Shake the Shit Out Of ‘Em!

Fuck Feminism.

Guest blogger Mai’a said a lot of things in her post entitled “ain’t i a mama?” on Feministe yesterday, but for some reason, “fuck feminism” seems to be the only thing that a lot of people heard. 

The notion that feminism might not be such a great and awesome force for ALL women (and not just middle class, cis, white, able-bodied ladies) seemed to blow many minds, to the point that they bounced from the site altogether, never to return (or so they claimed). The idea that feminism might actually be an OPPRESSIVE movement and a THREAT to many women (ESPECIALLY trans women! Exclusion of trans women from feminist and women-friendly safe spaces is actually super fuckin’ common! And do I have to start listing the radfems who have actively called for their genocide?) caused many a Well Intentioned White Liberal Feminist to literally shit themselves with rage!

The comments section of this post is absolutely golden. There is plenty of racefail, but there are many good and thought-provoking points (as well as some free education) that make it worth the ride. Here are some of my favorites:

From bfp:

I think it would be an *amazing* conversation to talk about why feminists will “reclaim” bitch and cunt, but find “mama” just too fucking goddamn offensive to even think about

IrishUp:

have we USians internalized some thing(s) about being a mama or mothering that might need unpacking? What about having internalized that mothering and mama = cis het female? The OP, and other commenters strongly identify with mami and mothering in the context of their social justice work and their sense of nurturing – myself included. That should be OK in a feminist space, and I think there is a lot to learn from the WHY’s w/r/t OP’s identification with mami over feminist.

Nanette:

My reasons may be different from that of others – to me, centering children means centering life. And it means centering *all* children – loving by any means necessary, as you say (I love that!). Imagine a world where the children were the center, and the parents/adults were the satellites – people would pull out all stops to make sure that no child went hungry, that they were not bombed, that no child was ostracized because they were gay, or trans, or gender queer, or not abled in any certain way, or poor, or of any particular color or ethnicity, or born to a certain group of people in a certain place, or… well, I could go on, but I think that’ll do. What a world it would be when they grew up – not perfect, because there is no such thing, but maybe… different.

And, by way of centering children, centering life, it naturally follows that women are centered. Whether they are biological parents or not – that is not really important (to my way of thinking) to the centering of life (not wombs, specifically, by the way).

Mamita Mala:

I chose and choose mami on purpose. I am not a mommy. I am not a mama. I am a mami : mami because it has been cooed at me by ancestros who have passed as a term of love even when I was a child and clearly not a mother. mami because as soon as decided to identify as a young woman of color it was hissed and yelled at me in the streets by men across racial/ethnic lines, mami because it has a sexual context attributed to women like me: poor single women who have had children and are struggling. Mami because my mentor helped me learn how to work in the streets with other mamis whose children had been murdered by police and racists (which usually have been one and the same). Mami porque yes, I have two hijas but oh so much more. Mami for all the white men who wanted to call me that as their way to trying to own my ass. Mami for all the men I give my ass to…

And for me mami is not gendered. I want to be clear on that. In my community mami is not gendered. Yes, I identify as a cis-mujer pero I can think of sooo many people whom I call mami with love and soo many people whom are called mami with love who are not.

One of the things that I learned from the post and the comments it sparked is that what I as a middle class American think of when I hear the word “mama” is not the same thing as what someone in another country or culture is going to think. The childfree discussion that is going on misses the point, in that for many cultures outside of the white American middle class demographic, “mama” is really not limited to who can or has borne or raised children.

I try to be aware of my privilege as much as I can, but my American privilege is one that I pretty consistently forget to check – the rest of the world does not revolve around me and my US-ness. It’s something I need to keep working on, and I’m grateful to Mai’a for giving me an opportunity to look at myself and my assumptions from a different viewpoint.

I also loved where Nanette was going: that if we stop oppressing children, we stop oppressing everyone. Having a goal of raising children in an environment that is free from transphobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, ableism, and classism means eliminating those things entirely – in which case, everybody wins. Challenging the memes and myths that are the building blocks of rape culture and slut shaming means starting early; it means respecting the bodies and lives of all children with the hopes that they will grow to become adults who respect the bodies and lives of others. Bigotry is learned behavior and if we ever hope to fully eradicate it from our society (which I know will never happen, but it’s still a goal worth pursuing), then that requires not just unlearning that bigotry in ourselves, but actively refraining from teaching it to the generations that follow us.

The title of this post comes from the movie Ink, in which one character asks another how he plans to wake up a child that has fallen into a coma. His answer: “Shake the shit out of her!” Of course he doesn’t mean this literally (and I’m not going to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film), but I love the idea of shaking the shit out of someone – of giving them a rude awakening, taking them out of their comfort zones, and just doing what you have to do to snap them out of the dream they were stuck in. Mai’a did exactly that in her post, and I do hope that despite all of the derailing and bickering, that at least a few people have woken up.

—-

Edited to add: Another fabulous quote from bfp (emphasis mine):

to be clear, when I say “reclaim” mama, I am talking in the white centric US centric sense of the word, I am NOT talking about mama in the way mai’a is using, the way I am using, the way mamita, etc are using. mama, mami, mamita, m/other, etc–all these call for a decentering of the US white heteropatriarchy dominant imposition of “mommy” on the entire world.

When I say “reclaim mama”–I am asking white dominant US centric feminists who think I am calling them a stupid lazy bitch or a mythical child eating cunt because I *do* organize around mami–to consider why “mama” is so infantilizing, offensive, horrific, etc to them. And if you can reclaim a word like cunt, when it is used to hurt you, why can’t you reclaim a word like mama when it is used to control you and hurt you? I am not saying “embrace your inner granola girl”–i’m saying, if sexist pricks don’t get to control “cunt” then why do they get to control “mama”? 

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5 Responses to “Shake the Shit Out Of ‘Em!”

  1. Nicole Says:

    I obviously am so far out of the loop that I need to ask this question, but I want to know. Why is ‘mama’ such a bad word? How has it been used to control women?

    Just curious. 🙂 LOVING your updates. Keep em coming!

    • August Says:

      I’m going to differentiate between “mama” and its variations, which is a word that has many meanings and uses across various ages and even genders worldwide, and “mommy,” which I am using specifically to refer to white American culture.

      The idea of mommyhood has been problematic for white American women because they have been judged by their ability to bear children. A good white woman is one that keeps pumping out little white babies. It also excludes women who do not want to bear children (who today still have serious problems when seeking out permanent contraceptive measures such as sterilization), trans women, and women who do not have the ability to bear children.

      While TAB cis white women have been resisting the pressure to have babies, other women (such as women of color and women with disabilities) were undergoing forced sterilization (Google “Mississippi appendectomy”) against their will – and women with disabilities are STILL having their reproductive capabilities taken away without their consent on a horrific scale. While white women were hollering for the right to work outside of the home, they left their white babies to be reared by black and brown women who would have given anything to be able to raise their own babies instead.

      A result of these histories is that there are a lot of white women who froth at the mouth at the thought that they are nothing more than babymaking machines – and rightly so, because women ARE more than babymakers. But those same women are the ones with the loudest voices in mainstream feminism, and their privilege blinds them to the fact that attacking mommyhood too frequently results in attacking mommies – and for many other demographics, the ability to choose to birth and raise one’s children has been out of reach for far too long. Even today, black children are twice as likely as white children to be removed from their homes and placed in foster care; black babies are more likely to die before they reach their first birthday; black women have more permanent and invasive forms of contraception pushed onto them by their doctors; black boys are more likely to be arrested for misbehaving while their white counterparts are excused as “just boys being boys.”

      As a result of the push against mommyhood from white feminists, especially the more militant childfree feminists (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with CF people, AT ALL, for the record), there are many WOCs and mothers of color who are left feeling alienated. When you have a room full of white women referring to your children as “things” and to you, their mother who has worked so hard and under so much oppression to do the best you can to raise them, as a “breeder” – you know, the very same dehumanizing language that has been weaponized against WOCs since the days that we were considered livestock – well, you have a problem.

      What’s happened in that thread is that Mai’a started talking about mamas and the overwhelmingly white readership of Feministe assumed from their US-centric viewpoints that she was talking about mommies, and attacked, spilling plenty of racist garbage along the way. Many of them also took personal offense at the fact that she doesn’t like feminism and isn’t afraid to say so, which is where all the “You oughta be grateful, we [white] feminists have done SO MUCH for you!” shit comes in.

      I tried to keep my comment short, but there is a TON of shit to be unpacked from that thread. It’s pretty much terrific in every way.

  2. Nicole Says:

    So then is it true that most feminists see child-bearing as an inherently un-womanly thing, even if it’s a personal choice? It seems completely contrary to an idea meant to protect and uplift women (maybe that’s not the point though of feminism?) would exclude appreciation for our ability to create and nurture new life.

    • August Says:

      It’s more of an objection to the idea that childbearing and nothing else is what makes a woman, which is definitely a valid point. But when one fails to recognize that motherhood is only idealized for a very specific, narrow, and privileged type of woman (for example, I as a queer black woman can never meet that ideal mother because my queerness and blackness are considered detrimental to the well-being of children), and that to lash out against motherhood is to lash out against many of the women who do not fit that ideal, then that leads to the problematic content of that comment thread and alienation of those marginalized women.

  3. Garen Says:

    It seems like there is flack from two directions here– from the historical and societal perspective that to be seen as a woman, one must bear children and be motherly, and also from the backlash to it, that to be seen as a woman, one must reject all semblances of the historical and societal perspective (ie, not bearing children and being motherly).

    My own perspective (straight white transman, universal big-brother type) may colour this somewhat, but the way I see it, one doesn’t necessarily have to bear children to be motherly, nor should one have to (see transwomen and “other mommies”). I don’t think it’s even necessary to be a woman (see “other daddies”, transmen, and men in general, and people who identify as neither). There are plenty of single dads out there who do a pretty good job of it.

    My issue with second-wave feminism is that it depends on too many assumptions– that there are only two genders, that a woman is someone with a vagina and a uterus, that men are only concerned with sex and domination, and that women who have children are letting themselves be oppressed.

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