This is our truth, tell us yours
The Sunday Sermon posts grew out of a flippant remark that I would never be asked to give an actual sermon at my church. They know nothing of my sex life (which I think is wholly appropriate, I know nothing of the ministers either, its only privilege which means some are allowed to have privacy about who does what to whom and with what) No, the fact I would not be asked to expound on whatever theme we are covering this month comes from being the wrong type of Christian. Thus these posts appeared, a strange foray into faith on a blog that started as a conversation between a Dom and his sub, and has expanded into a shared view of the world on so many things.
One of the current conversations Carter and I are having is about leadership, inevitable really when we are both left wing and Labour is having a leadership contest. As Carter said earlier this morning, the left needs to carry on important conversations about the future regardless of who wins the Labour pissing contest, but there also needs to be a conversation about leaders, what they are, what they stand for, and what we expect of them.
I am writing this because I am not at church, its the 5th sunday in a row I have not been at church, originally it was because leaving the house caused me huge anxiety, panic about being watched, and I did not want to have a full blown panic attack in the middle of the collection. In the past week though a thought occurred, no one had rang to see why I had not been seen for a month. No one had popped in to see if everything was OK, if I needed any help. This is about more than being the wrong type of Christian. This is about people assuming that certain jobs belong to the minister, the leader, the person with authority, and thus, to use an aptly biblical phrase, washing their hands of responsibility.
A leader, be they secular or sacred is someone who has authority conferred upon them. This authority can be gifted from above, or result from a collective decision of those who agree to be led. This idea of the consent of the governed is central to our idea of modern democracy, and to its greatest weakness. Often we do not actually want a leader, instead we want a figurehead. What is the difference between the two? A leader challenges, a leader has ideas of their own, a place they with to lead too, the act of being leader is not enough, they have to be leading somewhere. A figurehead represents the collective, but does not challenge, by very definition they cannot initiate change or challenge, since they represent a static notion of how the collective sees itself, how the collective wishes to be.
We are used to the idea that leaders can be imposed, that under capitalist patriarchy the idea of a free choice in our leaders is one which is laughable. Leaders within our society are selected from a very small, privileged elite, and we are offered the choice of masters, so long as we accept they should be our master, and that the system is right to select them for us. I believe that the same happens with figureheads, and it is in fact more dangerous to any who believe in dissent, or the creation of a better world, a new Jerusalem if you will. Figureheads are loved by those who wish to weaken dissenting voices because they can point to them and claim, we listen to your leaders, we involve them, why are you complaining?
Which brings me to the Birthday Honours List and the awarding of gongs to Caroline Criado Perez and Laura Bates, two celebrity feminists who between them have achieved the wonderful victory of one dead white middle class woman on a bank note being replaced with another dead white white middle class woman. (I say achieved but the Bank of Englands own statement at the time made clear that they were going to have Austen anyway, and it was a PR cock up rather than anything sinister or particularly misogynistic). We need to ask why these two, white, middle class, respectable, cis, and exceptionally privileged were selected to represent young feminist thought. The answer is obvious, they are the perfect figureheads, without anything challenging, with no where they wish to lead, no desire to see real change, as Phil BC writes here, its a feminism without any structural critique, and therefore with no power to bring about actual change.
As one of those who remembers Perez when she claimed far more radical politics, claimed to stand with trans people and sex workers, its fascinating to see how much more efficient capitalist patriarchy is getting at rewarding those who defer their lords and Masters. A feminist figurehead who doesnt actually want to dismantle the masters house, but would quite like to replace the carpets, and maybe install an aga, is the perfect figurehead. Look they can say, we listen to your concerns, we gave these people honours. (And that’s without even discussing how the term honour when applied to women is one so laden with historical context and misogyny).
We have to accept our place in this though. Just as I am reaching the conclusion the members of my church prefer a minister who does not actually challenge them to be better Christians in daily word and deed, so the left needs to consider does it want leaders or figureheads. Even within social justice movements its often the case that those who are looked to to be leaders are given authority because of their identities, because of the boxes they tick, rather than any words or deeds. I dislike the term identity politics, all identities are political, some are just more easily recognised in our society. However when I hear people argue for Liz Kendall purely because she is a cis woman, as if the policies she espouses will not hurt millions of lesser women, its clear that for some a leader is just a figurehead who represents their identity. Too quickly do we demand a figurehead who looks just like us, rather than asking, where does this person want to lead us. Until we demand deeds and words from those raised above us, those we are told are our leaders, those chosen to represent us, we will live in a world where honours are given to those least likely to challenge authority. where respectability is the greatest qualification to lead and where change is the thing to be resisted at all costs.