cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (serious)
Cimorene ([personal profile] cimorene) wrote2008-04-13 03:03 pm
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When a feminist isn't a "feminist"

I spent hours yesterday and today reading up on this trainwreck in the feminist blogosphere after links from [ profile] miriam_heddy and [ profile] ciderpress. It's about racism and intellectual theft, and how white feminists use their priviledge, consciously or un-, to coopt the voices of women of colour, claiming their ideas in the process of making those ideas heard without attribution instead of working to make the voices of women of colour heard as well.

As my mouth fell slowly open in horror yesterday, I understood for the first time why some women who believe in the systematic oppression of women and believe that it's wrong choose not to call themselves "feminists." For the first time, I understood that this has nothing to do with a misunderstanding of terminology on their part. What this battle over terminology has to do with is yet another one-way visible veil of priviledge blinding us over here on the priviledged side of the veil. We have the luxury of saying that the history of the movement doesn't matter because of the dictionary definition, of all things. We have the luxury of saying, "But look at the dictionary! You meet the dictionary criteria, so if you claim not to be a feminist, you're wrong." But women of colour don't have that luxury. They can't define a political movement by the dictionary in defiance of its history and its present when it's busy silencing them, instead of doing what it says on the tin and working to change their marginalisation.

I'm ashamed and disgusted that I didn't see this before and that I inadvertently contributed to the attempts of systemic priviledge to silence the marginalised by arguing this point with them before. I'm sorry, belatedly, to my friends and to anyone who's listened to me say those things, whatever side of the fence they're standing on. I was wrong.

[identity profile] 2008-04-13 02:24 pm (UTC)(link)
take everything you just said is given. I didn't see it myself before, but it should not be a surprise. However, I've met quite a few women who see the oppression of women in our society and hate it, but who refuse to call themselves feminists. I don't think very many of these women do it because of the further oppression by white feminists of feminist women of color. I think most of these women do it because they don't want their family members and coworkers and fellow churchgoers to think of them as liberal extremists. Even though some of them are. Now, I'm not going to argue this is a terrible thing. If you can do the work of liberation, and conceal that fact from people you have to see every day who would harass you about it, maybe that's the way to go. You save more of your strength for the real struggle. yes, those sexist people need to wake up and smell the coffee, but it's not the job of every single liberal to work twenty four seven to accomplish this.

Back to your original point. Stealing ideas and holding people down is wrong no matter who does it or why, and it's even worse in a movement that really tries to do the opposite. I'm going to try to see this happening speak up about it in the future. Not that I'm active right now, but I will be again.

[identity profile] 2008-04-13 06:57 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, and I think those people are more like feminists who, by lying in their day-to-day lives about it, are busily contributing to the norm of systematic oppression of women. Although usually unintentionally. It's a separate issue. There are also slightly more politically conservative women who believe in women's oppression but are perhaps nervously fond of the status quo and believe that they reject the principles of feminism because they confuse feminism with radical feminism or with lesbianism or whatever. Not so much malicious lying there as internalized prejudice. On the other hand, I think if for example a passionately religious anti-abortionist by some miracle nonetheless believes women should but don't have equal societal standing with men, if she still wants the law to control other women's bodies I'm not sure she is a feminist. If someone rejects the principle of a political movement with open eyes, whatever their reason, who are others to second-guess?
vass: A sepia-toned line-drawing of a man in naval uniform dancing a hornpipe, his crotch prominent (Default)

[personal profile] vass 2008-04-13 02:30 pm (UTC)(link)
I just got up to the part (comment #28) where she said she doesn't care about racism the larger picture because they didn't ask nicely were too angry accused her of appropriation. She says this isn't theoretical, it could seriously affect her career. Unlike racism, which, thankfully, is totally hypothetical and doesn't really affect anyone in any way.

I don't think I can read any further.

I'm still a feminist (yield that ground to *her*? uh, no) but if a POC argues that it's a movement for white women to gain privilege at the expense of POC? I can see that. Certainly some feminists are. And I don't want to ally myself with those feminists.
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[personal profile] brownbetty 2008-04-13 02:56 pm (UTC)(link)
It's so awful. I want to do something, but I have no idea what would help.

[identity profile] 2008-04-13 06:51 pm (UTC)(link)
No, I agree - I don't cease to call myself a feminist, but I've also lost some of my faith in the dictionary definition, if that makes sense. Because if there are women struggling for women's rights who don't have the luxury of ignoring the history of the movement, then no one should ignore it.

That history's been ugly, a lot of times, and it's disingenuous to say, as I've heard and maybe said in the past, that the voices of white feminism which speak up to silence POCs aren't the voice of feminism, but merely the voices of people who happen to also work for feminism. No one can speak for a movement, but the pattern of its members' actions can speak for itself. And the pattern of supporting white priviledge has gone on a long time, and continues right up to the white feminists jumping to the defense of white feminism in the wake of those ugly statements about Barack Obama a few weeks ago. It's viscerally real to me, now, that those actions of white feminists do form a pattern of systematically oppressing POCs, that they can't meaningfully be taken in isolation from their identities as feminist; that any meaningful discussion of feminism has to deal with the reality, present and past, of the feminist movement and what it's actually done, and not with the dictionary definition. In other words, I now see that it's possible for someone to passionately believe in struggling to end the systematic societal oppression of women, and yet for that person's principles/goals not to align with feminism's, while the political presence of feminism is controlled by white feminists.

[identity profile] 2008-04-13 04:00 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't know what to say to this, and anything I do say, I probably shouldn't say here (not that any of it would be remotely negative, just that every now and then I'm a little shy). But I'm reading and re-reading it and processing it.

No, I'll edit to say this much: in the past year or so, quite a few people have drawn away from me for saying that I don't think/feel that feminism is for WOC. Not much, hardly at all, maybe not even a little, who knows. And I've been told over and over that it's just that I don't "understand" what feminism is, that it's on me for not getting the true message of "this isn't for you", and while I'm sad that it took something like this to make my position understandable and not just be a case of me being an Typical Angry Black Woman who can't find a dictionary, I really wish it hadn't been necessary that it comes to this. I'm really going to miss that site, but I don't blame her for leaving. I'm hoping this doesn't affect the WOC blogosphere in general, because I depend on it so much for community and conversation that I can't get anywhere else.

[identity profile] 2008-04-13 07:45 pm (UTC)(link)
I was about to say that I welcomed whatever you had to say about it. I'm glad that you've edited to say at least part of it - whatever you feel comfortable with. I don't want to make this all about me, or all about the white feminists who have had the same realisation during this debate, because although it's good that we've had it, in the long run it's not doing anything significant outside our own heads. But I want to answer you anyway because, well, you're a friend and we've had conversations about this before that I would probably feel even worse about if I remembered them in more detail right now.

I can only speak for myself when I say that I guess I thought that to insist on defining feminism based on its history/reality/behaviour instead of out of the dictionary was a kind of "not getting it". I thought it was hurt, blaming feminism for the racism of individual feminists, that led you (all) to define it this way. I believed the illusion that systematic oppression is some sort of massive coincidence of unconnected individual events without broader blame. And I should never have fallen for that one with all the systematic oppression I've seen. I'm sorry I was part of the chorus saying that "it's not for you".

[identity profile] 2008-04-13 08:51 pm (UTC)(link)
Holy crap. That Amanda lady's behavior in the comments of the Feministe post is disgusting. Total turn off. I cannot understand how someone who would crow from the rooftops about being a feminist would so blatantly write off the concerns of other women as them just "beun jelus". Does not compute.