[Update: This text has also been published in german on Mädchenmannschaft: "Entweder... Oder?"]
It’s Alice Schwarzer’s 70th birthday. Alice Schwarzer is the official icon of the german women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, and she has been the editor-in-chief of the oldest german feminist magazine, EMMA, for decades. Alice Schwarzer has, in my view, indisputable achievements in terms of feminist activism, e.g., fighting publicly and effectively against §218 of german penal law that illegalizes abortions, and putting feminist perspectives on political and media agendas. Alice Schwarzer has also been criticized heavily, has been called every disgusting insult in the book, has been threatened and yelled at for over 40 years. That she’s still a feminist activist is a sign of courage and perseverance, I believe, and I don’t think that criticism of her political views and actions should negate that.
Alice Schwarzer, however, is also an activist who has made the patronization of other women* an integral part of her brand of feminism, and who has now become a bit of a caricature of an unrepenting Second Wave [sic] feminist who adamantly insists that all women* share the same basic life experience because of their sex, and that Feminism ™ can and should be a completely unified movement encompassing and speaking for every woman* on the planet (…whether they like it or not). In her newest blog article (which, apparently, will also be the editorial note of the newest EMMA issue in January 2013), “Back to Zero?” (in german), Schwarzer laments the “sectarian” tendencies of some modern feminist currents, and believes that anti-racist activists are trying to silence the feminist ones.
Schwarzer believes that there are feminists (the good ones), and that there are groups of women (the bad ones) who are trying to silence the feminists. Schwarzer believes that these groups of women*, particularly the bloggers of Mädchenmannschaft (yes, again, always, blah… – Nadia at Shehadistan has published a great comment on another EMMA article that also jumped on the bandwagon) and other feminist bloggers and activists in Berlin (…although most of them actually aren’t Berlin based, but that would cramp the narrative that other newspapers and magazines have already established, so…), are trying to silence feminist activism by randomly accusing said activists of alleged racism (a reproach Schwarzer denies), and that self-professed PoC assert that they’re automatically right and white people are automatically wrong (…I am not exaggerating, she actually wrote it like that). Moreover, and this is when Schwarzer comes back to the Berlin sl*twalk, these pseudo-anti-racist, anti-feminist groups of women* do not only think feminism is less important than anti-racism (a claim she tries to underline by equating it with her experiences with german working-class activists who thought class was more important than gender), they use their anti-racism as a hidden strategy to further Islamic fundamentalism which she describes as fascism. To sum up: the anti-racist critique displayed by some allegedly feminist women* towards other (the real) feminist women* is just a front for justifying the tenets of radical Islamism/neo-fascism, and it is just a matter of time until these groups of women* who call themselves “left-wing feminists” switch sides to right-wing extremism, and the totalitarian tyranny of said fauxminists has placed an iron curtain of fear and regret on femininist activism in Berlin (and soon across Europe, I assume – alright, here I actually am paraphrasing a bit).
Schwarzer, on the other hand, believes that “any criticism” of Islam/ism (despite her claims, she seems to confuse the two at times…) has been stifled in germany “for the past 30 years” by the immediate “reproach of racism.” Of course, Schwarzer fails to mention Thilo Sarrazin and his bestsellers, for example, or her decade-long EMMA campaign that was not afraid to use racist caricatures to ensure that everyone understood how evil All The Muslims are, for example. But, according to her, this is exactly what is happening now again: in search of antifeminism (for whatever reason), some women dare to criticize actual feminists for their political stances, when we should all realize that while class, race, religion, etc. are factors that divide us, the actually important one, sex (or, as Schwarzer actually writes here: the fact that women “all have two breasts and a vagina” – so much for cis-sexism/essentialism/identity politics *cough*), unites us despite all our differences. Feminism, thus, isn’t about anything other than gender inequality. Schwarzer subsequently makes the exact same mistake she criticized about working-class movements: she degrades every other discriminatory social structure that affects women* differently to mere secondary contradictions.
Schwarzer believes Feminism ™ is about gender, not about race or class, and that including any of the other factors damages her Great Cause. I believe that this distinction is not only futile, but harmful. It is not either or, it is everything. That’s what makes it complicated, sure, but to call anti-racist criticism of feminist activism “sectarian,” exposes Schwarzer and other EMMA authors as the relics of a never-revived, 40-year-old movement of liberal, middle-class, white feminists who spoke of universality, and exclusively meant themselves. Identity politics aren’t a goal itself, they are a means to achieve inclusion, and their birthplace lies here exactly. This is what Schwarzer neglects when calling them “sectarian,” and this is where one realizes that she (and others, more of them than I ever thought possible, actually…) has ignored 30 years of PoC, and working-class feminists’, and LGBTQ feminists’ criticism of the mainstream women’s liberation movement.
Feminism never felt so german.
And in contrast to Schwarzer and other feminists, I disagree with their expressed “political position” that feminist writing/activism means that “every expression is fine as long as it’s not sexist.” This quote from a recent Jungle World interview on the subject sums up the entire discussion in a single sentence.
I believe that being critical of sex work, and of porn, and of religious fundamentalism – hence: some of the topics EMMA addresses frequently – are legitimate feminist positions. I don’t think there are inner-feminist barriers to problematize any of these topics. On the contrary, I think it is extremely important to criticize and fight religious fundamentalism of any kind, misogyny and anti-Semitism.
Where, thank goodness, resistance has been increasing, is when certain feminists criticize either topic in a blatantly generalizing way, and when certain feminists believe they have the right or the capability to speak for all women, for women they have neither heard nor seen, for women of whose daily lives they know nothing, and for women who are quite capable of expressing themselves without being patronized.
I have written before that I personally believe that cultural relativism is neither a helpful nor just strategy, but I would reiterate that inviting and listening to people who have actual experiences with religious fundamentalism and a direct governmental oppression of women’s rights, for example, rather than to speak about them in a generalizing and often stereotypical way, and paint every single person with the same brush, is the better strategy and much more help- and powerful.
I believe it is still valid to express criticism of religious fundamentalism or porn or whatever Schwarzer and EMMA dislike these days, but I believe it depends on how you do it and on what terms, and I don’t think you have the right to feel “discriminated” against when sex workers, for example, contradict your views. You can actively and resolutely oppose sex trade and -slavery without labeling every sex worker a dumb victim who doesn’t know what s_he’s doing and needs to be rescued. That shouldn’t be too hard to see, and that shouldn’t be a “sectarian” position. I have read a quote today from (well, not my favorite, but here she’s spot-on) feminist Jill Filipovic: “We can walk and chew gum at the same time” – being a feminist doesn’t mean you’re automatically an anti-racist, nor does it mean that you have to choose between either form of social equality activism or any other one. Actually, they’re linked for your convenience…
I don’t think that anti-racism, anti-fascism, anti-heterosexism, anti-ableism, … are optional for feminist movements, I believe they are an integral part. I don’t think that you can get everything right all the time, I believe it depends on how you deal with criticism. And if your idea of dealing with anti-racist criticism, for example, is to laugh it off by calling people “sectarian,” by accusing them of randomly whipping out the racism-reproach for their own amusement and to “silence” you (…because that’s so much fun for PoC, clearly!) whereas, actually, you have a grand tradition of silencing PoC and others for your Cause ™, and by dividing feminist activists into actual “feminists” (who only care about gender equality, and are thus “on the job”) versus “some women” (who expressed anti-racist criticism, for example, because they are being discriminated against as PoC or show solidarity as allies), your feminism certainly isn’t mine, and I couldn’t care less about the fact that you and I share comparable gendered experiences. Obviously, we don’t share anything else that matters, and, as I’ve said before: I’d rather walk alone.