Review: ‘Me Not You: The Trouble With Mainstream Feminism’ by Alison Phipps
*This review contains information on rape and sexual violence – if you are not comfortable reading this then please do not continue*
*This review also contains some spoilers of the ‘Me Not You’ book*
Alison Phipps has written various amounts of literature on gender studies and sociology. Working at the University of Sussex, she has worked on lad culture and neoliberalism in British universities, as well as focusing on political whiteness and mainstream feminism in the Me Not You book.
Me Not You is about the mainstream feminist movement against sexual violence and the effects of political whiteness on the MeToo movement. The book focuses on the privileged (middle-class especially) white woman and how they use their experiences in the media. Their voices are often heard over the marginalised voices of Black women, sex workers, trans women, and working-class women. Alison Phipps is a white woman looking at addressing the issues that white women purvey within the feminist movement and should push other white women (like myself) to do the same.
The book is accessible in terms of language and writing style. Those who may be younger will be able to access the concepts as Phipps does a good job of explaining them in-depth. Phipps explains how the MeToo movement and white feminists involved actually reflect political whiteness. Because of this, structural issues are not actually addressed, instead there is a lot of outrage with no real change. Women like Alyssa Milano used the MeToo hashtag on Twitter, but it was actually Tarana Burke – a Black woman – who founded the movement. Phipps notes how white outrage is often combined with the consumption of shared trauma, where there is again no systemic analysis, but performative feminism occurs. Phipps uses examples of women like Theresa May who claimed to be a feminist but was then accused of allowing ‘“state-sanctioned” rape and abuse of vulnerable migrant women at the Yarl’s Wood detention centre’(P.70). Phipps also writes very well on how May used her tears as a white woman, alongside how the tears of white women can reflect the relationship of white privilege and the white tears being heard over individuals’ experiences trauma.
Phipps also talks about the political whiteness of white women where there has been an idealised notion of the prison system, where ‘bad men’ can be put away. Despite the fact that the prison system affects Black people, (Black) trans woman, and (Black) sex workers disproportionately, white feminists still believe that the system that upholds the racist and sexist structures can be fixed without actually changing the entire patriarchal white supremacist system. This is the kind of message that white women need to hear, and Phipps writes this well. She also discusses how the removal of ‘bad men’ from high profile sectors may actually mean that these individuals may move on and start over again, leaving the current system in place and misogynist dominance remains in the workplace (P.94-95). Phipps’ message sent out to white women shows that their perspective is not the only one out there, and that their feminism isn’t universal. Here, Phipps does a good job of explaining the wider patriarchal and racist structure, and how the MeToo movement is to focus on intersectionality.
The book also brings a very much welcomed discussion on trans women and sex workers, alongside the TERFs (trans-erasing radical feminists) and SWERFs (sex-work erasing radical feminists). Phipps writes a brilliant discussion on the issues relating to TERFs and their associations with right-wings groups. Phipps especially makes note of the US Women’s Liberation Front who state that they want to regain reproductive sovereignty but mainly work on a trans-exclusionary platform. These discussions are necessary, and Phipps shows how we need to work on how feminism as a whole should be intersectional and trans-inclusive, instead of a reflection of the biological essentialism emerging out of transphobia.
Really importantly, Phipps delves into the world of people with a vast amount of power claiming that they have no platform. She writes eloquently about how this is a reflection of privilege. Phipps relates this to transphobia and the relationship that the TERFs (especially) share with the right-wing within their political tactics. I believe that this is an important discussion, and I am glad to see Phipps representing this in a book on mainstream feminism that can be accessed by many.
Phipps concludes with a number of questions that white feminists can answer in order to question whether they are acting in a self-performative manner rather than pushing for the activism required to remove sexual violence and how to make sure that white feminists no longer expect others in different political communities to do every piece of work for them. I think that Phipps ending on the quote ‘what woman here is so enamoured of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint on another woman’s face?’ by Audre Lorde is very fitting and is a reflection of how we need to look at white feminism and how intersectionality is key to being a ‘true’ feminist – instead of ignoring how marginalised women experience discrimination.
The Me Not You book is truly something that white women should look and take in, fully. Phipps, as a white woman, addresses her own privilege and power and shows how she can look at herself (as white women (like myself) all should) in terms of her feminism and privilege. We should listen to the voices of marginalised groups, not everything needs to be about white women, and we must be prepared to make systemic changes in order to break down the patriarchal, white-supremacist, racist world that works in line with sexual violence, capitalism and racism. Phipps has definitely written a book worthy of 5 stars and should be read by every person who is white.