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International Women’s Day should be a protest

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Don’t know, might delete this later!

As to not be a mansplainer, this blog entry will not explain ‘women’s issues’ (unlike a certain institution enjoys doing), more highlight some of the discontent I feel with commemoratory days, weeks and months for people who colour outside lines set by the state. Institutional equality statements will say ‘underrepresented groups’ when we have actually have been consciously excluded by patriarchy, white supremacy and other intersectional matrixes of oppression. While I have titled this blog “International Women’s Day should be a protest”, I admit this was for ‘clickbait’ effect. The title also acts as symbolic for other tokenistic occassions where institutions “celebrate” their marginalised employees while also resuming white supremacist, patriarchal, cisheteronormative violence. Just business as usual, isn’t it?

To slightly rephrase a quote by Malcolm X,

‘The oppressor will keep on granting tokenism; a few of the oppressed may get big jobs, but the marginalised majority will catch hell as long as they stay in the his house.’

Whether we are talking about International Women’s Day / Women’s History Month, Pride Month, LGBT+ History Month, Autism Acceptance Week and others, the fact remains institutions use tokenism and co-opt these occassions to present the image of ‘diversity as marketing’ (Ahmed and Swann, 2006).

Pride started as a protest in response to police harrassment of gay and lesbian people. Margaret Thatcher’s government further introduced Section 28 prohibiting “the promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities which had a devestating impact on education. Institutions will use their LGBT+ staff members as diversity bunting, but will not use these times of year to talk about how eugenics for example, is a big talking point in contemporary autistic advocacy circles – pertinently with Applied Behavourial Analysis [ABA] which is heavily contested by autistic activists as eugenics in the twenty-first century. Black History Month is also frequently centred around Black excellence, which ultimately centres whiteness and capitalist takes on what success looks like (Kinouani, 2021: 162). The politics of existing and expressing yourself authentically even while institutions say “they want diversity” (but not that sort of diversity), has been gutted in many institutional responses in favour of a shiny diversity agenda.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Guy DeBord’s book Society of the Spectacle may be one vessel for which to discuss how institutions celebrate marginalised people without discussing how that marginalisation occurs. Though even in this regard, I would tread carefully as Marxism does often centre the Male Gaze. His book was written in the aftermath of WW2 and is centred in the 1960s’ fever of antiestablishment Paris. It is a critique of a society that cares more about images and appearances than reality, truth, and experience. It resonates today with the contemporary world’s addiction to social media and TikTok trends, but it came out of a Europe gripped by consumerism following 1945: “In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles” (DeBord, [2021] 1967: 1). Yet, that society’s aim was to curate a passive population of watchers rather than participatory actors (very very familiar).

In our present-day if we consider protest as art, we might think how numerous activist movements to the everyday-eye, are looked at as devoid from their historical, political, or any economic contexts many sprouted from – but rather just “nice things” to look at, watch, or listen to. The euphoria of the Black Lives Matter protests two summers ago is an example of something that was treated by institutions as just about one man – George Floyd – but not about the anti-Blackness that pervades worldwide – via white people “doing racism” and some Black and non-Black people of colour who have internalised it. In many cases we have been conditioned to hate ourselves and both these things go back centuries. Yet, following performative statements done by numerous institutions this International Women’s Day (including Northamptonshire Police), I am reminded of the hypocrisy of how institutions rarely do what they say!

The neoliberal university is a testament to this where they present themselves in marketing as beacons of Diversity and Inclusion, and then discriminate against their students and staff. This sounds like any institution. However, the added bonus of so-called commitments to ‘decolonising the curriculum’ adds insult to injury where diversity and decolonisation are often conflated. As Gurminder Bhambra and colleagues (2018) write:

“Taking colonialism as a global project as the starting point, it becomes difficult to turn away from the Western university as a key site through which colonialism – and colonial knowledge in particular – is produced, consecrated, institutionalised and naturalised. It was in the university that colonial intellectuals developed theories of racism, popularised discourses that bolstered support for colonial endeavours and provided ethical and intellectual grounds for the dispossession, oppression and domination of colonised subjects. In the colonial metropolis, universities provided would-be colonial administrators with knowledge of the peoples they would rule over, as well as lessons in techniques of domination and exploitation. The foundation of European higher education institutions in colonised territories itself became an infrastructure of empire, an institution and actor through which the totalising logic of domination could be extended; European forms of knowledge were spread, local indigenous knowledge suppressed, and native informants trained. In both colony and metropole, universities were founded and financed through the spoils of colonial plunder, enslavement and dispossession” (p3).

From: ‘Decolonising the University’ (2018)

International Women’s Day should be a protest (what protest looks like is up for debate). Universities still hide behind the Athena Swan gender equality charter which we know centres white privileged women (Bhopal and Henderson, 2019). All while Black and Biracial writers have long discussed intersectionality before Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) conceptualised it (Anon,1808; Prince,1831; Truth,1851; Jacobs,1861; Hurston,1926; Hansberry,1968; Angelou,1969; Giovanni,1970; Emecheta,1979; hooks,1981; Walker,1982; Davis,1983; Lorde,1984; Hill Collins,1986). Yet, to the exclusion of Black and Brown women, (white) feminism still presents itself as universal. Today, many people fail to realise if there is no equality for ethnic minorities, there is no equality. There is a long history of white women and racism (Ware, 1992), when white feminism is simply ‘white supremacy in heels.’ In more recent times influencers like The Guilty Feminist have made attempts to use their white privilege to platform systemically excluded voices, those voices that sit on the fault lines considered ‘too radical’ or ‘too difficult’ for mainstream discourse.

When you see the plethora of issues that exist across intersectional lines, ‘girlboss representation politics’ is not robust enough. Of course celebrate, but exclusively celebrating under institutional definitions of success also ties ‘worth’ to capital and this toxic productivity culture we live in. The fact that women and people in general exist should be enough, and the need to contribute to the economy should be by the by. Diversity and Inclusion ultimately centres captialism because these institutions do not care about people as people, just what bodies can do for the organisation. As Nirmal Puwar (2004) further writes:

“In policy terms, diversity has overwhelmingly come to mean the inclusion of different bodies. It is assumed that, once we have more women and racialised minorities, or other groups, represented in the hierarchies of organisations … especially in the élite positions … then we shall have diversity” (p1).

From ‘space invaders’ by nirmal puwar

The ongoing UCU strikes are testament to that, where universities appear to care more about bodies as capital rather than the human rights of their employees. Former PM-Margaret Thatcher said there is no such thing as society but “there are individual men and women and there are families.” This was the start of what we now call neoliberalism or more commonly – neoliberal capitalism where this political ideology says that connections between people are purely economic more than anything else (i.e more than social, cultural, political etc etc). The term liberal was meant not in the modern sense, but in the context of the 18th and 19th century amid classical liberalism of promoting economic liberty – to do what you want with your money including the trafficking and subjugation of human beings under the British Empire!

Neoliberalism claims that our very existence in relation to one another is driven on self-interest and how each individual seeks to gain economically from each interaction (or simply human relationships as transactional). This sentiment is underpinned by what bell hooks called ‘imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy’ where whiteness in particularly is tied to property and ownership (Harris, 1993).

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

For Britain’s institutions, these acts of tokenism are like property. They think they own the people doing DIE* work and thus the institutions thinks they own The Work too – LGBT History Month, Pride Month, BHM, Autism Awareness Week, IWD, Women’s History Month, Disability Awareness Month.

Ownership is at the basis of whiteness, and people who speak out are turned into problems. Imagine neoliberal institutions thinking they can put limits on social justice advocacy structures … i.e anti-racism, femnism etc etc; imagine them thinking they can own activist struggles by slapping them on their marketing. In concept International Women’s Day makes sense (and I’m here for it), but in reality institutions that benefit from ‘imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy’ are not going to help smash those systems of domination. Especially in the perfect storms of Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, and the reinterest in discourses into violence against women (after the murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Bibba Henry, Nicole Smallman and others) – where to performative institutions “it is cool to be an activist.”

International Women’s Day should be a protest and call to action. By all means celebrate women for their achievements, but those achievements need not centre capitalism. And for God’s sake, let’s stop glorifying billionaires … they are part of the problem and somebody is always being exploited. Always.

*Diversity, Inclusion, Equality (or DIE)

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