Reading the back cover of the soon to be released Me Not You: The trouble with mainstream feminism, I assumed Titania McGrath had churned out a new book. But on further inspection I realised it is in fact the latest from Alison Phipps, Professor of Gender Studies at Sussex University – a disciple of the ‘sex work is work’ and ‘trans women are women’ faux-feminism cult. This book has clearly been written for the hard-of-thinking.
‘Privileged white women use their traumatic experiences to create media outrage,’ reads the blurb, ‘and rely on state power and bureaucracy to purge “bad men” from elite institutions with little concern for where they might appear next.’
It is staggering to see anyone, let alone a so-called feminist scholar, label women who have been traumatised by male sexual violence as ‘privileged’ in this context, however white they are. But the really bonkers bit of that sentence is the suggestion that using the state (i.e. the criminal justice system) to take sexual predators to task is somehow wrong, and that to purge them from ‘elite institutions’ is also a terrible thing to do. Does Phipps imagine that when ‘white, privileged’ women ‘purge’ sexual predators from their workplaces and communities that they do not care if these men go and rape impoverished black women?
I can only assume that the privileged women Phipps is referring to are the numerous female actors that brought Harvey Weinstein down. It is unfortunate for Phipps that she perhaps wrote this nonsense before Weinstein was convicted of multiple sexual assaults and sent to clink for 23 years. Clearly those awful, privileged women are to blame.
Phipps accuses high-profile women, such as those that spoke out about Weinstein and others like him, of somehow spoiling it for the women that wish to highlight the everyday, constant pandemic of sexual violence. She does not appear to appreciate that when Weinstein was sent to prison it sent out a message to all men – especially the not-so-privileged ones. It's funny how views change. In 2014 Phipps wrote disapprovingly that some feminists, ‘have defended powerful men accused of sex crimes’. You would honestly think she would be pleased at the turn of events.
In her chapter 'Feminists and the Far Right' Phipps tries but fails to find any credible evidence that us proper feminists are aligned with the religious right in the UK. Her only example appears to be me. When I was attacked outside Edinburgh University by a man claiming to be a woman, having, ironically, just given a talk about male violence towards women and girls, apparently some right-wing bloke I had never heard of called Carl Benjamin talked about the attack. 'The Terfs will all end up joining Ukip’, he said. If a random serial killer dedicated a poem to Phipps, penned in his prison cell, would it be reasonable to link her to his crimes?
Phipps, who once famously asked her university students to build Lego structures to represent intersectionality in class, is also an advocate of the ‘de-platforming of feminists’ witch hunt. She regularly suggests that gender-critical feminists are a danger to trans people. Phipps’s colleague is Kathleen Stock, a Professor of Philosophy at Sussex who has been a target for nasty and relentless harassment from students and staff on account of her alleged ‘transphobia’ (she believes biological sex is a material reality). When Stock challenged her to a debate Phipps responded by saying that there was no arguing with the rationally indefensible. Talk about a critical thinker. This is the state of the Academy today. Lego is fine, mature debate is fascism.
Still, Phipps and her censorial crew keep on churning out the books, so they must somehow want critical engagement. ‘I hope this book will ease the burden of constantly having to explain whiteness to white women,’ writes Phipps. How very noble of her.
‘White feminism’, like ‘Terf’, is often used not as a description but a slur, and not just about white women. I am white and I am a feminist, and only a fool would deny the benefits my whiteness brings me. But in Phipps’s world, ‘white feminism’ can be practised by anyone. Look, for example at the trans-activist Paris Lees who shouts ‘white feminist!’ as a term of abuse towards those that speak out against abuse in the sex trade. I have witnessed white men shouting this at black sex trade survivors.
Phipps seems to use her academic muscle to pour scorn on other privileged (and not so privileged) white women. But surely she would accept that all women need feminism? Let’s all be conscious of how white supremacy operates and seek to eradicate it. Let’s also do away with sycophantic lessons from any real-life Titania McGraths.
Me Not You is published in April 2020 by Manchester University Press.