09 12 / 2013
… and in its Struggle bind them.
I’ve found that the axis of oppression most commonly deployed in this way is class, but it seems quite likely that that’s how I would feel about gender if I was a black woman having my racial oppression subsumed in the feminist struggle. You know, the supposedly transcendent feminist struggle in which all women — black, white, variously abled and sexually labelled — are meant to find common cause. And then you often get the double whammy of the white male class warrior with both feminist and anti-racist struggles in his crosshairs: see here and here (shame on you, androcentrically named New Statesman).
It was always my working assumption that everyone rejected this thinking when it came to their own struggles — in my case, I assumed I could count on working class women not to think class could subsume gender.
But I recently had a conversation with a working class woman, a feminist whom I know and respect, in which she contended that class could do just that: that it is the axis of oppression to rule them all and in the (anti-capitalist) struggle bind them. Her argument wasn’t one I’d heard before, but I’ll list the ones I had:
30 11 / 2013
"White women face the pitfall of being seduced into joining the oppressor under the pretence of sharing power. This possibility does not exist in the same way for Women of Colour. The tokenism that is sometimes extended to us is not an invitation to join power; our racial ‘otherness’ is a visible reality that makes that quite clear. For white women there is a wide range of pretended choices and rewards for identifying with patriarchal power and its tools. Today […] it is easier once again for white women to believe the dangerous fantasy that if you are good enough, pretty enough, sweet enough, quiet enough, teach the children to behave, hate the right people and marry the right men, then you will be allowed to coexist with patriarchy in relative peace, at least until a man needs your job or the neighbourhood rapist happens along. And true, unless one lives and loves in the trenches it is difficult to remember that the war against dehumanisation is ceaseless."
14 11 / 2013
"'Sex is nice and pleasure is good for you' is a powerful motto for those for whom sex has been nice, or for those who would like to experience it as nice. It is less encouraging to those who have experienced sex as violating and/or unwanted; simply telling them that what they experienced was not sex, or the offer of sex, is small comfort when it appears indistinguishable from what the rest of the world calls sex, and when the rest of the world insists that it was sex."
08 11 / 2013
You’re a stand-up guy, right? Here you are, ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty fighting the good fight. If only more guys were like you!
The thing is — and don’t take this personally — we’ve seen a lot of guys who looked just like you, talked just like you, were just as enthusiastic as you… who proceeded to talk over us, silence us, demean us or use our movement to profit off us. Can you blame us for being a little wary? Can you blame us for being suspicious when men try to enter our spaces, no matter how seemingly good their intentions?
Under the guise of “feminism,” men have sexually harassed and raped women whose trust they’d gained, used their positions of influence to bully and silence women (Hugo Schwyzer, anyone?) and even gotten away with murder. No, you probably won’t do any of those things— but we can’t be sure of that. So be prepared for a little hostility. We’ve had to learn the hard way to be suspicious of strangers bearing gifts. If you work hard and do right by us, we’ll accept you in time."
25 9 / 2013
"Feminism that’s more in line with cultural norms just isn’t as feminist."
20 9 / 2013
I’m really making a very simple point: much as working class women have common cause with working class men, we also have common cause with women of other classes. At the same time, we do, definitely, have conflicting interests with those women. In much the same way, though, we have conflicting interests with working class men. Our common cause with working class men is not more important than our common cause with all women, nor are our conflicting interests with working class men insignificant. It certainly is not the place of working class men to tell us that they are insignificant.
Points I was *not* making are that women’s oppression is more important or significant than class oppression, nor that various types of oppression are separable. They certainly aid and abet each other. However, women’s oppression (or any other form of systemic oppression) is not a mere by-product of capitalism and class oppression. It is a system in its own right that supports and is supported by capitalism (and white supremacy and disablism).
That really is what I was saying, along with expressing frustration at being told otherwise by (working class/ Marxist/ Left wing) men. Men just can’t tell me how my oppression as a woman works."
16 9 / 2013
10 9 / 2013
"Nudity and objectification are regularly used as tools to degrade women, and that makes a movement to reclaim the female body an incredibly important part of the feminist movement. It also makes it a very difficult thing to get right. The difference between pictures of nude activists in newspapers about men with their clothes on, and pictures of nude glamour models in newspapers about men with their clothes on, is a quite nuanced set of concepts about intent and power and ownership that make it enormously important that the work of groups like Femen is done right. If, as the latest allegations suggest, this work is being done as a result of male desire to manipulate women into being naked, this all becomes a lot less nuanced and a lot more straightforwardly awful. That there are women like Sevchenko who do appear to passionately believe in their organisation’s goals is a step in the right direction, but if Femen aren’t constantly considering how topless protests fit in to a wider feminist dialogue involving more than just hardy nubile white girls, and particularly into the massive grey area that is female nudity and pornography, then they are failing in their job as anti-patriarchy provocateurs. And if they have been producing male gaze pornography and images of women being dominated on the directive of a man who believes that his own presence is necessary to make the movement happen at all, then the group’s use of nudity becomes effectively indistinguishable from any other male-mandated use of women’s bodies. Femen’s message turns from women smashing patriarchy to patriarchy having a bigoted, self absorbed conversation with itself, using women’s bodies as notepaper."
07 9 / 2013
There’s no easy way to be a woman today. Adopt the life of a traditional wife and mother and you’re taking a very real risk by making yourself financially vulnerable, not to mention potentially bored and resentful; you’ll also find yourself routinely condescended to and assumed to be an uninteresting childlike twit. Try to be a having-it-all supermom and you’re stressed out, exhausted and frustrated with the systematic barriers to equality, not to mention regularly pilloried for being insufficiently dedicated to your children. Skip or delay the kids and you’re a selfish narcissist flitting through life with no real purpose.
There’s something sweet and simple and safe about being able to say, in such a confusing culture, ‘The best way to Be A True Woman is to embrace fertility and let it define you’. Or, ‘We live in a sex-saturated culture, so it’s best for women to give up sex’.
It’s easier to point to one simplistic solution than to assess the diversity of problems women face, and to recognize that ‘womanhood’ is not a singular experience. That’s part of why right-wing anti-feminist narratives resonate so widely: wasn’t life just so much simpler for June Cleaver?
Perhaps it was. But for a lot of women it wasn’t particularly satisfying."