Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Surveying the Damage: Part I

I feel like it may be too soon to survey the damage in the feminist blogosphere, but I'm ready to look [read] and the way bloggers move on [post other topics], quiet themselves [no posting], take a break, or reflect. Things are quiet after the storm. I think we just experienced our own hurricane, one where many damns that held high emotions in check broke, people vanished, blame is thrown around, and the response to rectify the situation fails miserably.

New Orleans, as I have understood the aftermath, still struggles to rebuild what was lost. The aftermath of the whirling forces of destruction revealed deeply embedded racism that was as aged as the blue jazz of Bourbon Street. It's not like racism began in the Superdome. Racism, in all of its powerful camouflage, systematically works its oppression for years without much commentary. Then, a tragedy occurs and the flimsy responses and reasoning by folks in power, the rage of those who have been wrong, the aftermath publicly displays what has always been there: racism.

The problems didn't begin with the tragedy or disaster, it was the years and years prior to the final catalyst; the last candle to be lit before everyone could see the same thing in the once dark room. It was the generations of inherited privilege and blindness, the result of prejudicial hand me downs. It was the generations of unaddressed neglect and indifference that builds the oppressed to outrage and frames the privileged for defense, confusion, and denial. This all became evident when structure and order were broken. During times of confusion and instability, responses, choices, and alliances are made. Things become clear when the dust settles.

Emergencies and crisis are excellent for pulling the blanket off other profoundly problematic issues. One thing presents itself alarmingly clear: no one knows or agrees what the hell feminism is or supposed to be anymore. I don't think this is anything new, I just think it became more pronounced in the past several weeks with high emotion, impulsive postings, and self-revealing blogging. This imploding has only brought to surface all that was rumbling underneath. Like New Orleans, these problems have always been there, long before you or I were here, long before the internet even existed. It was just timing, chemistry, and history that forced the damn to break.

The racism in the women's movements, in feminism, in feminists is an issue that needs to be actively addressed at all conferences, organizations, discussions, classrooms, kitchen tables, emails, and phone conversations. This is the only way to address it: consistently. Because until that day is reached where radical equality [not sameness] is reached, if we continue to merely pause, build a substitute damn and rebuild our houses [blogs, sites] as if there will not be another crisis in the future, then there is no point to feminism, only a cyclic waste of words.

Read me clearly: there is no point to feminism if it does not actively address its racism with its agenda. There is no point to feminism if it does not address its racist history, racist matriarchy, racist icons, racist literature, racist imagery, racist publications, racist presence. To claim we're all female and unite under one cause of gender does. not. work. History never lies. This model has left more marginalized women in the road than we can count. Why the dichotomous split between gender and race, as if we live separately from the strands of our hair to the color of skin to the anatomy of genitalia.

This is the space that I demand for my LIFE, for my voice. Let's abandon "feminist" dialogue momentarily and ask ourselves what we are saying when we request for gender-only analysis of our own lives. For a few it may be called "race neutral[ity]," but for many others, it's diluting a proud, loving, and undeniable part of their identity and livelihood. There is no separating the left and the right atrium of the heart and expect it to continue functioning. It is one organ, inseparable. That is gender/ace identity. Two connected pieces, one function. It cannot be understood in parts, people must be handled whole. That was the piece that was missing from previous women's movements and why they are criticized by modern feminists today. We know better. (Usually...sort of.)

If you prioritize gender first and/or only and have built your feminisms on that foundation, fine. I'm not going to spend my time trying to change your mind. But here's my question - how or why can/do you acknowledge the lives and voices who advocate from their personhood, not just womanhood? How can you sum up one individual's parts when lives are understood as, encompass, and are influenced by factors other than gender, and those feminisms are founded upon that complexity? How can unity via the gender lens be effective when so many are crying isolation? Contrary to the opinion that acknowledging race separates and divides, it leads to richness. While the process may be viewed as painful and slow and lead to discussions beyond gender, let's not confuse depth with irrelevance.

If feminists sit at a table we call feminism and there is only so much room for agenda items and topics to discuss, I would say that we are wasting our time in drafting a criteria of what is a feminist issue. In exploring the potentials of feminism's power, I often think we limit it and ourselves by asking the wrong questions. (What are the wrong questions, you may ask. My answer: the limiting kind.)

The question is not what makes the issue feminist, but has a feminist perspective been applied to the issue? Many perceive the Iraq war not to be a feminist issue. I don't give two shits if it's a "feminist issue," I care if feminists have applied their analytical skills, intelligence, resources, and insight to the Iraq war. The once "not feminist" issue of the war, weapons of mass destruction, torture, and sovereignty transform after a feminist's examination - seeing the affect of war on womyn and families, womyn fighting in the war, the gendered language of warring countries, rape used as a tactic of war - when we apply a feminist lens, it then BECOMES a feminist issue. How in the hell does it matter at first glance if it's a feminist issue? If it affects one womyn, anywhere, it can be examined. Who in the world has the right to dictate what is or is not a feminist issue? It might not be to YOU personally, but get off my carpet, it may be a feminist issue after I'm through with it. It's not about taking a "general" issue and twisting it all around to "make it a feminist issue." Our progression should not be measured or dictated by what issues we deem acceptable, but by how insightful and truthful our responses are in accordance to ALL womyn's experience and gender concerns. It's not about the issue, it's about the assessment of kyriarchal forces working in the situation and then dismantling it from a feminist perspective.

Further, I don't believe we need to make it our goal to "feminize" every issue and apply it to our blogs. Each issue must be turned over in our heads before we engage it or disregard it. That's not a waste of time, that's called work. Heaven forbid.

My feminism seeks to be a philosophy of life, not for an organization or a mission statement, or a cute bumper sticker. My feminism strives to exist in my breathing. Ironically, I find myself writing about racism more when I am surrounded by feminists or attending a conference or gathering. It's as if the air is so potent, nothing else can be done until feminists do their own personal anti-racism work. In that vein, yes, it is distracting. It is distracting that we spend an ungodly amount of time feeding lists of how to help (mostly) White women better address their privilege when I'd rather be addressing something else that speaks to other forms of conflict and kyriarchal oppression. But this wins over because, yes, I believe it's important, and it consumes me with anger when it is not appropriately handled or addressed. I address it because I believe that if feminists themselves do not realize their own destructive patterns of internalized superiority and inferiority, our daughters will receive our to-do list.

My feminism does not seek to prioritize race (or class, or sexuality, or religion, or citizenship, or mobility) over gender, it seeks to acknowledge the equal co/multi-existence of gende/race experiences and honors the space for womyn who have never known the two to be different. My blog, my activism is dedicated to creating a space to examine the endless negotiations of feminism for womyn of difference and to unwaveringly speak with a rigidity in my spine and a compassionate truth in my rocking soul.

My blog has a new direction and grounded purpose. If it were to pick a title for this purpose, I would choose:

Rations for the Journey:
What's Next After Unpacking the Kyriarchal Knapsack*


*I'm not the hugest fan of this article by Peggy McInstosh, it's incredibly dated and very "White Privilege" narrow. If you've never heard of privilege before and feel a bit lost, start with Peggy and move onto Racialicious for more modern instruction.

19 comments:

  1. Amazing post, once again.

    One thing that always strikes me is that feminism is usually taken to be exclusively about women. But the word is constructed from 'feminine', not from 'woman', in much the same way as 'racism' or 'orientalism'.

    The characteristics of the Feminine are applied to all oppressed groups by their oppressors, the characteristics being: irrational, mysterious, nonsensical, relentless, animalistic. These are the justifications for the oppression of all oppressed groups, whether you're reading a James Brown interview about women or Margaret Sanger's work, or watching a hip hop video, or a Daily Mail article about working class men on council estates, or US propaganda about the Japanese during WWII.

    So really, oppression in general is a feminist issue. It has nothing to do with whether it affects women or not - which it generally does anyway, because women don't live in a vacuum.

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  2. The question is not what makes the issue feminist, but has a feminist perspective been applied to the issue?

    This, and the rest of the paragraph, are so spot-on.

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  3. I can see why you might use New Orleans as an analogy, but I just want to point out:

    1. The racism in NOLA was not below the surface. It was there for all to see before the flooding. And there were a variety of racisms, there, too. For example, since whites were a minority and not generally in government and law enforcement, there was some racism against whites, too. And of course all the other racisms, too.

    2. NOLA has many other afflictions, too. Classism, for one. But also, the city is so different than other American cities that there's a lot of xenophobia. And it goes both ways. For example, when many Hispanic people came for work in rebuilding they brought their culture, which is not New Orleans culture and there were clashes. NOLA residents feared that the rebuilding of heir city would necessarily destroy NOLA culture, particularly food.

    3. One of the largest problems with NOLA is corruption. The levees failed because they weren't built properly. And now they're still not being built properly - they stuffed them with newspapers! This is a money problem, tainted with racism, sexism, xenophobia, classism, etc. But deep down, it's really just power-mongers trying to make or keep money.

    I think some of the same problems exist in the feminist blogosphere. For example, there is definitely some classism in most of the prominent feminist blogs. The mere fact that they feel comfortable using the word "classy" as an insult (and never use it in a positive way to reclaim the word and undermine classism) is evidence of that. And the mere fact that so many feminists feel comfortable making fun of people based on grammatical and spelling errors suggests classism. There's agism, too, religious intolerance, and big city preference. There are all kinds of problems with the feminist blogosphere. Racism is one of many.

    That said, I'm not sure the feminist blogosphere represents feminism at all. Necessarily, bloggers are privileged, particularly prominent bloggers. So it only makes sense that they'd/we'd have a foggy lens.

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  4. "My feminism seeks to be a philosophy of life"

    I couldn't agree more and actually responded to one of your "burning questions" on my blog referencing this.

    "My feminism does not seek to prioritize race (or class, or sexuality, or religion, or citizenship, or mobility) over gender, it seeks to acknowledge the equal co/multi-existence of gender/race experiences and honors the space for womyn who have never known the two to be different"

    This is feminism at its very core, what it's all about. I don't see how actual feminism can be anything else. BUT what (and who) commonly is paraded around with that label are anything but. Completely different agendas and concerns, hence why issues of race are trivialized. But I won't repeat myself on your thread.

    You're absolutely spot on in this post!

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  5. I thought this post was so right on! Your point about applying a feminist perspective to an issue helped create the words that i've been trying to figure out, so thanks!

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  6. I found this a really interesting challenge. I'd like view my feminism as a perspective through which to anaylse events (though it's not limited to that).

    For me it's about paying special attention to women's voices and experiences, cos' even with the most tragic of events it's usually the male voice that's heard.

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  7. I really appreciate this post, not only because surveying the damage needs to be done, but because it offers up a bit of hope, and not some pie-in-the-sky hope, but one based on a going in a direction and doing some work.

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  8. I love your comment instructions and this post. :D

    Can I just add that Yamato's "Something About the Subject Makes it Hard to Name," Anzaldua's "Now Let Us Shift" PHC's "the matrix of domination" Smith's "Three Pillars of white supremacy" and Bailey's "Locating Traitorous Identities" are all really great pieces to jump to after the knapsack (which I am not a big fan of either) a lot of people also really like Frye's "oppression" for its metaphor of the bird cage where oppressions intersect and reinforce like a cage so that moving one oppression does not make enough space to escape.

    (I know I'm being very academic in my comment by suggesting readings but they are all really great and a good place for people who might have trouble knowing/naming/speaking things to start. esp the Anzaldua that sort of explains the move from lacking consciousness to having some and then possibly losing some and gaining some again. for woc I also really love Hernandez-Avila's "In the presence of spirits" and the intro to Chicana without apology, they both offer some thoughts on healing and being aware after "hurricanes" like these.)

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  9. Hey there, everyone! Thanks for the supporting words.

    Elaine, once again, your comments bring me much to think about. (My partner and I are still talking about animals, oppression, and its relationship to human oppression. That dialogue is rooted in one of your previous questions in another thread.)

    I'm thinking about your comment that the feminist blogosphere is not representative of feminism. Mhm, I don't know...I believe it does reflect at least some limited parts of it. I think that much of the questioning, problems, and arguments - albeit limiting - is a different form of feminist engagement. Blogging is a privilege through and through, but I see much good that comes from it as well.

    Many folks, such as myself, have felt isolated and out of touch with other individuals or communities of color prior to blogging. I lived in the Midwest and it was through blogging that I was introduced to media and have since learned how powerful (good and bad) feminism and blogging can be - regardless of location.

    Building communities has been the largest benefit for me. Most of that community is not online anymore. Now it's personal phone calls and private communication. That connection that provides much strength and affirmation has been one of the gains. I'd like to think that is one of the goals of feminism - to provide community and support. In that small example, I do think the blogosphere has the potential to reflect pockets of the good feminism we all need.

    That being said, I would agree that most definitely the femblogosphere does not represent *all* of feminism. No way, no how.

    Most bloggers who have access to a computer, resources, information and TIME to write and exercise this new born privi/blog/lege that hardly is representative of feminists everywhere.

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  10. amazing post yet again. thank you.

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  11. "The racism in the women's movements, in feminism, in feminists is an issue that needs to be actively addressed at all conferences, organizations, discussions, classrooms, kitchen tables, emails, and phone conversations. This is the only way to address it: consistently. Because until that day is reached where radical equality [not sameness] is reached, if we continue to merely pause, build a substitute damn and rebuild our houses [blogs, sites] as if there will not be another crisis in the future, then there is no point to feminism, only a cyclic waste of words."

    Sudy,
    I think you it the nail on the head.This beeds to be the beginning of a solution.Sweeping things under the rug to be examined at a later more convenient time isn't going to work for anybody involved.

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  12. "The racism in the women's movements, in feminism, in feminists is an issue that needs to be actively addressed at all conferences, organizations, discussions, classrooms, kitchen tables, emails, and phone conversations. This is the only way to address it: consistently. Because until that day is reached where radical equality [not sameness] is reached, if we continue to merely pause, build a substitute damn and rebuild our houses [blogs, sites] as if there will not be another crisis in the future, then there is no point to feminism, only a cyclic waste of words."

    Sudy,
    I think you it the nail on the head.This beeds to be the beginning of a solution.Sweeping things under the rug to be examined at a later more convenient time isn't going to work for anybody involved.

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  13. Anonymous10:13 AM

    "You have to be pretty tough and unemotional to deliver a tough budget under such tough circumstances," the Finance Minister told The Weekend Australian.

    "It was the years I spent in boarding school, suffering greatly in a harsh, nasty, authoritarian environment, that gave me that toughness and that detachment. You learn how to look after yourself. I was subject to brutality bordering on abuse. Not sexual abuse, no. But physical."

    Mr Tanner said he was caned until "there were five-inch bruises on my buttocks, sometimes drawing blood" for crimes such as wearing the wrong running shoes or being caught reading in bed at night with a torch.

    He said the house master at the Church of England Gippsland Grammar school in country Victoria usually did the beatings but on occasion it was the headmaster. He learned how to protect his heart from the abuse.

    "It was nasty, unfair, erratic, it made me angry then. I was smitten with the unfairness of life," he said. "You're not in control, you feel powerless having to live with endless arbitrary rules and brutality. But I didn't show my feelings. I learned to hide the damage. I toughened up. I hated my time there but it did forge my character and the education was excellent. It set the stage for what would become the jumping point into politics.

    "I blamed the conservatives, the Church of England, and it pushed me towards the Left."

    Australia's new Finance Minister. Hard to imagine feminists not having strong opinions on his recent comments.

    Article

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  14. Joan Kelly6:12 PM

    Soothed me and redirected my heart today, thank you Sudy. Beyond being a person-who-helped-Joan-today, obviously, you just lay things out so clearly, so smartly. And I am ever so glad for prof black woman's comment as well.

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  15. Really amazing post. Thank you!

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  16. Yes.. feminist analysis as a tool, not as an end in itself. This is really great, thanks Sudy. I need to etch some of this into my forehead or something.

    Also, thanks for the articles ProfBW. I'd really like to collect a few readings or key ideas in my mind to help open up eyes to white privilege and white racialized identity. It's a very difficult topic to breach with someone who has never seriously thought about it.

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  17. Hi, Sudy,

    I think this is my first time commenting to your blog, so I hope this doesn't seem intrusive.

    I really like this concept of kyriarchy. It's definitely more comprehensive than "patriarchy," but it still seems a little inadequate to me. Even though heirarchies are in fact fluid, changing with circumstance and environment, there are certain constants, namely that no matter the participants, if there are women present, the women will be at the bottom of the heirarchy. If there are darker-skinned people prsent, the darker-skinned people (especially the women) will be at the bottom. If there are poor people present, the poor people (especially the dark-skinned women) will be at the bottom.

    I'm not sure kyriarchy, or, at least my limited understanding of kyriarchy as informed by your synopsis, adequately models these facts - specifically the fact that no matter what the circumstances, some female person will be most affected by oppressive heirarchies. This isn't to say that sexism outweighs racism or classism or ableism, etc. It is merely to acknowledge that there is a universality to sexism that isn't necessarily true about the other facets of oppression.

    In that sense, kyriarchy seems to let men off the hook. But other than that, I do really appreciate that it offers an intersectional model - not just acknowledgment of intersectionality - lacking in most feminist philosophy.

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  18. this is a reply to sadassa's comment:
    Held approaches maternal practice from a somewhat different perspective than Ruddick does. She suggests that because women have spent so much of their time mothering, they should develop moral theories that fit the kind of relationships and activities that characterize the private rather than the public domain. Although Held knows that not all women live in the private world, and although she does not believe that all women are determined by nature to have a distinctive set of moral experiences, she nonetheless claims that a sizable gap exists between women's and men's moral experience. It concerns her that traditional western ethics not only discounts women's morality but presents what amounts to men's morality as gender neutral morality. She claims that if traditional western ethics really gender-neutral, however, it would not favor paradigms — for example, the contract model — that speak much more to men's experience than to women's. In Held's estimation, too many traditional western ethicists bless a human relationship as moral to the degree that it serves the separate interests of individual rational contractors. Yet life is about more than conflict, competition, and controversy — about getting what one wants. It is, as mothering persons know, also about cooperation, consensus, and community — about meeting other people's needs. Held speculates that were the relationship between a mothering person and a child, rather than the relationship between two rational contractors, the paradigm for good human relationships, society might look very different

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  19. Anonymous12:57 PM

    this post was cited in the Supernaturale "Glitter" forum:

    "young women and feminism"
    http://tinyurl.com/cs5gjk

    Thank you so much for your posts!

    -C

    ReplyDelete

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