#WeAreTheLeft: The day identity politics killed identity politics

Yesterday, the ongoing self-parody that is liberal feminism reached its natural pinnacle with #WeAreTheLeft.

In a letter to no one in particular, a number of liberal feminists argued that sexism on the left boiled down to meanies who mocked “identity politics.” “We are the Left,” proclaimed over 100 pro-capitalism signees, warning leftist movements they would lose “credibility” without them.

Even referencing Shulamith Firestone in a vain attempt to align themselves with some political movement — any political movement — couldn’t disguise the nonsensical claims that followed.

Firestone was an odd choice, considering that the signees have outright rejected her analysis of patriarchy, which is that gender inequality is rooted in a system of oppression imposed on women due to their biology (i.e. their ability to reproduce).  Firestone demanded we “take the class analysis one step further to its roots in the biological division of the sexes.” What liberal feminism did, though, was to erase the roots of patriarchy (that is, biological sex), thereby ignoring the radical feminist concept of a “sex class.”

No matter what women do, they cannot escape the fact that their oppression is chained to the fact they were born female. Firestone knew this, all radical feminists know this. Liberal feminists do not (or, at very least, they seem unwilling to admit it).

Rather than fight as a cohesive group towards the liberation of women as a class, the authors and signees of “We Are The Left” rejected the concept of solidarity in favour of identity politics. There could no longer be a movement of any kind, because the movement was no longer permitted to admit that all women shared something in common, which forced them into a subordinate status, regardless of their class or white privilege. Under patriarchy, working class women and women of colour suffered the most, pinned to the lowest rungs in society not only by class and race oppression, but by their sex class. Regardless of men’s oppression under white supremacy and capitalism, they were still capable of beating, raping, and prostituting the women who suffered alongside them.

“Identity” now divided us, according to liberal feminists — no experience was the same, every feeling was legitimate, and no movement could define anyone’s experiences or feelings on their behalf. There was no society, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, only individuals — a series of disconnected experiences that could only be assessed and defined by the person having the experience. And, with biological sex erased as the defining factor of our oppression, there was no way to tie women together and, therefore, no reason for us to fight together, in solidarity, against a common oppressor. When “woman” becomes “people” it becomes rather difficult to determine what, exactly, we are all doing in this so-called “women’s movement.” Not only that, but liberal feminists were forced to erase even their own oppression, arguing that they were, in fact, privileged by their biology and the gendered socialization that followed.

The Letter complains vaguely about a sexism on the left which truly does exist. Dear Shulie herself wrote, in 1967 for The Guardian:

“We say to the left: in this past decade you have failed to live up to your rhetoric of revolution. You have not reached the people. And we won’t hitch ourselves to your poor donkey. There are millions of women out there desperate enough to rise. Women’s liberation is dynamite. And we have more important things to do than to try to get you to come around. You will come around when you have to, because you need us more than we need you… Fuck off, left. You can examine your navel by yourself from now on. We’re starting our own movement.”

That movement was radical feminism.

I suppose what the authors of The Letter might have asked themselves is, “Why do leftist men persist in their misogyny?” Is it because we are people, just like them?

The real answer was perhaps too uncomfortable. So they concluded, oddly, that the sexism they experienced was happening “because we have been identified as representatives of ‘identity politics.'”

Oh.

What happened next, once The Letter was published, was most telling. Beyond the merciless mocking from actual socialists online, who pointed out that, in fact, a person who supports capitalism and neoliberal ideology is not, in fact, “the left,” the authors and signees were accused of a number of crimes and failures, all rooted in… you got it… identity politics.

The authors were subjected to attacks of their own making, accused of the very thing many of them have built a platform on: nonsensical accusations that turn critique into “phobia” and analysis into “hate” and “exclusion.”

Catharine MacKinnon wrote about this failure in analysis, invented by liberals, back in 1990, before “whorephobia,” “TERF,” and “SWERF” were invented as excuses to harass, blackball, and smear feminists who provided an analysis of patriarchal oppression that named the problem, unapologetically. “Once there was a women’s movement,” she wrote…

“… When this movement criticized rape, it meant rapists and the point of view that saw rape as sex. When it criticized prostitution, it meant pimps and johns and the point of view that women are bom to sell sex. When it criticized incest, it meant those who did it to us, and the point of view that made our vulnerability and enforced silence sexy. When it criticized battery, it meant batterers, and the point of view that violence expressed the intensity of love. Nobody thought that in criti­cizing these practices, the movement was criticizing their victims.

It also criticized sacred concepts from the standpoint of women’s material existence, our reality, concepts like choice. It was a movement that knew when material conditions preclude 99 percent of your op­tions, it is not meaningful to call the remaining 1 percent — what you are doing — your choice. This movement was not taken in by concepts like consent. It knew that when force is a normalized part of sex, when no is taken to mean yes, when fear and despair produce acquiescence and acquiescence is taken to mean consent, consent is not a meaning­ful concept.”

The authors and signees of The Letter, though, have built their careers on this very dilution of feminist analysis and critique. Women who protested the racist, misogynist, imperialist sex trade were accused of hating the women victimized by it. Women who argued that femininity was not innate, but imposed, and that, yes, their biology was indeed central to their oppression as women, were accused of “femmephobia” and “transphobia.” Feminists who saw BDSM as the sexualization of domination and subordination, fetishizing slavery and gendered violence, were accused of “kink-shaming.” Feminists who contested the idea that objectification, even when “chosen,” was a viable route towards female empowerment were told they were “slut-shaming.”

Feminists have pushed back against these clear manipulations, over and over again, clarified their analysis, over and over again, but liberals dug in their heels. Their hatred of radical feminists had gotten them too far to go back on their buzzwords.

So what happened yesterday, in response to their “all politics are identity politics” letter, can only be viewed as the most perfect and most pointed parody. The authors were accused of being “whorephobic” and of excluding and mislabeling various identities. A number of people proclaimed, “You don’t speak for me!” and anti-feminists declared they felt excluded and left out by the letter.

Identity politics had failed to accurately speak on behalf of and name every single identity. A war broke out among the ranks, because there were no ranks. Identity politics refuses a movement because it refuses to acknowledge any one common goal. There is no basis of unity. Having rejected solidarity with movement women in favour of retweets and New York media jobs, liberal feminism was left with nothing but a series of complaints, rooted in nothing at all, without any sisters to speak of.

Much to my shock and awe (and, admittedly, amusement), The Letter claimed the authors and signees had avoided exactly what they complained of, failing to admit or realize the glaring hypocrisy in those words, effectively destroying any shred of legitimacy they may have had left. They wrote:

“What we do not do, however, is send each other sexually explicit or violent images, inveigh against each other with slurs, make claims about each other that we know to be untrue and inflammatory, respond to any discussion of oppression with personal insults, follow each other around the Internet leaving nasty comments on each other’s pieces, set up fake social media accounts to harass each other, monitor each other’s communications, coordinate pile-ons, send explicit or implicit threats, dox, defame, discredit, or degrade each other.”

Numerous women pointed out that precisely the opposite was true. In fact, many of the authors and signatories had relied on untrue, inflammatory slurs as the basis of their “politics.” Almost as if that was all they had

Yesterday, liberal feminism ate itself. And while we wait for them to digest and expel the shitty remnants that exist as a culmination of their gradual, but concerted, defanging and depoliticizing of the feminist movement, we can rest assured that these people will learn nothing from this widely-broadcast mistake. In the meantime, the women’s movement will continue on, as it always has, in solidarity and sisterhood, towards the revolution.

Let them have Twitter.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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