What woman here is so enamoured of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face? What woman’s terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny?
We need to talk.
We’ve got a problem—a gigantic, galaxy sized problem. And it’s our responsibility to fix it.
It’s called unexamined privilege. We need to unwrap it, dissect it, and learn what to do with it so that we can see real, liberating, collective social change rather than inauthentic, oppressive, individual change that benefits just a small number of us.Within the movement we have created this tidy dichotomy—men vs. women or “feminist” vs. “patriarchy.” And that has worked well for us because within this framework, we are innocent. If we just overthrow the patriarchy, we will have won.
News flash: We’re losing. And we will continue to lose until we embrace intersectionality and the necessary alignments with anti-racist, anti-classist, and immigrant rights movements.This will mean that you must acknowledge that while you are behind your white, male counterparts—you are faring significantly better than everyone else—non-white men included. It means that we are, in fact, implicated in the oppression we claim to be fighting.
This past week, there have been many thoughtful and rightfully angry responses to the group Femen’s protests “for Arab women’s right…”without actually consulting Arab women. This post is one that resonated with me and addresses why their tactics are not welcomed by many Arab women: http://bit.ly/17nE7yc. And it got me thinking…
Is it really a huge surprise to you that we struggle to find allyship amongst communities of color when for so long, the largely white-feminist led anti-violence movement has relied on the system of mass incarceration to create “safety” and “empowerment” for women? While the prison industrial system continues to profit from its systemic violence in communities of color, we celebrate when someone who has perpetuated violence is sent there—as though it will produce any real, lasting change. As though it will actually stop rape and domestic violence from occurring. Listen, I hear you. It is an easy spot to find yourself in—and I have worked in the anti-violence arena for sometime now…but every time I sit in a hearing or see another man being hauled off to jail, I do not celebrate. It is profoundly sad for me. Not because he doesn’t deserve to be held accountable for his actions—but because I know where he is going is not place set up for restoration, social change, or real justice. Incite! Women of Color Against Violence says it well:
“The criminal justice system, an institution of violence, domination, and control, has increased the level of violence in society…Despite an exponential increase in the number of men in prisons, women are not any safer, and the rates of sexual assault and domestic violence have not decreased.”
It is so telling to me, how absorbed we are in our own privilege bubbles when I see a call for women to rally topless, carrying signs declaring their slut-dom and white women show up in droves. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not only white women showing up, and I am also not implying that we shouldn’t rally against the cultural norm that believes that what we wear makes us rapeable or not. What is significant about this is where we don’t show up. Last year I attended a Trayvon Martin rally—in Portland, OR—home of the now infamous feminist bookstore of Portlandia. And yet, when I looked around there was a mere splattering of white faces among a sea of brown & black. We don’t show up in the same numbers at immigrant rights rallies, in online blogospheres when Zerlina Maxwell is attacked by mainstream media, or when Michelle Williams dresses up in brown face & thinks its ok. We don’t show up. Sure we’ll be outraged at princess culture, or thinspiration; but we don’t show up when racism is the driving force behind an ad campaign against women of color. Dissecting the history of slavery and colonialism, we becomes implicated in the very perpetuation of violence we claim to be against. For ages black & brown bodies have been considered unrapeable—un-human, and in my work I have had the unfortunate privilege to witness this even now on a regular basis. We, as a movement, remain silent when it comes to the disproportionate rate at which women of color of made to be not just women in a patriarchal society, but less than human in a racist one. It’s time to start showing up. Listening. Taking part in the intersectional fight for social justice and changing systems set up to maintain an inequitable power structure.
And about showing up. Often times, we show up—and then steal the show. As if our mere presence anywhere in the world grants us entitlement to speak. When we speak on behalf of women of color, or transwomen, or women in developing countries; we perpetuate the oppressive binary system that assumes that if a white woman is speaking she represent all women and therefore has a right to speak for all women. We need to show up, and we need to ask questions, and we need to listen. There may be times where we are asked to speak ‘on behalf of’—in hostile environments unsafe for some to use their own voices—but even in these instances it is important to acknowledge this privilege, and to carefully determine what is expected and needed of us—not to assume and put forth our own agenda.
Trudy, of gradientlair.com, just wrote a great piece for us to reference on what it means to be a good white ally, and why some black women don’t want to join hands and sing kumbaya with us.
“The daily whining that I encounter over why Black women can’t just be good little “allies” to White feminists by co-opting White experiences while ignoring our own, liking their problematic issues and media without critique and ignoring our race in the name of shared biology (which usually means ignoring Black trans women too) to be real troopers for White women is insulting, disrespectful, annoying and inherently White supremacist. Still it continues.
They’re quick to co-opt statistics about the challenges of Black women’s lives yet will quickly plaster a White woman as the image for that life or expert for that life. They consistently use Black women’s lived experiences as examples of “feminist failures.” The mainstream media example of a feminist “expert” is usually a cisgender middle class White woman who will claim that she “checks her privilege” yet she continues to speak for “all” women, even on issues that in no way impacts her life but impacts many other women whose voices are purposely muted or ignored, but certainly voices from women that speak up despite this.”
If I haven’t gotten your attention yet, let us turn to the wage gap. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is something that we all cheered for this past year. The beginning of the women’s rights movement and the fight for the right to work is an interesting one to me. I think most white women who hailed working outside of the home as some huge, liberating ordeal, were imagining working alongside their white, male counterparts in good paying jobs. I can’t imagine most of us declaring that we wanted the right to work a menial job for wages that couldn’t even feed our families, and in poor working conditions. In fact, if we look at the statistics women do make less per dollar than men, but broken down further, white women do better than everyone—men and women included—except for white men. http://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-wages-table-4-21-hourly-wage-growth
And so we need to stop perpetuating the myth that all men are at an economic advantage to us because that is just not true. Men in each racial category make more than women of the same race—and this is incredibly probematic—but we do have privileges based on the skin we were born into. Wage disparity has more to do with the intersection of gender and race—and if we acknowledge that, it means we must march on the front lines with union workers, and migrant workers, and domestic workers. It means we need to fight for equal pay for equal work—not just so we can catch up to white men, but in order to change the fundamentally f-ed up system that creates a false sense of scarcity and division amongst all of us not at the top of the ladder.
It is here that I leave you and ask that you begin to unpack what it means to be a white, cisgender feminist. Will we stand on the side of the struggle for true, collective liberation through social change or will we leave our footprints on the faces of other women in our fight to reach the top of an oppressive system?
Me. A white, middle class, cisgender, heterosexual female feminist doing my best to find my place in the movement for true social justice.