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Feminism has abandoned me

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.
28 children.
3 babies.

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.

And this:

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.


  1. Kiri wrote:

    “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.”

    YES. All this vagina-fetishizing is harming real live women, many of whom don’t have them. Thank you. This is a great post.

    (And dear god, fuck that “born a man” bullshit. Journalists are not fucking helping!)

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  2. Button wrote:


    I wish I had been as eloquent when the feminist group at my college campus was advertising for the Vagina Monologues by shouting about vaginas on the mall a few years ago. I shakily asked them to stop doing that – to stop equating women with their genitalia – and when I refused to buy a ticket, they just laughed at me. And I’m not even trans…

    Why the feminist movement continues to define itself by its vaginas defies comprehension. It’s not as though the patriarchy hasn’t always been aware that cis women have them, and perfectly willing to define womanhood as centering on and emanating from the genitalia. Reinforcing that framework strikes me as incredibly counterproductive.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  3. Ž wrote:

    the papers call them border damagers in our language. I’ve been to the border many times, but no damage has been done by the feet shuffling across it. The grass along the border is growing fine. The buildings are unharmed. The trees are still growing towards the sun. It’s plain to see that the papers are lying: No border has been harmed by people seeking a better life. Instead, people are being harmed by us as they try to cross our border. Life here isn’t so good on our side of the border; we’re one of the poorer EU countries. But if life here is deemed better than life elsewhere, then let them come.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  4. meadowgirl wrote:

    i used to feel this way, a lot. i finally had to force myself to stop reading international news for a few months. i decided to focus on news at home (since this is where i am) & find a way to make my small difference, somehow, some way, here where i am.

    now i can read the “news” without depressing myself. i know i care, i know a lot of my friends care & we are all willing to be Sisyphus, forever pushing our feminist rock up patriarchy’s hill. there are more of us than there are of media. we’ll get there, i truly believe it.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  5. oph wrote:

    Thank you for writing this.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  6. Chloemiriam wrote:

    THIS. I am sick of a narrow band of ppl being used to define what feminism is and those within feminism who silence any non white CIS het ablebodied voices. I know of so many women who do amazing stuff yet their work is never represented and woolf’s sodding vagina pasta is everywhere.For example in the UK there have been campaigns to highlight the legal issues that often make it impossible for asylum seeking women to access support for domestic violence issues, women fighting to keep vital services such as rape crisis open, etc etc. But no it’s all about cuntini…

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink
  7. C wrote:

    As a trans woman, I wanted to say thank you for writing this. Far too often I’ve seen cis feminists try to argue that having a vagina/uterus is the be-all and end-all of the oppression of women, and I’ve even see several of the more transphobic ones claim that a trans woman being raped is “not as oppressive” as when a cis woman is raped because a trans woman cannot get pregnant from it (I really wish I was making that up)

    But even if you’re the kind of feminist who is truly only concerned with the problems facing middle-class, able-bodied white cis women, it seems to me that reducing womanhood to genitals plays right into the patriarchal notions of defining womanhood by one’s ability to get pregnant, and thereby trying to keep women “barefoot and pregnant.” I feel like no matter which perspective you approach it from, it’s a bad idea.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  8. aubrietta wrote:

    as a cis-gendered white woman, I needed to read this. Thank you.

    Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  9. moderad wrote:

    @C, I’m with you. I appreciate this article, and as a middle-class, able-bodied white cis woman, I’m pretty tired of my vagina being the mouthpiece for my feminism.

    Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink
  10. Trix wrote:

    Similar perspectives are coming from elsewhere, with a number of other writers pointing out that Wolf’s vagina-centric “inner goddess” version of feminism isn’t theirs.
    Laurie Penny in New Statesman:
    “All women, in Wolf’s analysis, have vaginas, and those vaginas are the wellspring of divine femininity – no room, then, for any woman who is physically intersex, or transsexual, or who has one of the surprisingly common medical conditions which result in a person born with two vaginas, or with no vagina at all; still less room for the gender-queer, the androgynous, for asexual, women who don’t enjoy penetrative sex, women who do enjoy those rough, anonymous one-night stands that Wolf is so very down on, or for transsexual men.”

    Friday, September 14, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink
  11. Angie unduplicated wrote:

    Men define us by the part they find useful. We should not be accomodating that attitude. If they could grow women in test tubes, the result would be three orifices and an extension to do laundry.
    Here, The Man runs roadblocks so they can capture young undocumented mothers and deport them.
    And that mother? Her regional instruction is “Go out on the railroad tracks and play with a knife”. I’ve heard it often.
    Feminism? They never wanted us hillbillies and never will.

    Friday, September 14, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink
  12. Bernadette Fagan wrote:

    Keep the faith,woman

    Friday, September 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  13. PixieRatfeet wrote:

    Feeling so desperately sad and angry and powerless to help others going through such awful experiences…. Will try to continue to challenge where I can but I feel it’s not enough…

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
  14. lp wrote:

    as a cis white woman (working in the global reproductive justice movement, at that), your posts always send me through the five stages of grief. well-done, as usual. thank you for writing this, and all the things you write.

    Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  15. Špela wrote:

    Thank you for this. I share much of your frustration. Feminism is, fundamentally, about human rights (with the explicit acknowledgement that women are human), and the focus on silly, reductionist arguments can be maddening – especially, as you point out, when people next door are suffering horribly from things far more immediate and egregious than debate over what role the vagina should play in self-definition.
    I cannot say, however, that I think Western women should stop fighting for reproductive rights, because there are worse things happening to other women. When I have heard this kind of argument, it is invariably from someone who is doing nothing to champion human rights here or anywhere else, so I would much rather have people engaged and fighting, even if it is within the narrow scope of their privilege. It is not enough, but it is something.
    Feminism has not abandoned you. The problems of wealthy, white, cis women are always going to receive a wildly disproportionate amount of attention. This doesn’t mean it is all that most feminists think or care about – it is just the ‘sexiest’ thing to print. It is often also believed (largely by the media, but often not reflected on too hard by individuals) that “women’s issue’s” are ones that only affect *women,* so how could immigrants’ rights possibly fall under the heading of women’s rights – unless they were beating “their” women or attacking “ours? [sarcasm]

    I am sorry so much of our privilege is showing, and embarrassed that our vaginas appear to be the most pressing (and fascinating) issue lately, but there’re feminists in every walk of life, working hard for the safety of other people – and not just their reproductive safety. It just gets way less press than fun pieces about how great vaginas are – and, when it does, it’s rarely labeled as feminism.

    I hope that was somewhat coherent. I feel your disgust, but I also have a lot of hope.

    Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Permalink