Privilege In Feminism, or, We’ve Barely Begun

In its early years, grassroots feminist organizations were born out of larger revolutionary movements, including anti-war movements, socialist movements, LGBT and civil rights movements.  Women saw systemic oppression not only in the larger culture but also within the radical movements they were a part of, and they organized a movement which, in its nascent form, looked like it might include women from many economic and racial backgrounds, of various sexualities and identifications.  But as so often happens, the promise was never fulfilled.  White, upper and middle class feminists and academics largely dominated the conversation, using their privilege to further themselves rather than to advance others’ causes alongside their own.  Mainstream feminism became a movement for the comfortable middle class.  It’s tragic but true that many mainstream voices praised as “feminist” have said and done things that are profoundly ignorant, self-centered, and harmful to marginalized groups, and have never apologized or acknowledged that there’s anything wrong with their approach.

Yesterday, in response to recent events and to the growing frustration of people who are doing really important feminist work and yet being silenced, ignored, or harassed by others who call themselves feminists, the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen was trending globally on twitter.  As I read tweet after tweet, I felt both a sense of profound relief and of profound frustration.

Relief, because it is cathartic to see thousands of people agreeing that there’s a problem.  Let me make it clear: I myself am white, middle-class, well-educated, cis, and so on.  Basically other than being a woman and having a few experiences in my past that weren’t great, I’m fairly privileged.  I belong to no group which is routinely ignored by the mainstream feminist community.  If I wanted to, I could just join the mainstream feminists and be happy and not get called out on my privilege ever.  But I don’t.  I don’t want a revolution where everyone is like me.  Feminism has been branded, packaged, and sold, so that most people don’t ever have to encounter uncomfortable realities.  Well fuck that.  That’s not how I intend to live.  And I’ve heard so many marginalized feminists calling for greater solidarity for women of color, for trans* people, for disabled women, and so on.  But all that dialogue got amped up a notch yesterday and it was beautiful.

Frustration, because there’s so much work to do.  As a white feminist, it’s my job to affirm, support, and participate in the work other feminists are doing, especially if I expect them to affirm, support, and participate in work that benefits me.  But that’s just how the revolution is supposed to go, folks.  You know what?  If you only put effort into your own causes, you really only care about yourself.  That’s not how you tear down oppression and rebuild a just and peaceful world.  The fact that this conversation is occurring on Twitter rather than on major feminist blogs, in major publications, on TV, indicates that not very many mainstream people are paying much attention.  Really, you guys, really?  No one gets to claim ignorance anymore.  The internet is there.  Go follow some people on twitter, go read some blogs, and get educated.  If mainstream feminists never break out of their own privilege-bubbles, it’s their fault. And if you never do or say anything to kick the supports out from under the system that’s benefiting you, you’re complicit in oppression.

I get it.  It’s difficult to step outside your own experience.  You’ve got your own shit to deal with.  Me too.  But if you never acknowledge that other people have experienced way more oppression than you have, if you never listen to their narratives and join their causes, what the fuck are you doing?  You’re just looking out for yourself.  If you call yourself a feminist, a radical, someone who wants social change, you have to stop just looking out for yourself. That’s pretty much the basic first step of being a good person, really.

There has to be room for everyone in the movement.  And we cannot stop fighting until the current oppressive systems have been completely torn down and society is built around full human rights for everyone.

Here are some of the lovely people I follow on Twitter who talk about important feminist stuff from non-mainstream perspectives:  (or, just go to my twitter and follow any of the political people I follow)

@thetrudz @brownfemipower @brokeymcpoverty @Karnythia @graceishuman @ChiefElk @sophiaphotos @agoodcuppa @prisonculture @brassiest @melissagira @Blackamazon @FeministaJones

Obviously that’s not in any way a comprehensive list. Do your own exploring! Meet people! Learn things! Get involved in other people’s passions (and maybe find out that you share those passions)!  That’s what’s supposed to be the most fun and invigorating part of the quest for justice we have all embarked upon.

Edit 12/02/2013: I revisited this post because I thought I left out something. Turns out I did! Since I’m part of the problem (and/or maybe didn’t have all the information at the time) I left out who started the hashtag. @Karnythia. She’s excellent. Go follow her.

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