Focusing schmocusing

// 11 June 2008

The Washington Post ran a really infuriating article by Linda Hirshman, arguing against intersectionality. In fact, Hirshman argues, a focus on how sexism intersects with other oppressions, such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, class, poverty, and so on, weakens feminism and excludes middle class white older feminists.

Well, I disagree strongly with this ‘perspective’. What kind of sisterhood is Hirshman invoking? One in which immigration politics is not feminism’s fight? How about this?

It’s not just about solidarity – it’s about the fact that if we don’t understand intersectionality, we will simply be ineffective in tackling sexism, because we won’t understand how it is being played out in our societies.

Can we understand even an issue like beauty standards in advertising, without understanding how race plays into it? How sexuality plays into it? How agism and class play into it? Could you ‘fix’ advertising images by including more diverse images of white, straight women? No. Look what happens when you try this.

Anyway, I’m not going to go through this article point-by-point as others have already done so very effectively:

I recommend reading Having Read the Fine Print… for a thorough dissection of this article – particularly Blackamazon goes into some of the specifics of how Hirshman’s article was inaccurate and misrepresentative, who she did and did not interview and more.

Also see Brownfemipower’s must-read response:

This form of activism will bring benefits to rich white women-but it *prioritizes* the most marginalized of the marginalized. Is there something wrong with this? And if so, why is there nothing wrong with a feminism that *prioritizes* rich white women?

Photo by Trishhhh, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Sandy // Posted 11 June 2008 at 1:51 pm

I don’t agree with a lot of what Linda Hirschman says in her article. But I must say I’ve never noticed any anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia etc groups or organisations giving any minute of their days to the cause of feminism!

InnerBrat // Posted 11 June 2008 at 2:11 pm

This thinking confuses me – how can anyone not think racism and homophobia horrible things that must be tackled? I just don’t understand how you can cherry-pick on issues like equality.

Zenobia // Posted 11 June 2008 at 2:18 pm

thumbs up to this post

But I must say I’ve never noticed any anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia etc groups or organisations giving any minute of their days to the cause of feminism!

Of course, because they are set up to tackle those specific issues and to specialise in them, whereas women simply make up 50% (or 51% even) of the world’s population, so are affected by all of those things. Actually, I’d argue an anti-homophobia or anti-racism association would be tackling women’s rights every time they dealt with a woman’s specific case, because there is no way you can disassociate any of these things, and a lot of racial discrimination is inherently gendered – this is even more true of homophobic discrimination.

It’s quite simple, there is no way you can possibly comment on anyone’s situation unless you take into account all the variables that affect them, and not just the ones that are of interest to you. To refuse to do so shows an incapacity to empathise with anyone who isn’t you (or Linda Hirschman in this case)

Soirore // Posted 11 June 2008 at 2:27 pm

The Hirshman article is so offensive and as the critics observed just incorrect on many points. My main problem was the assumption that good American feminists should have supported Clinton. Can you imagine feminists arguing in 1979 that we should vote for Thatcher because she’s female? No, they didn’t because her interests and the interests of her party did not support women’s interests in general.

I’m really tired of this exclusionary approach to feminism which seems to have increased in profile over the last few months with white US feminists regularly undermining woc. I say US only because there’s less dialogue on race in the UK not because I think we don’t do it.

Anyway, it isn’t the sisterhood I signed up for although ironically it (this kind of article) has made me more aware of my own privileges and has made diverse feminisms more visible. So in that way by writing something so moronic Hirshman is having the opposite effect on me than intended.

Juliet // Posted 11 June 2008 at 3:16 pm

Zenobia says the organisations the first commentator mentioned as not focusing on feminism don’t do that because they tackle their own specific issues and specialise in them….fair enough.

But isn’t feminism a “specific issue” that needs specialising in?!!!

Anne Onne // Posted 11 June 2008 at 3:44 pm

Wow, poor white middle-class feminists, they just don’t get any love! I do understand why older feminists may feel excluded (though it would help if they didn’t pretend younger feminists don’t exist!), but it IS an integral part of any movement that one should examine one’s privilege, and where one’s perspective comes from. If feminism can’t acknowledge the privileges of those of its members who are white, middle class cissexual and heterosexual, then it will silence those who are not. Namely, POC, LGBTQ and people who are not middle class.

Juliet, the thing is, feminism is also needed for women of colour. It is also needed for lesbian women, trans women and poor women. These women don’t live in the same world as white, middle-class feminists. The issues that affect them are intersectional, a result of their race, gender and sexuality. As such feminism on their behalf must necessarily address the other things that adds to their oppression.

White middle class feminists are not immune to oppressing other groups, especially if they play oppression olympics, and see ‘feminism’ as more of a worthy cause than fighting racism or homophobia. Concentrating on feminism because it’s what you’re most knowledgeable about is one thing, insisting that a focus on anything else is wrong because it doesn’t focus on privileged groups is just throwing your toys out of the cot.

I guess it’s extra important other white middle class feminists use this as a reminder to confront privilege, and work with otehr activists. We’re on the same side, after all.

Zenobia // Posted 11 June 2008 at 3:53 pm

Zenobia says the organisations the first commentator mentioned as not focusing on feminism don’t do that because they tackle their own specific issues and specialise in them….fair enough.

But isn’t feminism a “specific issue” that needs specialising in?!!!

You don’t have to talk about me in the third person like I’m not there you know, particularly if you’re going to use such large amounts of exclamatory punctuation.

To answer your question, ‘women’s rights’ covers lots and lots of specific issues which each need specific attention, there isn’t one big issue called ‘feminism’.

Zenobia // Posted 11 June 2008 at 4:24 pm

Although I have to wonder, when do we stop asking whether the situations of most women on the planet (white middle-class Western women being a small minority) actually matter to us, and start actually working on them, rather than this whole ‘nnngnggnnngnnggnn what’s my place in this oh the pain oh I’m trying so hard me me me’, which must be pretty annoying to read for people in those situations and/or working on these issues.

Juliet // Posted 11 June 2008 at 4:58 pm

Dear Anne, thank you for the lecture. And for stereotyping me as a “white, middle class feminist”. Oh and “older”. Well, you could be right there, I am 34.

When I referred to feminism, I meant ALL women whatever gender/race/sexual orientation etc.

Zenobia, I apologize. I didn’t mean to talk about you in the third person, I was just quoting some of what you’d written in your post and then raising a general question. I can’t talk ‘about’ you because I don’t actually know anything about you. You and Anne, however, seem to assume you know quite a lot about me. The situations of all women on the planet do matter to me, and I am doing the best I as an individual can do to work on them.

Mo // Posted 11 June 2008 at 5:47 pm

Zenobia and Anne Onne, your rudeness and patronising of other posters is breathtaking. I thought this was supposed to be a safe space for feminists…?

How do you know Juliet is white and middle class? Or older? Even if she is, what right do you have to make her out to be so ignorant and hostile?

Jess McCabe // Posted 11 June 2008 at 7:24 pm

I don’t agree with a lot of what Linda Hirschman says in her article. But I must say I’ve never noticed any anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia etc groups or organisations giving any minute of their days to the cause of feminism!

Sandy, I would say a) I’ve seen this, b) there is a problem with lack of attention to gender in some organisations focusing on different vectors of oppression and c) if you read the posts linked to, by BFP and Blackamazon, you’ll read some of the work being done to lobby anti-racist organisations to take gender into account too.

Even if none of this work was going on, that’s hardly an excuse for feminists to shrug their shoulders and ignore the issue!

As Zenobia pointed out, women make up 51% of the population. As well as meaning other organisations tackle gender by default (although I would say this isn’t always the case, as gender discrimination can play into the tactics taken, etc), it also means you’d be hard pressed to find any issue to which you cannot take a feminist lense and see gender playing out.

Emily McLear // Posted 11 June 2008 at 7:43 pm

I just re-read the f-word blog rules and think Anne Onne has broken them by being ‘classist’ in her comments to Juliet, as well as generally patronising and offensive. I’d add ‘ageist’ to that as well. It’s rubbish to say older feminists pretend younger ones don’t exist. Maybe some don’t, of course. But not all.

Or don’t these rules apply to bloggers?

Anne Onne // Posted 11 June 2008 at 8:29 pm

Eh, Sorry, Juliet, only the paragraph starting with ‘Juliet..’ was replying specifically to you.

The rest was in general addressing the white, middle class feminists presented in the post and their views. I didn’t mean to imply anything about you, and I wasn’t pitching it at you directly.

Looking back, I should have been clearer, because my reply to you melded with my reply about the post in general. It does look rather like I’m singling you out as one of the privileged feminists and complaining about you specifically, which is definitely not the case. I’m sorry for the impression I gave.

zohra // Posted 11 June 2008 at 9:06 pm

Hi Sandy

Two things:

1. Agree with Jess: even if it were true that anti-racist groups/organizations didn’t give ‘any minute of their days to the cause of feminism’, that wouldn’t make it ok for feminist organizations to be racist (which is what happens when race is effaced).

2. The fact that you’ve never noticed any other issue/identity-based organizations working on feminism is a function of your experience, not an empirical reality. Here’s one that is: http://colours.mahost.org/

zohra // Posted 11 June 2008 at 9:19 pm

and check out OBV’s efforts: http://www.obv.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=15&Itemid=31

zenobia // Posted 12 June 2008 at 10:18 am

Juliet, I can only assume anything about you from what you’ve posted here, and that’s all I was responding to.

Hmm, this reminds me why I don’t generally comment here, if you have arguments and examples and so on you get mauled for being patronising.

Good post anyway Jess, now I’ve made my point, I’m out of here.

You can talk about me in the third person again now if you like.

*ducks out of thread*

Zenobia // Posted 12 June 2008 at 1:25 pm

Juliet, the thing is, feminism is also needed for women of colour. It is also needed for lesbian women, trans women and poor women. These women don’t live in the same world as white, middle-class feminists. The issues that affect them are intersectional, a result of their race, gender and sexuality. As such feminism on their behalf must necessarily address the other things that adds to their oppression.

Actually, Anne, to duck back into the thread for a moment, I think I have to partly disagree with this. You’re speaking as though those women are exceptions and white, middle-class women are the majority – but poor, non-white women make up a majority of the population, and queer women make up a huge chunk of it also, much larger than is often acknowledged.

Also, race, class, gender, sexuality, also affect white middle-class women, who don’t exist in a vacuum – in fact a lot of the problems with their approach to feminism come from the fact that they tend to assume that they exist in a vacuum. They don’t live in a different world, their actions have an effect on the rest of us.

Also, you have nothing to apologise for! Women are too used to saying ‘sorry’ all the time – don’t apologise unless you really feel you have something to apologise for.

*ducks back out again*

Jess McCabe // Posted 12 June 2008 at 1:59 pm

Also, race, class, gender, sexuality, also affect white middle-class women, who don’t exist in a vacuum – in fact a lot of the problems with their approach to feminism come from the fact that they tend to assume that they exist in a vacuum

Indeed.

Denise // Posted 12 June 2008 at 2:56 pm

Why all this hostility towards and insulting preconceptions about “white, middle-class feminists”? Aren’t most of them ultra-conscious of their privilege and, like anyone who calls themselves a feminist, trying to fight for rights for all women everywhere? Some commenters and posters at the f-word seem to attack them more than they would sexist men.

This doesn’t help. Unless you want to exclude them.

Jess McCabe // Posted 12 June 2008 at 3:30 pm

Denise – where you see “hostility”, I see “critique”.

No one is (well, I am not) arguing that the concerns of white, middle class feminists about their own experiences of patriarchy and sexism are irrelevant or not worth dealing with. Hey, I am white and middle class/

I think it would be nice to say that most women in this demographic are ultra-conscious of their/our privilege, but a) you can never be conscious enough to completely avoid the blindness that privilege confers on you – we’ve all seen this manifest itself in male privilege. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve said stupid shit that I regret. Everyone has – we’re all human.

And b) women who *are* affected by these intersecting oppressions are voicing the fact that these issues are falling by the wayside. What, we should ignore that?! I’ve seen it (only occasionally) on this blog, when I post about an intersectional issue and get comments asking why I’m posting on it on a feminist blog!

I don’t think that anyone reading this blog on a regular basis could seriously think any of us attack middle class white women more than sexist men(!!!!)

Zenobia // Posted 12 June 2008 at 8:52 pm

And b) women who *are* affected by these intersecting oppressions are voicing the fact that these issues are falling by the wayside. What, we should ignore that?! I’ve seen it (only occasionally) on this blog, when I post about an intersectional issue and get comments asking why I’m posting on it on a feminist blog!

Besides, white middle-class women are the tiny minority of women that are unaffected by everything but their gender. They’re also, by and large, less criticised and more respected than other women in feminist circles. I mean, is the work of Andrea Smith any less vital than the work of Betty Friedan? I’d argue more, of anything. Yet, who’s the ‘big, important feminist’ and who’s the ‘speciality interest’.

As for hostility, as far as I’m concerned, there was none coming from me, and I equally don’t care to apologise for anything I said. As for sexist men, well, aside from counting the ways in which they’re sexist there’s nothing new to say there…

Anne Onne // Posted 12 June 2008 at 10:25 pm

Zenobia, I agree with what you wrote, and I wasn’t trying to suggest otherwise. Non-white, non-middle class, non-heterosexual women are a majority, hence why intersectionality is particularly important to feminism, because racism, transphobia and homophobia affect many women. More than they don’t affect. But even if they only affect a tiny minority, it still affects people, and still needs to be addressed.

Also, when I wrote ‘different world’, I meant subject to very different concerns and conditions. To a woman struggling to put food on the table, for example, the glass ceiling is an abstract principle. Clearly, our actions affect each other, and the fact that white middle class feminists don’t live in a vaccum is essential to this post. Just like your average man, we benefit from the oppression of POC and LGBTQ people as white people. This means that if we as white middle-class feminists don’t pay attention, we are in constant danger of giving in to the conditioning of society which leads us to silence WOC and the LGBTQ community. It is this effect we need to fight.

I apologised because I believe an apology is necessary if you offend someone, regardless of whether it was intentional. It would be easy to say someone’s too sensitive, or offer an ‘I’m sorry you had the audacity to be offended’ apology, but it’s not right. It’s not about whether you meant to offend, or can see why you offended someone- I’m honestly baffled by how my comment could have been interpreted as a direct attack when I never addressed the commenter in question in the second person or directly stated she was any of the above, because most of my other comments are in a similar format, and people haven’t drawn the same conclusions, in the past. However, my feelings on my phrasing don’t affect whether or not someone felt unjustly attacked for giving their opinion. I don’t want to contribute to reasonable commenters feeling put upon, for whatever reason, so it’s important to correct things when you make a mistake.

About the post and comments in general: Feminism is personal, and we’re talking about personal things. Sometimes, these affect us all, and things can get quite heated, because the discussion is close to the heart, which is likely to cause personal reactions, whether they are defensive or critical. Feminists are as human as anybody else, and as likely to misread something, or write a poorly phrased comment as anyone else. This being the internet, it’s really easy to misinterpret someone’s tone, or disagree but phrase it badly. Hence why it’s important to clear things up, and show that it’s possible to disagree but that the disagreement or criticism isn’t personal.

On why we are being so harsh: I believe that allies should be given leniency, in that discourse between different groups and individuals can only improve things, and it’s easier to foster learning by not giving up on someone because they say something privileged or ignorant. It’s the other party’s right to, but overall, I just think it makes things harder.

However, if as white feminists we want to be real allies to WOC feminists and LGBTQ feminists, we need to practice what we tell men to do, and try to examine our own privileges. We don’t accept it when men try to make issues affecting women all about them. We tell men that it’s not personal, that it’s not about them as an individual if we rant about men, and this is what this post is all about. We are not attacking all white well-off feminists by denouncing the words of some in particular. And it’s not personal.

But we must always remember that activism is especially not about making the privileged (be they white, heterosexual, cissexual, middle-class or male) comfortable, or focusing on them, and that a necessary part of equality is taking the focus very deliberately off privileged groups. It’s up to us as privileged groups to examine why we feel left out when women unlike us are discussed. Some white supposedly liberal men who felt left out because for once, neither of the candidates for the Democrat party in the US were white men. They felt alienated. Do I doubt their sincerity? No.

But where is this emotion coming from? Because they’re so used to being addressed, simply having the focus on someone not like them is enough to alienate. Does this mean that it was wrong to have both a white woman and a black man running for candidate? No. These men weren’t actively trying to oppress women or POC, but they just never thought about what it was like for them and how they had never had the luxury of a candidate just like them. That’s what some white middle-class feminists are doing. Not all, but some.

What I’m trying to say is that feeling left out is not caused by the same thing in all groups. If you’re part of the oppressed, it’s caused by the systematic silencing and oppression you face. If you happen to be privileged, you are used to people like you getting an easier ride than everyone else. This means that having your privilege lessen slightly is enough to result in the same feeling of being left out. It’s a natural response, and it’s something we can all work on, so that if we examine our behaviour, we take it less personally when our group is mentioned, less affected. Every one of us started as completely privileged and ignorant of feminism and other movements. None of us started to recognise subtle discrimination at once, it is a journey of stripping away more and more privilege so that we can be more able to realise what is oppressive, and so that we can listen more carefully to others.

I don’t believe that there is any middle way in being an ally. To me, this is no different to us feminists telling men that if they’re not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem, because they will fall into misogynistic patterns unless they try to confront their male privilege and consciously try to break out of the misogyny they’ve been taught to accept. Of course, not everybody will agree with me on this, although I agree that there is clearly a difference between a basically well-meaning person who hasn’t examined their privilege and a full-blown bigot. When we’re talking about basically well-meaning people, it isn’t conscious or deliberate. None of us here want to benefit from the oppression of others. It’s worth stating that having privilege of any sort doesn’t make anyone a bad person. It just means that they are brought up less likely to consider the experiences of people different to themselves, and to prioritise their own experiences and points of view.

I get a feeling that our criticism of white looks like it’s coming from completely different people. It’s not. I won’t speak for everyone, but since a large part of the mainstream feminist movement is white and middle class, many of us are white, middle-class feminists ourselves. Maybe we know the thought processes of feeling left out, because we’ve been there ourselves. I’ve been there. We know what that privilege feels like, because it’s something we’ve struggled with ourselves. And for me, it’s especially because this is my group, I feel that I have to be critical of us as white middle-class feminists, because there is so much that we can miss, and so many ways we alienate other feminists. It’s not the job of WOC and LGBTQ feminists to constantly educate us, so we have to try and take it upon ourselves, like we expect male feminists to do.

This isn’t a lecture. It’s not addressed to one reader. We write criticism and explanations not because we assume a particular reader is ignorant of everything, but because the F word is something akin to feminism 101 in that it does try to pitch at different levels, and does try to explain to people at all stages. If a reader is familiar with the theory, that’s great! But if they aren’t, they might find a bit more explanation a helpful reminder. I personally owe much of my understanding to thoughtful commenters who were willing to explain basics, and wrote extensively about how they saw things. I didn’t always agree with them, but I learned so much, and I’m ever grateful that people took the time to write out what they saw as basics. I see my task as a commenter or guest blogger as a continuation of this, a kind of repayment of the favour. It’s one of the few things I can do, (write long explanations, that is), hence the long replies and director’s commentary. Of course, nobody has to read the comments if they consider them uninteresting or old news.

Last but not least, I apologise for not quanitfying that only some older feminists disregard the younger movement. I was so focused on the white middle-class feminists in particular who mourn the lack of a young movement, or feel inclusion is exclusory to them, because they are the ones garnering the most attention, that I forgot to acknowledge the many older feminists who contribute heavily to the movement, and do recognise the way in which it has grown.

Zenobia // Posted 13 June 2008 at 10:06 am

Also, when I wrote ‘different world’, I meant subject to very different concerns and conditions. To a woman struggling to put food on the table, for example, the glass ceiling is an abstract principle.

Looks like we more or less agree then.

As for the whole apologising thing, I think it’s a little too easy to just say you’re offended because you don’t like something someone said. After all, you’re free to take offense or not. I also really can’t stand fake apologies, particularly ‘sorry if I offended you’, because often (1) I haven’t taken offense and (2) I’m not looking for an apology and (3) it’s often an attempt to evade the point being made because you’d rather go into name-calling than address the point at hand.

Yeah, I agree there’s no middle-ground to being an ally – I’m not sure ‘ally’ is really the best word for it though but that’s another topic. You can’t just pay lip-service so people can see you’re being an ally and then forget about it the rest of the time.

Man, we’re a couple of windbags aren’t we?

Soirore // Posted 13 June 2008 at 11:34 am

I’m finding this discussion really interesting but I am still uneasy about classifications.

I am middle class but due to where I live, who I hang around with and the jobs I have done in the past people have assumed I’m working class. I don’t feel I am particularly priveliged in day to day life due to my class, only in certain situations where my education is known or whatever. Even when I do feel the privilege of class and education (btw do you stop being working class if you have a degree?) I don’t feel separated from my working class friends and colleagues.

I, like many others I suspect, see myself primarily as a woman. This doesn’t mean I’m blind to my whiteness and middle-classness. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I prioritise my interests over others women’s. It would be lunacy to suggest that increasing the numbers of women in senior positions in business is as important as the rape and murder of women that happens every day. Surely no sensible person would suggest it was. But just because I’m middle class doesn’t mean I focus on economic issues. Just because another feminist is a WOC doesn’t mean necessarily that she will prioritise race issues.

We need to stop categorising and labelling people and focus more on issues that are important to feminism as a whole. I’m always disappointed when stories like the one above about Daisy Dube’s murder don’t get comments and more frivolous issues get lots. I am completely guilty of this as that kind of issue makes me too sad and defeatist about the world plus I don’t feel I have the expertise to comment. Why there is a lack of comments should be addressed and questions asked rather than trying to guess what class/ colour/ sexuality of feminist is ignoring the issues.

I hope this makes sense. I don’t know why I’m adding to a conversation that has already had the main points made so well. I should be researching into important things… It’s my fault I know that I, personally, focus on the side of feminism that analyses culture etc. and doesn’t do anything to change the really important stuff. Is folowing what I’m interested in bad feminism? Or should I stop thinking about films and investigate other things? I feel guilty now. What I believe is important and what I spend my time doing don’t quite match.

Zenobia // Posted 13 June 2008 at 2:12 pm

I’m finding this discussion really interesting but I am still uneasy about classifications.

I think we have to agree that the classifications are flawed but still useful, I mean, I don’t really know if I count as working class or middle class either, I certainly don’t have middle class wages but there are other factors. And I feel uncomfortable banging my fist on the table about ‘white feminists!!!’ as well, since I’m whiter than a snowman with a polar bear fetish, so doing so amounts to saying ‘I’m better than the other white people’ – which, I suspect, is what some people find problematic about my attitude.

We need to stop categorising and labelling people and focus more on issues that are important to feminism as a whole.

See, I don’t think there’s any point in there being a ‘feminism as a whole’, or one movement as a whole, because that entails that we’re at least going to agree on some things, and that the most powerful are going to act as delegates and speak for the rest of us – and I’m not happy with that, and neither are a lot of people. You end up with what Brownfemipower describes in the post described above – not a movement, but an exclusive networking club. And the uses for that are really limited. I think if there is going to be one movement there needs to be a whole lot more work done and a whole lot less telling people to shut up and tow the line.

Is folowing what I’m interested in bad feminism? Or should I stop thinking about films and investigate other things? I feel guilty now. What I believe is important and what I spend my time doing don’t quite match.

Then again, if you don’t waste time beating yourself up you’ll have time for all of that, movies are great so there’s no reason not to talk about them. I think it’s more about establishing what you do and doing it conscientiously. No need to torture yourself, just ask ‘What needs doing?’, ‘What’s the best way of doing it?’ and ‘What can I contribute?’ – you might end up blogging about movies and doing the rest of your work elsewhere, and that’s fine.

And we need to get away from this ‘Am I a bad feminist?’ thing as well, it’s not terribly healthy.

Not terribly successful in ducking out of the thread, was I? Oh well.

Zenobia // Posted 13 June 2008 at 2:18 pm

Although, I have to be frank, what I find really depressing is stuff like earlier this week, when Jess posted the story about Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez keeling over and dying while picking grapes, and that got like two responses, whereas the post below about high heels for babies got thirteen horrified comments, including one to the effect of ‘I think I’m going to faint’. Let me tell you, the temptation to leave and extremely snarky comment along the lines of ‘good thing you don’t pick grapes for a living then’ was very, very strong.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 June 2008 at 3:05 pm

what I find really depressing is stuff like earlier this week, when Jess posted the story about Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez keeling over and dying while picking grapes, and that got like two responses, whereas the post below about high heels for babies got thirteen horrified comments, including one to the effect of ‘I think I’m going to faint’

I also found this depressing. When me and zohra did this Guardian thing earlier in the week, I pulled up the website on a projector, and those two posts were at the top of the page – the high heels for babies post got an audible reaction from the audience.

However, I think it’s understandable in many ways – after all, a grape picker on the other side of the planet is distanced, literally and figuratively from our lives in the UK. And the issue of border oppression it plays into, while related to issues of borders and immigration politics here, is not the same.

Add to this that we’re all conditioned early on and throughout our lives to value non-UK, non-white lives less than any others – and, well, that is difficult to overcome.

Soirore // Posted 13 June 2008 at 3:47 pm

I agree with you totally about finding the lack of comments on some topics depressing. What I was trying to say in my last confused post that I was unsure of what I should do about it personally .

I don’t feel distant to Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, I just feel a) the situation is too depressing and I’m powerless, and b)that I may be too uninformed to comment. These are the primary issues for me rather than my class, colour and regional privileges (although these inform the above). It’s sometimes easier for us to complain about high heels for babies because it is a fairly simple issue.

Thanks for your response btw Zenobia. Please rest assured that I do spend more time doing useful things and less torturing myself over being a good feminist. I was dealing with some work issues just before I posted. Also I agree that there isn’t a monolithic feminism, I was just trying to say that I wasn’t keen on a segregated one either. And as you said; it’s not good enough just paying lip service to being allies.

Anne Onne // Posted 13 June 2008 at 6:57 pm

Soirore, I actually really like the idea of privilege not as something that you either have or don’t, but something on many sliding scales, almost like many dimensions. I love the idea of a kyriarchy for the same reason: life is really complicated, and in different situations there are different influences, different levels of privilege, and different effects. Grouping people is ultimately pointless, since in real life people don’t easily fit averages or categories. The point of referring to people by any kind of tag, whether it be gender, class or race, in discussions such as these, isn’t to imply a list of privileges or oppressions set in stone, or as least I don’t see it that way. I see it as a way to remind ourselves that we do have privilege, and to help us examine it by giving us a clue. But privilege is something that comes in many levels, in many situations. I’ll use myself as an example.

I identify as white. I’m from Eastern Europe, so basically caucasian. I’m a tad olive skinned, but not really that dark, just noticeably different. I’ve always been aware of the flack people get for looking different to the white default, because I’ve seen first hand the way my Asian and black friends have been treated. I have white privilege, because I’ve never had abuse to that extent (though I have had racial slurs directed towards me, too). I am still very capable of ignoring racism around me if I don’t make the effort to engage it, to notice it.

But at the same time, I’ve always been very aware I don’t look Anglo-Saxon. When I meet people, they know I’m not ‘English’, and I’ve never met someone who didn’t ask where I was from. When I’m with my Middle-Eastern and Pakistani friends, I’m often assumed by others to share their background. Strangely, it’s less likely for people to assume I’m Pakistani if I’m not with them, but at the very least, people assume I’m Turkish or from the Mediterranean. This whole tanent about my ethicity is about one thing: Context is everything, and privilege can change a lot on context. To be discriminated against as an ‘other’, it’s enough for someone else to see you as an ‘other’, regardless of how similar or different you are.

I don’t think the term POC applies to me, specifically, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it, because to me it would feel like I would be comparing my lesser discriminations to theirs. It’s an act of my allying myself to the anti-racism movement that I don’t want to co-opt their word. It’s the only way I can fight my white privilege, by trying to put myself in perspective, and using my experiences to sympathise with others, whose suffering is worse.

I’ll admit to being an ethnic minority, though. I’m only reminded that I’m different every day of my life. :)

About the serious posts: I do think priviege and immediacy to people’s lives plays a part. But also, there’s something else, at least for me. With some posts, I can think of something to write. It might be an angry rant, it might be an analysis. But with some, I just feel so… desolate reading it that I don’t know what to say. It’s the same way I feel when I talk to someone who’s lost someone they love recently. I don’t know what to say, because nothing can make it better, and even my writing how bad it is makes me feel cheap, ineffective, and is a reminder that there’s so much out there to fight.

I can’t speak for everyone out there, but I do think that sometimes there’s nothing that can easily be said about very painful subjects that make us lose faith. It’s much easier to dissect something fairly irrelevant, than something very very depressing.

Yes, we do like to ramble…but that’s a good thing, I think.

And Soirore, I second Zenobia. The patriarchy does enuogh to beat us down without our adding to it. Guilt is not constuctive, and you’re not doing anything wrong. I’m a beleiver that people work best in a movement if they can freely choose how to contribute, without feeling like they ‘have’ to do something.

Maybe you’re not ready to tackle something more grave. Even if you only contribute media analysis, every step helps. Instead of looking at individual contributions, let’s look at the bigger picture- the movement is big, and there’s space within that for all sorts of feminists. Every little bit of analysis will help build up a more detailed, richer movement, each person will affect others.

When you feel ready, or know what you want to do and take the plunge, into ‘serious’ issues, I’m sure you’ll be committed and capable. It may be a matter of natural progression that you’ll feel more confident with more experience, or maybe you just won’t know how to tackle ‘bigger’ issues. But it doesn’t matter either way.

If you never go in that direction, that’s fine, too. Feminism also needs media analysis and ‘lighter’ stuff, whatever the ‘concentrate on the big issues’ trolls say. You’ll do best if you do what you really wnat to do. And whatever that is, it will be useful. Let’s build a movement that’d diverse, where everybody contributes whatever they know their strength is at that time.

chem_fem // Posted 14 June 2008 at 10:36 am

what I find really depressing is stuff like earlier this week, when Jess posted the story about Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez keeling over and dying while picking grapes, and that got like two responses, whereas the post below about high heels for babies got thirteen horrified comments, including one to the effect of ‘I think I’m going to faint’

I think that the ‘babies in high heels’ post is easier to comment on because an extra degree of sensitivity is not required.

No body here will be surprised that an eloquent usage of words is not an easy or natural thing to me. To know how to appropriately phrase my disgust and frustration with something that clearly requires not only sensitivity but also a degree of tact that comes with talking about those who have less privilege than I do. I’m sure I’ve replied in haste and have come across as all sorts of things in the past, on topics I felt passionately enough to over come that fear – even then it is normally in response to other commenter’s, rather than the original post.

The post about Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez required more than I feel my writing abilities can give.

Zenobia // Posted 15 June 2008 at 12:58 pm

I think that the ‘babies in high heels’ post is easier to comment on because an extra degree of sensitivity is not required.

No body here will be surprised that an eloquent usage of words is not an easy or natural thing to me. To know how to appropriately phrase my disgust and frustration with something that clearly requires not only sensitivity but also a degree of tact that comes with talking about those who have less privilege than I do. I’m sure I’ve replied in haste and have come across as all sorts of things in the past, on topics I felt passionately enough to over come that fear – even then it is normally in response to other commenter’s, rather than the original post.

The post about Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez required more than I feel my writing abilities can give.

That’s understandable, I’ve felt the same way too, but it’s still not a good reason to censor yourself. With all the events around feminism and racism lately – and I’m aware I’ve only witnessed the very latest, relatively small manifestations of a history of racism within women’s movements – I think I’ve had to come to the conclusion that to voice your thoughts, however clumsily, is always better than to say nothing. Plus, if you don’t voice them, how do you know they’ll be tactless? Why do you think you need something as dishonest as ‘tact’ to broach the subject of ‘the less privileged’?

Actually, I’ve had to come to the conclusion, personally, that if I remain non-committal in these things, it’s the same as supporting the other side, because I’d essentially be leaving the radical WOC out in the cold and sending the message that their work matters, but it doesn’t matter quite as much as my own comfort or status in the feminist networking community.

I find it pretty baffling that coming to terms with one’s privilege is supposed to be this herculean task that takes many years. All it takes is the simple step of no longer being a douchebag, followed by self-education (which is the hard part, but effort is good, people).

(and if that sounds harsh, it’s addressed to myself as much as anyone else).

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