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Open letter to feminists online

This week on social media I published a drawing of Emma Watson with a quote of hers that I really like: “It’s time we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals”. Little did I know what it was about to unleash.

It started ok, with some people agreeing and some disagreeing in what seemed a respectful debate about the topic of gender, sex and feminism. But someone shared it in an online group and literally asked the members to, and I quote “Please follow the link and rip the males (trans ‘women’) apart. Thanks. Don't be frightened. Come out in force.”

And it happened, they did come out in force with the intention of ripping apart. I started to get comments, lots of them. I had to make a judgement call and I decided to leave the comments open, delete none of them no matter how much I disagreed with them and clarify that although in our Facebook community group no lack of respect would be ever be tolerated,  the comments on everyday Facebook were open. I stated, once again, where we as a brand stand in terms of trans women (they are women and a very important part of the feminism movement) and I stopped engaging. That post now has over 1100 comments and counting.

I have never been insulted so much in such a short period of time. Some of the things said about the transgender community were beyond cruel and some of the answers from transactivists were extremely offensive too. We can’t tell anyone to die, no matter how much we hate what they stand for.

I have been insulted for not having been clear enough and allowing transphobic attitudes, I have been insulted for not engaging, for putting trans’ needs over women's’ needs, for being pathetic, for being misogynistic, for being a ‘handmaid of the dick’, for being a shame on my parents, and never in my life has my gender been so much up for discussion. ‘Is she really a woman? She must be a man’.

I have also been approached privately on several occasions by people to be told that they would NEVER!!!!! (please note the capital and the exclamation marks) buy from me, not even if I paid them, because they are REAL women and REAL feminists and I don’t get to call myself one.

It must be said that I have also received lovely supportive messages from people thanking me for defending intersectional feminism, and people asking how I am, acknowledging that there was a person behind the screen. I am thankful for all of those. There have also been gender-critical women thanking me for allowing the discussion to happen instead of cancelling it and they have engaged with me in respectful private conversations. Nonetheless, the overriding sensation is one of a total shitshow of insults.

It has been exhausting. Emotionally tiring. And my biggest realisation is that this is the life I signed up for. There was never a possibility in which we could create what we want to build without having all this backlash. From anti-feminists, of course, but also from people that disagree with us within feminism, and from all the causes that we want to be allies with but we will surely mess up at some point, even if with the best intentions because life is an ongoing learning process.

We are all learning, every day. I guess I always knew things were going to get ugly at some point but being naïve as I am I thought that I was ready and that it would affect me less than it did. But it has affected me. It has also reassured me that there is a real need for our voice out there, and I will take the backlash and the abuse along the way to give that voice a space.

When we created The Feminist Shop, our main focus was to celebrate what we have in common rather than focus on our differences. 

I wasn’t always a feminist; I was an anti-feminist. I hated the word, what it implied, the feminist solutions to problems that I didn’t see in the first place. I argued all those points with the same conviction that I now argue the opposite. And I am not ashamed of it. Of course we all argue as if we were right (why else we would have an opinion at all if we didn’t think it is the correct one?) but we also have to give ourselves the freedom and the opportunity to grow. I have changed (DRASTICALLY) my thoughts thanks to conversations, thanks to reading, to observing, to empathising, to growing up.

I am a much better version of myself now than I was 10 years ago, 5 years ago and even last week; and I know that I will come back to today in some months’ time and be amazed about how much I have learnt since this open letter. We are on a journey, and when we know better, we need to do better (thanks Maya Angelou for that perfect statement that reminds us to be responsible but also kind).

None of us own feminism. None of us can ask the other one to return the badge and abandon the club. None of us will think exactly the same in 10 years’ time. If we do, then poor us. Feminism is a movement made of voices fighting for a change, it is my voice as much as it is yours and we need to be aware that as ambassadors of something precious and important we need to be responsible and kind.

The comments on that post hurt the movement more than they help it. I am all for getting angry and being loud and unapologetic but writing a private message to another feminist to insult her is not something you are doing on the name of feminism, is something you are doing on your own name, and maybe this is a good opportunity to ask yourself why you do it.

I respect everyone who calls themselves a feminist (there are more people now than ever but far from the 100% that you would expect considering it is simply about fairness). I believe that anyone that proudly considers themselves one does so because they have the best interests at heart to create a better world by recognising the lack of equality that still exists. I would never tell anybody that identifies as a feminist that they are not, even if our views in certain areas are not the same. I can assure you that we are all mostly aligned in a lot of things: valuable important things. Some of the battles are obvious, some of them are controversial, and it is healthy for us to talk, and debate and challenge each other. There is not an exam to pass and nobody can claim that they got an A+ on feminism. Of course, the experts in an area have a more valuable opinion about it! Certainly, my opinion can’t weigh as much in a discussion as that of someone who has a PHD in it, or someone that is living an issue in their own skin. That is common sense. We need to listen to those that know better and be committed with the constant learning, but we are all still allowed an opinion. 

Sex work, surrogate birth, transgender identity, quotas at the workplace, where are the boundaries on abortion laws, religion and feminism, family-work balance for women… the list of controversial topics is long. And those conversations need to happen WITHIN the feminist movement. They need to happen from a neutral space in which at least we recognise that each person, despite having completely opposed beliefs, genuinely thinks that theirs is the best one to achieve real equality and justice. We don’t need to agree, and it is healthy that we don’t because if we did we would be stuck. It is empowering to be challenged by your peers and have the possibility to teach them and to learn from them, even if at the end we all stay in our original positions but with a more informed point of view. I don’t think we should cancel each other; I am so pleased for all the feminists that made me who I am. That challenged my ideas, that broke my prejudices, that showed me better, that educated me. That didn’t silence me but proved me wrong.

I will write another article about why I stand by transgender people and why I see intersectionality as the only way forward when we talk about justice. Today I just wanted to talk to all of you that have been part of that carnage in the post, or the ones that have seen it (over 8000 of you according to Facebook), the ones that have written to me with their best intentions, even to those that have written to me with their worst ones.

For those of you that have made clear your point about not buying from us, I completely respect and encourage you not to buy anything from a company you don't agree with. I believe that as a market we have a very powerful say through where we spend our money; I tend to make careful decisions on where I spend mine too and if we all cared the world would be a better place.

In fact, I created this business because it is the kind on business that I love spending money on, a family business grounded in hard work, environmentally ethical but also fair in every step of the production for its workers, completely plastic-free, profit share with amazing feminist associations and with a huge investment of time in creating value: through content, recommendations, creating slogans and collaborating with artists to make statements and start conversations. I created this business because I wanted people to love buying from The Feminist Shop and wear proudly the values we stand for. We are not selling cheap clothes; we are not competing with Primark; we are selling a way to do things and an open invitation for everyone to educate each other and give themselves permission to challenge their own ideas.

We believe in conversations as a tool to change things. We believe that every piece of content we produce, every post we share, every product we design and every book we sell will spark those conversations. We believe in feminism as a journey.

You don’t have to like us; you certainly don’t have to buy from us and I don’t see why you should feel the need to insult us either. But I am not returning my feminist credentials, I won’t abandon the imaginary club and I certainly won’t let anyone silence my message because it is a message of hope.

 

4 Responses

Astra McNicholl

Astra McNicholl

July 07, 2020

Virginia this is so respectful and just exactly what we need more of in this world. We need to listen more and be willing to be flexible in our ideas. It’s vulnerable and as you’ve discovered, it’s not always an emotionally safe space but that’s why I respect you so much! You are so aware of your privilege and work so hard to use it to push the movement forward and raise up the people with the least privilege 👏🏼 You’re amazing 💛

Monika

Monika

July 03, 2020

Virginia may I raise my invisible hat to you and this amazing article! I am sorry for the fact that people are coming after you like this, that it’s so hard to see that standing up for trans rights doesn’t mean we don’t also fight for women’s rights. Thank you for this open letter! If we would just be able to step away from being vile to each other, the world would be such a better place. Thanks for stepping up for the ones who need it and being the amazing woman and the glorious feminist that you are! <3

Amanda

Amanda

July 03, 2020

Fantastic and well-articulated article. I’m so proud of how you handle yourself and the reasonable, responsible, and RESPECTFUL response you have shown on this. It’s only when we band together and support each other, including trans women and men, that we can move forward from the oppressive, misogynist society that exists.

Gina

Gina

July 03, 2020

You are so not a feminist, you are hyper privileged and ignorant child.
Willfully blind to the extreme threats and erasure women face.
The violence these MEN aim at women daily.
BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF, you hypocrite

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