london's sisters uncut march was a reminder of what feminism really means
Whilst feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut pushed those sat in Westminster to acknowledge the brutal reality of their cuts to domestic violence services yesterday, the creative actions and displays of the Sisters were a reminder of what feminism...
"I will come to my sisters, not dutiful," shout members of feminist direct action group, Sisters Uncut, in one voice. "I will come strong." The poet, Pat Parker's, words echoed around Parliament Square as people in suits filed out, staring. It is clear that this movement of self - defining women will not be silenced. And, they will not stop. But, what do they want?
To some, it'll seem bizarre that the most recent Sisters Uncut protest coincided with the unveiling of an artwork that celebrates women's struggle for suffrage in Britain. Just as it would have seemed strange that they crashed the Suffragette movie premiere. Those skeptics would say that their behaviour is a symptom of feminism gone too far - that women these days are never satisfied. Whilst genuine representation of a diverse range of women is important, Sisters Uncut are reminding us what feminism really means. In other words, contemporary feminism is failing fast whilst two women a week are slaughtered by a partner or ex-partner, here, in the United Kingdom.
Over the past few years, feminism has become more commodified than ever. The phrase 'female collective' is regularly used to describe and define a vast swath of practices. To be honest, who can really blame individuals anymore when feminism, female identity and girl gangs are consistently reproduced and regurgitated as a form of branding. Sure, it brings the discussion into the mainstream but it does little to change minds, hearts or policies when the feminism that society served with is gutted of it's true purpose: supporting the rights of the women who need it the most.
Artistic, literary and political representation of women, especially those of colour, and non-binary people is vitally important. As Sisters Uncut stated, "there is no quarrel with the artist, Mary Branson, or the artwork itself. And, 'New Dawn' is a too-rare example of a talented woman being commissioned to create a public installation." But, this placed in conjunction with Sadiq Khan's promise to fulfil Emma Watson's wish for a suffragette statue in central London is deeply disturbing. Quite frankly, it is concerning how ready politicians are to replicate the heroines of the past rather than protect the ones of the future. What legacy are we really enshrining in stone when politicians will not pledge to safeguard our survival on streets or in our homes?
As austerity politics come further into play, it is becoming clear that women's fundamental rights are regressing. Whilst Watson and her white, wealthy and elite counterparts might see a statue as a 'victory' for all women, they need to be reminded that there is nothing novel in privileging their wishes over the basic needs of others. One of the Sisters, Janelle Brown remarks, "statistics show that women of colour, disabled women, LGB and trans women face the highest levels of violence yet also have access to this least support." Consequently, this makes intersectional politics vital to any movement for women's rights. Brown also articulates this point when she explains, "this is why Sisters Uncut has strong intersectional values. This is why Sisters focus so much on highlighting and defending specialist domestic violence services, and being a space for the sisters at highest risk of violence."
Now, in the United Kingdom, there are areas totally devoid of domestic violence services. One of the members of Sisters Uncut, Anaïs, mentions that "after the most recent spate of cuts huge areas of the UK are totally without any domestic violence services - the most recent closures include doncaster (the last in the whole of South Yorkshire), Newcastle and Cumbria." According to Women's Aid, 155 women and 103 children will be turned away from these refuges because there is simply no space and support for them. In fact, they are being forced to turn away two out of three women who approach them for safety. Given how the British government is quite literally removing a lifeline from these people, it is unsurprising that Sisters Uncut find it necessary to remind politicians that "dead women cannot vote."
Whilst Sisters Uncut push those sat in Westminster to acknowledge the brutal reality of their choices, the creative actions and displays of the Sisters are a reminder of what feminism can be. Feminism is not just a hashtag. Feminism does not sit comfortably on your chest as an isolated slogan. Feminism is not just about statues. Really, feminism is about action. It is about building movements that destabilise the patriarchal foundations of society. Feminism is about challenging undue authority, it is about screaming with your sisters and confronting the walls of state institutions. In a time when feminism is increasingly being characterised by shallow statements, we desperately need movements like Sisters Uncut. Not only to challenge this government's hypocrisy, we require them to remind us what the potential of feminism is.
Text and Photography Jade Jackman