Kvinnorum is an organisation created by lesbian radical feminists, meaning ‘Women’s Room’ in Swedish. The individual women involved in the organisation team of the Gathering taking place in 2018 are based all over Europe and are involved in radical feminism in one way or another. In the context of trans politics and the war on women-only spaces and radical feminism, we have decided to be as discreet as possible in order to protect ourselves as well as the women who will attend the gathering.
In the light of the recent public debates, and sometimes attacks, surrounding our Gathering, we have decided to go public on some of our political positions. On the 15th of April 2018, we have decided to reject one application and, since more and more radical feminists are aware of it, we have decided to make a public statement explaining why.
We decided to refuse this woman because she slandered women of colour and/or from Muslim background who wrote an article on Feminist Current by calling them “pro-islamist women”. The accusation took place publicly on Facebook and on several occasions. This applicant especially targeted one of the authors, who has an Arab name. Assuming this author is Muslim because she has an Arabic name, the applicant reduced her to her origins, and to a presumed identity she never claimed. This is racist. Further, the applicant accused this author of being part of an Islamist group financed by Hamas and Hezbollah. The applicant repeated this false information that she heard from another woman, who attacked this author telling her to “she can get out of France if she doesn’t like our laws, she’ll see how feminist Algeria is”. The applicant repeated these racist statements without verifying them, to attack this author, and advised her contacts to read the comments of the racist woman. Not once did the applicant appear to stop and think about the very real material effects such accusations could have on a woman with an Arab name living in France.
To be clear, we did not refuse this woman because of her critique of Islam, the headscarf, or the burqa as patriarchal. No one here, especially not Kvinnorum or the authors of the article, believe or argue that the burqa is taken up under the conditions of “free choice” or “empowering”. As radical feminists, we reject these misogynist arguments. It’s really telling that any critique of the headscarf and the burqa that does not fall under the mainstream rhetoric – “the burqa in the West is much more oppressive than Western practices of femininity and we should therefore campaign for banning this one practice” – is directly deemed liberal and/or pro-islamist by some women.
We believe the movement benefits from healthy debates, but since the beginning, our main purpose has been to create a space away from patriarchy and patriarchal ideas. As such we also cannot accept racist, class-hating or anti-lesbian sentiments. It is not fair to make it a place where only white women might feel liberated, for instance. Let’s remember that arguments made on a racist basis, and personal racist attacks are never part of a feminist debate. Going to the gathering with the intent of antagonising and dividing women is not productive to the purpose of Kvinnorum.
As it is, Kvinnorum’s Gathering will be a small and intimate space where 100 women will live in close proximity with each other and only each other. This is not the ideal climate for big in-group debates on controversial topics where one side has much more personal stakes than the other, especially when the group with personal stakes have from the outset expressed their discomfort with how the other has phrased it and acted towards them up to this point.
One might have one’s conceptions challenged in various ways during the gathering, but we believe one’s core values should be in alignment. Disagreement is never an excuse for slandering sisters of colour and/or from Muslim background by associating them with islamism. Branding women of colour and/or of Muslim background who are critical of Islam “pro-islamist” is clearly predicated on their cultural background overshadowing any radical feminist ideas they espouse for themselves. Moreover, this kind of accusation is deeply harmful to our sisters, whose existence as women of colour and/or of Muslim background is enough for Western societies to be suspicious of them and deny them rights and dignity.
Early on in the process of putting together the team, there was an internal conflict over one organiser who had come to hold racist anti-immigration (particularly anti-muslim immigration) views. This was sometimes framed as caring about oppressed Muslim women, but when asked to clarify she was unable to explain how her anti-immigration views might help Muslim women in particular. After voting to exclude her from the organising team – after she accused us of thought-policing – we reflected a lot about how someone from a radical feminist point of view comes to hold racist right-wing views on immigration and the headscarf.
There needs to be a proper feminist critique and actual support to women of colour and Muslim and ex-Muslim women – and this critique needs to be spearheaded by those women themselves, as presented in the article published in Feminist Current. This genuinely feminist approach, however, is not found in accusing the women of colour who make this argument of being “pro-islamist women”. Accusations such as these serve to shut down debate and silence women of colour, particularly from Muslim backgrounds, from speaking. The kind of attacks engaged in by the woman whose application we refused imply that women of colour have no right to disagree amongst themselves on issues that affect them personally, and can only articulate views that have been pre-approved by white women.
We understand that these arguments do not have consensus within radical feminist communities, and therefore that our stance may seem strange to some women. However, we take seriously the violence and discrimination faced by women of colour in Western countries, and we believe that taking a stand on this issue and against the unacceptable slandering of women is critical to making our radical feminist spaces safe for women of colour.
This is the email we sent to the woman we refused on Sunday 15th of April:
We are writing to you about your application. It has involved some very difficult, heartfelt discussions that we did not undertake lightly. Unfortunately, we regret to inform you that we have come to a collective decision to reject your application and we are going to explain why.
We have a strong commitment to anti-racist feminism and we have been made aware that you took part in publicly accusing some radical feminist women of colour of being “pro-islamist women” over an article on Feminist Current. This took place on Facebook. We understand that it was a heated debate, but branding women from a Muslim background who are critical of Islam ‘pro-Islamist” is clearly predicated on their cultural background overshadowing any Radical Feminist ideas they espouse for themselves. Several women of Muslim background have stated their discomfort in including these kind of views at the gathering.
Expressing disagreement over this issue is very normal, but publicly accusing radical feminists of colour of being pro-islamist is particularly damaging to the movement and community, as well as being harmful to women accused of this.
In order for the gathering to be a space free of any potential racism or islamophobia (by that we do not mean criticism of Islam, but taking issue with women who are simply of Muslim background and smearing them as ‘Islamist’ despite their professed criticism of patriarchal Islamic culture) we feel we must reject your application.
Coming soon: a public statement on male children, and on how some women accuse female-only spaces of eugenics and nazism and say we deserve to be threatened by our enemies.