Feminist Infighting

I was just reading An Open Letter to the White Feminist Community and was struck following arguments:

WE ARE ALL WOMEN FIRST and every one of these women who call themselves feminists seems to have forgotten that infighting doesn’t further the feminist cause.

This kind of divisiveness hurts us. And it drives away young women of all races and classes who feel that such discussions, with nothing more, serve little useful purpose.

The letter translates the real meaning behind how those arguments are used (“When you complain about racism in the feminist community, you cause divisions. So shut up and don’t complain.”), but I want to directly address how those arguments relate to privilege.

Privilege means not having to look past your own oppression to see the ways that you are oppressing others. It’s easy to see the ways that we’re disadvantaged because it affects us, but it’s much harder to admit that there are ways in which we are part of the problem. Especially if we believe that our oppression is the most important, or at least the most pressing, one out there.

In this case it means that you can use say things like “we are all women first” without realizing how dismissive that is to women who experience more than just gender-based oppression. Gender might be the most pressing oppression to you, but that’s not necessarily the case for other women. It also is a means for avoiding self-critique. By trying to force a certain amount of homogeneity in order to create a sense of harmony (eg. “universal womanhood”), then you never have to look at what you, personally, are doing to alienate women/feminists who aren’t part of the white, middle-class, straight, able-bodied (etc, etc) force that is the dominant voice of mainstream feminism.

Yes, infighting sucks and, frankly, I think we could all do more to educate ourselves on how to discuss differences in a mature fashion rather than engaging in the mud-slinging that happens on sensitive issues (and I’m not just talking about intersecting oppressions here). But, ultimately, when it comes to matters of intersecting oppressions, it is the feminists with privilege (whether it be white, heterosexual, cis-privilege, etc) are the ones who bear the primary burden of listening to those without, and from that foundation trying to create the kind of bridges that will help strengthen the movement.

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21 Responses to Feminist Infighting

  1. Sara no H. says:

    it is the feminists with privilege (whether it be white, heterosexual, cis-privilege, etc) are the ones who bear the primary burden of listening to those without, and from that foundation trying to create the kind of bridges that will help strengthen the movement.

    *snort* Yeah. Good luck with that.

    Sorry, this whole debacle just has me … exhausted. Like really, very wanting-to-get-out-of-the-whole-damn-movement exhausted. It’s like the old saying about with friends like these, you know?

  2. littlem says:

    In this case it means that you can use say things like “we are all women first” without realizing how dismissive that is to women who experience more than just gender-based oppression. Gender might be the most pressing oppression to you, but that’s not necessarily the case for other women. It also is a means for avoiding self-critique. By trying to force a certain amount of homogeneity in order to create a sense of harmony (eg. “universal womanhood”), then you never have to look at what you, personally, are doing to alienate women/feminists who aren’t part of the white, middle-class, straight, able-bodied (etc, etc) force that is the dominant voice of mainstream feminism.

    And when might your book be coming out so that I can buy several copies and recommend it to my friends? :D

    A, I’ve read here before, but never commented. I will admit to having a dog in the fight (no blog, but doing a lot of IP work, I have run off at the mouth a fair amount in the ‘sphere on this particular issue, as it touches several nerves that were already raw), but I just wanted to take a sec to thank you for

    – taking the time to think about the issue
    – taking the time to make your audience aware of the issue — because without awareness nothing changes.

    Please do rock on.

  3. tekanji says:

    Sara:

    It’s like the old saying about with friends like these, you know?

    No, I totally get it. I know that my post won’t change anything in the grand scheme of things, and it’s a little too forceful to have much luck reaching fence-sitters… but, I dunno, as one of those privileged white feminists I feel like it’s my duty to at least try, yanno? I mean, heck, if I don’t try to hit other privileged feminists on the head with the Clue Stick, then what kind of ally would I be? :P

    littlem:

    And when might your book be coming out so that I can buy several copies and recommend it to my friends?

    Hah! Give me another year or two and I’ll probably have enough material on this blog to make a pretty hefty privilege primer. Not that anyone would publish it. ;)

  4. Mickle says:

    WE ARE ALL WOMEN FIRST

    You know, I could be wrong, but I’m fairly certain that women of color are born not white at the same time as they are born female.

    In other words, “hear! hear!” to the entire post. again. :)

  5. riv says:

    I just started reading things in the feminist blogosphere (or whatever) in the last week or so. And in a way, I’m glad that I started now. It’s late and I’m having trouble articulating exactly what it is that I think I’ve gained as a reader from this stuff, but I’ll comment here again if something comes to me later :)

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  8. Candace says:

    One way of thinking that helped me wrap my head more around this was when I heard it described as “interlocking” oppression instead of intersecting/double/triple/etc oppression. Yes it’s a pita that the terminology keeps changing but it just keeps on growin’ in good ways.
    Interlocking suggests that an individual cannot separate out the gender from the ethnicity from the sexuality from the ability from the skin colour and so on. People are a package and if you happen to be a aboriginal-lesbian-single-mother-with-a-wheelchair you’re going to be navigating a lot of issues and quite possibly a bundle of discrimination. It doesn’t matter which one someone else says comes first (e.g. is this a gender issue or a race issue?) It’s all of them. You can’t dissect someone this way.

  9. lkue says:

    Is it just me or are alot of the comments/arguments made in this whole debacle disturbingly familiar to comments/arguments often made by people outside of feminism? Exchange “women of color” to “women” and “white privilege” to “male privilege”.

  10. tekanji says:

    lkue said:

    Is it just me or are alot of the comments/arguments made in this whole debacle disturbingly familiar to comments/arguments often made by people outside of feminism?

    You’ve hit the nail on the head.

    Oppression doesn’t only mean “what oppresses me”.

  11. Beste says:

    Ikue,

    I don’t get exactly what you mean…Could you please give me examples?

  12. Beste says:

    Tekanji,

    What happened to my other comment??

  13. tekanji says:

    Beste: Which comment? Did an already published comment disappear, or did one appear not to make it through moderation? [Edit: Nevermind, I found it. It was in the spam filter, although why I didn't see it when I checked before, I'm not sure.]

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  15. belledame222 says:

    Y’know…while I agree with much of this, I’m just thinking that the idea that some sort of uplift is the “white ___’s burden” is maybe part of the problem here; coz, you know where -that’s- from, right?

    I understand what you’re saying here, and I’m honestly not trying to be pedantic or something, just…well for one thing, i dunno, is it a “burden?” to listen to other people? Because honestly I think I do that as much for myself as anything else. It’s a pleasure. It makes my life richer. It’s not, like, a grim duty, you know?

    and also: I dunno, I think listening to people because they’ve got something important to say, and…yeah, it’s not about “privilege.” It’s not about charitably lending an ear. It’s about “hey, these are the women the world requires: it’d be fucking stupid to -not- listen.”

  16. belledame222 says:

    That said: I agree very much with the second paragraph, (“In this case it means…”) with the gist of this, obviously.

  17. Katie says:

    Seal Press would publish you, Tekanji. Your words would, like, totally remind them of their diversity trainer!

    (And object though you might that you’d rather give the offer to someone else–someone who suffers the pain you merely translate–they’d want you, cute, smart, sassy Tekanji! (TOTALLY critical traits.))

  18. tekanji says:

    belledame222 said:

    Y’know…while I agree with much of this, I’m just thinking that the idea that some sort of uplift is the “white ___’s burden” is maybe part of the problem here; coz, you know where -that’s- from, right?

    Oh, ouch, I didn’t even think about that. I was thinking that white people need shoulder responsibility for our privilege, rather than shuffling the responsibility onto the non-privileged group. But now that you point it out, I see how that was a bad choice of words on my part ._.

    Katie: Omigosh, do you really think I’m cute? Which side is my better one? I want to make sure that I’m presenting my best when I show up on the dustcover of my new Seal Press book: “Diversity the White Way” (see, it’s a hilarious play on words, I’m so witty, tee hee!)

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