Helen Lewis’s rebuttal of Julie Burchill’s ridiculous and horribly formatted Spectator essay on intersectionality (I won’t link it because I may contract something) left many of us doing this:
…because for all of their good intentions, white feminists still cannot get it right. Maybe they don’t want to get it right. For all of this talk about infighting and hurt feelings and waxing!–the things we really need to address keep getting ignored. When Piers Morgan went after Janet Mock–the first time–only two notable white feminists took to their sizable platforms to address it. Unfortunately, neither of them were very helpful, and seemed more sympathetic to Morgan. (Oh, how I miss the days when he was regulated to judging 80 year-old ballerinas on talent shows.)
“Intersectionality is really, really hard, guys!” Yes, it is. And no one expects white feminists to be perfect. We DO expect you to try, and not expect people to be nice to you or hold your hand when you fuck up. If Helen Lewis’s idea of handling criticism is to call out another white woman for referring to herself as a womanist? I just…I don’t know.
At some point you have to give up the ghost. In the case of us “marginalized people” (I hate that term) it might be time to stop getting angry over the latest mainstream feminist blunder and look at them the same way you would a puppy that pooped on your floor. Or an old Three Stooges episode. Because the best we can expect at this point is some really great slapstick comedy.
Anyway, enjoy this kickass piece from Bitch’s Tina Vasquez on the mainstream movement’s failure on transgender issues, if you haven’t already.
I think they don’t want to get it right. It’s hard but it’s not THAT hard. I was raised to be homophobic, in a religious household. It took watching one video during freshman orientation to erase 17 years of conditioning to believe that homosexuality was a sin. It still took a lot of learning to think, speak and act right (to avoid stereotyping, marginalizing, and offending), but I was now open to the learning and got better and better and made progress… because I wanted to. Whether or not the particular oppression of LGBTQ people affected me personally, I wanted to. So when I watch white feminists “fail” miserably time and time again; despite how well they seem to understand the complexities of gender oppression; and with science telling me we all have the same brain; I can only believe they are in willful denial. And that makes me see accountability and feel anger, unlike I might feel with a child or puppy who can’t help it.
I totally get that, I do. This is exhaustion talking, really. I feel like, for the sake of my sanity, I really do have to distance myself emotionally or else I’ll set things on fire.
I just went down the rabbit hole that was these pieces and their comment sections and now I’m working on my deep breathing and that cup of tea that Lewis so condescendingly recommended. Last week Colorlines had a white privilege webchat and Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous said something that’s been reverberating through my head ever since. She said something along the lines of white men are raised to believe that everyone wants to know what they think, and white women are raised to believe everyone wants to know how they feel. So when most white feminists are called out, they immediately go to a place of hurt feelings. “They made me feel bad so they’re mean and I don’t have to understand or examine what I said or did in the first place that I got called out for!” The vast majority of the reactions that I hear to people being called out on their privilege is to list all of the things in their lives that have been hard, all of their struggles. It just misses the point in such a spectacular way. We’re talking about structures of power not personal feelings. And its exhausting and frustrating and traumatizing to go through this cycle over and over again.
And on a completely unrelated note, I spent so much time this week looking through #DangerousBlackKids and it is incredible.
I see how the article is problematic. But the point I’m having a hard time understanding is that the negative reactions to the piece seem to take as an assumption that there is absolutely no wrong way to call someone out on their privilege. Is it really unreasonable to hope someone will be nice(ish) to you when pointing out that you fucked up? If someone’s well-intentioned but oblivious as opposed to ill-intentioned, aren’t there different ways of reacting, some of which are more kind (and, perhaps more importantly, effective) than others? In my experience, showing anger–even if it’s really deserved–is a good way to trigger a defensive reaction and get someone to close their mind and heart. I can’t defend Lewis’s article, but I’ve just been having a hard time with the assumption that it’s wrong to expect someone to be compassionate to you when you make a mistake, and that those who call out others should be immune to criticism as to how they approach others. I understand that in the scheme of structural inequality that might seem like a small point, and yet to me it’s this very point that seems to be shutting down the whole conversation right now.
There’s this idea that feelings of the people who fuck up matter more than the feelings of those that are hurt by their fuck-ups. Generally speaking I find that incredibly problematic because it prioritizes the emotional health of the person behaving oppressively. As for being nice? That definition varies wildly across cultures, and this framework that good intentions matter more than impact is rooted in a belief that people should be emotionless about pain. Humans just don’t work that way. It’s the equivalent of stepping on someone’s foot in a spike heel & then demanding that they stop bruising, bleeding, or crying.
Reblogged this on Corner Store Press.
More than missing the days when Piers Morgan judged 80 year old ballerinas on talent shows, I miss even more the days when he was disgraced & humiliated for faking the front page of the national newspaper he was once the editor of – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3716151.stm
We’ve heard of The Tone Police. This is The Term Police. Intersectionality may not be in the dictionary but intersect and intersection are. It is not up to anyone to treat Intersectionality as a slang term. It reminds me of that old fart in the NY Times complaining that “two twins” is a redundancy. He couldn’t imagine two people who are twins, in the same room, without their respective twin siblings. He would have had a brain hemorrhage at my wedding.