Julie Burchill vs Paris Lees
In the early 1970s, my dad was a singular sort of feminist. As well as working all night in a factory, he had banned my mother from the kitchen for as long as I could remember because, and I quote, ‘Women gets hysterical and you needs to be calm in a kitchen.’ He also adored tough broads: ‘There’s a lady!’ he would yell appreciatively at Mrs Desai when the Grunwick strike came on TV, the Indian women wearing English winter coats over their hard-core saris. ‘Thass a lady too!’ — May Hobbs, the pretty leader of the cleaners’ strike. ‘What a woman!’ he would swoon when the lesbian tennis champ Billie Jean King shrugged off yet another trophy.
Only once in a while did his righteousness get on my wick, like the Christmas when he heard there were some striking bakers nearby and he made my mum pack our Christmas dinner (with all the trimmings!) into Tupperware boxes so he could take it down to the starving brothers freezing around the brazier down on the picket line.
‘Mu-um!’ I whined, full of tweenage self-pity (if nothing else), ‘They’re ba-akers! I dunno, why can’t they… BAKE something and have that instead?’ My mother didn’t miss a beat, shoving chipolatas into the squashed smorgasbord with real savagery: ‘Because if we don’t do it, your dad’s gonna be miserable all day. Best get it over with.’
It’s easy for me to sentimentalise those days when the trade unions held sway, chiming as they did with the calf country of my communism, but whatever their beery and sandwichy limits, they were far better than what replaced them; the politics of diversity. While working-class left-wing political activism was always about fighting the powerful, treating people how you would wish to be treated and believing that we’re all basically the same, modern, non-working-class left-wing politics is about… other stuff. Class guilt, sexual kinks, personal prejudice and repressed lust for power. The trade union movement gave us brother Bill Morris and Mrs Desai; the diversity movement has given us a rainbow coalition of cranks and charlatans. Which has, in turn, has given us intersectionality.
Intersectionality may well sound like some unfortunate bowel complaint resulting in copious use of a colostomy bag, and indeed it does contain a large amount of ordure. Wikipedia defines it as ‘the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination’, which seems rather mature and dignified. In reality, it seeks to make a manifesto out of the nastiest bits of Mean Girls, wherein non-white feminists especially are encouraged to bypass the obvious task of tackling the patriarchy’s power in favour of bitching about white women’s perceived privilege in terms of hair texture and body shape. Think of all those episodes of Jerry Springer where two women who look like Victoria’s Secret models — one black, one white — bitch-fight over a man who resembles a Jerusalem artichoke, sitting smugly in the middle, and you have the end result of intersectionality made all too foul flesh. It may have been intended as a way for disabled women of colour to address such allegedly white-ableist-feminist-specific issues as equal pay, but it’s ended up as a screaming, squawking, grievance-hawking shambles.
The supreme irony of intersectionality is that it both barracks ‘traditional’ feminists for ignoring the issues of differently abled and differently ethnic women while at the same time telling them they have no right to discuss them because they don’t understand them — a veritable Pushmi-Pullyu of a political movement. Entering the crazy world of intersectionality is quite like being locked in a hall of mirrors with a borderline personality disorder coach party. ‘Stop looking at me funny! Why are you ignoring me? Go away, I hate you! Come back, how dare you reject me!’ It’s politics, Jim, but certainly not as my dear old dad knew it.
In-fighting and backbiting have been raised to the level of a very sad Olympic sport — that’ll be the Special Olympics, of course, the real ones being ‘able-ist’. Every thought is an ism and every person an ist in the insania of intersectionality, where it is always winter and never Christmas — sorry, ‘Winterval’. (Mustn’t be Islamophobic.) But sexism, interestingly, isn’t really the hot ticket there; women get picked on — or ‘called out’, to use the approved phrase — more than anyone. Natural-born women, that is. When it happened to one of my dearest friends last year, I became an unwitting participant in this modern danse macabre.
One Friday in January 2013, I was showing off on Facebook of an afternoon — as is my wont now my career’s gone up the Swannee — when it was drawn to my attention that my amica of several decades standing, Suzanne Moore, was being ‘monstered’, as modern parlance has it, on Twitter. She’d actually been driven off it for refusing to apologise for something she’d said, subsequently becoming the target for all sorts of vile threats, including having her face ripped off and fed to feral dogs. Always up for a fight, I hurried through cyberspace, only to find my homey the target of a thoroughly monstrous regiment of bellicose transsexuals and their bed-wetting ‘cheerleaders’. Both groups had taken exception to the following line by Suzanne from an essay on female anger: ‘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.’
Repelled by the filthy threats which were flying fierce and fast at my friend, I began to talk trash on my Facebook page — though even my trash-talk, it must be said, has a vicious elegance that most people’s A-game lacks. I opined that a bunch of gender-benders trying to tell my mate how to write was akin to the Black and White Minstrels advising Usain Bolt on how to run. I stated that it was outrageous that a woman of style and substance should be driven from her chosen mode of time-wasting by a bunch of dicks in chicks’ clothing and their snivelling suck-ups. The usual cool, calm and collected sort of consideration I’m famous for.
It was interesting to me that, rather than join Miss Moore in decrying the notion that every broad should aim to look like an oven-ready porn star, the very cross cross-dressing lobby and their grim groupies had picked on the messenger instead — presumably in order to add to their already flourishing sense of grievance. Suzanne is a life-long left-winger and a feminist — why, I wondered, were fellow travellers threatening her in so rabid a manner? But this, I was to learn, was par for the crotchety course.
Suzanne’s crime, it transpired, was to be ‘cis-gendered’ as opposed to transgendered (that is, she was born female) and not to have ‘checked her privilege’ — what passes for a battle cry in certain ever-decreasing circles these dog days. It’s hardly ‘No pasarán!’ — rather, it declares an intention that it is better to be nagged to death on one’s knees rather than stand by one’s principles on one’s feet. Consider how lucky you are, born women, before you raise your voice above that of a trans-sister! — that veritable cornucopian horn of plenty which we lucky breed fortunate enough to be born to a sensory smorgasbord of periods, PMT, the menopause, HRT and being bothered ceaselessly for sex by random male strangers since puberty take such flagrant delight in revelling in, shameless hussies that we are. Add to this that Suzanne was, like myself, born into the English working class, and therefore marginally less likely to have beaten the odds than a dancing dog or busker’s cat to have become a public figure, and I was buggered (not being homophobic, there) if I was going to put up with a bunch of middle-class seat-sniffers, educated beyond all instinct and honesty, laying into my girl.
But it wasn’t just that. It was an instinctive desire to defend the socialism of my dead father. Because intersectionality is actually the opposite of socialism! Intersectionality believes that there is ‘no such thing as society’ — just various special interests.
In my opinion, we only become truly brave, truly above self-interest, when fighting for people different from ourselves. My hero as a kid was Jack Ashley — a deaf MP who became the champion of rape victims. These days, the likes of those who went after Suzanne would probably dismiss him as a self-loathing cis-ableist. Intersectionality, like identity politics before it, is pure narcissism.
Though it reminds us ceaselessly to ‘check our privilege’, intersectionality is the silliest privilege of them all, a gang of tools and twats tiptoeing around others’ finer feelings rather than getting stuck in, mucking in, like proper mates — the ultimate privilege, which is to serve each other with collective love and action. The most recently inter-species ruckus happened when the Deirdre Spart impersonator Laurie Penny wrote a passionate defence of the pixie cut in the New Statesman, only to get it in the sleekly shaved neck from women who accused her of not taking the different behaviour of African hair into consideration. When I asked a supporter of this lunacy whether she thought that every subject of interest to women should have every type of woman weighing in with her written opinion, she answered that yes, she did. Seriously? I don’t think my heart can stand the excitement of a weekly Staggers the size of a telephone directory.
I personally can understand black women occasionally getting teed off with their apparently carefree Wash’n’Go white stepsisters. But the most recent and reactionary development within this hissy-fitting hothouse — the insistence of intersectional feminists on the right of transsexuals not to be offended — tells you all you need to know about the essential stupidity of the movement.
The idea that a person can chose their gender — in a world where millions of people, especially ‘cis-gendered’ women, are not free to choose who they marry, what they eat or whether or not their genitals are cut off and sewn up with barbed wire when they are still babies — and have their major beautification operations paid for by the National Health Service seems the ultimate privilege, so don’t tell me to check mine. Here’s hoping that the in-fighting in-crowd of intersectionality disappear up their own intersection really soon, so the rest of us can resume creating a tolerant and united socialism.
Julie Burchill is a columnist, author, and self-proclaimed ‘militant feminist’.