[This is a cross-post from an earlier blogger which did not publish when I transferred the blog wordpress]
I started this blog post several months ago after I entered a discussion about the existence of Islamaphobia (it does) and whether or not its possible for individuals to “see past stereotypes”. It started as an attempt to clarify my thoughts following the discussion but I couldn’t quite articulate what I wanted to say. As a white, middle class feminist, it felt arrogant to try to write this piece. It felt equally arrogant not to write. I also lost a friend because of that discussion. So, I took the chickenshit way out and didn’t finish writing this piece.
This piece would probably have stayed as a draft in my file marked “too scared to post” had it not been for yet another debate on whether or not Beyonce is a feminist [Frankly, I would have thought that was a question for Beyonce to answer rather than white women deciding for her but, apparently, no]. Now, I haven’t read the article in Ms Magazine which has, once again, kickstarted the debate so this isn’t so much a response to that article as it is burblings from my brain. For a proper response to that article, please read this post on Gradient Lair.
Really, I shouldn’t be conflating these two issues but I’m still trying to work out what I want to say. It’s so hard to articulate effectively in a medium like twitter wherein people seem to want to take offence the moment you disagree with them without actually listening to why you disagree with them and others who want to take offence no matter what you say. I don’t like this idea that there is an official arbiter of who is and who is not a feminist. I also don’t like this idea that we can not have disagreements about feminism without people deliberately taking offence when none was intended. I also don’t want to cause hurt unintentionally. I am afraid I will be by writing this or, at least, I’m afraid that I can’t write this without sounding pompous, patronising and utterly ridiculous. At the same time, not writing feels like I’m deliberately ignoring my sisters.
Basically, I don’t think it’s possible to not be racist, homophobic, disablist or misogynist in our Capitalist-Patriarchal culture. I want to claim that I am none of the above but that feels, well, arrogant, considering we live in a culture in which I, as a middle class white woman with a high standard of patriarchy-approved education, have a tremendous amount of privilege. Regardless of how hard we try, it is almost impossible to live, as a privileged white woman, without reinforcing the White Supremacy. We reinforce the White Supremacy in a myriad of small ways daily; many of these are unintentional but they still function to reinforce the oppression of our sisters.
As privileged white women, it is our responsibility to stand with our sisters: to listen, to support and to challenge those engaged in abusive language or behaviour. In real life, it is generally easy to know (or feel safe) when to call someone on behaviour or language which is offensive: to know when calling a man on offensive language will result in him listening or when it will result in violence. I very rarely call men out directly because I am afraid of male violence. I call the police but that rarely results in the police doing anything. It is hypocritical of me to call women out more than men, when male violence is the problem, but that is our culture. I am less afraid of having my jaw broken when calling out a woman than a man. This does result in reinforcing the patriarchal construct of holding women to a higher standard of behaviour than men but I am not sure how to change this without getting assaulted.
On twitter, it is so much more difficult to know when to call someone out. You cannot know how the person will respond and whilst there is no immediate threat of physical violence, abusive language [and getting their mates along to threaten] does silence people. These tactics on twitter are getting more common and more abusive. There is an assumption that everyone must call everyone out over every written word. There is little attempt to have constructive dialogue; the first response is abusive language followed by having a mob descend on a person. Whilst some people are lost causes [see Dr. Christian], having a large number of people descend on one person using abusive language doesn’t actually help especially if that person did not intend to cause offence. Call out culture on twitter isn’t about changing the language which, sometimes unintentionally, supports the White Supremacist Patriarchal culture. Frequently, it feels like a group of people with boundary and anger issues taking out their personal issues on other people.
Make no mistake, I am not suggesting that we stop calling people out for reinforcement of the White Supremacist Patriarchal culture. I am suggesting that we pause before attacking and assess the situation, particularly when it is privileged white women doing the calling out. Yes, we absolutely have to stand up for sisters but we also must ensure that we aren’t speaking for them either. Many of the “call out” rucks I have seen on twitter have been by white women-born on behalf of other women. Whilst it is important that we examine our own privilege and participate in the call-out culture, far too often I have seen women taking offence on behalf of an oppressed group and then speak for them. This is equally unacceptable as it contributes to the Othering of women.
I have called out numerous people on twitter but only those who I think will listen or those whose followers might listen in the case of celebrities. Frequently, I do so via DM because I find people respond better to polite suggestions than angry ranting [although angry ranting at Dr. Christian is quite therapeutic]. I do this for people who clearly intended no harm. I report those who are clearly trolling with abusive language because they are only after the fight. I won’t engage in debate because they genuinely don’t give a shit who they hurt. They just thrive on the attention and we need to stop giving them the attention.
In the personal case I mentioned above, I thought it was safe to call my friend out publicly on twitter as she is a feminist who I have campaigned with for several years. We have never agreed politically on many issues but that has never been a requirement of friendship for me. I thought we had a relationship where we could listen to one another and learn from each other.
I was wrong.
Our friendship ended because I thought she would hear me when I said Islamaphobia exists: that most people cannot see out with the cultural stereotypes they raised within. I was sad at the end of our friendship but I felt happy that I had called her out for racism. Hell, I felt smug.
A few months later, I read a blog by a WofC expressing her distress at the number of white feminists who hadn’t called out The Onion for their disgusting “joke” about Chris Brown and Rihanna ending their relationship. My first instinct was to tweet them with a link to the blog I wrote about it. Thankfully, I engaged my brain before sending the tweet since a white woman hopping up and down shouting “look at meeeeeee” is precisely the problem. I went straight for cookie validation without even pausing to think how I was reinforcing white supremacy.
That was a huge kick to the gut, a necessary one, but nonetheless very painful. And, one that we need reminding of constantly so that in our effort to support our sisters we don’t end up silencing their voices, that we don’t ignore the multiple oppressions of our sisters, that we don’t end up replicating the very same patriarchal structures which punish all women.
I wrote the above two months ago but did not publish. I’m not sure I’ve expressed myself well enough. I’m not sure I would have ever published had I not come across this piece on racism by Michele Braa-Heidner. She is a radical feminist for whom I have tremendous respect and I love her blog, however, I disagree with her most recent post on the murder of Trayvon Martin.
Michele Braa-Heidner argues that the Trayvon Martin murder is not a radical feminist issue because it is male on male violence and that women can not be racist against men. I do agree that calling radical feminists racist for choosing not to focus on the Trayvon Martin case is hyperbolic since Radical Feminism is about women. People are entitled to campaign about that which they deem personally important. I would not call a member of the LGBT community racist for focussing on campaigns that affect them personally. However, I do think that radical feminism cannot exist out with the White Supremacist Patriarchal culture. We are racist as a default position [just as we are disablist, homophobic etc]. Radical feminism’s focus on women’s experience and activism cannot survive without acknowledging how the multiple oppressions of race, sexuality etc change the experience of women within the patriarchy.
My focus, as a radical feminist, is on male violence against women and girls. The murder of Trayvon Martin is important to me because of clearly it demonstrates the gendering of legal culpability within the criminal justice system. The comparison with the Marissa Alexander case is important because it demonstrates how the life of a Black man is considered more worthy of media attention that the life of a Black woman; that stand your ground laws are only beneficial to men. It clearly delineates the hierarchy of race in American culture and how race affects gender.
I believe the murder of Trayvon Martin is a radical feminist issue: he was a child killed because of the structural racism and misogyny in our patriarchal culture. This doesn’t mean I expect every radical feminist space to devote their time to discussing this case at the expense of other female victims of male violence but that I don’t agree with Braa-Heidner that this is not a radical feminist issue.
What is important to me is that radical feminists have a safe space to discuss these issues and that we listen to the voices of all our sisters. We don’t have to agree with one another but we do need to hear one another.