I know feminism, as a movement, doesn’t particularly care about me. At least not anymore than any other political and/ or social movement. After all, it is merely a collective, a lose label under which anyone can more or less take a place as long as they uphold a few basic tenets (and even then, Sarah Palin dares call herself a feminist). So, it’s not that I have been abandoned by a caring lover that is mindful of my feelings or my preoccupations. If anything, I have been abandoned by the absent mother figure that never paid much attention to me. For me, these days, feminism is the kind of mother that would encourage me to play frisbee with a broken beer bottle and smoke joints at 8 AM with my morning coffee. You know, the kind of parent who never gave a shit about you.
Women and children first…
Every morning, I force myself to wade through the sewage that is the news in Europe. Every morning, I see the degradation of human life that is reserved for migrants trying to reach the continent. Every day, I see the death toll go up. This past weekend alone:
140 new victims drowned.
And that’s just from one capsized boat. Every day I read about the unnamed, the faceless, I look for them in fringe news sources, in the periphery of mainstream media, in local outlets that barely register their passing. The deaths of those who are not “worthy” enough to have memorials, to be honored, to be cherished. The deaths that are added in new excel spreadsheets to “keep count”.
In 2009, in When is Life Grievable?, Judith Butler wrote
Normative frameworks establish in advance what kind of life will be a life worth living, what life will be a life worth preserving, and what life will become worthy of being mourned. Such views of lives pervade and implicitly justify contemporary war.
Naomi Wolf’s vagina and the value of life
Yet, as much as I need to scout the borders of media to find the dead, I get to hear in great detail how Naomi Wolf’s vagina is doing. (It’s doing fine, thank you, and she would like a double cocktail to endure oh all of this attention gracefully). Feminism also cares about the state of Naomi Wolf’s vagina. Sometimes to mock her, sometimes to embrace her, sometimes to tickle media with random repetitions of the word vagina (yes, because we are oh so transgressive with our vaginas, when they are not reading gender essentialist monologues, our vaginas are at the center of debate because we are cis gender feminists and we are going to exercise our right to define ourselves through a fucking piece of flesh between our legs, damn it!).
So, while I get to hear in great detail about a White, American, cis gender woman’s vagina (and the media machinery that puts her at the center and keeps us talking about genitalia as the “source” of our gender), I read that between 1,995 and 2007 alone, 700,000 undocumented migrants were apprehended in Turkey trying to reach Europe. That’s just Turkey, one of the several points of entry for European migrants. And another 17,000 have died between 1997 and 2011 either in EU detention camps or trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
The European Union washes their hands and continues repeating their preferred naming convention: ASYLUM SEEKERS, REFUGEES! AN INVASION OF OUR COUNTRIES! The connection to poverty, to the rule of corporations, to centuries of colonial interventions, to the depletion of resources, and to the imposition of institutions like the World Bank and the IMF and the economic measures that only bring poverty and decimate communities are conveniently forgotten. Europe should remain “guilt free” in acknowledging these non grievable lives. These are “refugees”! People who are escaping “bad things” elsewhere! People towards whom Europe has no responsibilities! We are collectively encouraged to avoid addressing this situation for what it is: a humanitarian catastrophe borne out of centuries of exploitation by the very same structures of power that now criminalize these people.
In Amsterdam, Caitlin Moran’s book, How to be a woman, is a bestseller and local feminist organizations praise it as the second coming of the vagina. Women like me, women from the Global South die daily, are sent to detention camps, are deported, abused, raped, beaten and I am supposed to cheer for the power of the fucking vagina.
Fernanda Milan, raped, abused and now to be deported from Denmark
On September 17th, barring some last minute judiciary measure, Fernanda Milan, a trans woman from Guatemala, will be deported from Denmark.
The trans woman, Fernanda Milan, is due to be sent back to Guatemala on September 17 after her application for asylum was rejected. While in Denmark, Milan was raped in Sandholm Asylum Centre, a facility operated by the Danish Red Cross.
After arriving in this country via Switzerland, she made contact with LGBT Denmark, which supported her asylum request.
Under Danish law, Milan is classified as a man so authorities placed her in the male section of Sandholm. Despite being given a separate dormitory, other detainees were able to break in to her room and rape her.
“I wasn’t raped by just one man but by many,” she told Politiken newspaper earlier this month.
Milan was due to share the room with another trans woman in Sandholm, but the latter refused to be placed amongst men and instead slept in a car.
After the attack at Sandholm, Milan fled the centre and was trafficked into prostitution for two years. Police discovered her during a raid on a brothel in Jutland.
Born a man, Milan had been receiving hormone treatment since she was 14-years-old. Because she was unable to receive the treatment after leaving Guatemala, she was no longer consider transgender by the Danish medical definition. She continues to live and self-identify as a woman, but that wasn’t enough to earn her a spot in the women’s dormitory in Sandholm.
“A transgender woman is likely to be placed in a male dormitory but in a single room,” Anne La Cour, head of the Danish Red Cross asylum department, told Politiken. “But we would not place her in a women’s dormitory because that is exclusively for women and we cannot permit ourselves to place a man.”
And yet, all I hear is how womanhood is defined by the vagina! At the moment, nothing seems more important for mainstream feminism than abortion rights and vaginas. And I am sorry for this (no, I am not), I am fucking fed up hearing about the rights of white, cisgender women to have access to whatever it is they need when people that are born in places similar to mine are massively ignored by the same “feminism”. Oh you want your abortion rights? How about I would like women like me to be able to stay alive and not be raped or beaten or abused while in detention camps or drowned while trying to cross the sea or their babies corpses found floating by rescue missions days after the fact?
Every time I see reports about reproductive justice in the Western world, I am painfully reminded of the women who have been deprived of their children, of their lives, of any future whatsoever because they were born in the “wrong” countries. I am reminded of how limited and hegemonic the use of the word “justice” is in this context. Every time I read about Naomi Wolf’s vagina, or Caitlin Moran’s “manual”, I am reminded of women like Fernanda Milan, denied her rightful place as a woman because the administrators of the asylum seekers camp where she was detained deemed her “a man”. Feminism, never addressing the collective responsibilities behind these deaths, further promoting books that encourage the paradigms that led to Fernanda Milan’s rape and abuse. This feminism that does not speak of me or to me, that pushes me into a corner. The kind of feminism where I should play frisbee with a broken beer bottle.
Your vaginas might be important, but so are the lives that nobody seems to be grieving.