On Feminism, Part 2

I bet you don’t remember part 1, do you? Here’s a reminder.

I said back then that I was still trying to put my own feelings into words and hadn’t succeeded yet. Considering what’s been going on in the blogosphere lately I think it’s time to finally crystallize my thoughts. The problem I keep coming up against is that my interactions with feminism and feminists varies greatly depending on the venue, I am finding a hard time resolving my feelings in one area with my feelings from another.

I’m being vague, sorry. Let me be specific.

As many of you know, in my other life I am a science fiction and fantasy writer. I have spent almost my entire adult life hanging out in that community. Now, from the outside, the SF community would not seem to be a place to understand, interact with, and discuss feminism and feminist issues. But lo, there are feminists to be found. Really smart feminists. There’s even a con dedicated to feminism and feminists in SF–WisCon.

WisCon is one of my very favorite conventions because of the topics of panels, the conversations I have in and out of panels, and the caliber of people who attend. These are smart, passionate folks who care about literature and media in equal measure. And, if they’re at WisCon, they more than likely consider themselves feminists or, at least, allies.

Through attending WisCon I became interested in feminism in a more direct way than I had been before. I vaguely understood feminism and felt, as most intelligent people do, that the core ideal of feminism as I understood it was a right thing–i.e. women are equal to men and should be treated as such. That women and men may be different, but men certainly aren’t better, in general. But from attending WisCon, I began thinking about the issues of gender, privilege, and feminism in ways I had not before.

Over the years I’ve convinced many people to come to WisCon, but it was sometimes a struggle because I had to break the barrier of ignorance surrounding the word “feminist”. I’m sure many of you have encountered this same problem. People equating feminism with “FemiNazi” (what a bullshit word), or with the extreme types who ruin every ideology/movement/etc. At this time I was not aware of the real problems of feminism. Ones that were far more disruptive and dividing than women who “hate men” or other such nonsense.

Since that first WisCon my involvement in SF’s feminist contingent has deepened. I’m one of the bloggers at FeministSF.net, I contribute to the Wiki, I consider some of my co-bloggers there to be good friends, I participate in WisCon programming, and now I’m a jurist for the Tiptree award, an honor that arose from the ideas and ideals that WisCon was created to explore.

If this was the only experience I had with feminism, then I would have no need to write this post. I’d be perfectly content to call myself a feminist and be done.

But oh. Then there’s the wider world.

Then there’s Gloria Steinem, Erica Jong, Jessica Valenti, Amanda Marcotte, and any number of white feminists from the second and third wave that really ruin feminism for the rest of us. If they’re not insisting we put aside our “of color”-ness in favor of our woman-ness, they’re busy using their white privilege to marginalize, dismiss, silence, or otherwise treat us the way those pesky white men they’re so angry with do.

I hadn’t been on this blog long before I apprehended that all was not well in feminism-land. Remember the post about Cesar Milan? It started on some blog where the white, female poster was up in arms because Cesar had made some comment about women that she objected to. She claimed that if he’d made a similar comment about black people the entirety of America would have jumped down his throat. Because, see, racism is no longer a problem in America, but sexism is.

Sigh.

It just gets worse from there. As we have daily proof.

And these recent blow-ups not only make me angry because of what these white feminist bloggers are doing to women of color, but because it makes me angry at feminism itself. As Aminah put it way back when, feminism just isn’t made for us women of color. And as someone else (I can’t remember who, but someone please tell me in comments if you know) said recently, it seems like what white feminists want is to become white men. They want what white men have going on, up to and including privilege and the ability to ignore voices of color unless it suits them.

Some of you may feel this is an unfair generalization. And others of you are sitting at your computers right now shaking your head and saying, “Nuh uh, not me!” Maybe so not you, and maybe so I am being harsh. But you take a look around the blogs right now and tell me that the view from where I’m standing doesn’t bear that out. And take a good look at yourselves. Think about if you can honestly say that you’ve considered your own privilege when dealing with the issues of feminism and race lately. Some of you have, of course, but some of you absolutely have not.

And unfortunately, even my happy pocket of SF feminism isn’t immune from this crap. Last year at WisCon I heard more than one report of goings on in places I was not that revealed the racist attitudes of certain feminist con-goers. This was extremely sad, but not a great surprise. I resolved that this year I would make it my special project to watch and listen out for such attitudes and do what I could to put an end to them. Because I believe that WisCon and the community therein is worth my time and effort to make an even more excellent space than it already is. I want to be able to attend a con without base sexism and racism at the same time. I’m willing to be one of people making that happen.

But I’m not entirely sure I want to do that on these here internets. Why? Because maybe the wider swath of feminism isn’t worth saving.

Feminism is made for and by white women. And I really feel like this is one of those areas where the white women need to get enlightened before things can change. But, of course, many of them won’t be because they don’t see racism, which is directed against women of color, as a feminist issue. They’re hard pressed to acknowledge that racism is as great a problem as sexism at all.

No, actually, what I should say is that the white feminists who are seen as leaders, who are given press and attention and cred are in need of enlightenment. Because there are plenty of white feminists who do get it, who are enlightened, who can see the interconnectedness between anti-racist work and anti-sexist work. So what’s really needed is a good purge. Those of you who know what’s up need to weed out or educate those of you who don’t. Because obviously we women of color are too angry or jealous or indelicate to do it.

And, quite honestly, I am tired of the burden being on us to fix this mess. I’m tired of having to decide if I want the label of “Feminist”, not because someone might think I hate men, but because someone might wonder why I would want to associate myself with people who think my voice and experiences are less important because I refuse to put my gender ahead of my race.

What am I, if not a feminist? I’m not sure. Maybe this will help me figure it out:

When I offered the word “Womanism” many years ago, it was to give us a tool to use, as feminist women of color, in times like these. These are the moments we can see clearly, and must honor devotedly, our singular path as women of color in the United States. We are not white women and this truth has been ground into us for centuries, often in brutal ways. [...] We have come a long way, Sisters, and we are up to the challenges of our time. One of which is to build alliances based not on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, sexual preference or gender, but on Truth.
Alice Walker

Seal Press, Amanda Marcotte…Proof That Feminism And Racism Go Hand In Hand

So, I had just about decided not to speak on the Amanda Marcotte issue and the Seal Press issue because I figured everyone knew I supported BFP and didn’t think too much of Seal Press or their tactics. And I know I am absolutely not capable of much in the way of diplomacy or tact so I left commenting to the people that could say the necessary things without the profanity. But then I saw this post with images from Amanda Marcotte’s latest book and I decided that the time for diplomacy and tact was over. Because when a so-called feminist puts out a book where she shows the empowerment of white women involving rescuing a white man from the evil brown people? Yo, the boys and girls over at Stormfront have lost track of one of their members. When the editors from her press feel the need to try to silence WOC bloggers for saying a resounding Fuck You to a company that is willing to put out this shit while calling themselves welcoming to WOC writers? The sheer ridiculousness of it is choking me. Or is that just vomit?

I’ve made no bones in the past about my feelings that feminism by and large has very little to do with actually helping all women and is really just for white women. Oh, I know it espouses anti-racist ideology, but it has never failed to escape my attention (or the attention of other WOC) that feminism has a distressing tendency to focus on the concerns of middle class white women while ignoring the realities of racism and colonialism and anything remotely to do with intersectionality between gender and race. It doesn’t help that I’ve seen white feminists assume a very paternalistic attitude with WOC particularly when it came to discussions about issues involving MOC while ignoring their own internalized racism. I once sat in a class on the psychology of sexual harassment (the only black woman in the class) and had the lovely experience of a white woman trying to challenge black women on their support of black men despite the misogyny in rap music and the Clarence Thomas case. She literally could not see (despite my efforts to beat reason into the conversation) a problem with her attitude. When I pointed out that white men weren’t immune to misogyny and no one was asking white women to abandon them? Yeah, there was a whole riff about how enlightened the men in her life were and so clearly there was hope for white men. Another white woman who had been sitting there listening politely pointed out her racism and suddenly she could see it. Because clearly the 20+ times I’d pointed it out just did not matter at all. And at this point it’s clear that WOC talking to Seal Press or Amanda Marcotte are actually beating their heads against a brick wall. Because the bigots never listen to POC. They absolutely cannot manage to get past their prejudices long enough to see us as people, never mind as intelligent or capable of critical thought.

So where does that leave WOC and feminism? Frankly we’re at a point where it’s time for feminism to either get it together, or for us to leave it where it is and continue on with our own progressive movements. There’s been some talk for years about how feminism is comprised of multiple movements and until now that’s been enough for me. But I think that I’ve been deluding myself by thinking that the behavior of the allies that do get it trumps the hurt spawned by the bigots calling themselves feminists. I can’t take calls for sisterhood or solidarity seriously from white feminists at this point and I’m sure someone is going to call that attitude racist. And that’s their lookout, but I can’t stand in sisterhood with someone that’s (maybe) willing to knife me in the back and it’s taking too much effort to try to weed out the ones that are really allies from the ones that are only claiming the title.

And yes, Holly at Feministe has spoken up and I do see plenty of white feminists that are acting as allies. I also see people talking about the need to give Amanda Marcotte a safe space from which to respond. Maybe it’s just me, but why exactly is it that WOC aren’t entitled to the same calls for safe space? If we’re supposed to be sisters then shouldn’t safety for us be a priority? AFAIK there is exactly one community devoted to safe space for WOC on the internet and I created it. My co-mod and I work very hard to keep the voyeurs, trolls, and bigots out and the community members guard the space jealously from anyone that might slip past us. And I wish we didn’t have to do that, but I look at this book and the responses to it and the original Seal Press fiasco and I think that we are operating in very hostile territory and the only choice WOC have is to pull back and operate our own spaces in our own ways because we can’t expect anyone to fight for us. And yes, I know many of the people reading this are truly allies and I’m not saying this to hurt you. But we’re going to need you to commence cleaning up your house before you can help us clean up the world.

Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America. Her posts on any topic can be found at her Livejournal.

Racism in my feminism? You don’t say…

Hillary Clinton: Bow to the man, and take the vice presidency. Let our country heal. You will run in eight years and be unstoppable as a visionary world leader. You must pass through this filter first though: bow to the man.

Now, I’ll bet reading that made you want to reach for a hammer right? You’re thinking “What kind of sexist BS is this?” and possibly questioning my sanity. You’re right. It is sexist and I would sound insane if I were typing something like this with any serious intentions behind it. Of course it would be even more ludicrous if this was actually being widely disseminated and had people agreeing with it, but that’ll never happen right? Right. Except…something like it is being disseminated and people are agreeing with it. The message is a little different though. It actually reads:

“Barack Obama: Bow to the woman, and take the vice presidency. Let our country heal. You will run in eight years and be unstoppable as a visionary world leader. You must pass through this filter first though: bow to the woman.”

and there are people that actually think this racist drivel has some validity. Now, I know at least a few people are thinking “Well it’s Roseanne Barr, who cares what she has to say?” and that’s probably a pretty valid response for most things. But right now she’s actually just voicing the thought a lot of white feminists are harboring as they spout things like “Black men had the vote first” or when they start talking about those pesky brown women putting their skin before their gender and then have the temerity to start trying to chastise us for not operating in sisterhood. She left out the word “white” before woman, but the subtext is there for all the world to see.

Perhaps this is one of those things that hasn’t been made clear in previous years so I’m going to make it clear now. I’m not going to side with a bigot against a black man. I’m not going to side with a bigot against a black woman. In fact? I’m not going to side with a bigot period. SNL had a sketch this week that is (I think) meant to be lampooning Hillary’s desperation, but if you only catch the middle of the sketch? It’s pretty damned racist. And it’s not like this phenomenon is restricted to entertainers. Gloria Steinem, Erica Jong, and Robyn Morgan have also weighed in, and in some really ugly ways all while claiming to be looking out for all women. Meanwhile Hillary’s campaign has given them no reason to stop as she can’t even be bothered to say that these tactics are unacceptable. On the contrary, her official campaign has been busy indulging in similar behavior, and then insisting that Obama is playing the race card when there’s even a hint of protest at the egregious displays of race-baiting. Shockingly, racism is visible well before someone sets a cross on fire in the front yard and claiming to mean no offense while repeatedly using bigotry as a campaign tactic isn’t going to fly.

It’s been very clear throughout this election cycle that racism was going to be a factor even as people swore up and down that sexism was worse than racism. There’s this underlying idea that gender and race can be separated and that when people speak of women that umbrella means that all women (regardless of ethnicity) have the same concerns and so in this election getting to see a woman in power is far more important than any other consideration. Yet when you sit down and look at the history of the feminist movement and the transition to women being in the workplace? You’re primarily talking about white women. WOC were already working. Usually in low paying jobs with no future and only a guarantee of the work being physically and emotionally draining. In fact that transition of white women to the workforce took place in large part because white women were able to hand over the care of their children to poor WOC who were shut out of even pink collar jobs for years after white women were free to pursue the dream of having it all.

That same attitude is still prevalent with so many white feminists who are willing to insist that WOC should support this grand achievement while ignoring the reality that putting a bigot (and before someone fires off an angry comment or email insisting Hillary’s background is proof she isn’t racist, think about that old adage with the ducks) in the White House isn’t exactly in the best interests of WOC. Being a feminist doesn’t make you immune to racism, or classism, or any of the other ‘isms that are so frequently discussed in feminist circles. But, it seems to be one of the few ‘isms that is accepted as long as it’s displayed with a (thin) veneer of being about fighting the patriarchy. Look at the rhetoric from Marion Wagner, a regional director of NOW

“The issue that’s not being talked about in this campaign is the blatant sexism,” Wagner said, her words echoing off the granite walls. “There are some people who promote Barack Obama because they want anybody but a woman. Would they like a white man instead of a black man? Of course. But they’ll take a black man over a woman. I never thought, in 2008, that we’d still be dealing with this.”

who then goes on to say that Obama pulling out Hillary’s chair is evidence of his sexism just to make sure we know she’s not upset that he’s a black candidate. Which would sound great if it weren’t for the part of the article where she (like so many other white feminists) is quick to jump on the bandwagon that a vote for Obama from black women couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the issues. No, it’s all about them choosing race over gender which I guess is an easy assumption to make if you can’t be bothered to listen to black women that aren’t willing to follow your lead. After all, it’s not like they have the capacity or the right to think for themselves. Oh wait…

There’s an ever growing gap in the feminist movement, and I’m sure the argument is going to be made that WOC aren’t willing to do what it takes to bridge the gap while ignoring that the prospect of dealing with the internalized racism of so-called allies just isn’t an attractive proposition. It’s not sisterhood if the movement insists on treating WOC alternately like mules, children, or part of the scenery unless it needs their support. Would I like to see a woman in the White House? Sure. But I’d really like that woman to be someone who doesn’t think she has a right to my vote. Who recognizes me as an intelligent person with valid concerns even if they are different from her concerns. Who can grasp the idea that my skin color and my gender are a part of who I am; but they are not all that I am, and thus listening to what I have to say is necessary and important in order to help me achieve MY goals. I want to vote for a female President because I believe in her, not because she’s Miss Daisy.

Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America.” Her posts on any topic can be found at her Livejournal.

March on the ABW

So, we made it through February. And I feel it was quite a successful celebration of blackness and history. But now we’ve come to March and, guess what? It’s Women’s History Month.

Now, had I planned this out from the beginning of the year, I’d be all prepared to celebrate my womaness with as much extravagance as I celebrated my blackness. However, the BHM thing was planned quickly, and now I am all planned out.

Still, I do not intend to let the month pass without some note of it. And there will be posts about history and women and feminism and other things. Plus, I am going to continue with the author essays since I found them a lot of fun to read and solicit.

Do any of you have some ideas how we can celebrate Women’s History Month? Perhaps we can break out the Virginia Slims!

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