A recent opinion piece in The Irish times took it upon itself to call out call out culture (yes without a hint of irony) and strike a blow against Identity Politics/Intersectional Feminism. This article is an attempt to draw out and analyse some of the irrationalities, logical inconsistencies, and fallacies contained in the piece. The full article from which I will be quoting can be read here.
“Although he might also be straight, white and male, it would be perverse to describe Ballymun native and founder of Home Sweet Home Dean Scurry as “privileged”
Now, I don’t know Dean Scurry in any way shape or form (beyond the great work he has done with Home Sweet Home) so I will be abstracting him from the argument to try and ensure no disrespect. The inference here seems to be that working class straight white males who have overcome great difficulties can never be described as privileged, and that indeed it would be “perverse” to do so.
This is a common issue and it is grounded in a disparity in our definitions of privilege:
If you view privilege and oppression purely through the lens of class (binary), then yes, it is impossible for a working class person to be described as privileged.
If however you view privilege and oppression through an intersectional lens (non-binary) then you integrate many lenses of identity and experience (including class!) and assert that each of us lies on a spectrum of privilege/oppression in each of these areas, privileged in some, oppressed in others. Then through this lens it *is* possible to argue that a working class person holds some privilege in some area/s.
“If the CIA or MI5 wanted to encourage a style of “activism” that could consume an infinite amount of energy, yet was utterly ineffective at anything other than dividing people, it would be the prominence of this very type of politics.”
Here the author contends that identity politics is, “utterly ineffective at anything other than dividing people” An absolute statement that requires one contrary example to disprove it so I’ll just mention the Marriage Equality movement in Ireland where LGBTQ+ activists led and won a long and sustained political campaign to legally legitimise their marital unions and ensure equal rights.
“We need politics that unites us in our shared humanity, for the 99.9 per cent to come together and fight the 0.1 per cent who are stealing the wealth of the Earth, pitting the poor against the poor and entrapping us in ignorance. We do not need politics that explicitly sets out to divide us and perfectly mirrors what it claims to oppose.”
Identity politics when practised correctly does not divide, it simply takes a more nuanced view. Are we being divisive when we speak of atomic structure? We are capable of understanding issues from different viewpoints and at different levels of complexity, so let’s do that. I highly recommend this lecture by Kimberle Crenshaw which explains it all very succinctly.
“Proponents of this ideology demand:
Faith over reason
Disdain for evidence
That challenges be condemned as blasphemy
Their own liturgy
Public displays of adherence
And most shamefully, the regular public flagellation of heretics.”
One of the biggest problems with this piece is its tendency to state views as fact without any supporting evidence. In fact at this point the author dispenses with any attempt in regard to narrative prose and supporting argument and simply lists a series of damning judgements, procured we can only assume from negative social media interactions, because the author understands intersectional feminism/identity politics better than its own proponents.
Look at the language closely here, “Proponents of this ideology demand”. The author is not delineating here between some proponents or many proponents of this ideology. The author simply states that proponents of this ideology demand all the elements of the subsequent list of awfulness. A ridiculous assertion, even if it were accompanied by evidence since it requires only one contrary example to dispute it.
“Unlike those who need an ever-expanding lexicon to express their beliefs, what I believe can be summed up in one word: equality. We should all be subject to the same laws, all have the same opportunities, all have the same rights, all have the same responsibilities and all be able to use the same language. Now that’s something worth fighting for.”
This is essentially an argument against nuance and subtlety. As if an “ever-expanding lexicon” is by nature less truthful or necessary. Simplicity as de-facto supreme attribute. There are times where our language must expand to accommodate the issue we are discussing. By the author’s assessment surgeons need only treat ‘sicknesses’ of the ‘body’ and any attempt to communicate more deeply by subdividing both further by describing the specific type of malady and its locus in the body is somehow exclusionary.
“Postscript? My mate Eric happens to be black and wear his hair in dreads. John Connors actually spent time with the Lakota tribe, who love this use of the term “pow wow”. Like me, both John and Eric have overcome an awful lot in their lives. And they don’t don the mantle of oppression just to belittle or exclude others.”
The author’s big reveal! You know back there, when the author said that his friend Eric agreed with him about how silly the idea of cultural appropriation is, well, Eric’s black. Checkmate humourless, feminist, buzz killers! And…and remember back when he mentioned that his mate Dean Scurry was getting grief on twitter about using the phrase “Pow Wow” well, guess what. The author’s other mate knows some Lakota tribespeople who reckon it’s grand. Boom! In your face, identity politics idiots.
This is the logical fallacy called false authority. Just because I can quote black people who say racism doesn’t exist, or that it’s cool for white people to use the n-word, or a woman who maintains misogyny is a fantasy created by man-hating feminists, doesn’t make it so.
A case for the author and a path forward
Are there people in the world who act as the author describes. Yes, there are. Are there issues to be dealt with in how some feminists act in the world. I think there are. Just as there are shortfalls in all ideologies themselves and in their application in the world. But to tar all with the one brush is seldom truthful or helpful.
I understand the author’s views somewhat I think because I once held them. In my early twenties I would have more or less agreed with him on feminism as a repressive force against men and particularly it’s perceived silence on class issues. It’s a seductive viewpoint. It requires no self-analysis. It is easier to fight for the status-quo than change after all. Since then I have received an invaluable education. A gift from many, generous women. I naturally empathised with the plight of men but thanks to the time and efforts of a multitude of great women, both online and in person, and my own willingness to step into the discomfort that comes with the knowledge of the unearned advantages I hold (just like the author, white male was not an identity I chose but it doesn’t stop me benefiting from it) I fostered some empathy for women’s experience of this world.
I experienced the justice system in Ireland with regard to sexual assault when an intimate partner was raped, and was forever changed by that. That lead me to discuss the issue with other female friends and future partners. What I discovered horrified me. I am not overstating when I say that I have almost no female friends who have not been sexually assaulted. This lead to similar discussions around intimate partner abuse. I am not overstating when I say that I have almost no female friends who have not been in abusive relationships (abuse is more than just physical violence, it includes emotional, psychological, economic, financial, sexual abuse etc.)
And this lead to similar discussions around structural inequalities, and on, and on, and on… To be clear I would never suggest that the author does not share these understandings or experiences. I acknowledge for example that the author is a vocal and hardworking activist on a broad range of issues, and I respect that. But I would say that this article in particular does not demonstrate the understanding I speak of.
To men who struggle with the #coponcomrades message
(A spectacular response to the Irish Times piece from a group of Irish Women Activists under the hashtag banner #coponcomrades can be read here)
Focus does not equal exclusion. Black lives matter does not presume that all lives do not. A focus on women’s issues does not deny that Men suffer also. Intersectional feminism is not the enemy. It is simply a newer, more nuanced map of how oppressions interact in the world, as opposed the reductive identity politics of the class struggle which admits only a singular identity.
A woman’s revolution does not undermine the broader revolution. Quite the opposite. It strengthens it. It empowers it. It fuels it. And frankly it is impossible to proceed without it in my view. It is uncomfortable to you. I entirely understand that. Facing your failings. Your faulty narratives. Your part in structures of oppression. The binary simplicity of class struggle can be comforting to those on the right side of the divide while the complexities of intersectionality asks us to acknowledge that as the #coponcomrades message puts it, “We all have to examine ourselves as oppressor as well as oppressed — because we are all both.”
At this point hundreds of women across all class divides, races, nationalities, sexual orientations etc. have signed a clear declaration that there is a problem within activist circles. And overwhelmingly the response from men has been dismissive and defensive. It doesn’t have to be this way. It is entirely unhelpful to respond this way. Their message is in my view rational, balanced, and delivered with an honour and dignity that stands in stark contrast to the treatment they have received.
Your sisters have a very important message for you and I implore you to listen. Drop the bravado. Drop the ego. Drop the desire to defend your viewpoint. Drop the need to be right. Drop the misrepresentation of the arguments. Be the bigger person if that’s how you need to see it. But please don’t dig your heels. Imagine for a moment that they have something to say that will benefit us all.