Monday, 29 December 2014

This Year In White Feminism: Greatest Hits of 2014 (Part Two)

And we're back with Part Two! This year was so awash with white feminist fuckery that I had to compile two lists! Isn't that just delightful fun? Thankfully I'm in a pretty good mood today because I finally got my copy of Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist and there's very little that can bring me down, but this post is already two days late, so let's get down to business. There's much more fuckery to mock and cry over. Don't forget to check out Part One!

11. Emma Watson Thinks Feminism Should Be Nicer To Men: Back in September, real life S.P.E.W. member Emma Watson gave a speech at the UN advocating for the HeforShe "Solidarity for Gender Equality" movement. The speech was a direct appeal to men to get involved in the fight for gender equality because of the varying ways that the patriarchy hurts men too. She asked me to think of their sisters, wives and daughters, and the mainstream media ate that shit up. But as good as Emma's intentions were (and I genuinely believe they were good) her speech once again asked us to centre men in a movement meant to benefit women. It also ignored an intersectional approach that would have focused more resources to help women of colour and poor and working class women, in favour of... making sure men felt more welcome. While I don't remember who said it first, (I think I first heard it from Roxane Gay, but if you know for sure, let me know!) [EDIT: I'm told it was actually Kelly Temple!] I think it's important to remember that men shouldn't be asking us to make feminist spaces more comfortable for them. They should taking the spaces they occupy in the world, and making them feminist. Emma's speech asked us to make nice with men instead of asking men to make nice with us.

12. Feminist T-Shirts Made by Economically Depressed Women of Colour: Speaking of intersectionality, while Hermione was asking us to be nice to men and posing for pictures, women in Mauritius were being paid a dollar an hour to fabricate the feminist credentials of many of our favourite celebrities. In other words, hundreds of women were being subjected to unfit working conditions and ushered into the vicious cycle of poverty, while Cumberbatch pointed at his face. Nice. This is one of the reasons that intersectionality is so important. While in the West we might think getting people to identify as  feminists is all it takes, there are women with concerns that are far more pressing; like earning a living wage. Parading their feminism does exactly squat for them, and shaming women who are living paycheck to paycheck for not wanting to align themselves with a movement that has yet to show that it is at all concerned with their interests in bullshit.

13. Lena Dunham Doesn't Pay: During promotion for her book tour, it was revealed that Lena Dunham was not paying the people hired to perform at her appearances, despite the tour being virtually sold out. But don't worry, she changed her mind after she was publicly shamed!

14. Annie Lennox Thinks Lynching Is Universal: Expertly following up her intersectional feminist fail, earlier in the promotion cycle for her new album, Annie Lennox discussed her cover of Strange Fruit, saying:
It's a human theme that has gone on for time immemorial. It's expressed in all kinds of different ways, whether it be racism, whether it be domestic violence, whether it be warfare, or a terrorist act, or simply on person attacking another person in a separate incident.
Ms. Lennox, I'm gonna need you to stop. Strange Fruit is not a metaphor. It is not a broad song that covers all kinds of injustice. It is literally a song about black people being lynched by white people. It's right there in the lyrics. There is zero room for interpretation. For a white artist to cover this song and then try to whitewash it's meaning is active violence against the memory of the African-American people who lost their life due to the deep seated racism of white Americans. There is no generalizing that experience. It is not universal. Annie Lennox can have several seats.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

This Year In White Feminism: Greatest Hits of 2014 (Part One)

In January, I wrote a monster essay defining the way I use the term "white feminism." A phenomenon that goes by many names, white feminism is essentially the practice of centering the issues that disproportionately affect white, middle-class western women, while specifically and intentionally excluding or ignoring the often more pressing issues that affect the women who do not meet this criteria, namely women of colour. "White feminism" is feminism without intersectionality. That's it. That's all it is.

And yet, white feminists still don't get it. 

Nearly a year later, the mainstream white feminist media still fiercely and disproportionately protects whiteness, causing active harm to women of colour. I got a lot of pushback on that essay because my use of the term "white feminist" was perceived as racist and exclusionary, but frankly I don't give a fuck. Watching feminist discourse unfold online over the last year has reinforced for me that white feminism is dangerous and has no place in the movement. Actively harmful and violent shit happened time after time after time, and those of us who called it out were shouted down as divisive, race-baiting, jealous and toxic.

White Feminism: Greatest Hits 2014

Everyone's praxis is different, but as Flavia Dzodan once said, "My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit." So in no particular order, here's part one of the greatest hits list of all the ways that white feminism was bullshit this year.

1. Saartjie Baartman: The Original Booty Queen: In one of the more egregious examples of disregard for the painful history of sexualization that black women were subjected to, Jezebel published a guest essay which posited that Saartjie Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, was actually a "diva" and "illegal immigrant" who used her body to "strike it rich." The problems with the essay are too numerous to name, and "revisionist" doesn't even cover it.

2. Amanda Marcotte Advocates Incarceration Rape Victims to Force Compliance: Because further traumatizing a rape victim by subjecting them to legal sanctions and jail is exactly the way we encourage more victims to speak up about their assaults. Marcotte's assertion is that putting the rapist in jail is more important that catering to the well-being of the victim, but considering that few rapists are ever prosecuted or even charged, is it really okay to prioritize what has proven to be an ineffective legal system over the mental and physical well-being of the victim of the crime?

3. The Art Center College Thinks Beyoncé is Hijacking Feminism: The racial divide in the feminist movement is nothing new, and the targeting of Beyoncé's feminism in particular has been a favourite white feminist past time in 2014, but ACC sunk to a new low when it published the course description for a class called "Pretty Hurts" that not only called Beyoncé's feminism into question, but implied she had no right to identify with the movement at all because her husband "is a pimp." It was yet another blow in the ongoing struggle between white and black feminists, and was rightfully recognized as an institutional attempt to separate feminism from blackness.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

For Feminists Who Resort To Racism When Slut Shaming Is Not Enough

White Feminists, we need to have a chat about this unruly beast we call feminism, and the intersection of race and sexuality. I like to assume that you mean well, but you've been fucking up quite a bit in the last few months, and I think it's my duty as your presumptive sister-in-arms to do some minor course correcting for all our sakes.

Beyoncé has been Beyoncé-ing for over a year now and you're still questioning her feminist credentials because her praxis doesn't match yours. Nicki Minaj has been vocal about her feminism for years but you revoked her credentials because she made a video about her exquisitely crafted rear end and rapped about the men who want to fuck her. To me, all that debate sounded a lot like judgement of other women for the way they chose to express their sexuality. This really confuses me because I thought that sexual agency was a cornerstone of contemporary feminist thought. After all, a woman's body is her own, and what she chooses to do with it or how she chooses to exercise and experience her sexuality is up to her alone.

Except, apparently, if you're black.

I've spent the last few months reading piece after piece and comment after comment decrying Beyoncé and Nicki for catering to the male gaze with no acknowledgement that agency plays a significant role in how perforative sexuality becomes. I've read thinkpiece after thinkpiece about why these two women are detrimental to the feminist movement because they take pleasure in exploring and embracing their sexuality publicly. The main issue that keeps cropping is the male gaze. Supposedly, because Beyoncé and Nicki perform in ways that are traditionally sexy, they must be performing for the male gaze, and doing so is decidedly unfeminist.

Well here's where your lesson starts white ladies, because I'm about to drop a truth bomb: the fact that something appeals to the male gaze, does not mean that it exists for the male gaze. It's really as simple as that.

I know. Totally revolutionary right?

As I've said before, framing every instance of females sexuality from the perspective of the male gaze is not only extremely heteronormative, but it strips women of their sexual agency and ignores intersectional approaches to feminism. It completely negates the possibility that a woman can be sexual for her own enjoyment or pleasure. And while feminism is explicitly about dismantling the patriarchy and allowing women to be free of sexist expectations, making choices based on what does or doesn't appeal to patriarchal presumptions makes one literally beholden to that very system. If all your choices are direct responses to the patriarchy, you are still reactive to its whims, rather than proactive to your own desires.

Until we are truly post-racial, (so never...) the racial divide will always matter in feminism. This means that our feminisms will differ depending on our intersections, and that's okay. It is perfectly acceptable to acknowledge that different women have different needs. But the constant gatekeeping of mainstream feminism reveals the deeply entrenched racism within the movement. The face of my feminism isn't going to be the face of yours because we don't have the same concerns and therefore we're looking for different things in the women we look up to. Sexual liberation isn't going to look the same for you as it does for me because we're moving forward from different historical contexts. Embracing and acknowledging this fact rather than rejecting it is key to moving forward in solidarity.

And this is where my issue lies. Being able to safely express sexuality is important for black girls because it's something that was previously out of our control. Sexual agency was legally denied. That context does not exist for white women, and that can make it harder for you to understand how sexuality can be empowering. But just because something doesn't apply to you personally doesn't mean that it is worthless or deserving of derision or ridicule. Because of differences in race, class and sexuality, not everyone's feminist praxis looks the same.

White feminists ask "How do we know she's being sexual because she wants to?" I ask "Why would you assume that isn't the case?" Nicki Minaj's participation in the music industry doesn't lobotomize her or render her incapable of making her own decisions. She has shown time and time again that she is fully capable of directing and controlling her image, so why would you negate her agency now by insisting that she no longer has that power simply because her expressions of sexuality have become more explicit?

Friday, 5 December 2014

On #Reign, Rape And Sexual Assault As Plot Device

Trigger Warning: This post contains discussion of rape and sexual assault.

Let me start by saying that Reign is a great show. I started watching during the break between seasons one and two and haven't turned back since. In a lot of ways, Reign is typical CW fare: pretty people's pretty problems, but in others, it's a very progressive and feminist look (even if wildly historically inaccurate) at the life of one of history's most notorious and fascinating women.

One of the show's biggest strengths is that Reign deals quite openly with the struggles that women faced at the time; from their inability to own property to their inability to guide the very direction of their lives. The show expertly demonstrates how the show's female characters find ways to move through a world that refuses them power or autonomy. Because of this, I'm very surprised and disappointed that the show chose to have its title character violently raped as a way to advance the plot.

I am not as plugged into this show's online fandom as I am with other shows that I watch, so I was not aware that the details of this particular plot had leaked online a few months ago, and consequently did not see it coming. I will admit that even as it happened, I thought Mary might escape. After all, this would hardly be the first time that Mary has been under threat of rape in the show. Additionally, Reign had previously tackled rape (poorly) when Catherine de Medici, Mary's mother-in-law, admitted that she had been gang-raped as a child in a season one episode. A petition started back in October to persuade the showrunners not to go through with the storyline nicely sums up many of my issues with this episode:
Many of us have come to love this show for its portrayal of strong female characters and the unflinchingly feminine light it shines on the dynamics and pitfalls of power in a world that is dominated by men. Much of the series has focused on Mary's womanhood and how she has learned to utilize it, manipulate and weaponize it, even as the outside world has looked upon it as her greatest weakness. After persevering through so much adversity and triumphing over those who have fought so hard to silence her, to have her suffer through this violent assault sends the message that the world will only punish--crushingly and humiliatingly--those women who dare to assert their places within it. It is a message jarringly out of tune with everything we have come to admire about this series, and it has no place in a show geared toward young women who dream of a future in which they may rise without fear of retribution at the hands of men.

As with the HBO drama Game of Thrones the argument can certainly be made that the threat of rape is a historically accurate concern for women of the time. But Reign makes no pretense at accuracy and never has; this rape is a fictional concoction inserted into the story solely to create controversy and advance the plot. They cannot even hide behind the defense that they simply bungled the retelling of a true story.