Sherlock is a White, Wealthy, Cis Man for a Reason

I am becoming a fan of the BBC series Sherlock.  It is exactly what it sounds like: a modernized version of Sherlock Holmes created by Steve Moffat (of Doctor Who fame).  Now, while I enjoy the program immensely, I realized something disturbing (and in retrospect obvious) last night while watching: Sherlock qua Sherlock could only be played by a white, able bodied, cis man, whose character must also have some degree of class privilege.  This is not at all to say that I think only such a uniquely privileged person could play Sherlock Holmes well, but this specific version is dependent upon a great deal of social and economic privilege.  There are potential spoilers ahead.  This Sherlock is a stoic/brooding, silent, intellectual type, living in relative comfort in a nicer district of London.  Furthermore, he makes extensive use of his smartphone, which, while not necessarily indicative of wealth, certainly doesn’t help matters.  More to the point, a great deal of the series thus far (I just finished series 2) hinges upon the fact that Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, holds a fairly high position in the British government.  But the privilege doesn’t stop there.  Sherlock also has a somewhat territorially combative but generally easy relationship with the London police, being allowed regular access to crime scenes and police laboratories.  Despite his almost inside knowledge of the crimes committed, he is rarely ever suspected in any serious way of having committed them.  His intelligence is in no way questioned despite any immediate evidence of an extensive formal education, and he can rely upon others (particularly his landlord, Mrs. Hudson) to take care of the day-to-day matters of his existence.  Now, on this point it could be argued that John Watson is more responsible for “taking care of” Sherlock, but Watson is in many was feminized versus Sherlock.  This is not to denigrate femininity at all, but to make a point that, within the context of the show, Sherlock’s masculine, stoic “intellect” cannot be bothered with such petty things as grocery purchases, cleaning, or knowledge of basic facts.  Additionally, where Watson is emotionally expressive, caring, loyal, and cares about relationships, Holmes is aggressively anti-social, seeks solitude, is regularly rude and abrasive, and only shows sympathy or emotion in extreme circumstances, and even then only in stereotypically masculine ways.  This dichotomy between Sherlock’s “extraordinary” mind and those of the “ordinary” folks he so regularly denigrates reinforces the idea that, somehow, Sherlock is above everyone else.  To think such a thing, and to have it reinforced by so many others depends upon the possession of some degree of social privilege.  Furthermore, Sherlock is quite plainly a misogynist, not only treating women with particular contempt, but also relying upon sexist stereotypes in many of his “deductive” analyses.  That the generally lead him to the correct conclusion is beside the point–such stereotyping would not hold in the real world and Steven Moffat can write whatever he likes into Sherlock’s universe.

While women, people of color, working class folks and other oppressed folks could certainly be as intelligent as Sherlock, and are capable of the same feats, their more precarious social position (compounded by intersecting oppressions) means that they would be granted far less freedom than, and have access to far fewer resources than, this Sherlock. Sherlock can treat folks horribly, “exposing” them as hypocrites for simply trying to maintain social grace, and be written off as “just Sherlock.”  Were Sherlock a woman, she would be a “bitch.”   Were Sherlock a person of color, s/he would be seen as “uppity” or “reverse racist.”  Were Sherlock disabled, s/he might not be able to perform the physical feats that this Sherlock does (such as jumping roof to roof) or have their intelligence taken seriously, being dismissed instead as “unstable.”  If Sherlock were not cisgender or within the gender binary, they would have a much harder time trying to navigate the social sphere, attempting to pass while still remaining the same stoic, abrasive, unfeeling character that we know this Sherlock to be.  In short, this Sherlock is a variation upon the brooding, masculine, loner genius who nobody understands.  That itself is a played out trope, proven time and again to be reliant upon similar social privileges as I have enumerated here.

I don’t think a non-white, non-male, trans*, poor, disabled, and/or queer Sherlock is at all a bad idea.  However, I do think that the current interpretation of the character requires a great deal of privilege to be what we know this particular incarnation to be.  A character with less privilege would have to work harder to navigate the social sphere, but ultimately I think it would make for a stronger character, and a better series.  I like this Sherlock, but I’d like to see other Sherlocks, as well.  For the record, I have not seen Elementary, but I want to do so.

I’m No Hero

Something that really bothers me is when folks, even my loved ones, tell me that they are “so proud” of me, that I’m “a revolutionary,” that I’m “going to change the world,” or that I’m “opening people’s eyes.”  I am white, upper middle class, able bodied, and pass for cis male and straight.  I’m just doing the bare minimum to not be an oppressive bigot, and since I benefit from, and am blinded by, these privileges regardless, I feel disingenuous accepting all this praise.  So I’m not an active bigot, so I oppose oppression in all forms, so I try to check my privilege, so I do my research.  So what?  I may have mentioned before how I hate the word “ally,” and this is why.  It lavishes praise upon the title-holder, who is by definition in some way privileged, and, when used as an identity label, allows the “ally” to co-opt some of the oppression which they claim to be fighting for themself, thereby perpetuating it.  It’s ludicrous!  I’m no hero, and I don’t pretend to be.  Am I furious about injustice? Am I passionate about my anti-oppressive beliefs? Yes! But that does not make me a hero.  It means that I’m (somewhat) politically conscious (and I mean that in the most basic sense, as in I’m awake and breathing).  Why on earth should I be praised for this? Perhaps I’m a revolutionary relatively (versus some of the more politically unconscious folks around me), or maybe by association (feminism is definitely radical, and I am most definitely a feminist), but my privilege(s) mean that I am not taking any serious risks in being vocal and active for social justice.  It means that I can shed my anti-oppressive allegiances when I feel it is convenient (though I would not allow myself to do that, because that seems pretty lousy.)  And most importantly, it means that folks are more likely to listen to me calmly, actually acknowledge what I say, and respond seriously.  I am NOT a hero.  I am just another privileged person in solidarity with all oppressed folks everywhere.  Sounds pretty easy in comparison right? Well, it is. 

Social justice “allyship” is an easy thing to claim when you are as privileged as me.  It doesn’t mean that you care about it any less necessarily, but it means that for the most part, it’s not personal (unless people are giving me gender-binarist grief).  It doesn’t make what I say automatically wrong, but it holds a lot less weight and is more likely to be wrong when I say it versus when an oppressed person says it (although I probably would be granted far more leeway in what I say, be taken more seriously, and be given more time/space to say it).  And isn’t that what we’re fighting?  The manifestation of privilege on a personal level contributes to the manifestation of oppression on a societal and institutional level.  So please, for your political consciousness and mine, don’t make me into a hero.  I’m not.  I don’t believe in hero worship, but folks who speak truth to power from their own experiences (the only way truth can be spoken to power is by the oppressed, after all), come pretty close, I think.  I have a feminist brain-crush on Angela Davis.  If you want to admire someone, go read her.  Or just read her and don’t make her a token, or a representation of all women of color everywhere.  She’s still one person, she’s just highly educated, extremely intelligent, an excellent scholar and writer, and amazing politically conscious.  Most importantly, she’s positioned to speak truth to power.  Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherrie Moraga, bell hooks, and Patricia Hill Collins are all other great feminist theorists who have influenced me greatly.  But please, don’t make me a hero. I don’t deserve it, I don’t need it, I don’t want it, and quite frankly it annoys me when it happens.  It requires a great deal of privilege for me to be able to say all that, but it’s the truth.  Why do I need special credit for being a decent person and doing my homework?

The Discursive Feast of Privilege: Towards a Theory of Self-Abjection

In speaking about issues of social justice, we are often called upon to invoke the principle of “self-love.”  That is to say, “love yourself,” “be proud of who you are,” and other similar blandishments are presented as radical political statements; and, indeed, in some contexts they can be. To love oneself in the face of a society that finds your very being abhorrent is, to quote the venerable Audre Lorde, “an act of political warfare.”  But it must be understood that, in such instances, the individual being asked to love themself is usually asked to do so in opposition to forces of oppression and/or bigotry which seek to destroy their very being.  For such persons, the radicality of self-love is found not in the action itself so much as it is in the stance of opposition which it necessarily entails.  Here, self-love is a refusal to be colonized by hegemonic systems of domination, a refusal to be “crunched into other people’s fantasies for [oneself] and eaten alive.” This kind of self-love is a necessary part of accepting oneself as fully human, as a conscious subject entitled to rights and respect.  Therefore, it is necessary and good, and something to which all of us are entitled.  However, self-love always exists in a social context, and this context determines the political content of such a stance.   To love oneself with the world against you is one thing; to love oneself when the world is encouraging you to do so is another.
     Now, no one person is only subjected to messages of self-destruction or self-love, and indeed the multiplicity of identities we each contain would make such a prospect a near-impossibility.  But, I think there is something to be said about the limits of the concept of self-love.  Clearly, in an unjust world, a reminder of our essential right to be(ing), regardless of embodiment, marginality, or social position, is a prerequisite for any anti-oppressive project.   Nevertheless, I think there is a specific situation in which a “self-love” discourse goes too far, or ceases to be useful.
     As a multiply privileged person dedicated to a liberatory social justice project, it is critical that I remain aware of my positionality at all times.  As a white, male-bodied, able-bodied, class privileged, straight and cis passing person, I maintain a highly privileged subjectivity regardless of my political commitments.  However,  no matter how zealous (or educated, or conscientious, or well-read…) one is towards social justice, a privileged positionality always implicates one in systems of oppression greater than any individual activist.  Thus, to be privileged is to wield power, regardless of how much one disavows it.
   Being a privileged person in solidarity with the oppressed (also known as an “ally,” though I am loath to use that term), one often achieves a certain pleasure in being “right.”  Any social justice activist with a privileged identity knows what I am talking about, namely, that feeling of moral righteousness one gets when confronting a similarly privileged person about an identity neither of you share.  It is likely that those who have witnessed their “allies” in this state of anti-oppression euphoria know what I am talking about.  The long indignant rant about “privilege-checking” that seems to be more for the moral-condemnatory pleasure of the ranter rather than for the advancement of an anti-oppressive project.  Now, checking privilege is a vital and necessary first (and ongoing) step to a social justice consciousness, but this is quite a different phenomenon.  In fact, I would argue that such a sense of “rightness” occurs from a failure to fully check one’s privilege, instead resting on the laurels of one’s “allyship,” as it were.
  I’m going to call this scenario the “call out high.”  It happens when the privileged “ally”  feels empowered and “clean” from condemning the similarly privileged but pro-oppression folks around them.  It happens in the classroom, on the Internet, in social justice organizations, on the street, across the dinner table, and everywhere else one finds white folks talking about race, middle-class and wealthy folks talking about class, men talking about sexism, cis folks talking about transphobia, straight folks talking about heterosexism, and so on.  Though the “caller-outer” may mean perfectly well, they run the unique risk of losing their sense of self-reflexivity.  You can shout “I am NOT Trayvon Martin” from the rooftops all day.  If you are white, you still benefit from all the privileges attendant thereupon.  Being “right” is not enough when you still use your privilege like a blunt weapon, crudely addressing complex issues of power and identity about which you have no first-hand experience and simultaneously silencing the population for whom you claim to speak.
  I believe that this phenomenon (and it most certainly is a phenomenon) ties very closely to the language of self-love.  If all of us should love ourselves equally, and in an equally unqualified way, the those of us who society has granted significant privilege already start out with more love to lavish upon ourselves.  As a white anti-racist “ally”, I gain significant psychic and social benefits from claiming this “status” in many contexts, and in those where it is not beneficial to me, I can hide it or ignore its immaterial consequences.  In either case, I can feel a smug sense of self-righteousness from being “one of the good whites,” rather than one of those straightforward racists, or those liberals of the colorblind variety.  But no matter how good I feel about myself, I have done little to either shift the consciousness of my white peers, or to deconstruct material or ideological systems of racist oppression.
   Some might argue that this “call out high” is not a serious problem.  “Whatever gets people to care.”  But I disagree.  I think the rationale behind one’s dedication to a social justice project, how one approaches it, the strategies and ideologies one adopts, and the outcome of one’s actions are all interrelated.  A social justice praxis premised upon “feeling good” about one’s “allyship” is not going to lead to the kind of brutal, unceasing, critical self-analysis necessary to seriously engage with and “check” one’s privilege.  Being an “ally” should not “feel good” all the time.  In fact, the greater the degree of one’s privilege, the more uncomfortable one should feel. This is not a call to embrace the dreaded “white guilt,” an “emotion” which I think serves little purpose other than to sooth the psychic wounds of whites confronted with their own privilege and thus to allow them to ignore it, but rather to embrace the sense of self-disgust that should accompany every single instance of “call out high.”
Imagine you are eating some decadent (but nutritionally empty) foodstuff.  Plate after plate, an endless feast with no external control or sanction.  At some point, you begin to grow tired to the meal, and then soon after begin to feel quite sick.  You cannot stand to eat, let alone look at, another bite, and you push away your plate in disgust.   That feeling, not of shame for the calories consumed (that’s internalized fatphobia), not of what others will think, but purely of embodied disgust for the once delicious food before you, is what I think should guide us as privileged folks encountering the “call out high.”  We should feel somewhat sick with ourselves.  Similar to this hypothetical meal, the “call out high” occurs whenever we have fully gorged upon anti-oppressive discourse.  It’s what I as a white, male-bodied, class privileged person feel when I read Audre Lorde and fail to fully consider the political implications of her words, as well as the context in which they were written.  It’s when I call out a white, cis “dude-bro” in class for his privilege-blind nonsense, and feel oh so proud of myself for the rest of the day.  It’s what is happening right now, to an extent, when I write this very essay.
  It does feel good to be an “ally,” and in certain ways it should.  If you take social justice seriously, then you are freeing yourself from the burden of hating the Other, and embracing a fundamental human community.  But that doesn’t make you, nor I, a “special snowflake.” We don’t get ally cookies for that.  It helps to keep in mind that by embracing feminism, anti-racism, intersectionality, and other tenets of social justice, we are doing the bare minimum of work necessary to be a decent human being.  We might be few in number amongst of privileged peers, relatively speaking, but we are not automatically “groundbreaking,” “earth-shattering,” or “speaking truth to power.” In many ways, after all, we ARE power.
  So what is to be done about all this? Do we abandon social justice for others when it no longer serves our personal psychic needs?  Do we refuse to ever speak on issues of oppression which we do not experience? Do self-flagellate each time we slip up? No, all of these miss the point.  We shouldn’t feel bad for getting mad about oppression.  We should, after all, be outraged by the abuses of power, by the injustices, by the inequalities engendered by oppressive systems.  But we should be mercilessly, critically self-reflexive at the same time.  We must not let our guards down to our own potential to oppress, and we must never forget our own positionality.
  I think all of this is aided by fostering a productive sense of self-abjection, of making oneself continually humble.  That sickness we feel after gorging ourselves on liberatory discourse?  We must live up to our high words.  We must silence ourselves sometimes in order, not to ignore oppression, but in order to listen.  We must hold ourselves accountable.  By never ceasing to critically evaluate our own beliefs, actions, identities, privileges, and positionality, we refuse to simply enjoy being “allies.” Instead we call upon ourselves to be worthy of that title without ever feeling the need to claim it.  We reject it when it is offered, because it is not for us to claim.  It is in the doing that social justice gets done.  So, while we must never be afraid to challenge oppression wherever it  lies, we must also be vigilantly aware of the seductive power of the “call out high.” Because it is when we forget that being an ally is NOT an identity, that privilege continues to operate despite social justice awareness and even in anti-oppression spaces, that we return to the discursive feast of privilege, and put our identity as an ally ahead of the serious work of challenging and dismantling oppression.

Welcome back!

Hello dear Quintrospection readers!

As you can possibly tell, I’ve been on an extended hiatus, to the point of taking the blog offline unexpectedly.  Some private matters arose that made this a prudent decision at the time, but know I feel comfortable returning Quintrospection to the internet.  So welcome back! I hope to begin posting again soon, but as always, I never seem to get around to it regularly.  Thanks for reading!

The Cult of White Male “Victimhood”

I wrote this post for a class I am taking, and I thought you all might enjoy it. The quotes and citations are from readings we had to do for the course:

The cisgender, heterosexual, white male is a curious subject; somehow he manages to be both the epitome of being oppressed and oppressing others at the same time. Closer inspection, however, will soon reveal the former claim to be purely specious. The cishet white male is not a victim in any sense; rather he constructs himself as such. Social justice movements ranging from anti-racism to feminism have come to challenge his heretofore largely unquestioned dominance as the universal subject, and thus what he perceives as an infringement on his rights is really the recession of his undeserved privileges stemming from race, gender, sexuality, embodiment, and (often) social class. Rather that come to accept (or, forbid, embrace) the fact that other kinds of humans exist in the world and have equal claim to the rights which he has so long held dear, the white male instead posits that he is “under attack,” a “victim” of “loud” persons of color and “uppity” women. This phenomenon of white male victimhood has spawned the hilariously conceived “Men’s rights movement,” which has further begotten the utter and total fiction known as the “friend zone”.
The “logic” of the “friend zone” is highly convoluted, but is basically this: a man acts as a “nice guy” towards a woman whom he finds attractive/wants to sleep with/”loves” (though this “love” is highly questionable), bending over backwards (in his mind) to “please” her. Despite all this, she views him only as a friend (as if her friendship were totally worthless) and chooses instead to date “alpha males,” who are “mean to her” and “treat her bad”. The “nice guy” spurned in his “romantic” endeavors, begins to enter a spiral of contemptible self-pity wherein he believes that the woman is some self-centered, vain, shallow, cruel harpy who wants nothing other than to “use” him (ironically) for his “friendship,” all while “leading him on.” The “friend zone” functions as a way of naming this perceived injustice, allowing the “nice guy” to claim that “she put me in the friend zone,” thereby imputing a malicious and conscious intent where none existed onto an “action” that in any other context would be innocuous (i.e. valuing a friendship but not want to sleep with said friend).

It is in this light that the concept of white male victimhood takes on a particularly sinister air, because of the “friend zone’s” implications for rape culture. If she “owes” him a romantic relationship (well, they’ll CLAIM that’s what they want) for simply daring to be friends with him while being attractive to him, then her right to say no is effectively denied. She must submit, or she is a “bitch”. It is in this way that rape culture is legitimated without the need to invoke the image of the “false rape accuser.” Her sexuality is a resource which she is withholding unjustly, and his “niceness” entitles him to free access to her body.
This logic is reinforced by two factors: the image of the white male “loser,” who is a “victim” of women who only want to “entrap” him; and the culture of “self-contempt” created around white masculinity, which effectively positions the white male as an immature adolescent incapable of being any better than he is, and who must resort to trickery, coercion, and deception to obtain a woman, because women never would want to sleep with him anyway (one wonders why).
As Messner and Montez de Oca not, “[T]he loser motif constructs the universal subject as implicitly white, and [is] a reaction against challenges to hegemonic masculinity” (1906). This victimization process allows “nice guys” to impute a malicious intent to any woman who will not submit to them, while simultaneously allowing him to position the reasons for her refusal outside of his control and as grave injustices: “[M]en know…that these sexy women are not available to them. Worse, if men get too close to these women, these women will most likely humiliate them. By contrast, real women- women who are not model-beautiful fantasy objects- are likely to attempt to ensnare men into a commitment, push them to have or express feelings that make them uncomfortable, and limit their freedom to have fun watching sports or playing cards or pool with their friends. So, in the end, men have only the safe haven of their male friends” (1906). There are two key points to unpack here. First is the idea that “real women” want only to “ensnare” men in intimacy (isn’t that what the “nice guys” wanted?) and domesticity (because this totally isn’t a fictitious image of hegemonic femininity). This “logic” is implicit not only in the “friend zone” (“she only wants me around so she has someone to listen her”), but also in the MRA “movement” in general (they think that false rape accusations are a major problem and further are a plot by “feminists” to put “honest men” in jail; and they also believe in something called “sperm-stealing,” which, convoluted as it is, I think is self-explanatory). Second, is the idea that men can only depend on other men (but not in a homoerotic way); it is this kind of thinking that begat the Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) “movement” in the first place. Homosociality among the dominant class is a dangerous prospect, since it allows hate, resentment, and self-pity to fester into a sickening “social movement” which believes that the major problems facing society are the “friend zone,” child support payments, false rape accusations (instead of actual rape), and a lack of fedoras (I kid, but you’d be surprised…).
There can be no doubt all of this posturing is the result of misogyny; though the “nice guys” can scream “misandry” all they want, it will never be true, and “misandry” will never be real. As Messner and Montez de Oca explain, “This individual sense of victimization may feed young men’s insecurities while giving them convenient scapegoats on which to project their anger at their victim status. The cultural construction of white males as losers, then, is tethered to men’s anger at and desire for revenge against women” (1906). Too often, the white male is given the benefit of the doubt as a victim, even outside of the so-called “man-o-sphere,” the satirical name given to the blogs associated with the MRA “movement.” This specious of white male victimhood can be heard when gamers, geeks, and nerds complain about “booth babes” and “fake geek girls” (the latter of which is another highly convoluted “concept” endemic to white male victimhood, like the “friend zone”), or even simply when a complaint of sexism is lodged against President Obama, not for cat-calling a state attorney general or denying women access to OTC Plan B, but for nominating two women in a row to the Supreme Court (because three Supreme Court justices is totally “taking over the world”).
Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the (white male-controlled) media has convinced (white) men that they are owed free access to basically any woman they want: “[T]he photo spreads of lingerie-clad celebrity women…demonstrates that, for a buck, they can be stripped down, placed in alluring poses, and purchased by any teen [boy] who wishes to own them…Their status as economically powerful women makes their taming…an especially valuable commodity…the women are made to claim that the image of them as available prey is actually them in their natural, preferred private lives. The text denies the obvious- that they have posed and are performing for male pleasure- with claims that this is how they really are” (Davis 1016). To be sure, this media construction of these women certainly plays into the “logic” of the “man-o-sphere;” but it seems that the latter is an autonomous phenomenon. Though they may well be mutually reinforcing (and indeed are; another major “injustice” named by MRAs is that men are “always portray as fat, bumbling idiots on sitcoms, while women are hot, smart, and in control as wives”), it is useless to speak of causation. The most important take away is that this all would be laughable, hilarious even, if it were not so pernicious. Though the MRA “movement” itself is an ignorable non-presence as a political movement (they mostly complain on the internet, and occasionally set themselves on fire to little effect), the “logic” of the “man-o-sphere,” embodied concretely by the “friend zone,” has permeated society on many levels; indeed, this may simply be the latest manifestation of the omnipresent sexist/misogynist ideologies of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, but it does show that sexism is capable of (de)evolving. Whether or not the MRA “nice guys” pose a real threat to women and gender equality in and of themselves, the pernicious ideology of white male “victimhood” threatens to allow for the reinforcement of the worse elements of patriarchy and misogyny, as well as rape culture and every one manifestation of sexism. So do not pity the cishet white male; he is already taking care of that himself.

Links:
“Friend zone”: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/03/20/_friend_zone_enters_the_oed_signaling_that_women_shouldn_t_bother_being.html
“Fake Geek Girls”:

http://feminspire.com/call-me-a-fake-geek-girl-you-can-shove-your-controller-up-your-ass/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/01/15/fake_geek_girls_no_they_are_not_coming_to_destroy_you.html

Man Boobz, your guide to the horrors of the “man-o-sphere”:

http://manboobz.com/

NOTE: I am so sorry if you have yet to be exposed to the sickening underworld that is the MRA “movement;” if you already have been, well, you already know why…

The End of Bad Politics

In the past few weeks, I have been doing a lot of thinking about my politics and where I stand as a feminist.  This probably had many causes, but I think it was primarily motivated by a few things, including my recent reading of Women, Race, & Class by Angela Y. Davis, two courses I am taking, and the recent developments regarding the Sandberg/Slaughter “debate” within American “feminism” and FEMEN’s anti-Islam protests.  The two courses I am taking center on race, gender, and other political messages in popular culture and women’s position in the workplace (i.e. the glass ceiling and gender inequality in upper management at corporations); consequently, these two classes adopt very different (and extremely conflicting) approaches to feminism, and anti-oppression in general.

Others have said many important things much more eloquently and with more depth, clarity, intelligence, and nuance than I could ever hope to muster, so I will not re-hash arguments that have already been elsewhere (see the links above).  The point of this point is to express some feelings and thoughts that I have been having as of late regarding my feminism.

To make a long story short: I am sick of white, liberal feminism.  It is racist, neocolonialist, classist, transphobic, and ignores countless other issues, as well as real remaining material and structural inequalities for women.

To make a long story even shorter: I am sick of bad politics.

Just I can no longer endorse a feminism that is not for everybody (because feminism IS for everybody), I can no longer justify what I can only refer to as bad politics.  By this I mean the practice of putting an ideology or dogma ahead of the real lived experiences, needs, and concerns of real living people.  An example of this is transphobic “feminism” claiming that trans women are “stealing womanhood” and trying to “infiltrate feminism”; rather than responding to a conflicting lived experience with thoughtful critique of the problematic theory, the response is to attack trans* folks and to try to shove them into a framework that does not fit because it no longer is responsive to reality.

While I’m sure this critique of bad politics has been voiced elsewhere, and I KNOW these criticisms of mainstream feminist thought have already been made before (by women of color- like bell hooks, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Barbara Smith; trans women (Natalie Reed ran a fabulous blog for a number of years); and others), I simply want to voice my personal recognitions and experiences on this issue.  As a white, MAAB, class privileged, mostly-cisgender, American, my privilege led me to believe that what I knew as feminism was really was feminism and gender equality was all about.  It took me until just recently to finally even begin to begin to understand why that could not be further from the truth.

I had previously had some encounters with intersectionality, but it is not something one can really understand even on an impersonal, theoretical level; at least I couldn’t.  I am not claiming that I had some magical experience whereby I now can understand intersectional oppressions personally; as mentioned before, I, by virtue of my privileges, cannot.  However, I am beginning to recognize how much I do not/will never know, and how much I still have yet to learn, and I have begun the process of trying to learn as much as I can.  It will be a constant, ceaseless process of growth, learning, self-correction, and introspection, but I must do it if I do not want to be an oppressive jerk.  It will not be easy (and it should not be easy), but it is a hell of a lot easier than actually being oppressed, and it is the basic decent thing to do.

To get to my point, I want to argue for an end to putting dogma over people, for selling out our goals in service of an ideology.  I feel like, too often, I have tried to justify a political position by appealing to ideology, when the real voices of actual people were contradicting my beliefs.  This is not to say one should capitulate whenever one encounters opposition, but consider how power works and whose voices are the most informed/relevant in a situation; FEMEN, for example, should listen to the Muslim women who are telling them that they are OPPRESSING them and take these critiques seriously, rather than asserting that these women have no idea what they are talking about because they are living under Islam.

I want to make one final point: racist “feminism” is not feminism; neocolonialist “feminism” is not feminist; transphobic “feminism” is not feminism, and so on.  And not just in the “feminism is a movement for social justice, so if you perpetuate other oppressions, you are not advocating for social justice and thus can’t be a feminist” sense (as if that were not a sufficient reason?); I mean it in the most basic sense, as in “racist “feminism” is by definition misogynistic, because you are excluding actual women, and hating them for their differences.”

In other words, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

A feminism that does not advocate for the full humanity of ALL women is misogynistic, plain and simple.  Our politics should come from people’s real needs, concerns, and struggles, not from reinterpretations of outmoded, unfeeling, and unthinking dogma.  On that note, I want to leave you with a quote from Barbara Smith:

“Feminism is the political theory and practice that struggles to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, disabled women, Jewish women, lesbians, old women–as well as white, economically privileged heterosexual women. Anything less than this vision of total freedom is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement.”

Even though feminism is important to each of us personally, it need to be expansive and flexible enough to be available to all those who so desperately need it for their liberation as well.  Feminism’s growth and constantly increasing inclusion can only make it stronger.  I think Dar Williams sang it best:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6BbvERTYhU

“Oh, I’m not that petty.  As cool as I am, I’d thought you’d know this already. I will not be afraid of women, I will not be afraid of women.”

Critical Justice Facebook Page and Quintrospection Tumblr

Hi all!

I’ve recently launched Facebook and Tumblr companions to this blog:

1. The Critical Justice Facebook Page

For lively discussion of social justice issues

2. The Quintrospection Tumblr

For the best social justice re-blogging Tumblr has to offer!

Enjoy!

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