Thursday, August 15, 2013

Experiencing Feminism as a WOC: A response to the Twitter Battle

Posted by: Latest Rant



When Jerin asked me to put together some thoughts about the Twitter fight that had erupted over the coverage/non-coverage of a feminist event, and how this inflamed a dichotomy within our ranks between feminists who are and are not WOC, I have to say that I had a bit of a time getting my thoughts together, mostly because there is so much, and also so little to say on the matter.

I also had some concerns that I would be attacked for what I say. 

Bring it on. 

The problem can be summarized thusly:

Can white feminists ever be able to understand the experience of WOC feminists?
No.  Don’t even argue.

Do women of color experience feminism differently than white women?
Yes.

Do women of color care about different care about different issues than white women?
Yes.

Should they?
No.

Has this argument gone completely off the rails?
Yes.  Right now there are Republicans, conservatives, and all manner of anti-women groups—both overt and covert—that are giddy over this internal battle.  We’re more concerned that we are policing the conversation than we are about the conversation itself.  We are too busy replying to a tweet before we think about what we want to say.

Here’s my answer:

We all care about the exact same things, but we lack the perspective to realize that all of these issues are intricately interrelated.  My suggestion is that we STFU and CTFD, and let’s draw some parallels.  Bickering only makes us look disorganized, and it is this fracturing that has failed us EACH AND EVERY TIME. We need to discuss the inequalities within the movement, and it is imperative that we find a way to do this in such a way that it includes both older and young feminists alike.   A recent article by Robert Reich discusses these differences in greater detail.  One July 24th, 2013, he writes in the Huffington Post that:
“People who respect authority, follow orders, want clear answers, obey commands, and prefer precise organization and control, tend to gravitate toward Republicans. On the other hand, people who don't much like authority, recoil from orders, don't believe in clear answers, often disobey commands, and prefer things a bit undefined, tend to gravitate to the Democrats. In short, the Republican Party is the party of the authoritarian personality; the Democratic Party is the party of the anti-authoritarian personality (Reich 2013).”

It is no different for feminists. As women, we are second class citizens.  This fact is inarguable, regardless of how you might feel about yourself.  However, in grouping all women into the category of “women”, we neglect the many nuances of experience that age, upbringing, culture, schooling, economics, politics, health, personal experiences of freedom, religion, citizenship, workplace, family, and life bring to the conversation when we try to define feminism.  Feminism is all of these things, and none of these things. 

There is no clear answer to what we stand for because the issues are varied.  Previous attempts have angered one faction or another.  This is our fault, and we need to take ownership of that responsibility.   We have left Feminism undefined (and I do not mean that there is no mission statement on the NOW websites—there is) in an attempt to be inclusive to all.  While this is noble, it is also fraught with pitfalls.  How can someone identify with a movement that cannot clearly identify itself amongst itself?  We also need to fix it, and fix ourselves—in part by becoming less sensitive to comments (so we can respond calmly and not like the buffoons on TV to someone ignorant—though innocent—question), but also because feminism is constantly ADDING to its definition.  We do not EVOLVE or CHANGE the definition, as I fear some younger feminists seem to think. 

For example, a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body is NOT less significant just because the issue began to receive public notice over 40 years ago, but it might not be chief among the concerns of all feminists.  That’s completely acceptable.  The persecution of women in the foreign countries is appalling, but for some feminists the issue of reproductive choice, Social Security, Medicare, and Voting Rights is of a greater concern.  This is also fine.  In fact, I fail to see the issue that has been raised at all—and over lack of media coverage.

Let me share a personal story, so that I can give everyone a bit of background about myself.

I am both Spanish and Italian.  This makes me both Hispanic  and Caucasian.  I fail to see how the differentiation is made, but no matter.  I have been reminded—constantly and with prejudice of what I am and am not.  This is in part because to look at me, anyone would see a white person (unless you have family members of Spanish descent).  I mention in part because my education level (Ph.D. candidate in the sciences), family situation (married for 10 years, no kids, going to be 38 soon), and job level/income (I work as an engineer by day, and I teach dance in the evenings) also tend to throw into flux a casual observers snap judgment.
Why is this important?  I’ve been reminded—rudely—by other Hispanics that I am not Hispanic if I am from Spain (not true technically, but hey I don’t have to hang out with haters).  I’ve also been reminded by whites that I am not actually white, usually like this:

Me:  Hi, I’m [insert Hispanic sounding name replete with accent}
Them: Oh.  Where are you from? [Not even a Hello, mind you]
Me:  Huntington
Them:  I mean where were you born? [That takes some nerve…]
Me: New York
Them: No I mean are you from this country [yes and I’m a citizen and pay taxes and I managed to finish high school without getting pregnant too.  Funny considering I’m Hispanic, huh?]

I’m not saying that my experience of life is typical, nor that it should be held up as an example.  What I am saying is this:

Does there exist a thinly-veiled racism amongst whites towards persons of color?
Heck yeah. 

Is it as prevalent today as it was decades ago?
Yes.  I don’t see where we’ve made much progress (more on this later).

Will white people try to deny it and say that racism is no longer an issue.
Yes.  They’ve never experienced the legacy of hate.  They can’t understand.

Are persons of color also racist?
Heck yeah.

Is it as prevalent today as it was decades ago?
Yes.  Let’s own our faults.

Will persons of color try to deny that they are racist, or try to justify their racism by saying that it is a response to racism that they have experienced at the hands of white?
Yes. 

How do I know all of this?  Because when I am in a room with all white people, they will make racist comments until they learn that I am not “white”.  Likewise, when I am around other Hispanics, and reveal that I am also Hispanic, there exist a tendency to bash white people (this should not be news.  We have all seen every flavor of comedian explore this).  What’s my point?

WE ARE EXACTLY ALIKE.  WE ARE QUIBBLING OVER THE DETAILS.  KNOCK IT OFF AND LET’S GET TO WORK.

It’s not hard to draw the parallels between my personal experiences of how whites and persons of color perceive racism, and how different parties within NOW perceive feminism.  What we are forgetting is that we are essentially the same, but are quibbling over the semantics so much—trying to carve out a niche for ourselves, or perhaps to establish our own unique stamp on a movement—that we are failing women. 

Let’s not deny the truth.  The chief reason that so much progress that we have gained over the past 40+ years is currently being rolled back is because we were lazy.  We wanted to believe we were safe, and that the issues we had fought were settled.  Yeah, right.  Just like racism was settled all those years ago, right?  Perhaps we were so exhausted from the fight that we wanted to believe that certain issues were “handled.”  Wrong.  My advice is for us to face our failure, and now redouble our efforts, taking a page from the incredibly efficient and well-organized Republicans to get our house in order. 

Why do I say that?  Let’s take an issue such as violence against women.  Does it matter if it occurs to Christian women in the US or Muslim women in Afghanistan or undocumented workers in an ICE holding cell or on a Federal Indian reservation? How about reproductive choice?  Can anyone honestly say that an undocumented worker in the United States doesn’t care about being able to be afforded the right to choose whether to start a family, and a white middle class woman does?  What about the economy?  Are we saying that feminists are so concerned over trans-vaginal ultrasounds and which politician is trivializing rape that we fail to see that Congress has made multiple attempts to defund health care, infrastructure, education, and attempted destroy Social Security and Medicare?  Has anyone wondered where our right to vote has gone and why?

All of our issues are intricately interrelated.  Let me give you a summary of my master’s thesis:

Disenfranchisement of the poorest amongst us (minorities, students, elderly—who tend to vote more liberally) means that we lose our voice in our legislative bodies.  This results not only in gerrymandering of a district, which further restricts representation, but also in laws that do not reflect the will of the people.  Isolation within districts causes cognitive dissonance in our representatives, who then vote according to how they feel because they feel safe within their districts.  On the national level, this can have significant consequences, which in turn affect the states as well as specific districts.  The trend towards party-line voting, with no significant bipartisan support of any legislation to date, creates controversial issues out of things which once were not.

In the cognitive dissonant mind, education is now seen as an “entitlement” so young people should feel proud to take out crushing amounts of loans and ashamed of themselves if they cannot pay it back. Infrastructure is a luxury we cannot afford to upkeep, not even when a hurricane destroys several states, unless we cut funding to Social Security.  Paying back interest on our debts is held hostage until such time as healthcare reform is repealed, since socialist usurpation of government.  Gun control is a fascist control of freedom. Voter fraud is something that actually exists.   Block grants should more than pay for an elderly person to afford private health care on their reduced Social Security income, as long as the elderly get part time jobs in the underpaid and non-union service industry of their choice.  Women are sluts simply for pursuing higher education and stepping out into the workforce when they should be focused on raising a family, and they should be satisfied with making 77/100 cents and grateful that they were not raped in the parking lot since access to abortion and contraception is slowly diminishing, and the police won’t believe they weren’t asking for it even if the perpetrator posts a video of the attack on YouTube.  As for immigrants, you are all terrorists.

There is not one word of this summary that does not apply to everyone woman in the US.  I am sure that I have missed more than a few issues (like that dichotomy between young and old feminists), but if we approach our cause with a spirit of integration, rather than isolating ourselves to only a few causes, we should be able to attract many more voices to our cause.  Let’s not waste time with twitter fights over misunderstandings.  Let’s go do something much more important—resurrect the rights we have lost for the next generation of young feminists to not appreciate it but benefit greatly from it.  That would make me a happy woman indeed

Sources Cited

Reich, R. 2013.  Why Republicans Are Disciplined and Democrats Aren't.  Retrieved on August 15, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-reich/republican-party-discipline_b_3646393.html.

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