I spent yesterday at the Go Feminist conference. The conference was, obviously, about feminism, but it was more specifically about attempting to connect the dots between the different forms feminist activism can take; thus, the conference blurb:
‘Go Feminist recognises that we live in a world of interlocking hierarchies and oppressions. It is part of our feminist mission to dismantle this.’
I don’t think we’d argue with that, would we? Over in Boogieville, we’re all about dismantling interlocking hierarchies and oppressions. It’s what we idly dream of whilst dunking marshmallows in hot chocolate and watching Thelma & Louise.
And the programme for the conference reflected its aim. Amongst others dealing with black feminism, and faith and feminism, and women and economics, there was the centrepiece of the conference, a session on how to connect movements (with a particularly interesting bit by Rahila Gupta) and an accompanying workshop, and a further workshop addressing intersectionality and how to deal with oppression when it comes from multiple directions all at once.
And, you know me, I hate to criticise. Well, I don’t, but I do hate to criticise people like the people who organise stuff like this: big, conference-thingies, with loads of people, all talking about feminism. Really, what sort of shit criticises women who do that? Well, as Rahila Gupta would no doubt point out, the sort of shit who feels that her area of marginalisation hasn’t been addressed at all. And who doesn’t feel that just because she has privilege in other areas, she should be silenced.
Now I’m privileged in many ways and I have no problem with feminism addressing racism, anti-capitalism, and the inequalities of the legal system, and what all of these things mean for women.
Now, I should preface this by saying obviously I didn’t go to every workshop so I may have missed something, but nothing in the title of any of the workshops lead me to believe I did.
It really came to me during the Sexism in Popular Culture plenary session, when the question was repeatedly being asked ‘what can we do? What can we do to change the way people think; about feminism, about equality, about the way the world works? How does this shit change?’ And I just wanted to jump up and get all Whitney Houston on their arses.
Y’know, all ‘I believe that children are the future (warble, warble etc etc)!‘
In all that intersectionality, in all that ‘connecting movements’, there was not a whiff of the word ‘motherhood.’ And what connects women if not the concept of motherhood?
And I mean all women, not just those who become mothers. Because whether you like it or not, whether you have children or not has very little to do with whether this issue will impact you as a woman. Just ask any childless woman how often she has to fend off intrusive questions about why she’s childless. Just ask any woman who can’t have children how often she has to lie to people just to keep her sanity. Just ask any woman, on becoming a mother, how many assumptions she had to fend off to find her own way as a mother. Just ask any woman of child-bearing age who’s career is, surreptitiously, stalled because of an assumption that she’ll ‘get up the duff’ any minute now (from my own experience in the legal world, women did routinely get pregnant the minute they made partner – because that was the only way to do it; it was universally acknowledged that getting pregnant before being made a partner meant you didn’t get made partner).
You don’t need to be a mother to be affected by motherhood because, childless, the patriarchal myth of motherhood will still come and get you. You just need to be a woman.
Oh, I know, I know. Feminist parenting is my ‘thing’, of course I’d notice its absence. And of course before I became a mother and had no intention of ever being one, the absence wouldn’t have occurred to me either. But isn’t it glaring? When you think about it? Even for a minute?
So much of what feminism is about intersects with motherhood at really, really fucking direct points. And mothers are marginalised in all kinds of ways that intersect with feminism, and huge swathes of mothers worldwide are marginalised more than I could even shake a fucking stick at and a huge part of that marginalisation arises directly from the fact of their motherhood. And even white, middle class feminist mothers are marginalised because other mothers don’t get what the fuck you’re on about and feminism tends, it seems, to ignore the elephant in the room. Whilst providing a creche and offering workshops for children…
Oh, I don’t want to whine. A hearty congratulations to all the organisers for all the many things they got right (which was basically everything else – not least actually getting up and doing the whole thing in the first place). I enjoyed the day, I really did. It just spoiled it for me is all.