paris lees picks for us her favourite intersectional feminist heroes
She’s with her, and her, and her…
Last weekend Posh Twitter praised Radio 4 presenter Dame Jenni Murray as 'brave' for telling the Sunday Times that trans women are not real women. Because British society, of course, has been forcing everyone to respect trans people since at least the Norman Conquest. Thank God someone has finally found the guts to tell trans women we are not real women.
While Murray was writing her piece, trans women were being murdered on the street and tortured to death. Trans teens continued to be driven to suicide by social stigma, bullying and lack of support and access to health care. Meanwhile, the activists, researchers and writers trying to draw attention to these issues are routinely ignored because - well, that's how oppression works. Trans people's voices are marginalised, as more powerful people's are cranked up full volume. And when people insist on having rude and unnecessary 'debates' about trans people, it's not just trans women who suffer. It's all women. Because we should all be using our voices to highlight the urgent issues women from all backgrounds are facing: violence, racism, harassment, workplace discrimination and so much more. So let's get our priorities sorted, and stop wasting time on non-issues.
And I've been thinking. The best antidote to this BS is not to constantly react, but to make more of an effort to celebrate other women from minority backgrounds. Why should we let those so massively out of touch dictate the discourse all the time? If the most interesting thing you have to say about gender in 2017 is that trans women are not real women, I feel bad for you sister. So here are ten women I admire from diverse backgrounds. These women have something new and important to say...so listen up!
Follow: Laverne Cox
Why I'm with her: She's a great voice on racial discrimination and prejudice against trans people. When Katie Couric asked about whether she's had genital surgery, Cox replied: "The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don't get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people's lives is that so often we are targets of violence… The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don't actually get to talk about those things." Flawless!
Follow: Laura Lee
Why I'm with her: Sex workers and former sex workers suffer massive social stigma and we're routinely excluded from important debates about our lives. Meet Laura Lee, sex worker, activist and mother, who's currently fighting for sex worker rights in the High Court. As she told me in 2015: "We have a phrase in sex work activism: 'Nothing about us without us.'" Mega girl crush, here.
Follow: Fatima Manji
Why I'm with her: As Britain's first hijab-wearing newsreader, Manji is a true trailblazer. When Sun columnist Kelvin McKenzie questioned whether or not it was "appropriate" for her to present a news item on terrorism, she clapped back with a piece in the Liverpool Echo because "For me to stay silent just wasn't an option". Jenni Murray take note - that is what you call brave. Punching up, not down. Manji's Twitter profile gives a taste of her sharp political commentary: "there's no such thing as the voiceless, only the deliberately silenced". I love her.
Follow: Nichi Hodgson
Why I'm with her: She doesn't really talk much about sex work since publishing a book about her former job as a dominatrix, but Hodgson is worth following for her feminist perspective on just about everything. She's sex positive, bisexual and intersectional - and as Northern as chips and gravy. She's also working class, which makes her a rare thing in British journalism, so check her out if seeing life through the eyes of Oxbridge graduates is starting to feel a bit yawn.
Follow: Roxane Gay
Why I'm with her: She's one of my favourite bad feminists and intersectional AF. Here she is on female friendships: "Don't tear other women down, because even if they're not your friends, they are women and this is just as important. This is not to say you cannot criticise other women, but understand the difference between criticising constructively and tearing down cruelly." Also: "If you and your friend(s) are in the same field and can collaborate or help each other, do this without shame. It's not your fault your friends are awesome." I wish I were her friend!
Follow: Janet Mock
Why I'm with her: Psst: Caitlyn Jenner is not the voice of the trans community. Try listening to Janet Mock instead, who's been woke since Destiny's Child were a thing. She always has an intelligent, well thought-out perspective grounded in her own experiences as a young transgender woman of colour and former sex worker. She's also taught me a lot about the politics of black women's hair. Go to her. Now.
Follow: Harriet Williamson
Why I'm with her: Not only is she from the North, she still lives there. In actual Manchester. So if you want a proletarian perspective from someone who hasn't sold out and joined the London liberal elite, like me, follow Harrie. She's also a great voice on mental health, having written about her struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder for VICE. What a gal!
Follow: Frances Ryan
Why I'm with her: She's one of the very few female British journalists who writes consistently about mental health issues and social mobility. She's opened my eyes to this Tory government's attacks on some of the most vulnerable people in society and she regularly champions minority voices. My kind of lady.
Follow: Reni Eddo-Lodge
Why I'm with her: To say I'm excited about her upcoming book Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race is something of an understatement. All I can say is, certain people have got it coming. She's smart, sisterly, doesn't suffer fools gladly and is a rare and welcome woman of colour on BBC Radio 4. What's more, her passion for setting the agenda inspired me to write this article.
Follow: Dr Brooke Magnanti
Why I'm with her: Brooke's brave advocacy work on behalf of sex workers inspired me to be open about my own past as a sex worker. I was afraid to talk about my experiences because of the stigma attached to prostitution. Magnanti - also known as Belle De Jour - is fiercely intelligent, fiercely passionate about human rights and generally just fierce. She consistently uses her platform to amplify the voices of other, less privileged, women and regularly speaks up for trans equality along with sex worker rights. She's also an immigrant. I adore her.
Text Paris Lees
Photography Harry Carr