On 13-14 November UK Feminista held their national conference at Birmingham University.
Feminista calls itself a coordinating “tool” for feminists; it provides website space for different feminist groups to publicise their events, and runs regional meetings to help small campaigns get off the ground.
UK Feminista’s politics were very similar to that of the London Feminist Network: radical and liberal feminist, anti-sex worker, white, middle class and with no substantial analysis of sexuality, capitalism or class. The opening plenary on the need for feminist politics included a speech by Finn McKay who told the audience that the Tory government, the rioters and the police were one and the same manifestation of “masculine violence”.
Another panel was held on “Fighting the Sex Industry” in which members of the anti-porn campaign “Object” handed out petitions to prevent a strip club being built in Birmingham, and discussed how best to assist women who “have left” or are “considering leaving” the sex industry. “Object” argued that sex workers showing no willingness to leave should not be offered assistance because that would be “normalising” the commodification of women; the sex industry would be far less harmful to women if it were driven underground.
However, many members of the audience at UK Feminista had very different politics to the panel members. Most in attendance were young women, students and academics, but also a good handful of unionised teachers and social workers. There was a strong black women’s turnout, many of whom were very critical of the predominantly white speaker panels and Feminista’s line on the sex industry. Over the course of the weekend I met several socialist feminists and women/men who showed a strong interest in socialism, or who felt the politics at conference were too shallow or moralistic.
The busiest meetings had around 100 attending, and the conference at its peak had about 250-300 — including five to ten men, many of whom used the microphone to criticise the speakers and had questions about the broader effect of capitalism. Feminists wanted to know: How do we defend ourselves against the Tory Government? How do we tackle religious bigotry? What about the police’s treatment of the black community? UK Feminista was unable to answer these questions.
The anti-cuts panel didn’t mention capitalism, although the panellists offered an informative breakdown of how the cuts were affecting women. The Fawcett Society were preoccupied with tentative lobbying techniques which would make the cuts more “egalitarian” towards women; but Southall Black Sisters demanded militant defence of secular women’s and black minority services against local council cuts and criticised the left’s inadequate response to the EDL and BNP.
UK Feminista’s slogan for the weekend was “Feminism is back!”; but the usual “feminist” activism is not providing the answers that many women need — feminist class consciousness.