Sunday, June 21, 2009

Seriously Still Don't Get It

I will admit that while I have identified myself as a feminist from a very young age (I had pro-choice buttons on my backpack in middle school {yeah I was a trouble maker, how did you know?}) I really didn't get too into the community and any kind of activism until much later, like, college. I worked with the Women's Program at the American Friend's Service Committee as a co-op in my sophomore year of college. I learned a great deal there that I hadn't known before, and I'll admit, there were only two women (out of five) in the office who were under the age of thirty at the time, myself and the other volunteer intern. Even the two of us were radically different in age, I being an undergrad and her almost finished grad school.

One thing I didn't learn about was the weird age/generation/wave schism that rears its head in the feminist blogosphere pretty regularly.
(Note: I noticed some icky framing of race issues in this linked article, Suzie essentially saying that since there have been women of color in power positions at NOW, that arguing for a woman of color to get the presidency of said organization is not a valid argument. Frankly, it doesn't surprise me, which is almost sadder than the fact that she didn't realize she said it. I hate expecting this shit from other white feminists. I really do.)

I find this entire discussion to be singularly odd, and particularly unhelpful and not constructive in the least.

It seems to mostly take form as a discussion about "second-wave" feminism and "third-wave" feminism, and the Perpetual Battle For The Mantle Of Feminist Leadership of the two incarnations. It almost always comes down to older women v. younger women, with a fairly arbitrary divide over who is considered "older" or "younger." Now me, I was not aware that I was part of a movement and the follower of a philosophy that required me to find a label and snuggle down in my little box with it.

I know there are issues with the movement and hierarchies within it. I criticize them myself, and some of the greatest activist voices I know of are regular critics of those flaws. That is part of the liberation process. No anti-oppression group/organization/philosophy is born whole from the head of Zeus as a perfect entity. Any group we form as people living within a kyriarchical society is going to contain echoes of said kyriarchy. When it is all you know, and you have been soaking in it for the whole of your existence, then the unconscious part of it, the things that don't personally hurt you, will carry over until you recognize and deal with them. That is one of the biggest functions of privilege. How the member of that group and those it purports to serve deal with that is a measure of many things.

I continue to own the label of "Feminist" because I feel it is my job as a relatively privileged person, to work to improve the movement. Its a tough job, and all I can find the energy to focus on is the issues of how race, transphobia, and heteronormativity still inform so much feminist discourse. I don't have time to even work on anything else and I have less to do in many ways than some of the other people I have met who do more.

So why do so many feminists make the whole "second-wave" v. "third-wave" issue so huge? With all the shit we have to work on in our own movement, is it really necessary to have a generation gap with economically, racially and gender privileged people on each side stomping their foot about how "no one understands me!" when people of color, trans*people, poor people, and every permutation in between of possible intersections of those and other ignored groups in this movement are still sitting outside the glass dome?

My understanding of these labels is that they are used in a historical context to help differentiate the goals of certain generations of anti-oppression movements. I dislike them being used at all because they are limiting in the extreme. I thought this whole thing was about rejecting the labels used to reduce us and our work. Was I wrong? Or are you?

Y'all can fight each other, but I have shit to do, like fucking try to fix things in this world. Any time you want to stop navel gazing and complaining about how you deserve respect from someone you haven't earned it from, and stop making it about you, I'll be over here with the rest of us pulling your load for you.


  1. That wasn't the point I was trying to make. Some people argued that NOW was lily-white. I brought up Aileen Hernandez and others to indicate women of color have joined NOW, even if they haven't gotten the same media attention. Black Amazon also has argued that there have been plenty of women of color involved.

  2. Thanks for coming over to comment, Suzie. I realize that for the most part, my reaction here is not actually addressing your post. Your post was a jumping off point to a thought about the waves that has been brewing in my mind for some time now.

    As far as the icky racial implications, I hope you do realize that due to a difference in power dynamics, you pointing out that the leadership of NOW has not always been white women and Black Amazon pointing it out are completely different situations, right? When you do it, it comes with a whole host of historical and social context that would not exist coming from a WoC.

  3. Yes, I do realize that, Dory. But we also can't generalize about power dynamics. I have racial privilege as a white woman, but I grew up poor and am low income now. Plus, I'm disabled. So, in a discussion of race, I have racial privilege, but in the grand scheme of things, do not necessarily have more privilege than any particular WOC.

    I'm not saying that you do this, but some people seem to think that all white women live on Easy Street.

    Also, if white women don't mention the WOC who have been part of NOW, it seems like we contribute to their invisibility.

  4. I'm aware of your status as low-income and disabled, Suzie. I read Echidne regularly and have a great deal of respect for your writing and your opinions, but in this particular case, I saw a reproduction of common arguments from white privilege. Your status as low-income and disabled does not erase or mitigate your racial privilege. Privilege and marginalization don't balance out on a tally sheet. I'm white, low-income, queer, and seemingly cisgender, but that doesn't protect me from being called out on my white privilege or from things I say being used to propagate racial inequality because in a discussion about race, the only thing that will matter will be my whiteness.

    I see your point on increasing visibility of WoC, but there are ways to do that without also seeming to make problematic racial assertions.

  5. I agree that oppression in one area does not cancel out privilege in another. I still don't see my assertion as problematic, but then again, I'm biased in favor of myself. So, let me give it more thought than a quick reply allows.

  6. Nice piece, Dori. :)