The Silence of Our Friends

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why WOC Do Not Identify With Feminism

While rubbernecking at the latest internet car-wreck I had a few things clarified for me. First I should explain what I mean by the latest car-wreck, over at I Blame The Patriarchy (no, I will not link) there was a recent thread where the commenters were saying hatefilled derogatory things about trans-women. This appears to be one of several instances where Twisty and her crew get to decide who "women" are, and who "feminists" are. As far as I am concerned they are as exclusionary and judgemental as the white-boys-only patriarchy they condemn. This is why WOC generally do not identify with what passes for feminism in America. We understand that all oppression is interrelated for one thing, whereas white middle class feminism only recognizes the oppression of white middle class women as paramount. This is why BA was so angry about Amanda making a sneak attack on sexism vs racism here. White middle class American feminists envy the power that white middle class men wield. They want that power for themselves at the expense of people of color, the lower classes, the disabled, trans-women and men, etc etc etc. That's why they can make it into a pissing contest over who is more oppressed. For a woman of color, she understands that she is oppressed because she is a woman, is oppressed again because she is brown skinned, and may also be oppressed because she is poor, or lesbian, or disabled, or fat, or is colonized, and so on. Feminism for us isn't about eradicating sexism and misogyny alone, it's about ending ignorance, fear, and hate at all levels. It's about recognizing the basic humanity of all people.

Some of the best commentary on this is a post at Women of Color Blog where BFP says this in the comments for example:
"But looking at the actual theory and politics of trans gender-ism and femaleness–I think it gets into the idea–are females really the only ones abused in this structure we all live under? And if you are multiple identities–if you are, say, a transgendered institutionalized woman of color–what is it, really, that justifies the use of harmful sterilization drugs on you? Is it your femaleness? Is it your disability? Is it your color? Or is that you are all of these identities wrapped into one confusing body that oppressive power structures sees no value in?

The thing is–these debates are just a variant on the “gender trumps X” arguement. The idea that you will be abused because you are female, NOT because you are specially a BLACK female, or a disabled female or a queer chicana. And of course, this all links back to the idea that white women and all their battles against THEIR enemy (the patriarchy) must remain central to what feminism is."

Actually you should make the time to read all the comments in that thread, yes indeed, it's very long but so worthwhile. BFP and Yolanda make the important distinction between capitalism/imperialism and worldwide dominance compared to simple patriarchy. Patriarchy is only one method of control. White male supremacy is the power structure, and white feminists by virtue of their Euro heritage do have power in this structure that they are unwilling to acknowledge but are more than willing to use against the powerless.

In the comments Heart comes along to make excuses for Twisty and is taken to task for that but is remarkably blind to understanding what the other commenters object to. It is about how white feminists tend to address the symptom (patriarchy) instead of the cause (the greater white supremacy/capitalist world dominance) at the root of sexism/racism/classism and all the other hate 'isms. Heart wants to make it all about individual acts of violence, but that is like giving a couple aspirin to someone suffering a brain aneurysm. The symptom is a headache after all.

This harkens back to the burka brouhaha. It was objectionable as a joke because 1) this was an argument between two white western women, so why bring muslims into it? 2) if it wasn't for American intervention muslim fundamentalists wouldn't be in power in Afghanistan in the first place, including Bill Clinton's administration. 3) demonizing brown men for their treatment of brown women is an excuse to bomb the hell out of all brown people, including the women and children. 4) The women of Afghanistan have asked western women to get off the burqa fixation, a piece of cloth is not their top priority or the bane of their existence, right now the brutality of war brought by Americans would be that top priority.

Symptom: Muslim men forcing women to wear burqas.
Cause: American support of fundamentalist muslims in Afghanistan against Soviet dominance led to the rise of the Taliban. We would have continued supporting them if they were our puppets, and who gives a damn if the women have no rights and suffocate in their burqas.

It is only once other countries try to throw off the imperialist yoke or fight back against us that we suddenly care about how they treat women, or other groups, or their "barbaric" practices.

The only way that western hegemony works around the world is if we can corrupt the governments of weaker nations in order to control their resources. This does not work well in democracies, which is why we do NOT support democracy and tend to prop up repressive governments. A democratic nation does what is best for it's people, not what is best for the US/Canada and Europe. We support misogyny, racism/genocide, and any other brutality visited upon the people of these countries as long as our interests are served; so at the time Hussein was gassing the Kurds but was our buddy we didn't care and Rummy was shaking his hand, but when Bush wanted war, suddenly "He murdered his own people!" becomes a rallying cry. We also fail to acknowledge the violence when we have no interests involved, like Oaxaca and Darfur.

Sadly, these same white middle class women (and men) think that POC are making excuses for violence perpetrated by muslim men in this case. No, we are saying that the root causes are much deeper than "bad bad brown men!". Without the meddling from western powers many of these countries would be more democratic, socialist/communist, and secular; in other words they would be more egalitarian and it is our meddling that supported the inhumanity. Therefore the burqa wearing women are not grateful when we come to "save" them with our bombs and soldiers who clearly view them as subhuman, and will not appreciate being the butt of jokes between a couple of privileged white American women.

When we point out these kind of things white people tend to misinterpret us, or become defensive, or find ways to derail the discussion on tangents or logical fallacies. I'm not saying all white people, we do have true allies who are not looking to coopt us, and are working towards a more egalitarian world (you know who you are). But far too many of the mainstream feminist and liberal bloggers are like this. They may be a kinder gentler white supremacist, but they are following the blueprint all the same.

UPDATE: See if you can find the common thread between this post and what Nezua has to say about Apocalypto.

27 comment(s):

great post.

By Blogger The Unapologetic Mexican, at 12/28/2006 10:16 PM  

I've updated it with your writing on Apocalypto. Very similar only different examples.

By Blogger Donna, at 12/28/2006 10:19 PM  

hey, chido. i appreciate that. and you make a good point. i also find it helpful to hote those overlaps in shape....

By Blogger The Unapologetic Mexican, at 12/29/2006 12:33 AM  

most excelente! I heart heart heart this post.

By Blogger Bitch | Lab, at 12/29/2006 10:00 AM  

the symptom (patriarchy) instead of the cause (the greater white supremacy/capitalist world dominance)

playing sort of devil's advocate, i think that a sophisticated radical feminist, even one who was able to also make analyses of racism and colonialism and capitalism, could make a case that the symptoms/cause is the other way around.

I'm not saying I agree with the radical feminist theory of the roots of oppression, understand. i guess i find myself wondering to what degree it matters. i mean these are obviously all different frameworks for looking at the same set of problems. some people have more myopic views within their respective frames than others.

i guess for me where i'm at right now is just: start with what exists now, that i can see, (colonialism and its effects, patriarchy in the narrower sense of the definition and its effects, capitalism and its effects, among other things), applying history lessons as much as possible as well of course. i'm not saying overarching Theory doesn't matter; i'm just saying i guess i'm not sure what mine is at this point. i do think there are connections, and i do believe in a frame, actually; i'm just not sure i have a name or a completely solid description of what that might be, for me.

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/29/2006 2:09 PM  

...what i mean by "sophisticated" there is, someone who could understand that yes, Virginia, the hijab is a product of our colonial/aggressive actions. but they might frame it more as, war itself, the colonial impulse itself, is an outgrowth of rape; or, at least, they use rape as the primary, first image.

...as you can see, the more nuanced one gets, the less the chicken and the egg thing matters.

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/29/2006 2:12 PM  

...and a Marxist i suppose, Foolish Owl, maybe? would center the socioeconomic angle, even while yep, obviously, both colonialism and sexist domination are a part of that.

and so on.

just mostly talking out loud here, you understand.

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/29/2006 2:16 PM  

I didn't study social theory at least not to the extent to be able to say which came first, but I would say you are right belle. Patriarchy may have come first and then capitalism after there was a way to control the people. But all capitalism needs is a way to control the people so it doesn't need patriarchy, at least in the strict sense regarding sexism. American feminists could be completely successful, equality in the workplace, and paycheck, control of their bodies, etc. But as long as other people still aren't equal, racism/colonialism then there are still people to exploit and control for capitalism. I suppose that feminists would say that is still the patriarchy, but with the matriarchy also involved, is it?

By Blogger Donna, at 12/29/2006 3:18 PM  

One of the things I worry about when discussing what came first is the discussion curbing into what trumps what -- a legitimate fear when different groups with different experiences cooperate with one another. Someone over at BFP used the terms "convergentist" and "divergentist" to describe the phenomenon (something I retained), and I think that's what CM was alluding to when she commented.

I don't think enough discussion has centered around alliances and the importance of recognizing that sometimes certain systems of oppression can dominate certain types of people more significantly than the others. The other frameworks can exacerbate the domination and oppression, but the nature of the act sometimes dictates the response.

A transphobic attack generates discussion of transpeople's issues, and tangentially how other frameworks of oppression affect transpeople. Sometimes we have to allow a little "trumping" because we all have subjective experiences that need to be heard and can guide discussions easier than dealing in the abstract.

By Blogger Sylvia, at 12/29/2006 4:36 PM  

I guess the basic idea I am leaning towards is that killing the creator will not necessarily kill the creation. Just because Dr Frankenstein is dead and buried doesn't mean that the monster isn't still lose and scaring the villagers.

The monster is still hegemony and world domination to me. It exacerbates every other form of oppression even in the US. Our determination to dominate in the ME is leaving us little resources to work with here in the US for example, and our interference and support of repressive governments creates terrorists. They don't hate us for our freedom, they know what evil we have done and are doing, our government is good at hiding that from us.

The way I see that trumping thing, isn't that we can't talk about different sources of oppression, or even concentrate on only one at a time. It's the way that Democrats tell POC or women to shut up about our issues, that it's more important to win elections, and we will eventually get around to your silly little identity issues one fine day. White male supremacy issues trump all in the Democratic party, just like the Republican party. The same is true when you go to a feminist site and the white middle class women tell you that they gotta have their equality first and will eventually get around to yours, so stop talking about it now.

By Blogger Donna, at 12/29/2006 5:18 PM  

yup. i mean, i think we were pretty much all or most of us there saying the same thing: it's all interconnected.

i think there is a way in which to say that one is using such and such a framework because oppression x is central -for you- (general you, individual) while at the same time acknowledging that it's just -a- path, not THE path. you know?

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/29/2006 9:08 PM  

and yeah, that's related to what kristian is saying, i think: that it's okay to prioritize -in context of a particular situation.- and yeah, that was what started to go oogy over there i think: we -were- pretty much talking about transphobia and broadening it out to talk about parallel oppressions, bfp was, but without losing sight of the inciting incident, of the transhating that inspired the thread. so far so good.

then came (putting aside the personal level of all that...) what people perceived as an attempt to reposition all other oppressions under the banner of white supremacy. there was also a shift when it started becoming about racism at the Margins. maybe there would've been a way to put it into context if it hadn't been for the other eruption. then again, Heart...well, anyway.

as for the suggestion, just in a general way, that is we just solved [white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism] then all the other problems would be taken care of implicitly;

well, one, i think we all are pretty clear, that doesn't actually follow;

but even assuming okay, we're just using white supremacy or patriarchy or whatever else as a handy name for the Monolith, whatever it is, the System of interlocking oppressions, it's a bit...i mean, to say that if such and such problem were resolved, then it would follow that such and such other problem would be resolved as well. it's a bit,

"If we only had some ham, we could have ham and eggs...if we had any eggs."

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/29/2006 9:16 PM  

It's funny you should say that belle, because this afternoon I was thinking it. If I could only get rid of one of the two - racism/sexism, I would have to choose racism, which means it is central to me. The reason being, if men and women are equal then I am only equal to a native american man, we're still dirt the both of us. Besides, my native american community isn't especially sexist anyway, so most maliseet men look at me and treat me like an equal, and white people pretty much think of us as equally scummy, the men are only slightly lower because they are more likely to fight back.

On the other hand being viewed on the level of a white woman would be a step up.

I also thought, yeah, get rid of racism and the sexism would probably get worse though. "Hey them thar wimmen is only a step or two below us, we betta kick em down to th' cellar!"

By Blogger Donna, at 12/29/2006 9:21 PM  

the other thing, of course, is that there is a difference between telling someone, essentially, your [relatively minor] problems are subsumed under the banner of Our much more urgent problems, so sit tight, and in a few decades or so, you'll get yours. meanwhile; stop being so sensitive! god!

and, saying in the context of any particular very specific -discussion,- y'know, could we please stay on the given topic for the purposes of -this discussion,- and table that other very interesting topic for another discussion, soon, even! because otherwise we're gonna lose sight of what we were talking about here, and particularly since we hardly ever talk about what we're talking about here, we don't want to lose sight of it. Thanks!

which gets grey, of course, when we -are- in fact talking about such things as interlocking oppressions, parallels. nonetheless i think there's a way to keep the focus centered, you know. (and bfp is an excellent host, i am noting).

but i mean like, it's not just "discussion" either; for activism purposes, okay: i think this came up a lot during the anti-war protests. because that was a very -specific- and imminent thing we were trying to stop, and having speakers, as ANSWER did, addressing everything from Free Mumia! to sweatshop exploitation to...i mean, yes, all worth addressing, but y'know, can we try to focus here, for a minute? the connections between Mumia and the looming war in Iraq -may- be there at some level, but they're not so obvious that most people are gonna stay with you...and also, you only have the public's attention for x amount of time, and the imminent (and then-still theoretically preventable, SIGH) War is, well, kind of urgent...

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/29/2006 9:24 PM  

well and for me, as i've said, i often feel more solidarity with other lgbt folk, men included, than i do with straight women, especially straight white women with no other hegemonic "checks" against them. and, few things send me into more of a rage than someone like Catherine MacKinnon saying how the then still on the books sodomy laws were a i guess pink herring (another one), you know, from the struggle of Women.

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/29/2006 9:27 PM  

I think everyone needs a dose of Donna's super wonderful yet mysterious and secret religion. Ok, I'm not religious but I do have spiritual beliefs. I believe that there is some force, god, godess, creator, whatever. It's there. I think we are all creations of this thang. I also think none of us are mistakes. The differences we are born with are there for our own spiritual growth and the others we come into contact with. Meaning a transperson is perfect because he or she is the way that god meant and the test is my treatment of those differences. If I become a persecutor I am failing miserably. I am here to help others as much as I help myself.

Why am I talking this rigamarole? Because I actually believe this and teach my kids this and I think it's the only way to bust up the monolith. You have to be able to see other peoples' humanity and empathise with them. If we could all do this *poof* there goes sexism, *poof* there goes racism, *poof* there goes transphobia, *poof* there goes ableism...white supremacy, the patriarchy, capitalism, the monolith...it's all gone. I despair because I see so few people able to really do it though, to really see the humanity in everyone else or even want to see it.

By Blogger Donna, at 12/29/2006 9:40 PM  

I'm finding that the real allies among the white women generally have a twist. They are know what multiple identities are like too, like lgbt, or class issues, or disability, or they are international, or from a mixed race community. It's the normative middle class insular white woman who can't see past feminism as the only oppression and even then feminism is very narrowly defined. I'm sure there are some middle class white women who are more aware of many forms of oppression, it's just that they seem to be very rare.

By Blogger Donna, at 12/29/2006 9:48 PM  

Donna & Belle: You two are thinking about the same thing I am, if only from different perspectives. (I am white, but not from middle class; my father was Air Force, enlisted, and I grew up as a military brat. Drafted or enlisted? I can't decide.)

So, I've had to spend too much time dealing with the class issues, since I spend most of my time with middle class people, even though I don't feel like one of them. I didn't grow up with that feeling of entitlement. I've just been trying to unravel the issues.

Still, I've been thinking bigger about feminism (because of Lyssa Strada) and wondering whether it could be sort of a keystone (mixed metaphor ahead) for pulling out the rug from all sorts of oppressions... not because I want to deny the others exist, but just because it seems more efficient. (;~) Since, with gender, where ever you go, you are (almost always) dealing with approx. half of the population, not like with other groups that are usually much smaller. Apparently, though, gender issues are even more complicated than I knew, and I already got the notion of a continuum of gender.

This was going to be a post... but I don't have time to do it up right just now (I'm supposed to be packing), so I'm just starting something here with you two, and will see what else comes up here and elsewhere over the next few days. And I'll probably end up with something both different and better.

Basically, I realized I was looking for a shortcut, which is not quite the same thing as a cliche, but still does try to eliminate some complexity. But maybe the complexity is what needs to be explored more. (A professor once defined the purpose of education as being to learn to make fine distinctions. I loved that!)

So, if the pushing back against patriarchy Men) is not enough, what else do we need to add? Racism... WhiteMen. Classism... PrivilegedWhiteMen. Religionism? PrivilegedWhiteChristianMen. Of course, some men really do "get it" and should not be blindly included. PWCM--WhoAreOblivious... PWCM-WAO which would exclude those men who do understand, as well as those of other races, classes, etc. (It might need further refining...) I think the problem has been in trying to come up with something inclusive enough to include every oppressed group without offending anyone, when instead, we should just be trying to define the other side.

I was picturing a circle (or some other shape) surrounded by enough other shapes to represent all of the oppressed groups... since, with arrows pointing out, that would also represent something of the divide and conquer mentality that's always worked so well.

But... our challenge is to turn the arrows around, for a multi-pronged defense (I don't like the word attack in response). With this image, one cannot really say that anyone group trumps another (although some may still be larger, and others more vulnerable... just reality), but that all are needed in their own way to point out the truth to the guys in the middle. The ones who persist in being oblivious to their "privilege."

(Of course, there will be some members of oppressed groups who will identify with the guys in the middle. So what? Let the Phyllis Schafleys, Clarence Thomases, etc. glom on if they like.)

And, for would-be allies, such an image might help. Realistically, is it even possible for any one person to be an effective ally to all of the groups oppressed by PWCM-WAO? I'm thinking no, but it is probably possible to be an ally for a group or two, depending on one's experience, leanings, and curiosity.

Sorry if anything is really unclear. This was sort of rough and from the inside of my head without a safety net.

Now, I really do have to finish packing, and will have limited access to the internets. [sigh]

By Blogger Karen M, at 12/30/2006 1:22 AM  

I was picturing a circle (or some other shape) surrounded by enough other shapes to represent all of the oppressed groups... since, with arrows pointing out, that would also represent something of the divide and conquer mentality that's always worked so well.

I think of it (as i also think of the blogosphere, oddly enough), as more of a Venn diagram.

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/30/2006 2:58 AM  

donna: nod to the "people/women with an experience of more than one oppression going on tend to get it more."

i do think that personal circumstance that don't quite fit into any hegemonic "ism" factors as well.

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/30/2006 3:00 AM  

multiple identities, really, i should say; maybe it's not so useful to only position it as "oppression." i mean, i think you're right about non-U.S. or especially people of multiple nationalities people 'getting it" better; funny, i always tended to make friends from "somewhere else." (my best friend now is a gay Irish man).

i am happy you brought up spirituality as well. it's a subject i keep meaning to tackle in more depth, but...it still needs to cook, i think, with me.

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/30/2006 3:04 AM  

Finally packed, but it's too late to sleep now.

I didn't suggest a Venn diagram because I was picturing less overlap, especially between the center and the surrounding circles.

Maybe a multi-pointed star in the center? ...then the surrounding circles can overlap just enough for the tokens ;~) ?

By Blogger Karen M, at 12/30/2006 3:26 AM  

Karen, What I was saying with my religious gobbledeegook is kind of the opposite of what you are trying to get at. I think what we are fighting against is too complex, you are going to include some that shouldn't be included and exclude some that should in the diagramming process. The diagram could still be a useful tool and I would like to see what you come up with. Just as "patriarchy" is a useful word for what we are discussing but seems to have limitations depending on how each person is defining it.

I guess instead of asking what are we fighting against, I'm trying to ask what are we for, and that would be empathy. If everyone had empathy and could view the next person as a fully human a valued person, we wouldn't have any of the hate-isms or phobias.

I'm still not sure which is the better starting point for a conversation though, since there are apparently many people who do not understand empathy either.

By Blogger Donna, at 12/30/2006 2:15 PM  

the other thing, of course, is that there is a difference between telling someone, essentially, your [relatively minor] problems are subsumed under the banner of Our much more urgent problems, so sit tight, and in a few decades or so, you'll get yours. meanwhile; stop being so sensitive! god!

and, saying in the context of any particular very specific -discussion,- y'know, could we please stay on the given topic for the purposes of -this discussion,- and table that other very interesting topic for another discussion, soon, even! because otherwise we're gonna lose sight of what we were talking about here, and particularly since we hardly ever talk about what we're talking about here, we don't want to lose sight of it. Thanks!


I think you hit on what I was trying to say here. BFP did a good job moving the discussion along, getting into intersections between transpeople and radical women of color, and providing a safe space and encouraging dialogue. Generally, that's what we all want to do, and there are intersections. But it's one thing to talk about how transphobia affects people of color and how it relates to LGBT issues and a whole different thing to talk about how white supremacy would eliminate all other problems everywhere ever. And to tell someone in one marginalized community to know his or her place because there are other people in other marginalized communities too. That leads to more harmful discussion than helpful discussion.

By Blogger Sylvia, at 12/30/2006 4:48 PM  

you know, i realized afterward that i misread: and the Venn diagram was more what i had in mind for what i'm -for-.

fighting against a small stronghold of isolated dots behind a high wall, i guess. something.

By Blogger belledame222, at 1/01/2007 4:17 AM  

...but the Venn is how i see the let's call it anti-oppression, pro-democracy communities. overlapping circles. there's not one center, but there are many centers--we're each the center of our own community, say, really, at the micro level.

By Blogger belledame222, at 1/01/2007 4:19 AM  

as for empathy--i totally agree that that is the bottom line.

i think it's one of those things that either you have it or you don't; what's important for us, maybe, is learning to recognize what it looks like--even if it comes in very unfamiliar packages (someone who doesn't resemble us physically, ideologically, by background, and so forth), as well as what it doesn't--even if -that- comes in the form of someone who looks like us, talks like us, and yet...

By Blogger belledame222, at 1/01/2007 4:21 AM  

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