Time to pick a side

I see a lot of fence-sitting, and it pisses me the fuck off. I see so many so-called comrades refusing to challenge the multi-layered oppressions within our own communities.

Time and time again, I see feminists proudly declaring that they want to be neutral to various issues. In its latest manifestation, this has been a complete apathy towards a payday loans lawyer with a history of harassing women and actively siding with homophobic organisations in her quest to make the lives of marginalised young women hell. However, this attitude frequently comes up when women of colour report racism, when trans women report cissexism, when disabled women report disablism, and so forth.

I see it happen repeatedly within anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and anti-state networks. A deliberate neutrality towards sexism and racism among white men, too often escalating to the point where women reporting sexual violence from comrades are disbelieved. The other day, my friends and I tried to challenge it. So many comrades just stood by and did nothing.

This sort of shit happens everywhere. Intersecting liberation struggles are treated as nothing more than a petty spat, a minor intellectual difference. Instead of solidarity, there is only apathy. I have lost count of the number of times I have been told “I really agree with everything you do, you’re wrong about [really important issue], but I can ignore that.” How in the name of ever-loving fuck can you willfully look away from something so integrally connected?

This position of self-proclaimed neutrality is not some sort of moral high ground. It is actively harmful. Yes, you may not be actively perpetrating violence, but your inaction allows the perpetrators to keep on doing what they do. Think of the murder of Kitty Genovese. A young woman attacked and brutally murdered, while many heard her screams and did absolutely nothing. Kitty Genovese could have been saved, but the inaction of her neighbours left her to die in terrifying circumstances. The decades of subsequent research have revealed that people have a remarkable capacity for justifying their own inaction when someone is being harmed. I don’t doubt that the comments will swell with a sea of self-deception as people try to validate their own apathy, and do you know what? I’m not going to fucking approve any of it, because I’ve heard it all before.

If you don’t take a stand against oppression, you are helping it happen. You are helping the bigots and the rapists, the murderers and the fascists. You are helping the powerful exert their power and making them ever stronger.

It might make your life easier, but it also makes the task of the oppressor far, far easier. When solidarity is diffuse because so many just stand around doing nothing, it is easier to abuse and harass and murder. You are not neutral, no matter how much you like to think you are. You are helping all of this happen. You are not neutral, you are listening to the abuser’s account and deciding you like it better.

So let us dispose of any notion of neutrality. Let us open up our eyes and let in the full picture of the raging injustices. Let it disgust us, and develop our understanding of what is really happening, to actually look at the direction in which the power flows and everything connects together. Let us look at the consequences of our past apathy and strive end victimisation. Let us challenge oppression wherever it appears: within and outside our own communities. Let us nail our colours to the mast and rise up against these abusive structures.

It is a terrifying task, taking a stand, because the powerful just want to swat us down. They cannot do this if we stand together in solidarity with one another: there are too many of us. Let us ally our struggles and end this oppressive facade of neutrality.

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8 responses to “Time to pick a side

  • Sophie

    How the hell can these women call themselves feminists? “I’m a feminist, except I don’t really care about equality.”

  • cattunes

    I agree with what you say, indeed I actively support it but I would like to add a couple of points I think should also be considered.

    Firstly people should be actively free to disagree with you. I don’t mean fence sitting I mean actually not believing what you are saying is correct and picking you up on it (after all we’re not always right). In that situation you may need to agree to disagree at least temporarily to fight an act of oppression you do agree upon.

    Secondly, we have to accept that some people will say that they agree with you but that they *cant* do anything about that area at the moment. Perhaps because they are concentrating all their efforts elsewhere or perhaps, like me, because they have mental disability issues and to have spoken up openly at that point in their mental cycle would have done them immense personal harm.

    With those rejoinders I am totally with you.

    • stavvers

      Look, I’m all for having reasons not to speak up. This is why I’m encouraging the ones who can to do so. Because the majority can’t.

      But I don’t think we should be compromising liberation struggles by organising with, say, the SWP, who actively support rape, or the TERfs, who actively try to get women killed. The “bigger picture” argument is used to silence dissent from the marginalised. It’s often framed as some sort of “real enemy”, implying that other issues are false. There’s a bigger picture, and they’re the problem, not the solution.

      • cattunes

        Oh god I totally agree. I guess not knowing you too well I just wanted to be sure you’d thought those points through. Especially the SWP with whom I’ve had my own issues.

  • J

    Really good write-up, sums up alot of frustration I’ve had about selective radicalism perfectly.

  • jaynel62

    Excellent argument that transfers across ALL oppressed groups; I’m a disabled feminist and my community are regularly too busy arguing amongst themselves to consider the larger, and more important issues of oppression We have to fight together or we lose the war.

  • Holly

    I totally agree, how anyone can claim “neutrality” as far as Brennan is concerned is beyond me. I do think there is a difference between neutrality and inaction though, especially considering most people have no, or a very limited, audience or platform. A lot of the time I say nothing on issues because I think others are there, saying it better, and are usually more qualified to do so. Like with Suzanne Moore, I knew people were writing her emails and blogs that coherently set out where she went wrong, and why she should apologise. Once she rejected this, I didn’t want to be just another cunt calling her a cunt on twitter. Especially as when a group of people are absolutely certain of their moral highground, egging each other on, things can get pretty nasty.

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