Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Feminism and power
Or, damn has the fallout from the release of Full Frontal Feminism been ugly!

I took another sanity break from blogging and it looks like all kinds of crap went down relating to the release of Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism. I’m not going to talk about any concerns about the book’s content, because I haven’t read it and therefore have nothing relevant to add to the debate. However…

This debate seems to have stirred up another round of the ongoing conflict between WOC bloggers and the online feminist establishment. I’ve always stayed out of those debates, and avoided blogging about race in general, because I’m a fairly privileged white woman so what the hell do I know? Then I read Black Amazon’s reaction to the whole thing, and I started to have second thoughts about that policy.

Part of what BA said was that silence implies agreement and she’s right. If most white feminist bloggers sit back and say “oh, I don’t think I should get involved”, and therefore don’t comment on the whole mess, then the working assumption is going to be that they think what’s happening is OK.

What’s happening is not OK. It never was OK. Versions of this same situation keep playing out over and over again over a variety of issues and the script never seems to change.

Enough is enough. If WOC are consistently saying that they feel marginalized, excluded, talked down to, then you know what? Those are complaints that need to be acknowledged and dealt with. Dismissing those complaints as WOC just being “too sensitive” or, ffs, “jealous”, does nothing to resolve the basic conflict.

First of all…take a look at the words that are used every time this happens. Semantics are important – the words people use tell you a lot about what their underlying attitudes are.

The words that are consistently used to dismiss the complaints WOC keep making about white feminists…well, those words paint a pretty clear picture, and it’s not pretty.
“Oversensitive”, “Jealous”, “Too aggressive”, “Unreasonable”. If these words sound awfully familiar, it’s because they are. These are the words that men have been using to dismiss women’s opinions since the feminist movement began. Why, exactly, does anyone think it’s a good idea to use those same words to dismiss the (very valid) issues raised by WOC? Does the fact that several prominent feminists keep using these words not strike anyone as a cause for concern?

What all these words have in common is that they are both patronizing and infantilizing. These words frame the debate as one between a reasonable person and a person who is not being reasonable. The assumption behind these words is that the person using them is the standard, the default, and that the person being criticized is somehow lesser than. The implication is that the person complaining really has no valid reason to complain. These words are the verbal equivalent of patting a child on the head and telling her to take a time out.


When these words are consistently used towards WOC one has to wonder about the mindset of the people using them. Why are these people dismissing the complaints made by WOC without even really taking the time to consider them? Because that’s exactly what seems to be happening over and over again.

“We all know that I’m right, so why should I listen to you?”

That’s what all those words say to me. The question is, why do the people using those words assume that they’re right and anyone disagreeing with them is wrong? Do the words “white privilege” sound familiar? And just how many WOC have to say that they have some issues with the way white feminists behave before those same white feminists actually listen?

This is what I have a hard time understanding. Most feminists can spot a case of male privilege in action at 50 paces. How is it that the very same people can be so unconscious of their own privilege as white women? How can they fail to see that they’re doing the exact same thing that we all call men to task for doing so often?

“Why should I care what you have to say when I already have all the answers?”

That’s what I hear when I hear those words, and it bugs the crap out of me.

And then there’s another thing. When many prominent white feminists have been called out on their reflexive use of their own privilege, the way they have reacted is by attempting to position themselves as people with neither the intention nor the power to do harm to other women. That’s bullshit. Women do harm to other women all the damn time.

This is a major structural weakness in the current feminist movement, this denial of power, this idea that women simply aren’t capable of doing harm. We’re all sisters, right? Until one sister steps out of line and everyone else smacks her back down again. Some sisters are more equal than others, it seems.

The fact is that in our current society here in the USA all women are not equal. Not even close. Under the law they may technically be equal, but in reality? There are layers upon layers of status and privilege based on race and class, as well as a host of other factors. In fact, here’s the really taboo subject that mainstream feminism doesn’t want to touch…the way things are structured right now, there are many situations in which white women, particularly middle and upper class white women, have a whole hell of a lot more power than many MOC, especially if those men are poor.

Ignoring these layers does nothing to help the cause. In fact, it does all kinds of things to HURT the cause, as can be seen right now.

If women like BFP and BitchLab stop blogging because they feel like they keep getting smacked down and dismissed every time they disagree with the dominant discourse, how does that strengthen the movement? If the sisterhood chooses to stick its collective fingers in its ears and yell “I can’t hear you!”, how does that make feminism as a whole stronger? And if feminism isn’t a vehicle to address to problems of ALL women, not just the problems of interest to a narrow group of women who share a more or less common social background, then what the hell is the point of the whole enterprise?

WOC have been complaining that they feel marginalized and ignored within the movement for decades. This is not a new thing. Those women are not trying to marginalize the issues feminism has traditionally focused on, they’re trying to open up the debate and put more issues on the table. Why is that so damn threatening to some people? Why can’t everyone see that broadening the scope of what the movement focuses on would actually be a good thing?

When I studied feminism at university more than 10 years ago I honestly thought that by this point this issue would be resolved. I thought that at some point the feminist establishment would have to stop being so damn stubborn and actually LISTEN to what WOC have been saying since the very beginning. Why is that not happening? The internet should make it easier. The technological medium allows people all over the world to interact in real time. It should be a medium tailor made for collaboration. Why then is the door to the feminist club still so firmly shut, and why is it that every time a WOC feminist tries to pry it open she gets it slammed in her face?

This shit needs to change, and it needs to change now.

Black Amazon’s original post is here:
http://guyaneseterror.blogspot.com/2007/05/id-like-to-thank-academe.html

6 comments:

Arwen said...

Oh, I missed shit, didn't I?
I'm going off to research.

Daniel said...

At first I want to say the picture of you is good -looking, and i guess you are gender. my friend on EbonyFriends.com and i support what you said.
Best Wishes.

Cassandra Says said...

Arwen - So did I until Belle pointed it out to me.
The link to BAs page is a good place to start.

belledame222 said...

In fact, here’s the really taboo subject that mainstream feminism doesn’t want to touch…the way things are structured right now, there are many situations in which white women, particularly middle and upper class white women, have a whole hell of a lot more power than many MOC, especially if those men are poor.

Uh-oh, now you've done it; Heart will be over shortly to burst into flames...

belledame222 said...

And if feminism isn’t a vehicle to address to problems of ALL women, not just the problems of interest to a narrow group of women who share a more or less common social background, then what the hell is the point of the whole enterprise?

Excellent question. Now--shush! Dammit! Can't you see you are -ruining the sisterhood- by -fomenting divisions.- We were much happier before we were conscious! Except of sexism! Consciousness raising is selective! Yes it is!

Cassandra Says said...

No Heart so far. I seem to have slipped under her radar so far, or maybe she's just following the "agreement" and I'm seen as YayPorn! by default.

You know, being unconscious really isn't all that much fun unless you're a chair or a fork or something. People have brains for a reason.

I still don't get why some people are so determined to keep the damn door shut.

Sorry, no witticisms from me today, I have a migraine and have been listening to people babble assorted racist fuckwittery all day in my other, music lover persona. I'm about ready to pick up a baseball bat and start swinging.