Friday, 26 September 2014

PARALLELS

What happens when we reframe a feminist position and apply it to racism? Why might the latter evoke so much more controversy and resistance?

Anne Theriault from The Belle Jar wrote an excellent piece that I love, "Tired of Talking to Men" about the burden of explaining feminism to men. I realized that it paralleled much of how I feel lately about explaining racism to white people, so I approached her about a racism rewrite of her piece.

Here it is, Anne's words and my rewrite (in bold):

***

I am tired of talking about feminism to men.

I am tired of talking about racism to white feminists.

I know that I’m not supposed to say this. I know that as a good little third-wave feminist I’m supposed to sweetly explain to you how much I love and value men. I’m supposed to trot out my husband of nearly five years, my son, all of my male friends and relatives and display them as a sort of badge of honour, proof that I am not a man-hater. I’m supposed to hold out my own open palms, prove to you how harmless I am, how nice I am. Above all, I’m supposed to butter you up, you men, stroke your egos, tell you how very important you are in the fight for equality. This is the right way to go about it, or so I’ve been told. As my mother would say, you catch more flies with honey.

I know I’m not supposed to say this. I know that as a good little third-wave feminist of colour I’m supposed to sweetly explain to you how much I love and value white allies. I’m supposed to trot out my white partner of nearly five years and all of my white friends and display them as a sort of badge of honour, proof that I am not a white-people hater. I’m supposed to hold out my own open palms, prove to you how harmless I am, how nice I am. After all, I’m supposed to butter you up, you white people, stroke your egos, tell you how very important you are in the fight for equality. This is the right way to go about it, or so I’ve been told. As my mother would say, you catch more flies with honey.

But still. I’m tired of talking about feminism to men.


But still. I’m tired of talking about racism to white feminists.


I’m tired of explaining to men that the feminist movement will, in fact, benefit them as well as women. I’m tired of trying to hawk gender equality like I’m some kind of car salesman showing off a shiny new sedan, explaining all of its bells and whistles. I’m tired of smiling through a thousand thoughtless microaggressions, tired of providing countless pieces of evidence, tired of being questioned on every. single. damn. thing. I’m tired of proving that microaggressions exist, tired of proving that I’m unfairly questioned and asked for proof. For a movement that’s centered around the advancement and empowerment of women, why do I feel like I’m supposed to spend so damn much of my time carefully considering how what I say and do will be taken by men?

I’m tired of explaining to white feminists that anti-racism will, in fact, benefit them as well as women of colour. I’m tired of trying to hawk racial equality like I’m some kind of car salesman showing off a shiny new sedan, explaining all of its bells and whistles. I’m tired of smiling through a thousand thoughtless microaggressions, tired of providing countless pieces of evidence, tired of being questioned on every. single. damn. thing. I’m tired of proving that microaggressions exist, tired of proving that I’m unfairly questioned and asked for proof. For a movement that’s centered around the advancement and empowerment of women, why do I feel like I’m supposed to spend so damn much of my time carefully considering how what I say and do will be taken by white feminists?

I’m tired of men who insert themselves into feminist spaces with claims of hurt feelings. I’m tired of men who somehow manage to make every issue about them. I’m tired of men like the one who recently stopped by a friend’s Facebook thread in order to call feminism “cunty,” then lecture the women involved for being too “hostile” in their responses to him. I’m tired of men telling me that my understanding of feminism and rape culture are wrong, as if these aren’t things that I have studied intensely. I’m tired of men who claim to be feminist allies, then abuse that position to their own advantage. I’m so fucking exhausted by the fact that I know that I will have to, at some point in this piece, mention that I understand that not all men are like that. I will have to note that some men are good allies. And all of those things are true! And all of you good allies get cookies! But honestly I’m tired of handing out cookies to people just because they’re being decent fucking human beings.

I’m tired of white feminists who insert themselves into coloured spaces with claims of hurt feelings. I’m tired of white feminists who somehow manage to make every issue about them. I’m tired of white feminists like the one who was recently called out by women of colour for mocking black women, and then she and other white feminists lecture the women involved for being too “hostile” in their responses to her. I’m tired of white feminists telling me that my understanding of feminism and racism are wrong, as if these aren’t things that I have studied intensely. I’m tired of white feminists who claim to be allies, then abuse that position to their own advantage. I’m so fucking exhausted by the fact that I know that I will have to, at some point in this piece, mention that I understand that not all white feminists are like that. I will have to note that some white feminists are good allies. And all of those things are true! And all of you good allies get cookies! But honestly I’m tired of handing out cookies to people just because they’re being decent fucking human beings.

I spoke today on a panel about rape culture, and while the whole experience was fucking fantastic, I was totally disheartened by how many of the other presenters went out of their way to convince the men in the room that rape culture affected them, too. The phrase “rape culture isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a everyone’s issue,” kept coming up, and though I understand why it could be valuable to frame it that way, the rationale behind that makes me kind of sick. Because what we’re really saying is that if rape culture is understood to only be a woman’s issue, then it won’t be as important to men. Rape culture is something that men should care about not because it might affect them, but because it affects anyone at all. Men should care about women’s safety, full stop, without having the concept somehow relate back to them. Everyone should care about everyone else’s well-being – that’s what good people are supposed to do.

I recently had to do a lot of educating about racism in white feminist circles, and while I was happy that many white feminists supported me and the other women of colour involved, I was totally disheartened by how some white feminists could not see that they were failing to check their own white privilege. Racism is something that white feminists should care about because oppressions do not act in isolation. White feminists should care about the safety of feminists of colour, full stop, without having to make it about them. Everyone should care about everyone else’s well-being – that’s what good people are supposed to do.

Is it really so hard to have compassion about something that might not directly affect you?

Is it really so hard to have compassion about something that might not directly affect you?

I find that the more that I engage in activism, the more men seem to think that my time belongs to them. There seems to be this idea that if I’ve set myself up as an educator about feminism and gender and women’s rights (and I know that I have, and by and large I enjoy that role), then it’s somehow part of my job to take the time out of my busy day to explain basic feminist concepts to them. If I don’t, then I’m accused of all kinds of things – not properly backing up what I say with facts (though the facts are easily accessible to those who want them), not caring enough about “converting” men who might be on the fence (though they could convert themselves if they really wanted to), not being strong or smart enough to engage in a discussion (which we both know isn’t going to go anywhere). I used to burn myself out by patiently laying out my talking points over and over, directing people towards resources, never walking away from an arguments be it big or small. But I’m not doing that to myself anymore. This is my space; I get to decide what happens here. If I don’t want to reply to comments, then I won’t. If I don’t want to engage someone, then I’ll ignore them. Yes, I am here to educate and to explain, but I am not under any obligation to do anything that I don’t want to. That is not my job. If you want to learn more, then that’s your job.

I find that the more that I engage in feminism, the more white feminists seem to think that my time belongs to them. There seems to be this idea that if I’ve set myself up as an educator about feminism and gender and women’s rights and racism (and I know that I have, and by and large I enjoy that role), then it’s somehow part of my job to take the time out of my busy day to explain basic racism concepts to them. If I don’t, then I’m accused of all kinds of things – not properly backing up what I say with facts (though the facts are easily accessible to those who want them), not caring enough about teaching white feminists who haven’t thought enough about racism (though they could teach themselves if they really wanted to), not being strong or smart enough to engage in a discussion (which we both know isn’t going to go anywhere). I used to burn myself out by patiently laying out my talking points over and over, directing people towards resources, never walking away from an arguments be it big or small. But I’m not doing that to myself anymore. This is my space; I get to decide what happens here. If I don’t want to reply to comments, then I won’t. If I don’t want to engage someone, then I’ll ignore them. Yes, I am here to educate and to explain, but I am not under any obligation to do anything that I don’t want to. That is not my job. If you want to learn more, then that’s your job.

I’m going to call on all the men out there who consider themselves to be allies and ask them to step up to the plate and walk their own talk. When you see a woman being mansplained, you be the one to step in and call him out. When you see a bunch of men making misogynistic jokes, you be the one to tell them to fuck off. When someone asks for “proof,” don’t wait for a woman to provide it – you be the one to offer resources. Show us what a good ally you are by standing in the line of fire for once, and when you do, don’t immediately turn around and ask us for praise.

I’m going to call on all the white feminists out there who consider themselves to be allies and ask them to step up to the plate and walk their own talk. When you see a woman of colour being whitesplained, you be the one to step in and call them out. When you see a bunch of white people making racist jokes, you be the one to tell them to fuck off. When someone asks for “proof,” don’t wait for a person of colour to provide it – you be the one to offer resources. Show us what a good ally you are by standing in the line of fire for once, and when you do, don’t immediately turn around and ask us for praise.

I’m tired of talking to men about feminism, but it doesn’t have to be like this. The burden of this discussion doesn’t have to be on women; we don’t have to be the only ones fighting the good fight. So please, men who are reading this – instead of the usual knee-jerk reaction towards these types of posts, instead of rolling your eyes and saying, “great, another feminist shitting on men,” I’m asking you to instead get involved and do what you can to affect change. I’m not going to condescend to you and try to explain why that will make the world a better place; I trust that you’re all smart enough to figure that out by yourselves.

I’m tired of talking to white feminists about racism, but it doesn’t have to be like this. The burden of this discussion doesn’t have to be on people of colour; we don’t have to be the only ones fighting the good fight. So please, white feminists who are reading this – instead of the usual knee-jerk reaction towards these types of posts, instead of rolling your eyes and saying, “great, another woman of colour shitting on white feminists,” I’m asking you to instead get involved and do what you can to affect change. I’m not going to condescend to you and try to explain why that will make the world a better place; I trust that you’re all smart enough to figure that out by yourselves.

By Anne Thériault & Lily Tsui

7 comments:

  1. This collaboration really works well. Well done!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'd like to address something about this article that a lot of people don't consider when approaching social issues:

    Do you think that using rhetoric like "whitesplained," "white feminists," "white allies," etc. is productive? Do you not think that this sort of rhetoric only serves to further segregation and / or prejudice? Why can't people just be allies or feminists? You see, one of the main problems with feminism and anti-racism that I feel a lot of people don't really understand is that when you start labeling people, regardless of what side of the fence you're on, you are contributing to segregation. You are contributing to prejudice. This article consistently references "us" and "them," (the very ideology you are fighting against, if I am not mistaken) and it paints a pretty generalized picture of your average white feminist. Keeping in mind that the generalization of a person based on their skin color or ideology is the foundation for prejudice. So, I am asking you on behalf of all the "white feminists" to please stop demonizing the "other." Nothing good ever came out of it and nothing ever will. It just makes you look like an asshole.

    Sincerely,

    The progressive thinking world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joshua Littlechild, you sign your comment with the word "progressive"... I do not think that word means what you think it means.

      Do yourself a favour and good intersectionality.

      Delete
    2. Excuse me, but assuming you speak for a large swath of people is certainly NOT progressive. You are not the voice of the world, or a world, and your assumption that you hold some kind of universal truth over us is part of the problem. For some reason I find this the most egregious part of a generally ridiculous and uninformed comment.

      Go to your room and think about what you've done.

      Delete
  3. Speaking for the pragmatic empathetic world, and as a card-carrying (ok they don't really give you cards but vista print will sometimes make them for you for free) white feminist and white ally I can actually check my privilege and advantage. I can appreciate that those very thing insulate me from having my humanity or dignity questioned on a regular basis. White privilege is the ultimate hall-pass, while everyone else has to get permission to go about the business of being human, we can be assholes and complain about our hurt feelings when some of our collective coloring are called on the carpet for failing to see that we get treated better than other human beings for no good reason but because of a history of horrible abuses.

    I can see that I was born into my privilege and it wasn't earned, but I do deserve my dignity and humanity - the thing is so does every other human being. Whitesplaining is white people acting like our privilege doesn't give us an advantage and pretending like there is any such thing as a level playing field. There is no such thing. Checking your privilege is a very essential and elementary first step to leveling that field. Until it's level, white people are always on higher ground, king of the hill, etc. and the status quo (which is not progressive) remains steadfast. Why are these women tired of talking? Because if people were listening they wouldn't have to repeat themselves so often. I've only been checking my privilege for a few years now after I woke up and saw the world beyond my own, and I'm already tired of repeating it. Yet, it must be repeated. So here is the refrain - check your damned privilege and acknowledge what's been withheld and offer it back to others. Empathy, kindness, and self-respect are not lost when we share them, they simply increase like compound interest.

    ReplyDelete