It has been a pretty rad week on Twitter for addressing some of the issues with non-intersectional mainstream feminism. If you haven’t seen the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag started by @karnythia that’s been trending on Twitter the whole world over, you should go right ahead and check it out. Here is an article written by Mikki Kendall herself, explaining what the movement is all about.
#Solidarityisforwhitewomen speaks to the experiences of women of colour who are marginalized by the dominant white voices in mainstream feminism. It is powerful. It is honest. It is so damn important.
Before we all start holding hands and singing hopeful songs (which I’m pretty certain is not the future of any actual feminism. Which I am SO okay with), let’s talk about all of the defensive responses to calls for more intersectional feminism. (I’m going to ignore the most obvious trolls and their bile because 1) Yawn; and, 2) I’m not going to engage in the hard work of having dialogue with people that are so damn hateful.)
There’s a troubling demographic of people who resist more intersectional social justice practice — the “defensive feminists.” These folks do everything they can to debunk, derail, and distract from the issues at hand, in ways that subvert the entire point of the conversation. To them, defending feminism as it currently stands is more important than strengthening or challenging it. This group represents a significant barrier to achieving intersectional feminism, because they undermine the voices of those experiencing oppression, all while hiding under the helpful guise of self-professed “ally.”
I see you, well-intentioned, “accidental” oppressor, and I’m calling your bluff.
While these steps do give a nod to the “Derailing” style of calling shit shit, they look at specific actions rather than categories of responses that can be used to continue to exercise privilege. If you want to be a super-Defensive Feminist™, here are some quick steps for you:
Step 1: Make sure everyone knows that you aren’t one of those “oppressive mainstream feminists.” This response is all a lot about excusing yourself from the benefits of privilege. Maybe there are systems of oppression that lead to all kinds of unequal outcomes for people. But you didn’t make it that way! And you certainly don’t think that way. It is essential in these cases to take the honest confession of pain from another person, and make it all about you, real quick. Try something along the lines of “I know ____ is really hard for you, but I’m not one of the people that contributes to ____.” Whew! Now everyone knows how anti-oppressive you are, and also, everyone is paying attention to you. +1 point!
Step 2: Question the motives of the aggrieved party. I wrote about Oprah’s experiences trying to buy a purse on this site earlier this month, and about how racism is inescapable for people of colour. As some very astute commenters (Toasties? Toasters? Toastlets? Eggs on Toast? I’m hungry) observed, many of the news headlines detailing this story refer to Oprah’s “claims of racism”, as opposed to her experience of racism. Because, you know. Maybe she’s lying. Because that’s what people do. Because, as lots of commenters on this article will tell you, she’s currently promoting a movie. That’s right. Be as fucking offensive as you can in questioning the motives of a person speaking to their own deeply-felt experiences. You can do it! You’ll see motive questioning a lot in instances of assault and rape as well. Even though less than 2-8% all reports of sexual assaults are false, and even though the serious under-reportage of rape is a documented fact. Got this one? Moving along…
Step 3: Make it about your oppression instead. Did you know that straight/cis/non-disabled white women are paid less than straight/cis/non-disabled white men? Did you know that they experience all kinds of marginalization at higher rates than their male counterparts? Hopefully you do. Hopefully you understand that addressing gendered oppression is a serious component of feminism. Did you know that when you start to look at additional intersections of oppression, these stats get a whole lot worse for some people? They do. Did you know that it is possible to take an article about anti-Black racism specific to Black men, and make it all about white women? (I’ve posted Jamilah Lemieux’s takedown rather than the original article here, because I’m not offering the original the time of day). It has been done. Maybe you don’t like being an oppressor even while experiencing other forms of oppression. Well. Can you speak the loudest? Sweep other concerns from other communities under the rug in an effort to make feminism “universal”? You can? Achievement unlocked!
Step 4: Point out people’s relative privilege while ignoring their intersections of oppression. Back to Oprah’s shopping experience. Did you know that Oprah is rich? She is. Take a google at how Oprah’s wealth somehow erases her intersectional identity as a woman of colour. Wait, it doesn’t do that? Class doesn’t transcend race? Oppressions exist for people even when they have privilege as well? Don’t acknowledge that. Move on to the next step post-haste.
Step 5: Speak on behalf of a group that you are not a part of. Well, if we have to admit to the intersectional nature of feminism, surely we can at least hold onto some privilege by speaking as the expert on other people’s issues. If Hugo Schwyzer can make a career of being a definitive voice in mainstream feminist spaces while marginalizing the voices of women of colour, then there is lots of room for similar failures. Aim big, keep on keeping on.
Step 6: Talk about how not all people from the same background feel the same way. This one is helpful because lots of people speaking to their experiences of oppression have no idea that other people from their communities have varying ideas and opinions about everything. Did you know that some Black folks don’t like the use of the n-word, while others find value in its reclamation? Because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from white folks who are mad that they can’t use the word, or who don’t want Black people to use the word, or something, something, blah, blah, blah. If you are interested in having an opinion about things that are none of your business, it is important to pick a side, dig your heels in, and have a ready example of a friend, foe, or well-known figure from that community to make your point.
Step 7: Claim that any diversity represents the end of oppression and/or create some token diversity and call it a day. Barack Obama is president of the United States of America. Have you heard? Everything is post-racial. Everything is post-oppression. That is the logical conclusion to that argument. I heard of a certain women’s group at a certain post-secondary institution that invited women of colour from a (separate, racialized) school group to be a part of their fashion show fundraiser, so that they would appear more diverse. See? They know how it’s done. Tokenism masquerading as diversity is nothing new. Sometimes old tricks are the best tricks.
Step 8: Ignore, or actively work against, more inclusive social justice movements. There all all kinds of groups that claim to speak on behalf of women while actively oppressing them. Sex workers frequently have their lives put at risk by Antis and Abolitionist groups, so-called “feminist” organizations pushing for legislation that further criminalizes their work, which has terrifying real-world effects. Trans women and trans men are also often actively excluded from mainstream feminism by cissexist “feminist” actions. I can highlight these issues, but I can’t snark about these things because they are not experiences of oppression that I can speak to personally. Don’t contribute to this. It’s awful. Actively work against it.
I can, however, snark about being argued with, dismissed, and ignored in a presentation about “polite racism” by a white presenter, who was a lot more interested in making her point about my experiences as a person of colour than she was in hearing my opinion about how fucking terrifying and misguided her work was. And it worked out just fine for her. So take heart, aspiring Defensive Feminists™. There is still hope yet!
Step 9: When in doubt, plow through the critiques. Do you think you might have made a mistake? Are you considering that you maybe, possibly could do a better job of being an intersectional feminist? That this might require sitting down, shutting up, and changing your practice? Can’t have that! Feminism is yours; you are feminism. It’s hard being right all of the time, and you meant no harm. So, maybe work out a fake apology if you can muster one, but mostly just keep on doing what you are doing. Just make it more oppressive if you can. The discussion of racialization on the show Girls was a great example. Defensiveness/fauxpology/apathy, followed by more of the same. Score!
Step 10: (also known as Step When-All-Else-Fails): Cry. That’s the whole step. Just cry.
If you haven’t expired from a snark-attack by this point, I invite you to look at how ridiculous these things are when itemized in a step-by-step guide. Trust. They are just as ridiculous when they are fucking up the lives of marginalized people on a daily basis. Also, they are terrifying, often life-threatening, and continue to oppress other folks further. So, maybe read this thing again. Take a look at these ten steps. Commit them to memory. And then work real hard on doing the exact opposite. Okay? Okay.
Jessie is a perpetual grad student, studying all the social justice issues. She is a lover of all food (cheese is the only food, also bacon), critical analysis of everything all of the time, and really bad TV shows.