The Danger of G.L.I.F. (Gatekeeper Limited Intersectional Feminism)

So-called intersectional feminism that nevertheless prioritises content approved by gatekeepers is not real intersectional feminism, and is in fact, a disappointment. I have made this point over and over again in some of my recent writing.

But since some people still don’t seem to get it, let me make it even clearer: intersectional feminism, or even feminism more generally, should be able to empower everyone, by breaking barriers to equal opportunity based on gender. It is becoming clearer and clearer that traditional feminism has failed to deliver in this regard, leaving perhaps the majority of women behind while serving as an intellectual hobby for a relatively few. Hence the rise of intersectional feminism. But my point is, even intersectional feminism, as it is practiced now, does not really deliver either. Why? It is still leaving the vast majority of women behind. Attempts to include ethnic minorities and queer women are to be congratulated, but this does not mean feminism has become truly inclusive. Not yet.

The reason? Intersectional feminism, as it is practiced now, is what I would describe as GLIF, i.e. Gatekeeper Limited Intersectional Feminism. Its discourse and perspective is entirely limited by what the gatekeepers think is acceptable, and the priorities of the movement reflect this bias. Presented with GLIF, everyday women are effectively given the same choices that traditional feminism has always given them: take it or leave it. And since GLIF really does not serve the values or needs of the majority of women, many choose to leave it. Thus the problem of feminism being an exclusive club not serving the interests of most women remains.

The Burqa Bans

Feminism’s tendency to refuse to accept certain things has always been the case, and it can be argued that things are actually getting slightly better, although nowhere near good enough. For example, some older, second-wave feminists have been joining calls to ban the burka (Islamic headdress), because they think it is an un-feminist way of life. Fortunately, most younger, third- and fourth- wave feminists correctly recognise that religious identity and practice is important to many Muslim women, and you either respect and empower them in this context, or you do not respect or empower them at all. Hence they unite to oppose Islamophobia, as part of their intersectional feminism. Ultimately, people are inseparable from their contexts, their upbringing, and you either liberate them within this context, or you don’t liberate them at all.

The Marriage Equality Lesson

Let us go outside of feminism for a moment, to further illustrate this point. Back in the 1990s and perhaps even the 2000s, the queer rights establishment in most Western countries were sceptical of marriage equality, because they believed in a more radical approach to relationships, one where marriage is not needed. While everyday gay and lesbian couples out there asked for the right to marry, their so-called leaders were often unsympathetic. In Britain, mainstream gay rights organizations were not even united in making marriage equality a priority, as recently as 2010. Fortunately, a Conservative government was far more sympathetic to the needs of actual gay couples, and legalized marriage equality a few years later. Australian gay couples weren’t that lucky: their former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was persuaded by the radical gay establishment of the lack of need for marriage equality, and hence an opportunity for reform was wasted. Gillard has since changed her mind, but Australia is still fighting for marriage equality in 2017, unfortunately.

The fact is, while many inner-city gay people living radical lives did not want marriage equality, the silent majority of gay couples living in suburbia did. People are liberated within their context, or they are not liberated at all. Hence, without the kind of traditional acceptance that marriage equality signifies, many LGBT people simply feel they cannot come out. Studies in the US before 2015 found that, in states where marriage equality was legal, LGBT people were happier in general. While the radical gay establishment may think that using their radical lives to challenge traditional family values is a good thing, this approach also makes life harder for LGBT people living in more traditional settings, from the suburban and rural areas of Western countries to even more conservative developing countries. Putting it simply: the radical gay establishment in many Western countries had put its vision of liberation first, and had refused to look at the real needs of everyday LGBT people. In the UK a conservative government came to the rescue (see the irony?), and in Australia they are still suffering the consequences.

GLIF is every bit as disappointing to feminism as the radical gay establishment is to everyday gay people in suburbia. If GLIF gets its way and shuts down real intersectional feminism, maybe the rest of us will need to wait for the conservatives to come to the rescue, just like they did on marriage equality in the UK. And if GLIF gets the ear of future world leaders, well, we will all be disappointed over and over, like the Australian gay couples still waiting to get married while their radical counterparts keep telling them there are other ‘more important issues’.

So, how can we triumph over GLIF?

First of all, GLIF needs to be stripped of the legitimacy it is bestowing on itself. GLIF cannot pretend to speak for all women, just by including some ethnic minorities who nevertheless toe the party line. The misconception that the radical gay establishment represented genuine LGBT needs meant that marriage equality was ignored by politicians for a long time, and we must not let this mistake be repeated. Therefore, we need to call out GLIF as merely another elitist, unrepresentative movement, and instead promote real intersectional feminism that is inclusive and representative of everybody.

We also need to promote into our collective consciousness the feminist voices that the GLIF establishment has sought to suppress. These voices may be contradictory to each other (e.g. stay-at-home moms vs capitalist career women, Israel vs Palestine supporters, pro-lifers vs pro-choicers, religious conservatives vs radicals), and we don’t necessarily need to take anyone’s side in these controversies. What we need to do, however, is to enrich our feminist dialogue, and develop a real, complex, intersectional feminist consciousness. From there, we will get to an intersectional feminism that will work for everyone.