A 'feminist library' with a difference!

No feminists allowed, unless they put men first. By Genevieve Gluck

   

The Feminist Library published to Twitter a “Statement on Transphobia and Accountability,” followed by the declaration that “feminists who seek to present trans people as a complication or threat to feminist struggles are not welcome at the library.”

    Essentially, the Feminist Library is publicly denouncing women who understand that the reason for women’s oppression is the commodification and exploitation of female bodies for male use, and suggesting they will be antagonistic towards such women should they enter the building. This is a shocking statement for any library to make, much less one supposedly dedicated to educating women about the history of the feminist struggle.

According to the statement:

Over the past year, we have conducted a number internal “Organisational Culture” meetings amongst members of the core collective intended to … [create] clear internal and external accountability procedures in order to hold each other to account. We understand and acknowledge that latent and active transphobia has been a part of the experiences of many of our volunteers in the past and that we were not attentive enough in challenging transphobia when and where it emerged … We are developing bespoke accountability procedures that include training for all members of the collective.

    It is implied that a volunteer at the library complained about an undefined element of “transphobia,” and a form uploaded to the statement asserts that anyone who has a complaint lodged against them will be subject to training sessions and monitoring.

    The statement continues:
We understand gender and sex as constructed categories with meanings that have changed over time … We wholeheartedly reject any feminist framework that seeks to define womanhood solely using biological essentialism or any feminism that seeks to re-inscribe rigid ideas of sex. We believe that there is not a singular, universal origin point for all women’s oppression across the globe nor should we attempt to find one.

    This is an insult to the legacy and history of feminist thought and a particularly galling oversight not only of the universality of women’s sex-based oppression, but of the women across cultures and nations who have struggled and died in the pursuit of bringing attention to the specific ways women’s bodies are exploited by men. Child marriage, bride kidnappings, rape, forced childbirth, concubinage, the sex industry, foot binding, FGM, and unpaid labor are all forms of subordinating women for male pleasure and use, and in order to extract labor and reproductive resources from women and girls. To deny the reality of the sexed body is to deny the existence of sexism itself, as well as the ability for women to join in solidarity against it.

    * This sort of individualistic rhetoric on the part of representatives for the Feminist Library is symptomatic of a larger trend of institutional capture and takeover of women’s institutions by neoliberalism, queer theory, and gender ideology, which has been ongoing for decades. The rebranding of Women’s Studies courses to programs which focused on Gender Studies has been ongoing, leading to the current climate of feigned ignorance about the definition of ‘woman,’ and the way in which the word ‘gender’ is increasingly purported to be innate whereas biological sex is declared a social construct - a complete inversion of meaning. 

    In a thread on Mumsnet, it is suggested that the Library’s lack of funding is a possible explanation for a takeover that has been brewing over the course of several years, the implication being that conforming to current ‘inclusivity’ politics is one means of securing funding; in another reversal, excluding women has been labelled inclusive.

    Moreover, the library’s volunteer coordinator, Lola Olufemi, was involved in the no-platforming of Oxford university professor Selina Todd last year. Prof Todd’s invitation to speak at Oxford International Women’s Festival was rescinded due to “pressure from transactivists” and had only two months earlier been given protection after receiving threats. Cited by the BBC as a possible explanation for Todd’s censorship was a statement by Olufemi, who refused to attend the event, which read, in part:

The reason I withdrew from this panel is because it’s clear the organizers had not done enough to investigate speakers’ links to Women’s Place UK - a clearly transphobic organization … I am uninterested in attending feminist events or conferences that do not take a clear stance against this attempt to hijack feminism or allow these networks to exist ... I don’t have time to unpick what I find so abhorrent about the second-wave resurgence of calls for sex-based rights.

Tweeting about her decision to denounce the event, Olufemi said, “TERF links cut across universities,” and, “I don’t believe in the marketplace of ideas!” In December 2019, the same month Olufemi began her position at the Feminist Library, she tweeted a statement claiming that sex categories did not exist before words for them were created.

Olufemi is correct about the hijacking of feminism, but wrong about who is instigating it: the hijacking of feminism is coming from academia and queer theory, as her position and the statement from the Feminist Library makes abundantly clear. In her book Feminism, Interrupted (an apt title for one who advocates for the censorship of feminists), Olufemi asserts with fanatical conviction:  “To argue that there is a clear difference between sex and gender serves to solidify the idea that biological sex, prior to human beings inventing it and naming its tenants, exists. Understanding that there is nothing ‘natural’ or ‘stable’ about human biology helps us dismantle the idea that women’s oppression is rooted in a singular place.”

It is not possible to defend women’s rights if we cannot claim our material existence independently of men. When women are reduced to a thought experiment, a set of misogynist stereotypes, a feeling in a man’s head, our collective and unique situation in this world is erased, as is our ability to confront the relentless violence against us. Many brilliant and brave women suffered to shine a light on male violence, to illuminate the structures that naturalize our subordinate status in society, and we will not submit to the flattening of our humanity.

Fortunately, there are plenty of e-books to choose from. And may I suggest, as an antidote to science-denying queer theory, the Filia Podcast.

*Addendum

Previously published here were quotes from one of the Library’s founders about the supposed social construction of sex; however, upon consideration of its meaning in the context of French materialist feminism, and in response to concerns from friends of the founders, I decided to remove them.

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