Posts Tagged ‘women’

Shake the Shit Out Of ‘Em!

July 29, 2010

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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On Identity and Telling the Truth

June 3, 2010

Today, thanks to a conversation with a friend, I’m thinking about lying.

Specifically, I’m thinking about being accused of lying when you are, in fact, telling the truth. I had it happen to me a few times as a child, as I’m sure everyone has at least once or twice. I remember how it felt. It was awful, I felt helpless (if the truth couldn’t save me, what could I do?), and I remember how furious my helplessness would make me.

On one occasion, as a young adult, I told my parents that I was sick and could not go to work that night. They accused me of lying and argued about it with me for over an hour until I finally, tearfully, begged for them to just let me go to bed and sleep it off. My mom took my temperature an hour later and discovered that I had a fever of 102. They did apologize, in the face of indisputable evidence, so that was something.

I lost my glasses during the second week of my freshman year of high school. I told my parents and they accused me of lying; they thought that I’d purposely thrown away my glasses in order to get a new pair, so they adamantly refused to buy me new ones. I went through my first two years of high school having to copy my friends’ notes in class because I couldn’t read the blackboard. They didn’t get them for me until I needed them for my driver’s license, at 16.

When I was 19, I was dealing with a serious bout of depression. I was suicidal. I had a huge fight with my parents and ended up leaving home. I stayed with friends for a week, and when I went back home, I tried to explain to them what was wrong with me. When I tried to tell my mother that I was depressed, she told me, “You’re full of shit.” She didn’t believe me. She thought that I was making up excuses for my behavior.

I don’t bring these things up in order to vilify my parents. It was a long time ago, and my parents were/are very young; I genuinely believe that in some things, they just didn’t know any better. They didn’t and still don’t understand much about depression. And I don’t believe that they ever said the things that they did just for shits and giggles. What I’m thinking about is how I can avoid doing the same to Eve; children are people, and people lie. Sometimes people lie for fun and sometimes they lie to cover up what they’ve done, and sometimes they tell the truth even though it hurts to admit and it can be scary. But how do you discern the difference?

This also ties into a debate that I’ve been having about trans women with some asshole on an online forum I frequent. Like most cis people, as soon as the topic of trans folks came up, he started talking about “honesty in relationships” and “I just think they should be honest” or whatever. No one was even talking about relationships; we were actually just discussing the media and LGB’s constant misgendering of Tiwonge as a gay man rather than the woman that she is. I made the point that a cis person jumping up to talk about the importance of honesty in cis-trans relationships is like a white person butting into a discussion about interracial relationships just to throw in, “And I hope the black guy knows not to steal her TV!” It’s offensive and unnecessary to question the honesty of trans folks just because they are trans.

This is not even getting into the fact that trans people are not dishonest for not disclosing their trans status unless you think that “trans” = “not really the gender I say that I am.”  A trans woman who says “I am a woman” is not a liar if she leaves out the trans qualifier; she is a woman. But trans folks who don’t disclose their status are frequently framed as being deceptive by cis folks, as if by claiming womanhood fully, a trans woman is somehow trying to sneak her way into cis lives.

Fuck, while I’m thinking of it, why don’t cis people disclose their status? Something like:

“Hi. I really like you. Before things move along any further, I just wanted to let you know that I’m cis, meaning that I was assigned the gender that I identify with at birth, and therefore I have tons of cis privilege that allows me to ignore the concerns and suffering of trans people, not to mention gives me an unearned advantage in millions of ways, one of them being that no one ever questions my gender identity and I never have to ‘prove’ my womanhood in order to ‘earn’ recognition of it. I also don’t have to worry about people murdering me because they discovered that I’m cis, and I don’t have mainstream feminists idolizing women who advocated for my genocide like Mary Daly did. I hope you don’t mind because I really like you, but I just thought I should let you know, because if you’re trans, I will probably cluelessly stomp all over you with my privileged ways of thinking.”

Yeah. That sounds good. Any cis person who does not disclose their cis status to their partner is a fucking liar.

I remember the helplessness and rage that I felt whenever my parents accused me of lying when I was telling the truth. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to have almost the whole world call me a liar just for saying, “I am a woman,” even though it’s true, and for that world to hate me just because I refuse to placate them with a lie.

My Lorde!

May 6, 2010

[The image shows a book cover with the title Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde and additional subtext New Foreword by Cheryl Clarke. The design is of a pair of stylized faces with recognizably African features such as full lips and cornrowed hair over an olive-colored background.]

Last night I picked up a copy of Sister Outsider, a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde, a poet and black activist with whom I am only just starting to acquaint myself. It’s only recently that I realized that if I’m going to convince Eve of just how amazing women of color can be (and if she’s like I was as a child, bombarded  by the anti-woman and anti-black messages that permeate this society, she WILL need to be convinced), I need to familiarize myself with amazing women of color. I know more about white celebrities, white history, white politics, white entertainment, white cultural norms, and white pop culture more than I do about people of color (or also, for that matter, about people with disabilities, or gay people, or trans women and trans men). This has to change. Amazing things have been said and done by people who are not white, cis, temporarily able-bodied, wealthy or middle class, or straight, and their histories deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated. (And in fact, Audre Lorde was a lesbian of color and also legally blind – hooray for intersecting identities!)

Anyway, about Audre Lorde. So far I’ve only read two chapters out of the book: her essay “Poetry Is Not A Luxury” and her open letter to Mary Daly (aptly titled “An Open Letter To Mary Daly”), the radfem white lesbian whose recent death sparked a bit of controversy when many feminist bloggers mourned her death uncritically*, failing to acknowledge her racism and abhorrent and unfettered hatred for trans women (to the point that she actively called for their Nazi-style extermination… yeeeaah), and in fact those bloggers became defensive and let their racism and transmisogyny really fly when called out on it.

I liked “Poetry” well enough, but the letter spoke to me in a big way. In it, Lorde expressed her exasperation, her anger, and her exhaustion as a result of dealing with white feminists, who, for all their talk about equality, had no problems using the same oppressive and silencing tactics against women of color that men use against women. (My summary of it does it no justice and I really would recommend that you read it for yourself – you can find the full text archived here.) I identified strongly with Lorde’s experiences with and disappointment in white feminists, and she does it with such eloquence that I pretty much want to get every beautiful scathing word tattooed on my forehead just so that I can read it again as I brush my teeth every morning.

There is a reason that I identify as a womanist and not a feminist. I started calling myself a feminist about a decade ago, and over time, as I became more aware of the fact that white feminists, by and large, are only interested in securing respect and equality for a very specific kind of woman (a definition that, more frequently than not, excludes me and mine), I started to distance myself from the label.

A situation that sticks out in my mind is of a pages-long debate in a pro-choice group, in which a pro-life man who apparently did not like the direction that our debate was going suddenly said to me, “Let’s not fight, let me tell you a joke. Why is there cotton in pill bottles?”** Suddenly, all of the women who were so quick to call out posters for their use of sexist slurs, slut-shaming, or victim-blaming were silent. Not one member of the group called him out on his very explicitly racist attack, save for a moderator who intervened at my request (and even then, her admonishment was pretty lukewarm, along the lines of “I’m disappointed that you would think slave jokes are funny”). The man, who had been banned before for his sexism but never for his racism, was free to engage openly in as much as racism as he wanted, and no one ever said anything but me (that incident was only one of many with him). The very same women who had been right beside me when defending a woman’s right to abort would suddenly distance themselves and become silent when my race was used as a weapon against me (and some of them cheerfully joined in on the attacks). Eventually I quit participating, as it just became too much for me to deal with.

Too many white women who will freely discuss what it means to navigate this society without male privilege will shit themselves in violent denial whenever white privilege is mentioned. Attempts to discuss race are either discarded as irrelevant, unimportant, or worse, actively antagonistic. The mere mention of the fact that women of color frequently experience sexism in a racialized context is decried as either playing the “race card”*** or muddling up the discourse by taking time and energy away from the “real” (read: white) issues.

Suffice to say, I am excited to have discovered Audre Lorde’s writing and am looking forward to reading more of her works. It’s cathartic to discover that someone has managed to put words to my experience as a woman of color with such nuance and power. I’ll leave you with this quote, which I found to be a simple but powerful reminder of why I am making myself speak out against racism and oppression, and I probably really WILL have it tattooed on me someday (although not on my forehead, I promise).

“Your silence will not protect you.”

Likewise, my silence will not protect her.

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*This particular blog post by Sady Doyle entitled “Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly” is, unlike most of the posts regarding her death by cis white women, a terrific read and I highly recommend it.

**The punchline to this grotesque little joke is “To remind black people that before they were drug dealers, they were cotton pickers.”

***For an insightful look at just how ridiculous the notion of a race card is, read Tim Wise’s “What Kind of Card is Race? The Absurdity (and Consistency) of White Denial”

YES, Oklahoma Legislature Fucked Up, BUT That Is No Excuse For Ableism

April 30, 2010

By now, I’m sure many of you have heard about the two laws that were passed in Oklahoma by overturning the governor’s vetoes. The first requires that before having an abortion, a woman be required to view and listen to a description of the fetus’ organs and limbs, even for survivors of rape or incest. From what I understand, that means for very early pregnancies which cannot be viewed with an external ultrasound, those women will have to submit to the vaginal penetration required for internal ultrasound; while terrible for all women, that could be especially traumatizing for rape survivors.  The intended result is to guilt women by making them realize “Oh hey, I didn’t know a fetus has limbs and if it has limbs that makes it MURDER” as if women didn’t understand what pregnancy is or what ending a pregnancy means. The law is paternalistic, invasive, and yet another ridiculous barrier to women’s agency in pregnancy.

The second law is much, much worse. It protects doctors from being sued by their patients if they decide to lie or mislead (either outright or by omission) pregnant women about the health of their fetuses if they think that this information may cause the woman to choose to abort. In essence, doctors are now allowed to lie to women about their pregnancies, keeping them from being able to make an informed decision regarding those pregnancies. Not only will these women [those with dishonest doctors] no longer have the option to abort, they will also no longer have the option and ability to prepare financially, emotionally, and mentally for the outcome of their pregnancies, whether that be for caring for a child with disabilities or for the birth of a child whose life may be exceptionally painful or short. This benefits neither woman nor child.

Now, this IS enraging. This IS terrible. What this is NOT is an excuse to exercise all of your able-bodied privilege to devalue the lives and worth of people with disabilities, lives which are devalued every day (many times for “laughs”) in our society. Some of the comments that I’ve been reading in reaction to this law pretty much boil down to “This law is disgusting because more ‘defective’ people will be born and we don’t want that!”

That is unacceptable. That is wrong. When you devalue the lives of people with disabilities, you are also devaluing the lives of women with disabilities – and if you do this as a supposed pro-choicer and supporter of women, well…I don’t know what else to say except that you’re fucking up.

Keep in mind that many of the people fighting to protect the right to abortion are themselves disabled. We are all in this together, so check your privilege. Defending the right to choose means defending ALL women – not just the temporarily abled.