Rhiannon Lucy Colsett: Self-Reverential
Why do you think you’re so interesting? Anything you write is always directly related to yourself. No subject you have ever linked to your experience has ever been better demonstrated because of it. You have no special knowledge, you have no especially remarkable life experience. If you had climbed a mountain, fair enough, but the most interesting you got was talking about your potatoes at Christmas. Everybody eats potatoes at Christmas. Anyway, that’s one reference to yourself.
am a half-arsed, accidental feminist. I said it. It’s a relief to get it off my chest. By half-arsed, I don’t mean that I don’t care deeply about the feminist cause; I do, I just only engage with it about half the time. The rest of the time, I’m doing other stuff, “problematic” stuff, stuff that might not even be that feminist: reading Mail Online, doing drunken twerking
Is twerking problematic? Why? Do you think it’s because it’s cultural appropriation or do you look down on the people who do it? You should make it clear otherwise it looks like you’re attacking people who twerk, which is a dance move associated with… Oh. This again, Rhiannon.
in the kitchen, having friends. Oh, and the diet. I’ve been on a diet for the last year, which you might say, considering how vocal I’ve been about faddy regimes, is the height of hypocrisy.
No, just another way to talk about yourself. But it’s nice to see that you look down on other people who diet. If you imply that people on diets shouldn’t be feminists, then it kind of looks like you’re being exclusive. Which is odd, because it’s what you’re complaining about here.
Or you might find it rather sad that someone who spends a lot of their time lamenting how society’s unrealistic beauty standards are used to control and oppress women is a victim of those same standards. Either way, I’ve lost two stone and my clothes fit me again.
Thanks for the update. Does this have any relevance except that you can talk about yourself again?
It’s difficult being a half-arsed feminist in a movement that seems to demand both your innards and your soul,
Why shouldn’t it demand your soul? Are you mocking those who spend more time than you on activism? By the way, what activism or academic research do you do? You got a six-figure advance for your book, and gave up your day job, so you’d think with time on your hands you’d at least do a bit of it. Given your propensity for self-promotion and narcissism, you’d think we’d have seen one of those motorised billboards telling us about it. That there is nothing suggests you’ve done, erm nothing.
but I think I’ve been pulling it off with panache. I always maintained that I would never write one of those inward-looking columns that aims to unpick the intricacies of the feminist movement, mainly because they bore the tits off me, but then it struck me that some of the barriers facing young women in terms of engaging with gender equality are so great that this needs to be discussed.
“I always said I would never do something, until I was directly affected by it. As soon as it affected me, I decided it would be worth addressing.”
If you’re anything like me, prepare to be bored by this – I apologise in advance.
When my friend Holly Baxter and I set up a satirical blog called the Vagenda two years ago, along with a group of our university friends, we never saw ourselves as part of the feminist movement. The blog took a tongue-in-cheek look at women’s magazines, was written in a slangy, easily comprehensible style, and didn’t take itself all that seriously. In ridiculing the way women were portrayed in the media, the entire ethos of the blog could be said to be feminist, but I didn’t really know anything about the modern feminist movement
Really? It doesn’t come across in your work.
, what it entailed, and where my place in it might be; we just got on with it. Indeed, one of the great things about this new wave of female activism
That you seem to have done none of.
is that young women no longer feel they have to subscribe to a whole checklist of rigid ideas before becoming involved; they focus on what’s closest to their hearts, whether that’s Page 3 or everyday sexism or violence against women, and try and do the best they can, just as many women out there in their communities have been doing for generations, some without ever feeling a need to use the term “feminist”.
Part of our work with the Vagenda has involved visiting schools and universities to chat to young women about just what it is about feminism they find so distasteful. They told us that they think feminism is angry
What, about the world, doesn’t justify anger in feminism? You’re complaining their anger is not accessible to you. They’re complaining society isn’t accessible to them. This is that thing you dismissed called privilege. Funny how the more oppressions you face the angrier you tend to be, isn’t it Rhiannon?
and scary and difficult
So, unless it’s easy feminism, it’s not the feminism for you? That’s fair enough but the implications on those who indulge in ‘difficult’ feminism are so that some may feel a little put-out by your criticism here.
and “not for them”, and that feminists aren’t feminine or sexy and that they hate men. Frankly, anyone who doesn’t think feminism has an image problem or doesn’t need “rebranding” (a horrible term, yes, but one which essentially means communicating the same idea – the equality of men and women – differently for a new audience) can’t see the nose in front of their face.
Congratulations on bringing up hackneyed criticisms of feminists, it’s surprising you didn’t lob in a few gags about hairy armpits given how cliched it’s got. That you haven’t bothered to put in a rebuttal of these tired accusations suggests that you agree with them. Are you so conservative, that that is what you think?
The image these girls have of feminism comes partly from negative coverage in the media but I also get the sense that some of the more radical elements of the movement from the 1970s and 1980s – lesbian separatism,
Nice. What’s wrong with lesbian separatism? It would be quite a spectacle to see you argue that one out with them. Maybe you could blog about it. But oh no, it’s not about you, so don’t hold your breath.
for instance – alienated many women and made them nervous. Now their daughters are too.
After talking to these young women, we wrote a column criticising academic feminists’ use of alienating terms such as “intersectionality” on the basis that most people don’t understand them. “Intersectionality” basically means taking into account the way different systems of oppression – race, class, disability, sexual orientation – relate to one another.
You’re almost right, but go on.
The article raised issue with the language, not the concept, but because we deigned to criticise the method of communication, we were deemed racist.
Weird that after lecturing people of colour about the words they should and shouldn’t be using to articulate their feelings, problems and campaigning tools, you were called racist.
It was very difficult, because I fundamentally believe that we have a problem with representation that needs to be tackled and feminism needs to be for everyone, but having a platform means that people without one direct their anger at you, at your face and at your writing, and, as a half-arsed feminist, I’m still learning how to cope with the pressure to represent everyone
The ‘pressure to represent everyone.’ The ‘pressure’. Not the responsibility, but the pressure - something to be resented and accommodated, rather than something you should do because it’s something that is evidently necessary? Nobody is asking for the white Rhiannon Lucy Coslett to ‘represent’ them - please don’t become a white saviour, we have enough of those - but simply for you to acknowledge that they exist too, and might have areas in your life that you shouldn’t erase. Obviously you resent the ‘pressure’ upon you to be inclusive, which brings us back to the twerking, or the overwhelming whiteness of the people you follow on Twitter, and the accusations of racism you mention… Oh dear.
, all the time.
Some months later, we were speaking at a debate about “the most important issues facing British feminism today”, and the topic came up again. One of the panellists said: “If you don’t understand what intersectionality means, then you can just Google it.” I thought about the estate my dad lived on, at the time working in IT helping people learn to use computers, luxuries many of the residents didn’t have. How the hell would they “just Google it?”
You can just smell the sneering at the proletariat here. There’s a legitimate question of digital access, but maybe if the people were asking you to just google it, you should have just googled it. We might not be going through this again if you had.
For someone who wanted feminism to transcend class and racial barriers
Someone you appeared to be opposing, from the way this is framed.
, it seemed like the least intersectional thing you could ever say. Much like all those columns saying: “Feminism is simple. People just need to educate themselves.”
The reaction to our getting involved with Elle’s “rebranding feminism” campaign was in this vein. Just what it is that could be done to motivate people to want to find out more about feminism got lost in the criticism. I just thought: “We’re doing our own thing – why can’t you do yours?”
Because your views - like when you linked domestic violence to poverty, when you erase people of colour from feminism, and when you give dodgy advice on sexual health - are damaging to society.
The constant litany of “you’re doing it wrong” is dispiriting.
Then stop doing it wrong.
It’s been a huge struggle coming into this movement as a young woman. All the ideological quibbling at that debate, for example, meant that such topics as sexual and domestic violence and the pay gap went undiscussed,
Well, given that, as mentioned, you link domestic violence and poverty, probably best they didn’t hear what you had to say. And given your healthy advance and kickstarter, your views on the pay gap would possibly not be of much use either.
as they are going undiscussed here now again. I fear sometimes that feminism will never have any mass appeal. There are some people who I truly believe don’t want to share it. Because it is a movement centred around oppression, there are a lot of angry people involved in it. I am not saying that that anger is not righteous. I became more interested in feminism myself after I was attacked by a man.
Being attacked by a man is horrible. Being physically attacked because of your gender is horrendous. Think then, of the women (those petty intersectionalists with their googling & their anger) who are desperately trying to get the world to realise that some women are attacked because they’re women, and some women are attacked because they’re women but also people of colour (when racism meets misogyny) or have a disability (when disabilism meets misogyny) or were assigned a different gender at birth (when transphobia meets misogyny). This means there are some women who are statistically more likely to be attacked. Not once do you acknowledge this to be the case.
But such anger can be alienating.
Imagine how alienating Vagenda is, given the criticism it gets so relentlessly for doing things so wrong for so many interests. It’s also funny how it’s righteous anger that guides your feminism, but those pesky intersectionalists dealing with racism and disablism and transphobia and homophobia, their anger is alienating. It’s apt you use alienated
The in-fighting and the vitriol are turnoffs to a new generation. A friend of mine who has been researching
You should ask her what researching is like.
cannabis farming says that the legalise pot movement is the same – factions, all warring – but at least they get to be stoned while doing it. “Activist burnout” is a well-known condition – a Barnard University report warned that the dropout rate among feminist bloggers is incredibly high.
Camilla Long once wrote that feminism was almost like an emotion. I agree. And it’s draining. Eventually, feeling this way all the time might mean you end up being that angry keyboard warrior, or a lump of flubber on the floor. And most women can’t afford to do that, because more than half the time they’re doing something else, and often that something else involves looking after vulnerable people, so being expected to look after their entire gender as well is a bit of a big ask.
You’re not being asked to look after a gender, you’re being asked to stop relating everything to yourself as you aren’t the only person in the world. This is apparently what you struggle with.
The feminist movement needs these women, and it’s losing them. As the hilarious blog Is This Feminist? points out, “being a marginally accepted feminist is a full-time job”. And who on this Earth has the time for that?
Not you. You seem to be spending enough time referring to yourself 30 times in a single blog.
By @judeinlondon and @lxndrnthrtn