On blinkers…


First off, apologies for not blogging at all for three months. I could give you reasons, but a lot of it was sheer laziness.

I’m currently suffering with an evil head cold, brought on by a long-haul flight from the other side of the world. It’s making me feel like shit, but has given me time to catch up on the feminist blogosphere’s latest controversy.

Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com, who is also an occasional contributor to the Guardian, has written a book, Full Frontal Feminism. And many people in the feminist blogging world are not happy about it, no sirree.

To some extent, the backlash against Valenti’s book was entirely predictable. As soon as I heard Jessica was writing a book, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop – the Shoe of Criticism, if you will. Like it or not, Jessica is the “face” of Feministing (no matter how unfair that may be to Samhita, Ann, Vanessa or anyone else who writes there), partially because of the “boobgate” thing. There are always going to be some people who will be jealous of the fact that she has been picked to represent the world of feminist blogging by writing a book or who will be angered that she is the one whose views on feminism are published in the mainstream media (and that the article is so very simplistic, but that’s another story). In short, people are people. Maybe that was why some of the “big bloggers” got it so wrong – they were expecting a backlash from people who wanted some of that limelight for themselves.

And yet that’s not what this was about…

The furore over whether Valenti’s book was inclusive of women of colour (apologies to fellow Brits – we just don’t use that phrase here, but I’ll use it rather than any of the Brit alternatives) wasn’t about jealousy over not getting a book deal, personal issues with the author or the rest. It was about an accusation that has been made about feminism since the very beginning: that feminism is largely a movement for well-off white women talking amongst themselves and that issues of importance to non-white women are systematically marginalised. This is a HUGE issue, and the response from many of the WoC bloggers out there shows that it is one that strikes a chord with them. Saying that it’s not important is simply not an option when there are so many many women out there telling you that it is.

As feminists we hate it when left-wing men tell us to suck it up about our issues because talking about them is “divisive”. Why can’t we white feminists get that it’s just as patronising and just as wrong (Steve, I do mean you) to ask non-white feminists to shut up about their issues?

So, I did a LOT of reading yesterday (haven’t yet done any talking, but only because my head is so fuzzy I’m not sure I could take part in any conversation properly). Started with Piny’s post at Feministe, which had a lot of good links, went to Ilyka Damen (by the way, I just LOVE Ilykaread her!), then from there on to Blackamazon, (LOTS of Blackamazon), Sylvia at The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum, Magniloquence, Donna, Brownfemipower at Donna’s place, Nezua, Belledame and many others, finally returning to Jill’s follow-up post on Feministe. While I was there, I simply read and listened to what these bloggers had to say. I’m not trying to say I deserve a cookie here for simply not acting like an asshole – going to blogs and reading what people actually think without jumping in and derailing the conversation is the bare minimum of research and politeness. What did strike me was how some of the bloggers I admire (Jill at Feministe, Amanda at Pandagon – although Jill’s follow-up post did go a long way to correcting that) didn’t seem to be willing to do that.

Chris Clarke wrote a great post for Pandagon back in April as a guide for men (written in response to the Kathy Sierra online harassment situation and the way in which it was dismissed by Kos, one of the big liberal blogs). I can’t imagine a single feminist who won’t have read it and nodded along:

I see there are some kind, helpful men who are taking pains to make sure emotion doesn’t run rampant in the discussion, that unfair accusations of misogyny or characterizations of harassment statistics get spread in an understandable emotional response to a few very upsetting instances of harassment by piglike men who fall far outside the norm. Surely, these men reason, we mustn’t let these nasty experiences color our judgment of the actual events involved. Surely it helps no one to make wild and baseless charges without looking, in uber-dispassionate detachment, at the actual statistics and methodology and margin of error of the studies that show women get harassed more than men. Come, let us reason together calmly, they say. References to Salem and the McMartin pre-school and such come unbidden to their lips.

I’m a big fan of dispassionate, rational, fact-based discussion of the issues myself, and it is in that spirit that I offer, to my brethren who’ve taken it upon themselves to be a shining light of dispassion on this topic, these fraternal words of guidance:

Shut the fuck up.

As Chris finishes:

And when you shut the fuck up, two magical things happen:

1) You’re no longer actively contributing to the very problem you’re discussing;
2) It’s easier to listen to what the women are actually saying.

You know what, everyone? Shut the fuck up. Listen to what fellow feminist bloggers are telling you. They feel marginalised and ignored in a movement whose goal is equality and whose members are quite able to spot a man exercising his privilege at a thousand paces, yet somehow can’t see how a white feminist could be doing the same thing.

It’s hard not to put on the blinkers when a friend is being criticised. It’s even harder when it seems like you are being criticised. But we ask men to do this all the time. We say “it’s not about you – you don’t have to identify with the people who happen to have the same chromosomes as you but who act like assholes“. So take off the blinkers, listen and learn. If we can’t do this for our friends and allies amongst non-white women, how can we expect men to do it either? We owe it to ourselves but, most of all, we owe it to the women around us.

Updated to add:

Belledame has linked to my post at Fetch Me My Axe (I am incredibly flattered!) and one of her commenters, Sara E  Anderson, points out:

I don’t think the “don’t identify with the assholes’ model really is very helpful, since we’re talking about a lot of unconscious and inadvertent behavior here. I could just start to ignore anything that makes me uncomfortable, because I get to think, “Well, it’s not me that’s doing racist thing x, phew.”

She’s absolutely right and I should have made it clear that “Well, I’m not a xxxx-ist asshole so I don’t need to question my behaviour at all” doesn’t get us off the hook that easily! We all have subconscious/unconscious prejudices and we need to think about them if someone points out some aspect of our behaviour to us. However, we don’t have to choose to be offended, upset or angry if someone points out a way in which we are taking advantage of our privilege – we can react like people whose friends are pointing out things for our own good, which is what is happening nine times out of ten. I hope that makes things clearer.


9 Responses to “On blinkers…”

  1. Ovation from here. I’m linking it.

  2. *claps* Brilliant!

    I’d love to take that last point and run with it. … but I have to do this photocopying first. *scoots off to do her work*

  3. Thank you, belledame and magniloquence. You both wrote such amazing posts on the subject; I am very flattered that you’ve read what I wrote here and that you like it!

  4. 4 Jay

    I found you via belledamme.

    Excellent, and thank you!

  5. 5 Andrew

    Found this via Thorne’s World and I’m so glad I did 🙂

    Great post. I did see your response to Steve on Monday, I think. You and few other peeps really took him and Manar on well. I learned so much from your posts. Thanx

  6. 6 Steve

    I posted a comment in response to yours and other critiques to what I wrote.


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