When I moved to the U.K. from the U.S., in the midst of the presidential election, admittedly I did not know much about British conservatism. In general terms I understood the British right to be roughly aligned with the ‘neoliberal’ left across the Atlantic. You liked music, and literature, and going to gay clubs. And you didn’t balk when I told you on our first date that Ayn Rand is a jack-off rag for privileged white boys.
But patronising a gay bar is different from using your status to advocate for gay rights, in the same way that dating a radical feminist is different from doing meaningful work to advocate for women.
The worldview which you have embraced by default is one defined by white male hegemony. You consider liberals to be logically inconsistent rabble-rousers who fail to understand themselves in this context. You say, “if you reinvent the wheel, it won’t work anymore.” You say, “liberals who embrace radical tactics consign themselves to irrelevance.” Well: the ‘wheel’ of modern society was forged on the backs of women and people of colour. Those far on the progressive end of the spectrum take issue with those structures. No wonder that makes them irrelevant to a white male hegemony: the goal is to make white male hegemony irrelevant.
In a system that denies people of colour equal democratic representation in the U.S.; in a system all over the world that physically threatens and gaslights women to keep them powerless against males; movements like Black Lives Matter (whose tactics you scorn as violent and disrespectful and uncivilised) give them a voice. Surely with your academic pedigree you know better than to believe that any class-based revolution can succeed without boycott, protest, or otherwise unlawful defiance of the dominant paradigm.
I could attempt to justify BLM and radical movements to you. I could fill this letter with statistics on ways that the U.S. prison-industrial complex effectively targets Black bodies and funnels them into prisons, disenfranchising them in the process. But I know that you are intelligent and resourceful enough to seek out powerful Black voices and to inform yourself, if you ever wanted to emerge from your comfortable conservative worldview.
Look around at the number of successful white heterosexual British men and women in your social circle. You are positioned, but almost any analysis, at the pinnacle of privilege in the white male hegemony. You are right that we need to be calm and civilised and rational in our arguments if we are ever to effect change without smashing the proverbial wheel. But I dated and debated and fucked and loved you for months and you still, to my knowledge, haven’t taken up the mantle to champion women’s rights. So you can appreciate that the task ahead is a formidable one.
In the waning days of our relationship I had admittedly fallen into the habit of being controversial for the sake of it. One afternoon at your Mum’s house, you cooked me fish for lunch while I tried to unwind from a Saturday morning exam. We started talking about abortion. I talked about women rising up and supporting other women championing safe and legal access to contraceptives and abortions. You said I needed to learn how to make a ‘rational’ and ‘unemotional’ argument to win the case.
But the ‘rational’ case has been clear for decades, borne out by study after study, and no less by anecdotes of personal gratitude from women who are ostensibly equal citizens: Women with access to safe and legal abortion die less. They are less likely to get abortions, because their access to birth control and family planning resources also increases. And when women have access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, both maternal and infant mortality declines.
Still, every time a conservative man rises to power in the U.S., suddenly a woman’s right to access reproductive healthcare lands on the chopping block.
So forgive us for getting ’emotional.’ Maybe you can see why many a progressive woman has concluded that debating a man on access to contraceptives and safe abortions is unlikely to be worth either her time, or the considerable expense of emotional energy to convince him of her right to bodily autonomy.
We work outside your system because we are no longer satisfied to have our own rights doled out like sweets to children, and withheld just as easily if not on best behaviour. We won’t be made irrelevant: increasingly, you already are.