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
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns