Suzanne Moore, writing in the New Statesman, said this week that women “are afraid of our own anger. It’s not a pretty sight. Seeing red and letting go is, for many women, a dangerous activity.” She criticised ‘Calm Down’ Cameron, those on the left who flock around Julian Assange. she wrote with eloquent fury about the damage the cuts are doing to women’s lives. There is much to be commended in Moore’s article, which originally appeared in Red: The Waterstones Anthology, but it is let down by a problematic phrase:
“We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”
Understandably that led to some complaints, many of them expressed on Twitter – and that’s where it could have ended. With an apology, a quick edit, everyone moves on.
At the time of writing, there has been neither edit nor apology.
Let’s make something perfectly clear. The Twitter shitstorm of today could have been avoided if Moore had apologised, or at least acknowledged that she was in the wrong. She didn’t, and she found that all that lovely feminist rage she was celebrating was suddenly directed at her. And suddenly, all that patronising bullshit she railed against was spewing forth from her own Twitter account:
“This trans stuff has detracted from main argument. I am sick of it. What is the point of this kind of politics?”
Moore is doing the exact same thing as Cameron – from her position of privilege, telling us what is and isn’t worth getting pissed off about. “This trans stuff” doesn’t affect her, so what’s the point? And how dare transwomen think they can “[c]ut their dicks off and be more feminist than [her’]?” Moore states outright that she doesn’t “accept the word” ‘transphobia’ (or Islamaphobia, for that matter). That intersectionality is just trying to shut down debate, that it’s ‘bollocks’ (but it’s OK, she “had an evening” with bell hooks once).
It’s painfully similar to the Caitlin Moran debacle. She “honestly couldn’t give a shit” about diverse representation on a show that’s being hailed as a voice of a generation, and when she was criticised, sighed that people were missing the point. Her defenders argued that criticising her comments obscured the rest of her – largely enjoyable, largely important – writing, but it still stands that, like Moore, she made them. In a public forum. Following Moran’s comments, the editors of The Vagenda stepped up to argue that intersectionality was too complex an issue for everyday feminist debate, that it required a level of academic understanding that many people lacked. A number of people refuted it, including myself, but the fact remains that one of the most high profile feminists in the country at the moment does not understand the relevance of erasing black women’s experiences for the sake of a TV show to feminism.
The days when feminism was dominated by the concerns of white, cis, middle-class women are over. Today’s feminists understand the importance of inclusive language – take The F Word’s commenting rules as an example – in a way that Moore clearly does not.
I suspect that part of the problem is that Moore, Moran and her ilk are dealing with activists who have, for the most part, grown up with the internet. Whilst veterans of print media might still be adjusting to it, there isn’t a divide between writer and reader anymore. The days of angry letters in green ink are long gone – these days, if someone disagrees with you they’ll do it in the comments section. If you choose to enter into debate, understand that other people will see it, too. Social media and comments aren’t just there so people can pat her on the head and tell her how clever she is.
This week, the Guardian reported that “one of the most gloriously vituperative literary feuds of recent times has come to an end.” Salman Rushdie and John Le Carré conducted their heated debate in the Guardian’s letters pages, not on Twitter, and they are well-known respected writers. This lends their argument a legitimacy that the tweeters are denied by Moore – surrounded by the likes of Moran, she dismisses her detractors as internet loonies whose opinions are nowhere near as credible as hers simply because they are not being paid to express them.
The way feminist debate is conducted is evolving. As is feminism itself.
Germaine Greer, Sheila Jeffreys and Janice Raymond, all second-wave feminists known for their transphobic views, are increasingly seen as the old guard of feminism. Yes, they made some fantastically important contributions to the movement (I even quoted Jeffreys in my MA dissertation before I knew about some of her other views), but the feminism they espoused is nowhere near inclusive enough for today’s activists. Moore and Moran think they’re edgy without realising they’ve become establishment. What might have been envelope-pushing a decade ago now feels like reactionary stubbornness. How dare we criticise the points they make! Don’t we realise who they are? Moore calls those who disagree with her “vicious fantasists with an agenda”. Where have we heard that one before? Did she somehow misread the memo and think we were supposed to use the master’s tools to build a house just like it?
Moore responded to her critics with vile abuse. She took the argument and turned into one about transphobia. If the debate has been derailed it is by her, and her alone. She’s right about one thing, though. With everything that’s going on in the world, with the countless attacks on women’s rights, on women’s bodies, we don’t have time for in-fighting. We need to stick together – all of us. And that means not responding to being called out on your cis privilege by attacking people in a position of considerably less power than your own.