Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Photo: Carrie Bradin
Specifically designed to connect feminist activists, spark debate and showcase the diversity of the movement, the inaugural Go Feminist conference took place in London at the beginning of February. As the organisers stated in their F Word blog post:
‘We do this as a response to feminism’s most sustained critique: that it is not for all women. Although women from all backgrounds and communities identify with feminist beliefs, the movement still does not completely take into account their needs and realities. Too often in our feminist spaces, the voices of a few are privileged. Race is inadequately dealt with. Our spaces, both physical and virtual, are inaccessible to women living with disabilities. Trans women’s involvement is actively discouraged.’
To that end, this was a conference that at its core was concerned with how to make the movement accessible to all. From the availability of speech-to-text and signers for the hearing impaired at every plenary session to the range of workshops on offer, the aim was to reflect the multiple faces of feminism today.
Attending other feminist conferences, I have often left feeling that my identity as a woman was deemed more important and treated separately from other important elements of who I am. For me, this has resulted in leaving my identity as a working-class black immigrant at the door. This lack of dialogue around how various forms of oppression act upon an individual, as well as how many of us, myself included, experience other areas of privilege we do not readily recognise, was something the morning workshop, ‘Ensuring feminism is a movement for all women: the way forward – intersectionality’, aimed to confront.
The workshop sought to tackle head on issues around oppression and privilege. One of the ice-breaker activities involved attendees stepping forward or back according to whether a particular statement applied to them: ‘I grew up in a household with more than 50 books’, ‘My parents were professionals such as doctors, lawyers, teachers etc’ and so on. The activity was a learning exercise for participants who had not previously considered themselves as having any privileges. It also demonstrated how assumptions about the makeup of an individual’s identity are invariably two‑dimensional. We are all much more complex and share far more connections than we first believe.
The group discussion that followed allowed people to talk through ideas on how they could actively place intersectionality at the core of their feminism. Importantly, the facilitators were themselves challenged on how the workshop had not been entirely inclusive in relation to people from single‑parent households and with physical disabilities. This was something that they acknowledged and promised to rectify in future sessions. All of us can and do make mistakes, but we must, as a movement, provide a space and atmosphere in which such challenges are greeted not as antagonistic but as helpful and therefore acted upon.
One of the highlights of the conference was the penultimate plenary session on sexism in popular culture, chaired by the writer and broadcaster Bidisha, which looked at the skewed and sexist representation of women in this arena. Beginning with an analysis of women and sports, Bidisha succinctly stated that coverage invariably focused on ‘boobs, bums and bikinis’. And a question from a young participant around how the movement can engage more with those who are not already converted was thought-provoking.
Panellist Kealy Hastick, from the women’s organisation Platform 51 (formerly the YWCA), eloquently told us that young women find it difficult to identify as feminists because ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. This gave something of an answer as to how and why the movement seems to only speak to the same select and, often, privileged few. Despite the fact that feminist ideas and ideals are broadly supported by, dare I even say it, the majority of men and women I know, they would nevertheless be loath to label themselves feminists. Yet few would agree to championing violence against women.
It is apt, then, that the conference towards its close opened up a space to discuss this most important of issues: how do we engage people who are receptive to our ideas but outside our ‘normal’ feminist circles? It seems to me that we must go back to both the aims of the conference and Kealy Hastick’s idea. We, feminists, have to show the wider public that the movement is made up of people exactly like them, and debunk the myth that a feminist looks and speaks in a particular way. We have to prove, through our inclusive practice, as bell hooks put it, that ‘feminism is for everyone’.
Lola Okolosie is an English teacher and journalist
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Richard Murphy says that the appropriate political will and understanding of tax can put an end to offshore avoidance and evasion
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes