How I realised that my treasured girl group was an antifeminist nightmare
A few years ago, while at university, I found my niche. I was delighted. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by incredibly sharp-tongued and ambitious young women who purported my ideals of sisterhood, anger at the state and a radical desire for change. I was thrilled. On the surface, this was everything I wanted to be part of.
Until it wasn’t.
I suppose I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was aware of the nastier side of the girl group from the offset. Beneath the slick selfies, the instagrammable outfits, fawning comments and the polished protest signs, there was a viciousness to the gang. There were those that were in, and those that were out. In our largely online circle of London undergraduates, there were a select few who quietly elevated themselves to the elite, setting up group chats to gossip about the undesirables.
There was an almost stasiesque element to it: there were informants, and there were people you feared getting on the wrong side of. Were you woke enough? Were you intersectional enough? Were you from a wealthy family and therefore an undesirable elite? Did you say something quietly sneering about Jeremy Corbyn? Did you use a term that was recently declared vorboten by your dear leaders? Gradually, my ideals of sisterhood began to fall apart.
It started off with the little things, things that made me a little uncomfortable. Screenshots showing alleged allies and sisters laughing at you or other people for what you were wearing or saying online. Or how like, annoying you were. Not very feminist, but okay. We’ve all gossiped a bit, right? Then it began with purges, as most left wing things seem to do by ritual.
One of the first to go was a very sweet, small and quiet young woman who spoke out against the group’s policy on sex work. She hadn’t said anything particularly controversial, but saying she opposed it due to the extensive trafficking and sexual abuse her own community had experienced had landed her in hot water with the white, middle class sex workers in the group who felt she was attacking their lifestyle. Okay, not good. She was spurned and blocked from the groups and our discussions. I still met up with her on the side, and tried to avoid discussing it. They went a bit overboard with one girl. It’s okay. It happens. She was a scapegoat.
But the purge kept going, and the group chats became more and more estranged from each other, getting nastier and nastier. They mocked other women for their views, made fun of their appearance and their hobbies, even going so far as to bully a girl for owning a horse (bourgeois you see, unforgivable). They started massively hyperbolising internal dramas (boyfriends, who kissed who, who voted for what) and ended up blacklisting, cancelling and jetisoning tens of innocents. Before long, our happy sisterhood went from a nice group to discuss your stresses with a catcaller or your choice of eyeliner to a Stalinist fearfest.
The woke culture stopped being about wanting to create a kinder, fairer and more tolerant world, and more about persecuting those who didn’t obey or fit in with the new linguistic terminology and permissions and privileges to those granted worthy. We became put into race, gender and sexuality based blocks of who was given the identity status of being able to talk on an issue or hold an opinion, and asked to demonstrate permission for discussing something beyond our immediate experiences (this was ironically ordered from straight, white, middle class women). The situation became more and more tense, with people fearing to speak out in case they said a word wrong or used an incorrect term, or neglected to mention a specific gender or sexuality. I laughed at it at first, particularly when one group elite declared she was in tears and having a panic attack because Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t won the election and then tried to have me banned for saying I was relieved (I’d been on the receiving end of colossal antisemitism throughout his tenure). This was just silly. This was just young women being very silly.
But then it struck me, today, after the latest abashed attempt to shame me for using the term ‘queer’ to describe a dear friend who identified as ‘queer’ that actually, this wasn’t silly. This wasn’t something I wanted to be part of anymore. I didn’t want to be part of a sisterhood that hated each other and wanted to persecute, limit and restrict one another for what was obviously good intent. I didn’t want to be part of a group where we all had to vote, think and act one way to be deemed ‘good’ people. I didn’t want morality and ethics to be attached to one end of the political spectrum. I didn’t want to limit my discussion or thought process or empathy to my own ethnicity, class, sexuality, religion or gender. I didn’t what to be silenced when I badthinked.
I didn’t want, I realised, to be part of this.
So I’ve ditched the sisterhood I loved so much. If I’m going to do feminism, I’m going to do it without trying to silence other people who are acting peacefully, lovingly and with good intent. I’ve seen what happens when you let fear take over discussion.