Who your friends are matters

// 16 March 2014

Tags: , , , , ,

This is Charlie Hale’s first guest post for The F-Word. They’ll be blogging for us throughout March. Charlie Hale is a Computer Science student and blogger by night and asleep by day. They’re a genderqueer, kinky, polyamorous pan/bisexual who can’t keep their mouth shut.


A recurring theme within a certain sector of feminism, which we might refer to as privileged, professional or media feminism, is the pushing back at criticism based on friendships or political alliances. To critique one’s friends, they argue, is creepy, or scary, even a totalitarian-esque attack on the freedom of association – entirely missing the significance of these associations. No one will find unanimous agreement on everything with everyone; even between friends, there is – and should be – large scope for disagreement. However, there are some issues on which disagreement should be a clear cut deal breaker: I could not, for example, be friends with Fred Phelps, Vladimir Putin or Norman Tebbit, whatever the circumstances.

Why not? Well, because they’re vile human beings. Who would want the company of someone so appalling? However, more than this, it would give endorsement – on both personal and political levels – to their views and actions. My friendship would imply their views were, to me, credible; that I felt these views were welcome in society. This applies to events as well: to invite bigoted and frankly unacceptable views to be aired on your platform is to give them tacit validation and approval. This isn’t a matter of endorsing the truth of an associate’s views, but rather the acceptability of them.

This is the primary idea behind no-platforming: the practice of an organisation refusing to give a platform to someone, and/or a person refusing to speak on the same stage or panel as them – something which is the responsibility of any responsible organiser or speaker. Inviting such speakers not only negatively impacts the climate of the movement, but actively makes marginalised people feel less safe and welcome in the event and the movement as a whole.

In many cases, a person’s problematic politics will be dismissed as “not problematic enough” to warrant no-platforming: this, however, is a blatant display of privilege. If you are in the position where you are able to wave away oppressive behaviour with no personal ill-effects, you are almost certainly not in the position where you could reasonably speak for that oppressed group.

It is never the privileged who suffer from the toxic atmosphere – and, from a platform of privilege, that can be easy to ignore. Active engagement with less privileged members of a movement is the only real way to promote accessibility.

There is some pragmatism required. It is usually unreasonable to expect someone to call out their boss – as journalist Laurie Penny has been pressured lately to do. I generally don’t expect people to starve for their feminism and we can’t assume that people are always able to actively tackle problematic views from their superiors without risking their own well-being.

However, active endorsements of problematic individuals and groups must be tackled. Feminists who cosy up to TERfs, white supremacists or misogynists for their own advancement – or, as is becoming common, to seek sympathy from problematic groups having been called out – must understand the serious damage they are inflicting. Placing the views of the oppressors above the safety of the oppressed sends a very clear message: ‘my feminism is for me, and my ilk, and us alone’. This is as much a part of the patriarchy as what they claim to be fighting against.

The image is a close up of loose jigsaw puzzle pieces, by jstanier and shared under a Creative Commons Licence.


Erratum (18 March 2014): The month of Charlie’s spell as guest blogger was wrongly shown as November. This has now been corrected to March.

Comments From You

Dana The Great // Posted 16 March 2014 at 9:55 pm

This article is SO needed. Thank you so much for writing it. I am working on a similar article myself.

Juliet O // Posted 17 March 2014 at 7:21 am

This whole post rests on the assumption that these privileged, professional media feminists – well done on not saying, ‘white!’- have carried out the appalling behaviour which our concerned blogger believes they have. When Laurie Penny was asked to call out her boss, it was based on a long running campaign that decries Helen Lewis’s ‘known racism’. Despite commissioning the most diverse writers of any current publication, Helen has earnt this accolade because she once challenged an Asian woman for erroneously calling out another woman for racism, something for which this latter apologised for as a case of mistaken identity. Julie Bindel, who is clearly being referenced here, gave a problematic interview ten years ago for which she has endlessly apologised. True, she’s not walked the streets in sackcloth and ashes ringing a bell, but she *has* campaigned tirelessly against VAWG notably FGM. This blog completely ignores the prevailing culture of attacking fellow feminists whilst turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the Patriachy that perpetuates this mess. It has as much moral integrity as a playground bully egging on a fight.

MarinaS // Posted 17 March 2014 at 10:43 am

“FemiPutin – because wanting to be treated like a human being is exactly like invading Crimea”.

Now where have we heard this kind of stuff before? Oh, yeah… I must say, this is probably the most antifeminist piece I have ever read on the F-Word or any other self described feminist site that doesn’t openly function as the female arm of the Men’s Rights Movement.

If comparing women you disagree with to violent autocrats and reducing political differences to calling people “vile human beings” is what passes for feminism these days, then I call bullshit. A feminism that bolsters up its inclusive credentials via the mechanisms of shunning & denouncing *women* is a bullshit feminism. We have come full circle.

Donkey Skin // Posted 17 March 2014 at 11:48 am

This website has utterly jumped the shark.

You are now actively promoting the silencing of women who express views you disagree with, as well as any woman who dares to associate with them. This is McCarthyism and groupthink, not feminism. The effect of this will be to kill independent and radical thought within the women’s movement. No-platforming of feminists is intended to foment fear among women of saying or even thinking anything unpopular, or associating with those who do.

Imagine what second-wave feminism would have been like if women who had radical or otherwise unpopular views had been unable to publish or speak in public. Can you imagine such a climate producing daring thinkers like Simone De Beauvoir, Audre Lorde or Germaine Greer? Happily, there are plenty of women whose commitment to intellectual honesty and women’s liberation outweighs their desire to be popular, and they will continue to speak out about the deep roots of women’s oppression. They just won’t be found on the F-word.

Holly Combe // Posted 18 March 2014 at 9:06 am

I agree we should speak up when a high profile left-leaning commentator (of any gender) is acting to silence or oppress women who already get crap from the usual bigots. However, I also worry that such a zero tolerance approach as the one described in this post is actually a fast-track to us all policing each other’s every move. This would be a nightmare to implement, as well as stifling and oppressive in itself. For example, if one person ends up getting into trouble over the views of a contact, that person could look at one of the contacts of other people they associate with and say “Ha! You’re not so clean either because X works with Y and Y is one of your LinkedIn connections!”

However, having read the comments above, I don’t think there’s a place for double standards in all this. People who face oppression in one way but have privilege in another (e.g. white women) are not beyond criticism. It isn’t somehow ‘anti-feminist’ to run an article that makes a case for this and calls for action in strong terms, so I don’t think it’s fair to lump its publication in with apologism for patriarchy.

Laura // Posted 18 March 2014 at 9:40 am

Hi Donkey Skin,

I find it rather ironic that you are holding The F-Word as a whole responsible for the views of one of its (many) contributors, when your issue with the post appears to be that it argues for those who provide a platform to or associate with women who hold certain viewpoints to be held accountable for them.

Hi Marina,

You seem to be saying that feminists should support other women no matter what they say or do. For me, that’s not what feminism is about. I believe the aim of feminism is to ensure that no women are oppressed because they are women (of course this also quite rightly widens out to include other identities (trans, Black, disabled etc.), if one takes an intersectional approach). And, yes, this does include women who may hold unpalatable views or behave in oppressive ways themselves: we can’t argue that it’s OK to be sexist against some women and not others. However, that doesn’t mean that we need to support all women on an individual level in everything they do.

For example, as someone who has a say in deciding what is published on this website, I would not give a platform to a female BNP member to talk about her fight against sexism in the BNP, regardless of my support for her right not to be discriminated against because she is a woman. This is because the BNP promote a racist agenda that harms Black women. By giving her a platform I would be both legitimising the BNP and saying that I think it’s acceptable to ignore racism (her membership of the BNP) in favour of sexism (her experiences of discrimination as a woman).

In other words, some women’s actions and beliefs DO need to be denounced (be that through no platforming or actively arguing against them) in order to further the liberation of women as a whole. I agree that calling another human being names such as “scum” (as I’ve seen feminists do on twitter) is unhelpful, as is refusing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt or allowing some leeway for people who have grown up in a society that discriminates against certain groups to unlearn their prejudice. But if certain women stubbornly persist in promoting discriminatory beliefs and practices that harm other women who experience transphobia, racism or disablism, for example, then I think it is right and proper refuse to associate with them, as Charlie argues.

MarinaS // Posted 18 March 2014 at 4:08 pm

Hi Laura,

Thanks for comparing gender critical women to the BNP; it’s really original and nobody’s thought to that for quite some time. I think you’ll find some of us are actually “worse than Hitler”, at least according to Twitter. Why not go to the source? First and still best, as they say.

As for your point about not giving a publishing platform to a woman who holds the correct beliefs in one area but mistaken beliefs in another (e.g. a racist feminist): by implication you can then only publish the views of women who hold no objectionable views whatsoever, on any topic. Jesus realised 2,000 years ago that if we wait for those who are without sin to speak, everyone will forever remain silent. Very convenient for the patriarchy, not so awesome for feminism. Accepting that people are multivarious and flawed should be at the bottom of any struggle for social justice, or else why bother?

Incidentally, I used to be a content editor on the F-Word, and we had no instructions from the editor to run background checks on individual reviewers to see if they happen to be ideologically unsound. I don’t know, things might have changed since I resigned, but it seems like a questionable use for the limited resources of a volunteer-run organisation, and given that it never used to happen, makes your point somewhat academic in nature. Somewhat more disturbingly, it makes your hypothetical act of censorship capricious and inconsistent: a woman (or, as in the case of this OP, not a woman) could be a member of Arian Nations, but as long as that fact is not gossiped about on Twitter, she could still get published on the F-Word. In other words, it’s McCarthyism by mob rule. Chilling stuff, and I hope I’m right in thinking that’s not really how the zine is being run.

Laura // Posted 19 March 2014 at 7:07 am


You’re the one who’s brought up “gender critical women”, not me. I actually chose the BNP example because 1) far right groups, including the BNP are often no platformed; 2) it’s an example of where there is very clear evidence that the woman holds beliefs and engages in behaviours that harm other women, and is very committed to her position. I am categorically not talking about denouncing or no platforming other women based on rumours floating around on twitter: I think this current trend of denouncing X because she’s friends with Y who follows Z who said something objectionable last year is incredibly unhelpful.

And of course we don’t have the capacity to be doing those kinds of background checks on people at The F-Word, even if we wanted to (which we don’t, despite repeat demands from a tiny minority of readers that we should). I have often edited and published pieces from people whose arguments and feminist positions I disagree with. In fact, the only example that springs to mind of someone not being given this platform because of their background (as opposed to the content of the submitted piece) was a guest blogging applicant who was a staunch conservative voter and wanted to blog about conservative feminism, which I and some other collective members felt would be inappropriate given the current Tory government’s attacks on poor and disabled women.

I agree that people are flawed and make mistakes and should be given the space to change, learn and grow. But, as I said in my previous comment, if certain women, given that space, don’t change, and continue willfully pushing agendas or engaging in practices that perpetuate structural oppressions that harm other women, then I think it’s acceptable for feminists to denounce that agenda or practice, which may include no platforming the woman. That doesn’t mean we don’t continue fighting for her right not to be discriminated against because she is a woman.

This isn’t about feminists perpetuating the patriarchy by failing to show solidarity for other women. It’s about feminists showing solidarity with women who experience oppressions on top of sexism, oppressions that can be perpetuated by women as well as men.

Laura // Posted 19 March 2014 at 7:25 am

And, yes, given that you and other commenters seem to want to make Charlie’s piece all about transphobia, I would include women who fight to exclude trans women from feminism/women-only space and push the view that trans women are men in the category of women who perpetuate the oppression of other women.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds