I am sitting here cringing in solidarity with Paris Lees for having participated in a “debate” with Julie Burchill at the Spectator. It didn’t go well, but she seems to be dealing with the horror of her experience much better than I would. She has some handy, astute things to say about progressive concepts such as intersectionality, which seems to be catching a lot of flak from British white cisgender feminists lately. I will share her insights, as she is much more gracious than I am.
Intersectionality is a fairly unattractive word to describe a fairly useful concept. People face multiple forms of prejudice and intersectionality is simply about recognising the difference, say, between being called a “slag” and being called a “black slag”. Burchill says she doesn’t “like” intersectionality – but it’s not a case of liking. You either accept that some people have more to struggle against than you, or you don’t. And you either wish to help them, or you don’t. What she really means is that she doesn’t like transgender people objecting to her cruel and inaccurate jokes – just as some people say they “don’t like” political correctness because really they don’t like gay people asking to be treated with respect.
I see nothing unattractive about the word, but whatevs, it’s a term that’s in use for the discussion of social justice issues, and you’re either invested in those issues, or not.
Also, this happened:
Burchill also accused me of being a privileged graduate who probably spent my time at university learning academic jargon at sit-down protests. The truth is that I’m even more common than she is and turned to prostitution to put myself through higher education. It was more “lie down” than “sit-in”.
I’ve seen a screencap of Burchill’s writing in which she says that sex workers should be shot as collaborators with capitalist patriarchy. Maybe she’s developed a more nuanced view since then. For some reason I’m not interested in extending the benefit of the doubt.
Solidarity, the sort that Burchill says her dad believed in, was about everyone who was less well-off helping each other to achieve a more equal society. It’s a lovely idea but it wasn’t always successful. Increasing rights for workers didn’t necessarily apply to women, for example.
And fighting for better conditions for women doesn’t necessarily work out as improvements for women across the board. It’s like, some marginalized people are less marginalized than others, and the less marginalized aren’t necessarily interested in the concerns of those who deal with multiple oppressions. Working-class white cis women aren’t necessarily standing up for the rights of homeless trans women of color, for example.
On Road, the organisation that manages All About Trans (a project that introduces media professionals to young trans people), also works with homeless people, undocumented migrants, travellers and people with mental health issues. Intersectionality isn’t a competition, it is about promoting equal rights for everyone. I suspect that Burchill knows that, deep down, and couldn’t care less.
I think the qualifier of “deep down” is too generous.