Feminism, single issue campaigns and disagreeing

I’d like to be able to write this without referring to the campaign that has prompted this piece, I’d like to but I’m not sure that in doing so I’d be able to express myself well enough; I’d like to because I support the single objective of that single issue campaign and I don’t want to knock women who are trying to make a difference. Sadly however, as described in this blog by Terri Strange, by describing themselves as “not anti-porn” the campaigner(s) behind ‘No more Page Three’ have located the campaign within a feminist political position that I cannot ascribe to.

I supported the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign because the sexual objectification of women – like men’s violence against women – is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men.  My support of the single issue campaign was and is consistent with my wider perspective.  Pornography is the eroticisation of unequal power relations and women’s subjugation. Add a racial analysis to that perspective and the problems are exacerbated. This is not my feminism.  My feminism is rooted in a structural analysis of power relations rather than identity politics and choice.  A feminism based on a structural analysis of power relations is just as able – in my opinion, better able – to encompass multiple forms of advantage and oppression, such as class, race and disability within and in addition to analysis of sex-class inequality, as identity based feminism.

The eroticisation of women’s bodies as objects of consumption works because women’s and men’s bodies serve different purposes in a patriarchal capitalist society.  For a decent and thorough analysis, please read Julia Long’s ‘Anti-porn or Gail Dines’ ‘Pornland’. For the purposes of this piece, the parody Wrecking Ball (Chatroulette Version)  illustrates my position perfectly well.   In patriarchal society, treating women and men’s bodies the same, isn’t the same.  It just doesn’t work.  Why?  Because of sex inequality.

I understand why some feminists are reluctant to support single issue campaigns.  They’re absolutely right if they argue that we are not going to achieve the liberation of women, the end of women’s subjugation under patriarchy though relatively easily achievable single issue campaigns.  I however, can live with that.  As a feminist whose primary focus is male violence against women, I was  more than happy to support Caroline Criado-Perez’s bank notes campaign and explained why here:

Violence against women and girls is both a consequence and cause of inequality between women and men.  Of course, I am not suggesting that the inclusion of a woman on banknotes would reduce male violence against women and girls.  But I do believe that when we have a choice about whether our actions reinforce or challenge inequality between women and men, if we chose to ignore or exclude women, then we are guilty  of relegating women to a second-class status.  If we think that making women invisible is acceptable, then we are part of the problem.

The problem is different where single issue campaigners knowingly place their objectives outside or in opposition to a wider political analysis.

As a feminist, I have learned a lot from women who have disagreed with me and challenged me, women who have pointed out the inconsistencies within my own comfort zones.  It’s still happening all the time and yet I still cling to behaviours, habits and thought processes that I  know don’t cut it. And I recognise the inadequacy of the choice based defence that I occasionally fall back on.  However, sometimes I listen, sometimes I learn, sometimes my position shifts.  That’s why I cannot agree with those who are critical of the feminists who are critiquing the “not anti-porn” position of the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign.   I am not criticising their campaign, the huge time and energy that has been invested in pushing for change, but I am challenging, questioning and disagreeing with the political – or lack or political –  analysis.  As a feminist, I hear and learn from women that I sometimes agree with, sometimes disagree with, all the time.  Most disagreements do not negate the value of the things I learn.  We need to be able to discuss and disagree.

I hope that the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign achieves its aim.  But I want to see the campaign succeed because pornography is a cause and consequence of inequality and I want to be able to support the campaign because it is part of the solution, not just shifting the problem. And I want to be able to say that – in the hope of spreading a structural feminist analysis –  without it being seen as an attack on other women who are fighting for a better world.