, rich, poor, able-bodied and non-able-bodied, sex workers, etc. Can second-wave feminism of yesteryear say that?

This divide is illustrated by Germaine Greer’s infamous comments about Julia Gillard’s clothing choices and how they accentuated her apparently undesirable body shape last year on Q&A and feminists everywhere taking to their respective platforms to mostly disagree with her. One such vocal detractor was Mia Freedman, who said Greer “broke my heart a little bit” when she took herself “down in a hail of self-inflicted friendly fire while the world watche[d] in embarrassment.” When the two women appeared together on a recent episode of Q&A, Freedman was asked to clarify her response: did it mean she wasn’t a fan of the “ground-breaking, arse-kicking lightening rod for social change who ignited a feminist movement from which every woman in the western world has benefited” anymore? Was this an example of the abovementioned feminist in-fighting?

Freedman responded that while she has nothing but respect for the woman in whose water she grew up and who influenced her mother’s feminist awakening, “feminism needs to have a lot of different voices… It should be really, really broad and inclusive.” Essentially, feminism should accommodate both the foremothers and their daughters.

Freedman went on in that same episode of Q&A to—what some would describe as—shame sex workers, or “prostitutes” as she archaically called them, which ignited a backlash of her own. So much for that broad inclusion she waxed lyrical about…

While liberating housewives of Germaine and Freedman’s mother’s era from “the problem with no name” and ushering in the birth control pill are milestones women of today must be thankful for, they’re very much narrow-minded accomplishments: The Feminine Mystique appealed to white middle-class women and many women can’t afford the birth control pill, a predicament that still exists today. And second-wave feminism was very much responsible for the sexual liberation of a generation of people, but I’m not so sure that transfers to the hook up, raunch and porn culture/s of today (as Freedman’s comments about sex workers above would indicate).

For example, when I was living at home and Girls of the Playboy Mansion came on the TV, my mum would make me turn it off (keep in mind I was 22 by the time I moved out and this was not long before that). When I brought this up recently as an example of her generation’s reluctance to embrace sex positivity, she launched into a tirade that ended with her calling into question the women who pose for Playboy’s sexual promiscuity.

We must acknowledge that media like Playboy is an inherently patriarchal construct, but I think making the assumption that any woman who uses her sexuality as a commodity is a slave to said patriarchy is buying into the notion that feminism works against: women have no autonomy. Much like the debate over women in Islam (and don’t even get me started on the fight I had with my mum about asylum seekers that, similar to the Playboy exchange, ended with her defensively inquiring about the legality of people seeking asylum via boat), certain kinds of feminism need to broaden their scope to take into account the lives of all women, whether we agree with their choices or not.

This close-mindedness comes from a lack of access to new information and technologies and willingness to learn from and hand the reigns over to the feminists of today, I think. While many feminists of all ages count the works of Greer, Friedan and Naomi Wolf amongst their collection of feminist tomes, how many second-wavers can say the same about the musings of Jessica Valenti, Clementine Ford, Rachel Hills and the myriad feminist bloggers? That face of feminism has certainly changed to make it much more accessible. What once was narrowly accessible at rallies, underground meetings and in academic journals is now available wherever you look: Gillard speaking up against sexism in parliament, movements like SlutWalk and Destroy the Joint and all across the interwebs.

So on this Mother’s Day eve, it’s important to acknowledge the gender equality path paved for me by my feminist foremothers, including my actual mother, but also to recognise that we have, indeed, come a long way, baby. Maybe that’s something that second-wavers need to consider, too.

Related: Why Young Feminists Still Have “A Long, Long Way to Go” In the Eyes of Second-Wave Feminists.

Taylor Swift: The Perfect Victim.

Elsewhere: [The Atlantic] 4 Big Problems with The Feminine Mystique. 

[The Guardian] The Tragic Irony of Feminists Trashing Each Other.

[MamaMia] Germaine Greer: You’ve Lost Me.

[MamaMia] No, I Won’t Apologise for My Sex Worker Comments.

[Daily Life] Stoned for Having Short Hair.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

I’m not sure if it is an image of Rihanna’s post-domestic violence face, but here’s what Chris Brown’s neck tattoo says about intimate partner violence and sexual assault. [Pandagon]

The latest in a long line of unfavourable reviews of Naomi Wolf’s new “biography” – Vagina – Germaine Greer had her take on it published in The Age last weekend. I’m going to read Vagina: A New Biography regardless, but the high hopes I had for it have been dashed. [SMH]

In the lead up to the Presidential election, it’d do all Americans good to realise that reproductive health is an economic issue. [Jezebel]

The visceral fear this writer manages to evoke when she reveals her experience of being harassed on public transport is palpable. Hands up who’s ever experienced something similar whilst deigning to be female in public. [unWinona, via Jezebel]

The politics of Anna Wintour. [Daily Beast]

The gender imbalance in the opinion pages. [Daily Life]

Five police-sanctioned reasons why women “deserve” to be raped. Well, I’m guilty of all these things so apparently I “deserve” to be sexually assaulted, too! [Daily Life]

How to talk to kids about gay parents. [The Good Men Project]

This is why religious people shouldn’t work in medicine: one woman’s experience of being refused the morning after pill. [MamaMia]

Why is atheism so excluding of women? [Slate]

Image via Always A-List.

Event: Melbourne Writers Festival — In Conversation with Germaine Greer.

Germaine Greer is an Aussie feminist icon who’s kind of passed me by. After the whole “Julia Gillard has a fat arse” debacle earlier in the year, I officially declared her irrelevant to a friend when the opportunity to buy a book of hers came up.

Nonetheless, I attended her talk at the Melbourne Writers Festival, hosted by Germaine’s new bestie Benjamin Law, whom she met at that infamous episode of Q&A, in the hopes that she would address some of those issues in more depth.

I wasn’t wrong, but instead of Greer herself admitting she was, she dug a deeper hole for herself, both at the session and on 60 Minutes the week prior, where she was interviewed in relation to Samantha Brick’s months-ago comments that women find her threatening because she’s beautiful and she enjoys being a “trophy-wife” to her chauvinistic French husband.

Sometimes I just wish public figures would admit it when they’ve said the wrong thing, instead of trying to justify or cover it up (Todd Akin, I’m looking at you). Where Germaine could have taken the opportunity to own up to speaking out of turn about Julia Gillard’s appearance, a snarky phenomenon that most women—and, indeed, most feminists—succumb to at some stage or another, and use it to start a dialogue about how we treat female politicians based on their looks and not their policies, she just said “women have fat asses” and “a woman is not her jacket”. Greer’s a smart woman, no doubt, but I think she needs to think more before she speaks, as her comments on cosmetic surgery, genital mutilation and the morning after pill on Q&A will attest.

However, Germaine did make some good points about her past, present, our ecological future, and “what turned her into a feminist” (a question I was asked at the work watercooler a few weeks ago when I revealed I write about gender studies and feminism. That co-worker is so misogynistic he now avoids me. One less woman-hater I have to make nice with on a daily basis: score!), citing her work on the 1974 university porn magazine she helped create, Screw. After concluding that the name “screw” was too “sadistic” and implied that a woman was “ruined” after she’d been “screwed”, they changed the name to Suck, which connotes a more female-friendly vibe.

Germaine talked about her willingness to get her gear off for the magazine in an effort to portray women differently in porn magazines. She was offered money to pose for Playboy and she insisted her pose be standing with her body away from the camera, bent over, and looking at the photographer through her legs, her vagina and anus on show. They rejected the image, obviously, which turned up in Suck, an alternate copy of which someone in the audience had brought along!

She also had some interesting things about our definition of consent and SlutWalk to say and, to my surprise, they weren’t out of step with current feminist notions of the two. She championed women who take their rapists to court and show their faces to the public to lend support to the wider anti-slut-shaming movement.

Those who still follow Greer’s work know that she now leans towards writing about Australian culture and the environment as opposed to being the authority on all things feminism (see abovementioned irrelevance), and she concluded with a conversation with an audience member, who probed her in overtime about recognising the similarities between feminism and vegan-/vegetarianism. Indeed, feminism these days is about human rights, and most people I know who are for feminism are for human rights, animal rights and practice vegetarianism. I, myself, am a budding ecotarian.

These days, Germaine Greer is someone to be hated, feared or admired, as Law contended in his introduction of the great Australian thinker. While these women don’t necessarily practice feminist acts or even call themselves feminists, Madonna and Lady Gaga are two iconic females Greer mentioned during her sermon. They’re also two icons who polarise almost as much as Greer. I don’t think she’s that different to them, really… They’re all outspoken, brash females who have undoubtedly contributed so much to the plight of women, and culture as a whole, some more recently than others.

Related: Should Meat Be Off the Menu?

Images via TheVine, Flickr.