Posted by: stelladuffy | January 12, 2013

what yesterday’s head/parapet blog and the comments below have taught me …

A really good explanation of the meaning of cis, thanks to queeriodical (see comments below head/parapet, about 10 comments down)

A reminder that twitter is a public forum and that everything is seen by everyone who wants to and (any of our) dark humour/offhand remarks may not be read in the tone they may have been intended. I’d rather that didn’t stop people posting occasionally raging remarks, of any kind, from any part of the political spectrum, I think the debate sparked by raging remarks can be really useful. But it does make me stop and wonder how free I personally will choose to be on twitter in future.

That asking people to please identify themselves, by their own names (if at all possible), as I do on my blog, twitter, and facebook, elicits some lovely honesty, both in people using their own names and in explaining why they are not. And some total disregard for that request.

That my saying I often find academic terms alienating and difficult seems to have caused some people upset. I was the first in my (extended) family to go to university. Therefore, when I left home at 17 to do so, I was the first person I ever knew to go to university. It was terrifying. (And exciting, of course, but mostly terrifying.) I found very quickly that there was a huge world of middle class people I knew nothing about and who knew far more about how we were ‘supposed’ to be at university, in studying and in life, than I did. I felt like a fish out of water. I was lost. And then I found some similar friends, also lost fishes, and we formed our own group of lost people and made our way through together. I got a pretty shitty degree because I was really only interested in the two drama papers I was able to do and in making theatre at every opportunity – when I wasn’t doing that I was working (coffee shop at 6am, washing dishes at 10pm, and sometimes cleaning houses in between) to pay to be at university. It was only in the last few years that it finally occurred to me that the kids from wealthier families weren’t working part time as me and my mates were because their parents were paying their rent, paying for their books, giving them allowances – this honestly had never occurred to me until about 5 years ago! I don’t say that as a sob story, working part time while studying and full time in the holidays was standard for the group who became my university friends (also working class kids who were, according to their families, ‘making good’). I am a little surprised when people are dismissive of these honestly-expressed fears, and call it ‘academic-bashing’ (as has been said on twitter). Frankly it feels quite brave for me to say I find some of the discussion hard to follow, it’s taken me until almost 50 to publicly admit this, and I absolutely believe it is to do with my upbringing and the working class parents who brought me up who felt that higher education (their term) was for me, perhaps, but not for them.
I understand that access to university and tertiary education has made huge leaps (in the UK and NZ, the only two countries I know about from personal experience) in the past 30 years, and so it is possible my fears and feeling of alienation are not experienced by working class young people today. Possible. I find it a little odd that admitting to (what I perceive to be) class-based insecurity should be so easily dismissed by those who have said “it’s easy to look it up”. I agree, looking stuff up IS easy. Feeling free with terms, feeling as if one fully understands them, ‘gets’ them, is another matter entirely.

That I’ve written many many times before, on this blog, about LGBT issues (about my belief that everyone has a duty to come out for eg, which sometimes has been read as a provocative stance), about class issues, about race issues, and about this government and others. About war, about rape, about violence against women. And I have NEVER had this much response ever before about any of these other issues. Which I find a little sad. I think all these issues, including the one discussed below, are hugely important and I wish they ALL stirred the same depth of feeling.

That there may well be a huge difference between younger and older feminists. The younger feminists responding to me expressed surprise (some politely, some not at all!) that certain terms and writers were new to me. And the ones who suggested I had a lot of reading to do to catch up are probably right. I’d also suggest that older feminists (including the women a good 30 years older than me, in my mere middle age!) are also worth listening to, and that any catching up might be two or three way, rather than just us older ones reading what the younger ones are reading. I’m hoping to begin work on a theatre project about older women as Elders in the next few months, and I’m really excited about the possibilities that discourse with and listening to women 10, 20 and 30 years older than me might bring.

That not any one person ever speaks for any one group. As evidenced by the varied views from people identifying as trans in the comments, and the varied views from people identifying as left – but taking different stances – also in the comments. I think we’d all do well to try to remember this more. I try to write and speak as if I am only speaking for myself, from my own experiences and pov, I will make more of an effort to do so in future.

That I do believe dialogue is the only way forward. Ever.

That I’m glad I have my Buddhist practice to remind me both to listen and to try to be compassionate – AND to speak from my heart when I feel moved to do so.

I’m really grateful for ALL of your responses. I have been trying to approve the comments as they come in, and have been doing so since they began rushing in last night, both here and on twitter. But I’m now back to writing a new novel at the same time as directing a play, so please be patient if your comment doesn’t appear as soon as it is posted. (As ever, I reserve the right to NOT approve a comment I think may be offensive, but I have never done so yet, and you’ll see there are plenty disagreeing with me!, so as long as we stay off the name-calling and swearing, I think we’ll all be fine.)

And finally, a plug. Here’s the book I mention in the blog below that’s been so widely read. Now that you know it contains a trans character, a major plot twist is already given away. Sorry about that. It was written from 1995, published in 1997, so I’m sure it’s fairly out of date about many things now, not least the lack of twitter!
Anyway, I also use my blog and twitter and facebook to promote my work – this is Beneath the Blonde.


  1. Have you seen the wonderful book about women and aging. It’s called Winter Tales ll. It is NOTHING to do with me. I wish it were. If you’re doing a project on women and aging I strongly recommend it. Cathy x

  2. I’m always surprtised when people criticise others who are clearly awake, aware and intelligent for not knowing something. At 56, I’m increasingly realising how varied and diverse knowledge is, and how shaped we all are by our upbringing and early experience. You have experience of things that many others don’t – it may not be the same as theirs, but it’s just as valid (and vice versa).

    It’s the pooling of all that experience and the knowledge and understanding it’s generated that I think makes the future hopeful. I’ve had M.E. for nine years, as you know, and if there’s one thing it’s taught me it’s that energy has to be focused on essentials. There’s no time for harping on people’s areas of ignorance if we want to make change happen (in an ideal world, natch, and I’m as bad as most at forgetting that) – I think the time spent teaching each other and working together to use all that wonderful (goddammit!) understanding to get things done is paramount. Ali xx

  3. Another interesting post, and thanks for the hat tip. Maybe it’s an overly generous explanation, but perhaps the comment discrepancy isn’t necessarily just about relative interest or importance, but how contentious or conducive to further discussion. So for example whilst a blog about violence towards women is raising an important issue, most reading this blog would simply agree and have little to add, whereas this issue I don’t think is simply about Suzanne any more, but touches on wider tensions and misunderstandings, between generations, perspectives etc., and as such brings out many further discussions.

    I hadn’t seen this blog before, but will follow now.🙂

  4. How interesting Stella. I ‘wasted’ (?) most of my morning yesterday reading some of the comments on the two Suzanne articles. Partly I found them fascinating because they brought me up to date with current thinking, not to mention jargon, on gender identity. I don’t qualify as any sort of minority in matters of gender or sexuality, seldom give these issues any thought, and certainly don’t feel able to express a view on the rights/wrongs of the subject matter under discussion.

    But mostly I was fascinated (as I often am) by the range and variety of types and tone of response in the discussion. Much along the lines that you have talked about above. Humankind revealed in all its sometimes ugly variety. The tone might be self-righteously pontificating, earnestly pleading, abusive, witty, ever so slightly patronising, blatantly sarcastically patronising, solipsistic, bigoted, consumed by (justified or otherwise) anger and hatred, ‘wankademic’, or just plain trollish.

    Then there are the incomprehensible comments to which the only appropriate response is ‘huh?’, the wrong-end-of-the-stickers, and the off-topickers (I found highly entertaining a section where the comments were hijacked by a group that gleefully ignored the matter at hand and replaced it with a discussion on the merits of David Bowie’s recent single vs Justin Bieber).

    And interspersed among all this are the people who discuss and challenge in a reasoned, reasonable manner, and the lovely souls calling for a bit of ‘live and let live’ and ordinary humanity (or should that be ‘humynity’?).

    I don’t know how I feel about this. The Internet brings out the best and the worst in people I guess – but what disturbs me is that people who hate now have access to a huge number of people who share and reinforce their hate. I don’t know if this is in any way counteracted by the influence of people who don’t hate.

    I have also reached a couple of conclusions:
    (1) Twitter is vile. (I have always thought this, but this stuff just confirms it).
    (2) The phrase ‘I see what you did there’ (code for ‘my sense of humour is ever so much more sophisticated than yours, and how could you be so uncouth as to make that obvious joke?’) is nasty, sarcastic, and rapidly becoming a cliche. It should be avoided.

    Ooh I quite enjoyed writing that. I don’t often comment on blogs unless they are about music or art. Anyway enough blah from me, signing off, see you soon x

  5. Aargh. And having successfully undermined my own argument by using a flippant and derogatory term that could cause offence, can I just clarify that (a) I don’t think all academics are wankers, (b) I don’t hate even those that are.

    Just goes to underline the whole theme of the Suzanne issue really – we are none of us perfect, all guilty of generalisations/preconceptions, all inclined to post comments on blogs without thinking, all inclined to undermine our own arguments. And we should be forgiven for that.

  6. Of course perspective change, and different generations approach things differently, but that’s a very different thing from insisting someone accept a particular academic approach and the language that goes with it. There’s loads of people who firmly believe there’s aspects of identity politics that are damaging and self defeating. Moore’s clearly one of them, and I know form my own study that there’s certain schools of thought you come across you simply fundamentally disagree with, and think aren’t worth pursuing. The problem them comes if people insist someone is wrong or lacking for not having accepted certain ideas.
    Sure, there might be a need to catch up with new developments, but there’s a world of difference between that & insisting you accept them as valid.
    Those than resist particular approaches to identity politics will often have well thought out reasons for doing so, and it doesn’t make them lesser feminists if they do. Or if they’re simply aren’t up to speed with what is in reality just one way of approaching an incredibly complex set of issues. .

  7. […] writer Stella Duffy has also written an interesting blog post on the academic cold shoulder offered by intersectionality. When I first came across the […]

  8. […] post which generated a lot of useful constructive discussion. She followed it up with what I found a much better one, talking about what she’d learned. There was this response. And I found it good to be […]

  9. I was really so pleased to read this post. One thing I found confusing and disappointing about your first post was this thing about being non-academic. I’m glad I understand that better now.

    I got sick and came out of school at fifteen, so didn’t complete high school education, let alone getting a degree. but this was 1996 and a year or so after that, I first had access to the internet. I’m used to the idea that if you need to find out about something, you look in books and you look on-line, you consult the information of experts and you consult how ordinary folk interpret this information (especially when it comes to language – textbooks rarely define how people use terms in everyday contexts and frankly, when you meet a new word it is often useful to see how it is misused and abused as well as when it is used sincerely). It was initially very baffling that as a decidedly under-educated, disabled woman who has spent most of her life in poverty and unemployment, I should be told that words and ideas I’m used to are inaccessible to folks who have been to university and have highly successful intellectual careers as journalists or writers.

    Meanwhile, splits are not wholly generational; I have seen folk younger than myself claiming that only highly academic middle class feminists can possibly exercise a feminism which bares in mind the nuances of being a poor woman, a queer woman, a disabled woman, a trans woman, a woman of colour and so forth, when it strikes me that it is women for whom “intersectionality” is an uncomplicated fact of life (whether we know the word or not), these women who are disadvantaged in multiple ways, who can most often be seen at the coalface of feminism – as opposed to those the representatives of feminism we most often see in newspapers and on the telly (not that that isn’t vital life-changing work in itself, but it isn’t the only battleground).

    The post you’ve written here is one of the big positives to come out of this awful mess. Thank you.

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