The Silence of Our Friends

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More on Full Frontal Feminism

Hugo Schwyzer decided to add Full Frontal Feminism to his syllabus this semester. He enjoyed the book, thought it had some value and would be relevant to his students. He strongly disagreed with the few less than laudatory reviews especially the one written by BlackAmazon.

Now that the semester is coming to an end, Hugo asked his students what their opinions were on the book, and has a post up about their responses. There are several things problematic about the post, and on going discussions regarding that are: BrownFemiPower's - Teaching Full Frontal Feminism, BlackAmazon's - I Really Tried, Crip Chick's - BA and BFP Always Get Me Going, and Sylvia/M's - Studying Women: A Mirrorless Act.

What interested and amazed me was Jessica Valenti's response to Hugo's post:
"Don't do this, Hugo. You are pitting the women of color in your classroom against women of color in the blogosphere. It's unfair on several levels. First, there is the strawman argument you are setting up, none of the women of color online who critiqued the book ever said that no women of color would ever like the book. Second you are filtering the responses of your students through your own biases in favor of my book. It would have been fairer for you to send your students directly to BlackAmazon, Sylvia/M, and Petit Poussin's blogs to have a conversation with those women about their impressions of the book. Although I couldn't say it at the time, there was a prototypical young woman I wanted to address with my books, it's the sorority girl who might eventually become the Republican voting soccer mom. That is the audience who will find the book relevant and it will have limited relevance to women of color, Christian, working class, disabled, non-American women. You should also consider a few other factors, is it possible that your students will be influenced by your enthusiasm for the book, as well as the inequality in a teacher-student relationship and vulnerability the student may feel when disagreeing? They may also be reacting to a preference to conversational tone compared to the dry reading of academic texts, and many other books contain no mention of women of color at all, they may be grateful that I included them in even the limited way that Full Frontal Feminism does."

Yeah, right. Did you really think she would ever say anything like that? I would bet that at least half the white people who read that will be more inclined to consider the points while they thought it was coming from a white person. Many others would still push back since it's favorable to women of color, I say this with Amanda's apology for the burka incident in mind, when her white fans were quick to tell her that she was wrong to apologize or show consideration for WOC. Anti-racism gets lip service only from the major white feminist bloggers and that's the way the bloggers and their white readers like it. That is why you would never see a post like that from Jessica, because she would have to actually read and listen to WOC, believe them, and incorporate their views into her feminism. That won't ever happen.

Sylvia has a wonderful post up called Stretching the Knapsack Metaphor to It's Full Bent (and Then Some). In the comments Michelle says this:
I’ve been thinking about the difference between stuff I have been/am involved with because I have a CHOICE about it, and stuff that I have no choice about. For me, the second thing, what I have no choice about, isn’t in any of the categories, even areas where I am oppressed like gender or sexual orientation. But it’s there and real and it is fucking INVOLUNTARY. I don’t get a choice about whether to be affected or not, I just AM and I can’t ever just choose to opt out and go back to being protected, because — I can’t.

On the other hand, areas that are not involuntary for me in being affected no matter what I do or want ot whatever (eg involvement in struggles against racism/white supremacy, more specifically to my life lately, migrant rights before and indigenous rights now) — these are choices of mine, and I have already stepped away from one group, chosen to be part of Y rather than X, where will I “be involved”.

IMO where people have these choices we are by definition untrustworthy. It’s great if or when we do the right thing, but it’s an action-by-action kind of situation, because at any moment we have the choice to step away, to choose to not notice because we do have a choice. Clearly we in that position are NOT the people who should be defining anything where we have this disconnect.

There are very few white allies who are trustworthy, who will do the right thing when it is at odds with their own wants, needs, goals. I am convinced that most of the major white feminists, including bloggers, have no intention of dismantling the patriarchal system, they want to join the power structure, have power over other people, and have a higher position in the hierarchy. That's why they only wink and nod when it comes to issues involving other oppressed groups then tell us to shut up while they go about their important business of getting the things that are only to their advantage, and eventually (*wink nod* never) they will get around to our "pet issues". Paying lip service to anti-racism is always to their advantage, gives them the warm fuzzies, and leads their readers to believe they are actually progressive instead of as selfish and self serving as conservatives. On the other hand squealing with glee because someone praised your book, even while that someone craps on WOC, well just ignore that crapping on WOC part, don't let that spoil your fun and white camaraderie.

15 comment(s):

I'll admit you had me going, Donna. I was going, "This is the most intelligent and nuanced thing I've ever heard JV say! This is changing my entire idea of what she's like!"


Thanks for the linkfest. I'm adding scads of books to my to-read list from the discussion at bfp, for instance.

By Blogger GeekFeminist, at 11/26/2007 12:00 AM  

I got about half way through the fake quote before i realized it was a put on...there are some things i wish she'd said, but i honestly think she believes that she wrote inclusively. And she did, in so far that bfp's profs were, how most of academia reading, at the back end of the semester, for flavor, for interest.

i'm still just damned frustrated by it all. these critiques are not all burning or destructive of her project. but how much do we want to bet that her second book will face a similar reception?

By Blogger sly civilian, at 11/26/2007 12:03 AM  

Great post Donna! You had me at "Don't do this, Hugo"...thanks for imagining a different ending!

By Anonymous Serena, at 11/26/2007 12:51 AM  

Yeah, right. Did you really think she would ever say anything like that?

dude...what they said. way to make me recalibrate my irony meter...

By Blogger belledame222, at 11/26/2007 1:09 AM  

If she had learned anything from the whole FFF fracas she would have said something like that. I was also thinking about how often POC get told, "If you want to influence people you should watch your tone and you should say things this way or that." and for once I wanted the shoe on the other foot. I wanted to put words in Jessica's mouth, the things I would love to hear her, as well as the other white feminists say. I wish when they saw us unfairly under fire they would speak up. We do have great allies who are willing to do this, but when you check out who they are, they are the ones NOT buying into the current power structure. It's really about equality for everyone to them.

By Blogger Donna, at 11/26/2007 1:19 AM  

You really had me going there! I was like "really! She said that!"

I won't hold my breath waiting for something that intelligent from that part of blogland. That would mean letting go of something they are unwilling or unable to let go of.

By Anonymous deviousdiva, at 11/26/2007 4:04 AM  

Oh yeah, I talk big all about what I hard-assed cynic I have become blah blah blah but you had me going too. Apparently at some level I am deeply naive and feel that anything is possible because people can always change and learn (*pokes myself*).

By Anonymous michelle, at 11/26/2007 2:34 PM  

haha i feel incredibly gullible although i knew it COULDN'T be real :)

By Blogger misscripchick, at 11/26/2007 8:43 PM  

I think I should put words in white peoples mouths more often. LOL I wasn't sure if it was a good idea when I was writing the post, but I just wanted to do it so baaaaadddd!

By Blogger Donna, at 11/27/2007 11:20 PM  

Donna, that was an amazingly effective literary slight of hand, so simple yet so cutting! I had already read the thread and knew you were putting us on, and yet I still found it powerful, just to imagine those words actually being said by the person in question. How scary is that?! It's a good device. Keep it in your top drawer. ;-)

Thanks, as always, for all your words, and your wisdom, and your vision.


By Blogger Kai, at 11/28/2007 2:07 AM  

Yeah, I had hopes for Jessica Valenti too when reading the quote but wondered a bit how she could change her way of thinking so much in an environment where there's been so much agreement and support by White feminists on some blogs and comments discussion threads and so many attacks against female bloggers of color who discuss her book by White feminists who don't really listen to what they're saying. And those are the people she appeared to be picking and choosing who to listen to and validate her own views.

But I think I have that part of me that michelle wrote about too.

I have the book but have been on page 3 for a long time now. I loved what bfp wrote at her site about how she would teach the book.

I agree with Kai on your using it. I really liked your post but I love this blog and the discussions that you host here. I had this interesting situation last night offline which this posting reminded me of.

By Anonymous Radfem, at 11/29/2007 6:15 PM  

Ha! I wasn't around when all of the original bullshit went down in May surrounding this book, so I haven't read what Jessica's responses were to the criticisms. That is my official defense for having been hoodwinked by the fake quote. Which was, IMO, fucking brilliant. Echoing everyone else, it was of course too good to be true.
Well played. Your post is cutting and witty, I think maybe it helps to diffuse the anger a bit.

By Anonymous Raging Blogaholic, at 11/30/2007 10:47 PM  

on the WELL, (a virtual community, one of the older ones), there is/was this feature called the "bozofilter," which one could apply to particular users and thus not have to read their posts.

toward the end of my tenure there, the coder who'd come up with the original evolved a version in which you could substitute a catchphrase of your own choice for bozofiltered.

so f'r instance you got tired of reading a particularly pugnacious energy creature (*koffsaylikeg-m-rkoff*); you could rig it so instead of their usual posts, you (and only you) (unless of course you shared your wit with others, which of course everyone did) would read something like,

"I never thought of it that way before. That's a very good point. Thank you."

...which was always especially fun when the post immediately preceding it was something like "good GOD you're an asshole" (as of course it often would be, or you wouldn't have plonked them in the first place).

Or, you know, troglodyte reactionary macho man homophobic guy who always comes in a blustering and a swinging:



"That comment hurts my inner child. Please hold me." get the idea.

By Blogger belledame222, at 12/02/2007 9:08 PM  

brilliant post, Donna!


By Anonymous jon, at 12/04/2007 5:43 PM  

OMG - it took me a long time to figure that out - good thing I read the comments!

Great post - I really like your stuff.

By Blogger Plain(s)feminist, at 1/10/2008 1:22 AM  

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