Most days I wake up at the moment I feel tired and I wonder why that is given I’m at home sitting on my arse all day (apart from the permitted once a day outdoor exercise). I’m sure many of us are feeling tired for different reasons whether we’re essential workers, working from home, performing care work or even unemployed (like me).
Having recently joined ANBU I was excited to get stuck in with training for my role. I looked forward to the training on supporting survivors, delivered by an external mainstream organisation, which I’d hoped would make me feel energised and motivated in starting my new role. What I hadn’t anticipated for was that I’d also feel tired. Tired because I wondered if there will ever come a day where we no longer have to explain to these organisations that their language and approach is exclusionary. When will mainstream organisations which project an ethics of care meaningfully consider - care for whom? Whose victimhood is seen as legitimate and worth recognising? Who is excluded from their models of care? How do we work towards an inclusive and effective model of care that supports ALL survivors? - If we don’t pose these questions and demand accountability as marginalised people then who will?
Having recently come out of a Masters in Gender Studies the work of feminist thinkers floats around at the forefront of my mind. I identify these questions around who is excluded, and why, with feminist discussions around the concept of intersectionality, coined by Black Feminists in the 70s. The term, which has become popularised and widely used beyond its origins in black feminism, is rooted in the multiple, interlocking modes of oppression through which power operates. It was used by Black feminists to draw attention to the multiple dimensions of oppression that black women face at the intersections of race and gender as well as other factors including class and sexuality. An intersectional approach breaks down the idea that these identities such as ‘woman’ are a uniform group as it accounts for the variations of experiences within that category including the differing experiences of navigating the world as a racialised woman. Intersectionality is therefore used to express the different intersecting identities and the multiple ways that people navigate the world and experience oppression.
So how does an intersectional approach help us account for the diverse survivor experiences?
Well, if we pay attention to how intersecting oppressions operate, we can make visible those most vulnerable and exposed to sexual violence such as trans women of colour, who face many additional barriers to attaining support and justice. At the time of writing this Moya Lothian McLean just published a well-researched investigative piece published in Gal-Dem zine on the endemic transphobia that if rife in the violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector (TW: Transphobia, transmisogyny) Investigation: how transphobia became rife in the gender-based violence sector | gal-dem - gal-dem (gal-dem.com).
Whilst making active efforts to include, there is also a need to recognise that just including more diverse survivor case studies from the BAME community, LGBTQI+ people and/or people with disabilities is not enough. Organisations also have to address their institutional biases by changing their language and approach. If derogatory terms and stereotypes are used in the training sessions the organisation delivers, how can you expect us to believe that the organisation fosters an inclusive and nurturing environment for all survivors?
There also needs to be acknowledgement of the specific vulnerabilities these communities and individuals face and concerned effort should be made to include them in conversations around targeted support and services needed as well as the required societal shifts to address the root causes.
Intersectionality can also help us dismiss unhelpful gender stereotypes. In particular the way men are essentialised as inherently violent (universal perpetrators) and women as inherently peaceful (universal victims). By applying those stereotypes it makes it impossible to see how cis-men can be victims of sexual violence and cis-women can be perpetrators of violence. This logic hides the way that, despite cis-men benefitting most from patriarchal power and being the main perpetrators of sexual violence and abuse, patriarchal power does operate through all genders. Which is why we see perpetrators of sexual violence across all genders.
We also need to recognise that masculinity and femininity are not fixed things, they are shaped by a number of factors including colonialism and migration. If we accept that masculinities and femininities are multiple and are shaped by cultural and historic factors we can see how there is scope for transformation. The hegemonic or what is often referred to as ‘toxic’ forms of masculinity are therefore not fixed and there can be societal change away from these qualities. In other words, there is hope that we could live in a world where sexual violence no longer exists.
I feel like writing this entry has made me come full circle in providing me with renewed energy and focus, I hope it has been for you too. I know that these encounters and the associated lethargy will not disappear over night. But what we can do is refine our tools that can help us speak back to these organisations and institutions. I feel so grateful that we can hold this space for discussion within ANBU to meaningfully think through what inclusive survivor centred spaces and services should look like.
ANBU UK Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA)