Feminism must learn to challenge itself

In preventing debate to ensure the safety of minorities, is cyber-feminism acting as an obstacle to its own progression?

Image: Pexels

Cuntry Living is a Facebook group, now only ‘loosely affiliated’ with the University of Oxford online feminist zine. Said zine is an impressive and self-aware feat, with multifarious discussions on society and feminist ideology packaged in Riot Grrrl graphics.

The group on the other hand epitomises the faux inclusive, hierarchised and pro-censorship movement you have likely come across online in one form or another.

The ethos of groups like these is to give marginalised voices a platform which they are denied in society. This is of course a commendable – even necessary – idea for online liberation groups, but putting it into practice has proved to be more than a little bit problematic. When debates arise, the group commonly remove members on the grounds that they are silencing oppressed members. But how do admins judge who is ‘more oppressed’? And when they have reached their conclusions, do they deem it progressive to silence some women in favour of others?

When you venture into the cyber safe space, the speech you are entitled to and its validity will be largely dependent upon the value of the oppression points you have collected. Your ethnicity and gender identity is likely to be assumed but be sure to declare mental illness(es), sexuality and molestation history at the check in desk for extra currency.

This tokenising system is laughable at best, grossly offensive at worst. The overarching problem seems to be that platforms for debate and ‘safety’ are conflated and as it stands the two cannot successfully co-exist. Motions that might exile you from this paradoxically excluding feminist elite include: – Suggesting that the sex industry owes to objectifying or subjugating women. – Questioning the limits or definition of cultural appropriation. – Pointing out the satirical context of posts deemed inflammatory.

Where the fourth wave excels in in acknowledging that there is not one category of women, trans* women, non-binary women, women of different races, religions etc. There cannot be one feminism to rule them all, one feminism to find them, one feminism to bring them all and the darkness find them. That forum admins police speech from individuals from all backgrounds regardless of their own is a contradiction of cyberfeminism’s own terms. Additionally with respect to Cuntry Living, its University of Oxford roots imply its being comprised of people with access to hugely influential platforms. The idea of ‘feminism’ has survived in spite of its Westocentrism, transphobia and heteronormativity. In finally embracing what it has marginalised, feminism cannot lose its propensity to question.

If feminism is to progress it must continue to challenge not just dominant ideology but its own. Cyberfeminism must find a way of challenging hierarchies without creating its own.

11 comments

  1. Hi Lily,

    I don’t think anyone in the world really wants to be oppressed. You talk of how important it is to give marginalised people a voice. Well, part of that is recognising that individuals’ experiences contribute to their view on a topic. For someone to cite their history of sexual abuse, or mental illness, is not a way of playing the Oppression Olympics. Instead, it may be a means of making it obvious that those topics are especially sensitive for the person posting, and that it colours their entire view on the topic.
    To recognise that is not a disservice to the platform and its objectives; in fact, I believe it nuances it. Otherwise, I agree that feminism should continue to challenge itself, but I disagree there is a hierarchy based around oppression points.

    Reply Report

  2. The question begged here is assuming that one facebook group, as seemingly powerful as it is (how many other Facebook groups have spawned a whole subniche of pissed-off journalists recounting their experiences being banned from them, after all), controls the entirety of group members’ exposure to all media and culture.

    Just because there is a policy that doesn’t mean your voice is as loud as you’re used to it being, don’t worry. There are lots of other places in the world where you can go and have people be supportive of you. That would kind of be the point of creating a space where the voices of those who don’t have that is privileged, you see: it’s not just for you.

    Do you really think that if people didn’t post anti-sex work, transphobic, white feminist stuff in Cuntry Living that the members would be forever unexposed to this? Are you really complaining that your really mainstream views are being turfed out of one particular walled garden online, as if they have a right to be everywhere?

    People will be exposed to these views because they are everywhere. Your concern trolling does not hold water, I’m afraid.

    Reply Report

    • Arguing ‘you haven’t been censored because you can speak elsewhere’ is ludicrous. Would you say that to a journalist in Mexico who has been banned from publishing? ‘Don’t worry it’s not censorship, you can still send emails to all your friends with your opinions!’

      The bottom line is that restricting who can say what IS censorship. Maybe you think that censorship has a place in debate around sensitive issues, but don’t try to claim that that isn’t what is happening.
      And labelling this article as ‘trolling’ is reductive. ‘I don’t like this article so I’ll brand it as trolling’ is just refusing to engage in real debate.

      Reply Report

      • Journalism is obviously different to social networking. The freedom of the press is an entirely different concern. Your analogy is fatally flawed.

        Reply Report

        • Not saying they’re same, saying that the argument ‘you have other platforms so you aren’t actually being censored’ is nonsensical.

          Reply Report

    • Censorship just means when a group/authority suppress speech on the grounds that it conflicts with the ideology of that authority.

      Reply Report

  3. Banning someone from a Facebook group is not ‘censorship’. If anything, it’s no-platforming. It’s removing an individual’s opportunity to express their views in ONE avenue, leaving open all the other countless ways one can shout about their opinions. It’s not saying ‘don’t express your opinion’ – that’s censorship. It’s ‘go and do that somewhere else, you are not welcome here’, which is admins exercising their own control over their own Facebook group.

    Reply Report

  4. Great Article Lily!

    Reply Report

  5. Great writing, a powerful and brilliantly argued piece.

    Reply Report

Leave a comment