I am a feminist. Last year, I joined the Cuntry Living Facebook group, which describes itself as “an Oxford-based feminist zine”. However, having been on the group for some time, I have come to think Cuntry Living is bad for feminism.
I want to point out that I do not think it fails in every respect. For many people from marginalised groups, it does provide a space in which they can express their feelings about the oppression which they have suffered and discuss what it is that can be done to bring about change.
However, and particularly recently, those within the Cuntry Living journalistic movement have increasingly marginalised and attacked those not adhering to their particular view on feminism. As a direct result of this, the group has become a militant, aggressive space which actively harms women’s voices and effectively shuts down feminist discussion.
In a modern world where feminism embraces and emphasises plurality, the trigger- happy attitude the admins hold towards banning members is counter-productive.This was clearly highlighted when one member was banned simply for suggesting that a political cartoon failing to depict the three female party leaders could have done so for reasons other than sexism. Similarly, women who identify as feminists but disagree with issues such as sex-work have been instantly silenced by admins and received warnings for expressing their views.
Underlying this is an incredible degree of judgement on behalf of the admins about who is a ‘real’ feminist. If further evidence of this is needed, some have recently admitted to Facebook-stalking members’ profiles to assert whether or not they are “legit feminists”.
This unnecessarily aggressive approach to the moderation and control of the views expressed on the group means many members fear posting. This goes against the fundamental principles of what such a group should be about, as, rather than silencing and suppressing important conversations, it ought to be promoting feminist debate and allowing all those with a heartfelt opinion to be heard out.
Another problem with Cuntry Living in its present form is whether it can truly claim (as it does) to be an intersectional space. The issue is that with the number of groups represented in its 8,500 member base, there will naturally be domination of some over others.
Mixed-race erasure, for example, is common: being half Latino, whenever I’ve become involved with threads discussing race, I’ve been accused of ‘passing privilege’ and have been instructed to identify as white when talking to people of colour. Needless to say this makes commenting uncomfortable and daunting.
Thus, Cuntry Living essentially creates an attitude of mixed-race erasure and in doing so it completely fails in its aim to be an intersectional space, and in fact furthers the marginalisation of some of the groups it claims to represent.
On top of this, the patronising, self-righteous tone admins take when issuing warnings promotes a classism and elitism: Cuntry Living’s admins fail to recognise that with the group’s expansion to involve new groups, many of the members now involved have not benefitted from their educational privileges. In order to succeed as an intersectional feminist space, the group needs to be as accessible as possible – something which it is currently not.
Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech last September emphasised the need for feminism not only to involve and mobilise women, but also any possible allies of the movement. Watson did a good job of presenting feminism as it should be; not as a man-hating philosophy, but as one where everyone should take equal involvement in striving for gender equality.
Cuntry Living, on the other hand, superficially welcomes men but deeper down takes a strong ally-exclusionary attitude. Views are dismissed purely on the basis of someone appearing white, heterosexual and male.
A recent case of this includes a recent post where a non-binary person posted a criticism of Cuntry Living and was instantly shouted down for being ‘male’ and ‘invading a feminist space’. Doing this – judging members on the basis of their profile picture and silencing potential allies’ opinions – directly harms feminism’s progress as it further conforms to damaging stereotypes and risks allowing this version of feminism to become popularised.
Considering possible routes forward, it seems that some of Cuntry Living’s problems would be reduced through a resolution of its identity crisis: it claims to be a safe space but equally says “healthy debate is welcomed”. It can’t be both – it can’t provide both a space where people can rant unquestioned and at the same time be one where open debate is welcomed. Its expansion makes this problem even more pronounced.
Though Cuntry Living’s original aims may have been positive, it’s no longer either a safe space nor an educational one – it’s become a group dominated by a single mentality which alienates anyone not adhering to a particular strand of feminism.
Cuntry Living has a special place in my heart. I came to Oxford as a nervous, unconfident 18-year-old with a hell of a lot of internalised misogyny, a tentative feminist who probably wouldn’t have loudly identified as such in front of the boys at sixth-form college. Joining Cuntry Living was a hugely important moment in my feminist awakening; it was through Cuntry Living, as much as the people I met in real life at university, that I encountered loud, proud, outspoken, unapologetic feminists. I would obsessively follow threads populated by people much more knowledgeable than I was, until I became confident and well-read enough to participate in this new community I so admired.
To question whether Cuntry Living is a force for good, however, I should maybe take off these rose-tinted spectacles. I’m now approaching the end of my second year, and the Cuntry Living I joined is very distinct from the group today. Because, somewhere along the line, without anyone understanding why or how, Cuntry Living has become a hugely important Oxford institution. Not only that, but it’s expanded far beyond the Oxford student community, or even the student community. It’s a space that no one can quite control or define. It’s not a completely safe space, despite the best efforts of its admins, but it’s not an educational space, open to everyone, either. It’s not only the objectives and ethos of the group which are constantly shifting and expanding: at the time of writing, Cuntry Living has 8,495 members, with new members joining from all corners of the internet every day. Every time a new banning scandal comes along, we re-ignite the questions around the limits of the space.
For me, there is at least one essential characteristic of Cuntry Living: it’s a space to rant about the patriarchy, a space for solidarity, rage, and organising. This is a core value worth fighting for – but also one that is increasingly difficult to defend in a group so huge. Whether it achievesit or not, Cuntry Living aims to be a space where oppressed people who are silenced and shouted down in real life or in other online spaces, should be able to speak without fear.
Enforcing this principle in a group with thousands of members, many of whom are unfamiliar with the etiquette of safe spaces or online activism, is a thankless task. Currently, many members would consider the safe spaces policy a waste of time, an example of the ‘censorious’ tendency of social justice; but for others, they are both radical and vital and I completely believe that Cuntry Living should strive to be as safe as possible.
I won’t defend every decision an admin has ever made to ban someone on Cuntry Living. I haven’t followed every case; I’m sure that mistakes have been made, and people unfairly removed. But for me, creating a community for marginalised voices is more important than the odd person wrongly slipping through the net.
This brings us to the tedious and ever-present questions of “debate” and “free speech”. Of course, healthy and respectful debate on Cuntry Living is the lifeblood of the group. Despite what some might think, there isn’t some monolithic, authoritarian feminist doctrine that everyone must follow. There isn’t one feminism, there are multiple feminisms, and Cuntry Living reflects this.
But at the same time, there are some things which aren’t up for debate. (Yes, I’ve heard that Voltaire quote before.) For example, there’s a particularly nasty strain of radical feminism which says that trans women are not really women: this is a view which would never be admitted on a Cuntry Living thread, and rightly so, because Cuntry Living holds itself to far higher standards of inclusivity than other places.
Those expecting Cuntry Living to be a 101 go-to educational forum 24/7 are likely to be disappointed. It’s okay to ask questions, of course, but only if those questions are asked in a respectful way. Many members of the group are tired of justifying why they deserve to be treated with basic human rights, and they don’t owe anything to privileged people who are too lazy to do some basic research on Google. Those who come to Cuntry Living with the aim of playing ‘devil’s advocate’ or proposing ‘thought experiments’ have fundamentally misunderstood the function of the group: sorry, white boy, but this space is about more than your intellectual gymnastics. Ultimately, this group is not and should not be run for those with privilege. And this is something that (shock!) privileged people have a hard time accepting.
Cuntry Living isn’t perfect. And this is part of the problem: many treat it as though it should be perfect, as though it should be a High Church of Feminism, all things for all people. And yet, despite the sensationalised banning scandals, despite the admins’ Reign of Terror, still the group continues to serve its purpose in the Oxford community and beyond. It’s not the group I joined, certainly, and there are a lot more dickheads and derailers on threads but, ultimately, I can still find solace and solidarity in an (imperfect) space in which we can challenge patriarchy and share our experiences of oppression.