Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Surveying the Damage: Part II

As I continue to survey the damage, I find an growing awkwardness inside me. There's almost a puddle of disgust next to my computer from writing - again - about the latest feminist bombs. (I'm soooo sick of this.) On the stronger hand, I don't feel quite right to blog "as usual" yet either. One thing I do know is that the more I reflect on the damage, the more I learn about what kind of activist I want to be. I want to be a person that does not carry on business as usual when "as usual" is not the reality.

And the reality for others is that "feminism" remains an unwelcome place, an impossible dialogue. Whether that is online, in a classroom, conference, community group, or any place that requires a public audience - the function of feminism as public activism is disjointed.
My blog is dedicated to creating a space for anyone battling the front lines of gender equality, liberation, and the truest sense of the word: resistance. This space is built especially for womyn of color and difference who seek a safe space to ponder and wander aloud. In my own wandering aloud, I came up with two pieces of damage control: 1. Language and 2. Goliath

Clean Up Your Language: Grab Your Arrow and Be Specific
Let me cut to the chase. If you blog or write about something that refers to online communities, be specific. BFP, BA, and a lot of other womyn bloggers referenced in the (W)AM and a Seal bombs belong to the Radical Women of Color blogger ring. That is quite different than just saying "women of color." There's a lot of WOC bloggers out there who would most definitely NOT agree with what we individually and collectively advocate. Also, PLEASE never write, "Sudy and other women of color say..." Of WHOM are you speaking? Be specific. I do not speak for all women of color. (And contrary to popular opinion, neither does Blackamazon.) I speak for one lone iSelf and, while I most certainly identify as and am a womyn of color, I do, can, will not approve of general labels in references.

Specificity also cuts out a lot of the garbage that takes up thread time. Specificity enables familiar and non-familiar readers to quickly and (more) accurately identify who is involved and being referenced. It's not about being all PC, it's about accuracy. When appropriate individuals and communities are correctly identified, it also minimizes identity drama.

Speaking of identity drama, one of my pet peeves is the dismissal of anti-racism arguments and bodies of work because a few comment something like, "You know, I'm a woman of color and I don't think racism exists." Careless use of identity as assumed credence neutralizes the reasoning and work done by those who have thoughtfully engaged their own lives and personal experiences that give backbone to their assertions.

Challenge bloggers who either generalize communities ("...those White women...." or "women of color....") or those who use their "identity" to neutralize the work of others. Ask for specificity in the presence of ambiguity. Do your part and work to clean up the language. We spend more time refuting circular points than we do engaging our actual thoughts.

At the same time, get over yourself. If you know what the writer means, go with it and don't lose the lesson over a beef tip.

2) The Fight Within Feminism: David (Indie) and Goliath (Mainfemistream)

To not acknowledge the difference between individuals of fem bloggers would be ludicrous. So, who would we not acknowledge the difference in their feminisms? The largest solvent in the feminist cocktail mix is mainstream feminism - the feminism that speaks to the majority of those in the middle - those who have access to feminism due to formal instruction, Barnes and Nobles, blogging, and 3 day women conferences in a secluded resort. This is the feminism that is largely pitched to White college educated heterosexually identified woman who love drinking, hetero sex, and cry in their sociology classes when their profs make them sit in a circle and prompt the students of color to talk about their childhood. This is the feminism that both Fox and CNN feature. This is the feminism that sells books. This is the feminism that enjoys the mic. This is the feminism that raises eyebrows, not consciences.

Is there a space for these women and their feminism? Sure.

But, why has this become of the face of public feminism?

Why is this feminism most staunchly defended?

Because a feminism pitched to a buying audience is a feminism sold.

Sold.

Here's another catch. Mainfemistream blogs, sites, and publishers take it upon themselves to feature marginalized issues and voices. While I have no problem with that, I don't believe that sideshow warrants applause or a label of intersectionality. Dude, if you're appealing to mainstream, you will never fly with intersectionality. The sacred space of difference is an experience of intense joy and immeasureable pain. That grey is too in-depth for cool, "normalcy," or a dollar. Mainstream feminism is the attempt to, once again, prioritize the needs and concerns of the few, and claim it universal for all. It attempts to water down the rocks so that most people can wash it down. Mainfemistream vocalizes the same objective of candied individualism that refuses to heed caution for others' well-being. To sell feminism, someone, somewhere usually has to be forfeited in the process.

(That "someone" is usually young(er) woman of color; 13-20 year olds, in my opinion.)

As I take my privilege out for a stroll this week and peruse the public face of feminism on the news, magazines, blogs, and bookstores, I am nauseous with symptoms of a flu-like bug. Steinem, Femwhatever-dotcom, Ground-breaking Press with apologies - I want to vomit over the repetition of themes - love, relationships, jealousy, career, success, motivation, sexual freedom, and equal pay day. Am I anti-mainfemistream? No. Am I angry? No. Do I want to stay far, far away from it? YES. The dearth of radical and indie voice is present, but distant. It needs to be louder. It needs YOU.

Stop expecting mainfemistream voices to be the David (practices of equality) against Goliath (kyriarchal practices). When you're asking why mainfemistream isn't what you want it to be - lame accountability, tripping over s-s-s-orrrries, lackluster vision - remember that they themselves don't even know they, in fact, ARE Goliath.

11 comments:

  1. Your feminism, your voice, have touched this white middle-class straight girl more than any mainfemistream blog.

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  2. Awesome post. Even I, clearly outside of mainstream feminism, can learn from it. You pointed out things that I haven't been able to articulate, and reminded me of some of my own failings. :)

    You know too, I was thinking just the other day about how I see younger women being pushed aside and ignored. I am 33, so I have to say I really value the energy and excitement that younger women bring to movements. In fact, some make me nostalgic, and more often make me wish I had been as active when I was their age. It's really sad to me that some older women would be so invested in keeping their own power structures that they make young women who are full of great new ideas feel like they can't be a part of things. And I think those older women will regret it one day, because eventually the younger women WILL take over and they will remember who stifled them. I just hope they are able to find their spaces rather than be so stifled that it stops them in their tracks.

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  3. Hey there Sarah,
    Thanks for the kind words. What a great comment to find in the morning!

    Aaminah,
    Mhmmm, aren't young womyn inspiring as all get out? I mean, even their passion to grow and learn just gets me moving and wanting to help them figure their lives out, get them into the world, and keep their minds spinning. The more I spend time with them, the more I am convinced that the space created (or not created) for them, is one of my top priorities. And I agree about the stifle lesson.

    It's like if we don't model it right, how can we expect them to do the same?

    xo -S

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  4. As I take my privilege out for a stroll this week and peruse the public face of feminism on the news, magazines, blogs, and bookstores, I am nauseous with symptoms of a flu-like bug. Steinem, Femwhatever-dotcom, Ground-breaking Press with apologies - I want to vomit over the repetition of themes - love, relationships, jealousy, career, success, motivation, sexual freedom, and equal pay day.

    Yeah, flu-like is pretty much how I feel about it all. Plus, Aaminah, what you said about stifling and maintaining power structures.

    I feel my language could be more precise sometimes - it's easy to find yourself referring to 'white women' and 'women of colour', and even if the point being made is anti-racist, it feels, well, racist, to use these vague across-the-board terms. Plus, I'm white so it sounds like I'm trying to be better than the other white people - not ideal.

    I definitely feel what you're saying about mainstream feminism though, I don't feel angry at it (well, slightly, or rather frustrated) but it makes me feel a bit ill. Aside from anything else, I spend enough time smiling and nodding at superiors outside of feminism to have to do it among feminists. I think that's another form of privilege that gets overlooked sometimes, since a lot of the powerful mainstream feminists would be high-flying journalists, often freelance, possibly with secretaries or support teams, so they're probably used to unknowingly enforcing power structures anyway.

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  5. As I take my privilege out for a stroll this week and peruse the public face of feminism on the news, magazines, blogs, and bookstores, I am nauseous with symptoms of a flu-like bug. Steinem, Femwhatever-dotcom, Ground-breaking Press with apologies - I want to vomit over the repetition of themes - love, relationships, jealousy, career, success, motivation, sexual freedom, and equal pay day.

    Yeah, flu-like is pretty much how I feel about it all. Plus, Aaminah, what you said about stifling and maintaining power structures.

    I feel my language could be more precise sometimes - it's easy to find yourself referring to 'white women' and 'women of colour', and even if the point being made is anti-racist, it feels, well, racist, to use these vague across-the-board terms. Plus, I'm white so it sounds like I'm trying to be better than the other white people - not ideal.

    I definitely feel what you're saying about mainstream feminism though, I don't feel angry at it (well, slightly, or rather frustrated) but it makes me feel a bit ill. Aside from anything else, I spend enough time smiling and nodding at superiors outside of feminism to have to do it among feminists. I think that's another form of privilege that gets overlooked sometimes, since a lot of the powerful mainstream feminists would be high-flying journalists, often freelance, possibly with secretaries or support teams, so they're probably used to unknowingly enforcing power structures anyway.

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  6. MsTexasJD12:03 PM

    I second Sarah J's comment. I too am a white middle class heterosexual womyn and have found your work enlightening and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

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  7. thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

    "To sell feminism, someone, somewhere usually has to be forfeited in the process. (That "someone" is usually young(er) woman of color; 13-20 year olds, in my opinion.)"

    I am grateful that you have reminded us all of the stakes involved.

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  8. Your words and the simple fact that you keep putting them out there make my damn day. Thanks for this.

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  9. Challenge bloggers who either generalize communities ("...those White women...." or "women of color....") or those who use their "identity" to neutralize the work of others. Ask for specificity in the presence of ambiguity.

    I am going to have to think about this comment. I believe that even in generalization some people are looking for affirmation of an experience that has been marginalized. Sometimes it is not about being PC or building allies, sometimes it is about giving voice to rage, pain and injustice.

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  10. Wise and loving post!

    Is it possible to set up a multi-author WoC blog similar to mainfemistream blogs where diverse points of view are explicitly and consistently encouraged?

    It is a little harder to present a diverse or unconventional point of view by trespassing on a personal blog.

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  11. But some of us have been around a long time and can reference other feminist feuds of this sort that predate the internet. In a different culture, we might be asked respectfully and specifically for our old woman perspective and memories. In the USA? Ignored. Feminist blogs? Ignored. And that goes for EVERYONE, WOC and white women and everyone else. Over 50? Go the fuck away.

    Coverage of the WAM conference made absolutely NO MENTION of the fact that it was an overwhelmingly
    YOUTHFUL event.
    I saw ONE woman in photos, who might have been around my own age. Certainly, no workshops or presentations about old women. And again, this was deemed not even important enough to mention.

    Those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat it. (And who do you think remembers the past?)

    (That "someone" is usually young(er) woman of color; 13-20 year olds, in my opinion.)

    I agree with this assessment, and it has been ever thus. Maybe we could talk about how this EVOLVED OVER TIME? It did not happen overnight; Rome wasn't built in a day. Discussion with some OLD women might yield some answers, but you know, that involves LINKING US TOO, replying to us and actually admitting we exist, even if we aren't COOL. I think we deserve a modicum of respect as old feminists.

    Obviously, some of you disagree and prefer to be age-segregationists. Certainly, do as you please, but don't go on and on about inclusion, in that case, okay? It leaves a bad taste in this (deliberately excluded) old lady's mouth.

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