Feminism for the few

In current feminist circles, a new concept is coming to the fore: intersectionality. Depending on how immersed you are within feminist culture, you may or may not have heard of this idea. The concept is said to have emerged as a way of counteracting the dominance of white middle class women within the feminist movement, to give a voice to the most oppressed and vulnerable in society be they transgender, non-binary, lesbian or black. The voices of oppressed groups were supposed to be shouted louder than they had ever been before, so that their concerns related to their specific needs could be heard. A good idea, perhaps, in theory, but in practice the reality is not so wonderful. The key word within this is privilege. We, as women (and men) are meant to be aware of our privilege, be that as white, straight or cisgender. Except this movement has lost sight of the word privilege in the most obvious sense of the word: to have wealth.

Intersectionality in theory is a great idea which should ensure that the voices of all women are heard. The problem with intersectionality in practice is that it systematically ignores one very important section of society: class. Working class women are excluded from feminism by the very nature of new feminist movements because of the academic rigour, reading and intellect required in order to participate which is so often not a part of working class life and culture.

I am a student at the University of Edinburgh, a rather elitist university which brings in the middle classes as they have access to the resources which make the entry requirements a realistic goal. Be that private school, living in a good catchment area, having parents who place high emphasis on the importance of education or extra tuition, such an ancient elite university has a high number of economically privileged students. Therefore, the feminist society continues to work only in an elite bubble. This was proven in nominations for various oppressed groups whereby everybody awkwardly looked around at each other at the ‘working class’ nominations.

The feminist movement exists to bring about change, be that the vote at the beginning of the century, equal pay in second wave feminism, or the fight to wear what we want without being harassed. But now, with countless language requirements and a broad expanse of knowledge required simply to be able to participate in many strands of the movement, the thought of real change is distant as it excludes so many women from the movement. For example, speaking out on certain issues when it might not be argued to be your place or using lots of different wording to ensure that no group is left out of an article.

If you want to be involved in a society, a Facebook group or an organisation, many require you to be wised up on all feminist issues. I have identified as a feminist for 3 years now and still am perceived to get things wrong by some feminists. What then must it be like for people who just want to get into feminism or don’t know much about it, or worse, don’t have an academic background? To live up to the standards of some feminists, you must have a deep understanding of all issues from race to gender, and be up for extensive reading of hundreds of articles. And if you don’t feel equipped to form a personal response, then sit down, shut up, and do as you are told.

I want the voices of all women to be heard, but that doesn’t have to be done in an elitist system that speaks down to or attacks those who aren’t involved in these high up, academically informed circles. This is not me calling for the end of education on issues and language within and outside of feminist circles, but for it to be done in a more accessible and less accusatory way. To forgive language slip ups without launching safe space complaints. To make it a movement of action, rather than fighting over language choices, who has a right to speak and when and reading countless academic articles. And fundamentally, to recognise the reality of working class culture. The working class is often more affected by fundamental issues of gender roles and violence, rather than language choices.

Some of the greatest achievements in feminism have come from the working class. For example, the 1968 Ford sewing machinists strike which led to the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. I just hope that the feminist movement does not lose sight of the real issues at hand, to achieve change, rather than picking holes in and attacking people within the movement itself, a movement which is meant to be about solidarity. This approach will continue to exclude those who are less academic and from the working class, those who often most frequently need the help of the feminist movement.

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