A Twitter thread by @CSockpuppet
“I don’t care what’s between people’s legs.”
That assertion – heard so often from the Other Side — bothers me. Every time. Gives me a frisson of doubt. Because it sounds so very much like the moral high ground. So lofty, so virtuous.
Are they right? Are we wrong?
Thinking about what’s between people’s legs doesn’t sound very noble, does it? A tiny mind and an upskirting periscope, obsessing grubbily on genitals – that’s not who I want to be.
So are we wrong?
I’ve tried to think it through, and this is where I’ve got to
See, once upon a time, I was them. I subscribed to the whack-a-mole model of feminism: unequal pay? Whack! FGM? Whack!
Sure, said the 21-yr-old me, there are a few blips that need hammering out. But they can be sorted. No need to make a fuss. Equality is right round the corner.
-Women’s groups? Hell no, let’s have people’s groups!
-Women-only shortlists? Hell no, let the best candidate get the job!
-Women’s officer? People’s officer!
Had it been the rhetoric of the time, no doubt I would have added:
-I don’t care what’s between people’s legs!
I want equality (said the young libfem me). And I want it now.
And I could have it now, if you herd of dinosaurs would just stop GOING ON ABOUT ‘WOMEN’ THIS AND ‘WOMEN’ THAT BECAUSE YOU’RE JUST PERPETUATING INEQUALITY BY BANGING ON ABOUT IT.
I really believed that. Or I thought I did. It felt like virtue.
But there was also glee: glee at sticking it to the previous generation of feminists, those humourless hairy-legged women in dungarees who had created for my generation such a legacy of hostility towards feminism.
I didn’t want to share in that hostility, so my feminism was different; my feminism was optimistic, it wasn’t hostile to men, it wasn’t threatening, it was open to all. It was fun. It was likeable.
And, perhaps most of all, it was easy.
Then I read a book.
Feminism and Linguistic Theory, by the wonderful @wordspinster.
“Like a wolf-whistle,” read young libfem me, “a sexist remark has a significance above and beyond the immediate offence it gives. It is the outward manifestation of an unacceptable misogyny.”
Nicely put, but pretty obvious, now; but at the time?
A great light dazzled my eyes, and the penny dropped heavily with the exasperated CLUNK of a penny that’s been hovering at the brink waiting for quite some time now.
It’s a SYSTEM! yelled the penny, a SYSTEM goddammit! It’s all connected! It underlies everything! It goes deep! Read some fucking Dworkin already!
So I did. And no doubt so have you. (And if you haven’t, stop wasting time reading my maunderings and go and read her now).
And this is what I learnt:
It’s all a lot worse than libfem me was prepared to understand. It’s not fun, and it’s not easy. Those blips? They’re the visible manifestations of a mighty underlying system.
And in that system, what’s between our legs matters.
It informs violence against us, it informs FGM, selective abortion, rape, economic inequality, internalised misogyny, sexual trafficking – I could go on, but you know all this.
It’d be nice if it didn’t, but it does.
Truth, as Dworkin said, is harder to bear than ignorance.
And I remember this:
I once had a garden that was overrun with bindweed. That bindweed had killed everything in its path. It had pulled down an old oak tree. Its roots criss-crossed the garden, deep deep deep in the soil, strangling anything else that tried to grow.
I dug that fucker up.
I pulled up roots like ropes. I dug, and I pulled, and I dug, and I pulled – (fortunately this was in my 20s, when a dab of speed semed like a perfectly sensible precursor to a spot of gardening) – and I dug and I pulled some more.
Until it was all gone.
(That bindweed still comes to me in my dreams, a metaphor for endless struggle).
And only after that did I lay turf.
It’d be nice if you didn’t have to dig bindweed out; if you could just run the strimmer over the surface and lay a lawn on top. But you can’t. It’d grow through
And if some liberal gardening lobby said loftily “we don’t see what lies under the earth”? If post-modernist horticulturalists told me it was no longer acceptable to talk about roots?
They’d still be there.
They’d still grow up through anything placed on top and strangle it.
I’m not creating those roots by acknowledging their existence. They exist, whether or not some sunny liberal gardener tells me I shouldn’t obsess on them.
Bindweed and the patriarchy? It’s hardly even a metaphor.
It’s our job to dig up those roots. It’s hard work, and it’s relentless, it’s daunting and discouraging; and we won’t see the lawn in our lifetimes.
We all want a world where what’s between a person’s legs doesn’t matter. But that’s not the reality.
So I’m going to carry on seeing what lies under the earth. Because it’s really there.
And I’m going to carry on giving a damn about what’s between a person’s legs. Because it matters.
Keep digging, sisters.