Cop on Comrades

We are a group of activist women from a wide variety of backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Last week, a good number of the left-wing men we work and organise with seriously disappointed us. These men – our friends, our fellow trade unionists, activists, writers, organisers, and artists – shared and commented on a reductive and damaging article written by Frankie Gaffney, which was published in the Irish Times.

We live in a world where our advantages are tangled up with the things that disadvantage us – some of us are working class, some queer, some of us are poor, some of us come from minority ethnic groups or have disabilities or don’t enjoy the security of citizenship. As well, some of us have had a multitude of opportunities in our lives while some of us have had to fight our way through. It is an obligation on all of us to honestly look at our different positions within the structures of oppression and privilege under patriarchal racial capitalism. It is only by acknowledging all these differences that we have any chance of imagining and building a better world that includes us all.

Working-class ‘straight white men’ in Ireland don’t have it easy these days. They never did. They are ignored by a political class that couldn’t care less about them. They should have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, but they often don’t.

However, that doesn’t make them immune to critique. We all have to examine ourselves as oppressor as well as oppressed – because we are all both. The response to the article felt like a silencing to us and we are writing this because we are way past putting up with that. You will see from the names on this letter that we are women who have been in the thick of things. Whether in political parties and organisations, education, trade unions, or grassroots and community-based movements, we are tired of being accused of ‘bourgeois feminism’ and of betraying the struggle when we raise our voices. No campaign in this country could survive without women, without us – our work and energy and knowledge and organising have been instrumental in all the progressive movements in this country. When we say we need to be recognised and respected within our movements, we need you to listen.

The article expressed the view that identity politics is good for nothing except dividing movements, using language and narratives that have been made popular by MRA (Men’s Rights Activist) groups and the alt-right. According to such narratives, straight white men are the new most oppressed group. This ignores the struggles of women and others at the sharp end of misogyny, racism, anti-trans and anti-queer violence. It aims to silence those who will no longer tolerate the violence, abuse and marginalisation we have suffered for so long. These alt-right arguments have been used by people on the left to support the view that women, and feminists in particular, are to blame for the rise of the far right – for instance, for Trump’s election – and for neoliberal capitalism, which is seen as having damaged working class men in particular.  

In this version of events, straight white men are made to feel uncomfortable about being ‘born this way’ by social media-fuelled ‘political correctness’. They are too afraid to say what they think or express opinions for fear of online retribution. Men who claim to be silenced in this way might try a week or even a day as a vocal woman or person of colour online and see how they deal with the rape threats and threats of racist violence that follow.

We are not concerned here about one opinion piece by one person. Rather we have all been aware of the increasing trend towards this particular new type of silencing of women from our supposed fellow activists on the left. The arguments mounted here and elsewhere are apparently to criticise some of the worst aspects of ‘call-out culture’, as well as the lean-in type of so-called feminism that disregards class and race. Yet they seem to be used now by some of our left-wing activist comrades as an excuse not to deal with the complexities of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation in our political organising. These excuses, when accepted, prevent us from seeing clearly the state of our movements – who is taking part in them, who is heard and represented, who is doing the work. These are massive issues that have to do with how we are creating mass movements, which need to be addressed and faced to ensure that people of different classes, races, ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender have not just a voice but leading roles in our struggle. Without this solidarity in working together, we are simply imitating the oppressive structures we want to fight – the structures that say “not now, your life comes second.” It is not the straight white men who are being silenced when this argument is made.

We are working-class women, women of colour, migrant women, trans women, Traveller women, disabled women, queer women, women who are sex workers, women with children, and women who are none of these, active in our communities and committed to an anti-capitalist struggle. We are well aware that a right-wing, neoliberal distortion of feminism and what is called ‘identity politics’ exists. We know this because it erases our experiences and struggles and we resist this erasure through our work as activists every single day. It is distressing and enraging that we also have to fight against the bad faith of fellow activists on the left – mostly men, sometimes women – who, for their own reasons, blur the distinction between this kind of middle-class neoliberal faux-feminism, and a truly radical feminist politics that has class struggle at its very core. This hurts us because it erases and undermines our realities, our suffering, our analyses, and our organising, and gives more strength to the powers that are ranged against us. For many of us, it is heart-breaking to look at some of the men around us and realise that they are nodding in agreement with this erasure of their working class women friends and comrades.

Most of us have grown up learning to appease men. How to give them our space, how to deal with the fact that they dominate any political discussions, that they are paid more, heard more and believed more.  However, most of us expect that the men we work with in all the social justice movements we are part of should have at least considered how they are complicit in this domination when they refuse to recognise that it exists. Patriarchy forces men into roles that damage them as well as us. Most of us have men that we love, admire and respect in our lives and for that reason, not only because it damages and diminishes the life experiences of women, we should all be fighting patriarchy together.

Niamh McDonald

Zoe McCormack

Jen O’Leary

Aline Courtois

Emily Waszak

Theresa O’Keefe

Sinéad Redmond

Aislinn Wallace

Hazel Katherine Larkin

Linnea Dunne

Natalia Fernandez

Helen Guinane

Maggs Casey

Stephanie Lord

Anne Mulhall

Eileen Flynn

Ellie Kisyombe

Elaine Feeney

Wendy Lyon

Sarah Clancy

Brigid Quilligan

Emily Duffy

Clara Purcell

Aoibheann McCann

Aoife Frances

Shauna Kelly

Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin

Dearbhla Ryan​

Michelle Connolly

Siobhán O’Donoghue

Aoife FitzGibbon O’Riordan

Stephanie Crowe Taft

Denise Kiernan

Aisling Egan

Donnah Vuma

Kate O’Connell

Natalia Fernández

Fionnghuala Nic Roibeaird

Mary McAuliffe

Marie Mulholland

Margo Harkin

Avril Corroon

Juliana Sassi

Ailbhe Smyth

Kate McGrew

Ciara Miller

Aoife Dermody

Emer Smith

Francisca Ribeiro

Jerrieann Sullivan

Marie McDonnell

Kathleen Gaul

Liz Martin

Laura Lee

Roisin Blade

Kerry Guinan

Gráinne O’Toole

Edel McGinley

Máiréad Enright

Erin Fornoff

Sarah Fitzgibbon

Cliona Kelly

Ciara Fitzpatrick

Bronwen Lang

Shonagh Strachan

Dervla O’Neill

Hilary Darcy

Jane Xavier

Emma Campbell

Clara Rose Thornton IV

Linda Connolly

Nomaxabiso Maye

Rosa Thompson

Liz Nelson

Eavan Brennan

Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Elaine D’alton

Anne Rynne

Elaine Crory

Jodie Condon

Clare Kelly

Catriona O’Brien

Meireka Radford

Lisa Keogh Finnegan

Fiona Dunkin

Lelia Doolan

Jacinta Fay

Mary O’Donoghue

Mariel Whelan

Aine Treanor

Flavia Simas

Meabh Savage

Noirin Lynch

Claire Brophy

Liz Price

Linda Kavanagh

Linda Devlin

Aileen O’Carroll

Anita Koppenhofer

Vicky Donnelly

Marianne Farrelly

Aisling Walsh

Ronit Lentin

Sarah Ferrigan

Neltah Chadamoyo

Aine Ni Fhaolain

Rosi Leonard

Tara Flynn

Sinead Kennedy

Anna Visser

Taryn de Vere

Marese Hegarty

Tracey Ryan

Orlagh De Bhaldraithe

Eimear O’Shea

Jen Fagan

Aoife Martin

Lorna O’Hara

Nicole King

Laura NicDiarmada

Maeve O’Brien

Maija Sofia

Izzy Kamikaze

Karen Mulreid

Niamh Byrne

Sophie Long

Gormla Hughes

Mary McDermott

Mary Cosgrove

Amy Moran

Chamindra Weerawardhana

Sarah Vanden Broeck

Karen McDonnell

Kate Quigley

Charlotte Gordon

Kerry Cuskelly

Susan O Keeffe

Inga Wójcik

May Watson

Máire Ní Giolla Bhríde

Maria O Sullivan

Gillian McInerney

Claire McCallion

Deirdre Flynn

Janet O’Sullivan

Alexandra Day

Jeannine Webster

Ann Farrelly

Georgina O’Halloran

Zoe Lawlor

Angela Coraccio

Kathryn Keane

Sorcha Fox

Anastasia Ryan

Sinéad O’Rourke

Kerri Ryan

Mara Clarke

Chelley McLear

Georgina Barrow

Breda McManus

Ceile Varley

Kate Quigley

Gala Tomasso

Louise Kelly

Catherine Lawless

Sonya Mulligan

Sarah-Anne Buckley

Lily Power

Angela Carr

Dervla O’Malley

Sinéad Mercier

Jane O’Sullivan

Irena Koroleva

Sarah Cavanagh

Margaret Ward

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Cop on Comrades

  1. Horatio Shelley

    So let me get this straight: you got a bunch of women to sign their names to this official censuring of Frankie because you were offended by his piece, which you considered to be silencing. But what you’re doing to Frankie somehow… isn’t silencing him? You people are all hypocrites. Keep pushing other leftists away from you, should work out well.

    • Well I didn’t ‘get a bunch of women’ to sign anything, nor had I had any part in the drafting of the statement. I was asked if I would publish it here, and I was more than happy to do that and show my support.

      Allow me to set you straight on a couple of things. It is not an ‘official’ statement of anything. It is not a ‘censuring’ of Frankie Gaffney. I don’t know how many pieces I have written on this site taking issue with this or that Irish Times column. Was I ‘censuring’ the writers? Perhaps it is the fact that a significant number of women are in agreement in taking issue with the content -and the reaction to it- that ‘censure’ takes shape in your mind?

      In fact, it says ‘we are not concerned here about one opinion piece by one person’. It is concerned with the fact that a considerable number of men involved in left-wing activism showed their approval for the content of the article, and in so doing displaying a disregard at best for women engaged in activism who have to contend with charges of ‘bourgeois feminism’ and for the ‘struggles of women and others at the sharp end of misogyny, racism, anti-trans and anti-queer violence’. It lays out how these habits, narratives and attitudes militate against ‘a truly radical feminist politics that has class struggle at its very core’.

      To point out that this is the effect of Frankie Gaffney’s article does nothing to silence him: no-one is preventing him from writing something else in response. Personally I think it would be good if he did reflect on the content and write something in response, but that is up to him. But besides that, given the fact that he isn’t the focus of the statement, I think you’ve got some neck ignoring the voices of a large number of women involved in activism -in terms of what they actually say- while claiming that it is they who are pushing other leftists away. But they are the hypocrites.

      Anyway, why do you care? What is your ‘leftism’ for?

      • “no-one is preventing him from writing something else in response”

        Weird line to see in this response from you, Richard. Feminism starts with the idea that the personal is political. And you know how this argument works; mechanisms of silencing are often subtle, and function by undermining the legitimacy of the subject of speech. Tho, in fairness, the post from #CopOnComrades is about as subtle as a brick. Remember the feminist argument where they complain that masculinity polices feminine values, by associating it with hysteria and irrationality? Well, try taking an argument that nothing to do with “MRA” and projecting into it, with zero foundation, the idea that it was somehow saying “straight white men are the new most oppressed group.” Isn’t it *exactly* the same move? Only problem is, it doesn’t go without saying that that was what Gaffney was trying to do at all. Certainly he never made such claim, and its impossible to read it even as a subtext. For this reason, the entire premise of the #CCC argument unravels. Which is a shame, as its an important argument, from scholarly tradition that has much to recommend it. In this instance, however, the authors have discredited their cause. And we are left to wonder why they are so insistent, on such a weak case. Is it perhaps because there is new defensiveness among advocates of identity politics? I am uncertain on this. But, while I consider myself an identity politics advocate in many ways, I can’t help but wonder if the recent return of socialism (Occupy, Sanders, Corbyn, Melanchon, etc) to the fold of legitimate debate has threatened the gatekeepers of the humanities in academia who have, over the course of the last 30 years or so, established for themselves in the space of the western university quite a powerful position. I can recall my own MA for example, where the bias in favor of identity politics, and against Marxism, was all too apparent. Personally, and as I suspect you will recall from previous conversations, I don’t think the divide between post-structuralism and Marxism is as great as it is so often made out to be. But this is a decidedly unpopular view among cultural theorists, many of whom seem completely allergic to the use of economic categories in their analysis of social affairs. Cast in this light, the #CCC piece reads like so much clutching of pearls.

  2. Frankie Gaffney said that he did not meet ‘too many allies’ among those who ‘preach equality’ because he ‘happens to be straight, white, and male’. That is what he says in the open paragraph of his piece. He did not specify who, exactly, ‘those who preach equality’ are, thereby leaving it to the imagination of the Irish Times reader that egalitarian movements in Irish society, understood in the broadest possible sense, are concerned with screening out the voices of people who are straight, white and male. That is not subtext: it is there in black and white on the page.

    The terms “manspreading”, “toxic masculinity” and “fragile masculinity”, according to Gaffney, amounts to “gender stereotyping” on the part of “the proponents of identity politics”. No distinction was drawn between “those who preach equality” and “the proponents of identity politics” either: the Irish Times reader is invited to conclude that the egalitarian movements in Irish society are -on the whole- geared towards stereotyping and negative representation of the “straight white male”.

    If I’m reading you right, you’re saying that this narrative -an amorphous grouping of equality preachers, who constitute the near entirety of egalitarian activism, and are identified as ‘the proponents of identity politics’ are out to discriminate against those whom they identify as “straight white males”, especially working-class ones- bears no resemblance to ‘language and narratives that have been made popular by MRA (Men’s Rights Activist) groups and the alt-right’. Well, I disagree.

    I think you’re wrong to cast the letter as the vengeance note of middle-class (it’s the middle-class that clutches its pearls, right?) academic feminists in response to the forward march of socialism. I see lots of signatories who are not academics, and who are both socialists and have been supportive of the movements you mention here. What’s more, those academics whom I do recognise (some of whom are members of socialist parties) are not in any sense the ‘gatekeepers of the humanities in academia’, let alone ‘proponents of identity politics’.

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