Today our campus got trolled. Milo Yiannopoulos, of Breitbart and #GamerGate infamy, was on campus to make the argument that “Social Justice is Cancer.” The plan was simple: Yiannopoulos encouraged hate speech targeting marginalized populations until they responded, and then claimed that — by responding — said groups infringed on his First Amendment rights. Just like that, conservatives won the oppression Olympics!
The UCI Feminist Illuminati formed to counter the racism, sexism, and homophobia that this event represented. More specifically, we formed in opposition to one of the posters the College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty made advertising Yiannopoulos’ visit: the poster stated that “Feminism is Cancer.” Through critical thought, collaboration, and strategic acts of love, The UCI Feminist Illuminati are turning hate into delicious haterade.
We started with an event: “Feminism in Contemporary Culture.” The evening included seven talks by eight people—professors, graduate students, and UCI graduate alumni—all committed to serious discussion of what it means to be a feminist in the twenty-first century.
We fundraised for the event by selling “Feminist Illuminati” merchandise; in the process, we also raised $600+ for a non-profit dedicated to supporting men and women living with stage IV breast cancer. Feminism and social justice aren’t cancer, but cancer is cancer, and we’re proud to be helping the people who know that better than anybody else.
Unfortunately, none of Yiannopoulos’ supporters saw fit to attend our event. They told the LA Times that they encourage debate and discussion, but it seems their dialogical forum of choice are posters and social media. We in the UCI Feminist Illuminati would be happy to engage with the CRs and YAL, but feel that attending Yiannopoulos’ talk is, at its best, putting money in the pocket of an anti-intellectual opportunist. At worst, attending the event places students at risk.
So here it is: a direct response to the claim that “feminism is cancer.”
It may surprise the authors of that poster that choosing to make this comparison demonstrates not only a fundamental misunderstanding of cancer and how it functions in the body, but a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is and how it functions in society. While it may have been intended as a rhetorical flourish, there are in fact ways in which feminism and cancer are similar!
A shocking number of people don’t understand that cancer is not a single disease. It is, in fact, a constellation of related diseases. All of these diseases involve the mutation and proliferation of cells. Despite the impulse to talk about cancer as if were monolithic, nothing could be further from the truth.
A similarly shocking number of people don’t understand that feminism is not a single political philosophy. It is, in fact, a constellation of related ideologies. All of these ideas involve the startling and revolutionary concept that women are the equals of men. Despite the impulse to talk about feminism as if it were monolithic, nothing could be further from the truth.
How do we address cancer? The current medical impulse—often referred to as “slash, burn, and poison”—is increasingly the subject of criticism. Despite tremendous scientific advancement, treatment options have changed remarkably little over the past several decades. Why? Because far more money is invested in detection than in prevention: our society ignores the causes of cancer, because dealing with them would be horribly inconvenient.
How do you address feminists? The reactionary conservative tactics de jure include ridicule, death/rape threats, and paying bleached-blond talking heads to speak on college campuses. The world—and feminism—have changed a lot in the past half century, but anti-feminist rhetoric hasn’t. Why? Because entertainment at the expense of others is a far higher priority than education. Milo supporters ignore the social realities that make feminism (and other forms of social justice advocacy) necessary, because dealing with them would be horribly inconvenient.
Our current socioeconomic and political environment being what it is, cancer disproportionately impacts marginalized populations: people of color, the poor, the uninsured… the list goes on. The systemic injustices that breed such disproportionate health outcomes are not funny, and should not be trivialized. People are dying.
Our current socioeconomic and political environment being what it is, patriarchy disproportionately impacts marginalized populations: people of color, the poor, queer and transgender populations… the list goes on. The systemic injustices that breed the political, economic, and physical violence perpetrated against the world’s underrepresented peoples are not funny, and should not be trivialized. People are dying.
We could go on. We could talk about the defining role queer and feminist activism played—and continues to play—in shaping cancer advocacy. We could talk about how feminist ideology helped afflicted persons to step out of the shadows and demand recognition. We could talk about the myriad connections between the fight for women’s liberation and the fight against radical mastectomy.
We could talk about all of those things. The question is: would you listen?
The UCI Feminist Illuminati is a grassroots response to the sexism, racism, and homophobia that Milo Yiannopoulos encourages.