Two posts feminists should read

First up is a post at AllyWork on the qualities of an ally. It’s an anti-racist focused version of a paper from the Gay and Lesbian Action Council called “Qualities of a GLBT Ally.” On the list of what makes a person a good ally to people of colour are being someone who: works to develop an understanding of issues facing people of color; understands how racism and other patterns of oppression operate; works to be an ally to all oppressed people; and chooses to align with people of color and represent their needs, especially when they are unable to safely do so themselves. The rest of the 12 point list is a must-read for… well, anyone who doesn’t want to be seen as racist, really.

The other post is by Donna at The Silence of Our Friends, More on Full Frontal Feminism and really speaks to one of the repeated themes of this blog, which is that feminists can’t just be in this just for ourselves we have to be committed to ending oppression for everyone.

Here’s what struck the deepest chord with me in that post:

There are very few white allies who are trustworthy, who will do the right thing when it is at odds with their own wants, needs, goals. I am convinced that most of the major white feminists, including bloggers, have no intention of dismantling the patriarchal system, they want to join the power structure, have power over other people, and have a higher position in the hierarchy. That’s why they only wink and nod when it comes to issues involving other oppressed groups then tell us to shut up while they go about their important business of getting the things that are only to their advantage, and eventually (*wink nod* never) they will get around to our “pet issues”. Paying lip service to anti-racism is always to their advantage, gives them the warm fuzzies, and leads their readers to believe they are actually progressive instead of as selfish and self serving as conservatives.

The problem of paying lip service to equality isn’t confined to any one movement, but feminism is my movement and we have the tools, and the knowledge, to be better than this, damnit. Perhaps feminism that caters to privileged women (white, cisgendered, straight, etc) is easier to grasp and less challenging to follow in some ways, but it’s just as Donna said: you can’t dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools.

An argument for feminism

I just had an attack of the 500-line comment, so I decided to turn it into a blog post instead. On her blog, Angry Black Woman has a post up called On Feminism, part 1 where she quotes from Why I am Not a Feminist, or “My Anti-Feminist Manifesto”. The author hits on many of the problems that have plagued the feminist movement since its birth. Namely, she takes issue with the rampant white, middle-class, Western privilege that exists in many parts of the movement.

She isn’t wrong.

I’m only a fledgling when it comes to participation in feminist activism, and I have a whole heaping of privilege to boot, but I’ve seen the issues that she points out crop up more than once in the feminist blogsphere. My “Check my what?” post isn’t just for non-feminists, but it’s also there to try to help feminists, who already understand gender oppression, understand how to acknowledge and deal with their other privileges. So, yes, I understand (insofar as I can) her choice.

But, I can’t help but wonder why feminism has to be defined by the privileged. There are plenty of strands of feminism that I vehemently disagree with (most of them having to do with feminists who want their gender-based oppression acknowledged but refuse to acknowledge their white, class, cisgendered, etc privilege), but I don’t let them define feminism. And if I did — if I refused to call myself feminist because there are people out there too busy naval gazing to see the big picture — then who will be there to show others that there is a different side to the movement? Who would be there to further my particular interests?

As someone who has a whole heaping of privilege — white privilege, class privileged, able-bodied privilege, and cisgendered privilege in particular — I am in no position to pass judgment on women who feel the movement has failed them. Mainstream feminism has a long, long way to go in recognizing and redressing the rampant unacknowledged privilege, and I can’t blame someone for not wanting to walk into that battlefield. But at the same time there is a part of me who sees the, “I’m not a feminist, but…” argument that has done so much to keep us from forming solid relationships with each other. Every time a feminist woman — especially when she has very good reasons — says that she doesn’t use the feminist label, I feel it as a loss.

Which, I guess, brings me back to my first question: why do we have to define ourselves based on what other feminists think? Why can’t feminism be about connecting with other women and discussing the subjects that matter to us (talking about our own issues; listening to the issues of others)? Why can’t feminism take care not to engage in the deplorable behaviour that has been outlined in the Manifesto?

In the end, the only thing I can do is to be the one working towards building a feminism that people like Ms. Hernández would be proud to be a part of. I know that I, alone, don’t have that kind of power, but I know that I’m not the only ally. I’m not the only feminist working towards a feminism that understands that women come in all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, from all different cultures. And I can only hope that one day it will be enough. That one day when people think “feminist” it will conjure up a positive image of women coming together to fight for diversity, rather than the negative one of an elitist movement of middle-class white women.

The power of indifference

Yonmei has a post up about The politics of indifference which I think makes a great example of privilege in action.

I’ve excerpted a portion (with one minor edit so the text doesn’t break my layout):

I have experienced bigotry directed against the minorities to which I belong, but not often. The most common reaction of majority to minority is indifference, not hostility: in my experience, the first hostile reaction happens when the indifference is broken by a minority question that the majority cannot ignore.

Years ago, I worked in a department that had grown from five people to a dozen people quite quickly, and the manager, trying to weld us all into a team, used to organise monthly lunches for which attendance not- exactly- compulsory- but- you’d- better- have- a- good- excuse- if- you- don’t- go. Habitually, to save time, when the bill was presented, everyone used to kick in the same amount (it was usually £10) and that would cover the cost of the food/drink and a tip. I was the only vegetarian in the department. The kind of places we went to never had a particularly exciting menu, and my options as a vegetarian were usually a baked potato with cheese, a vegeburger with chips, or soup with bread. (Sometimes there was a vegetarian salad.) These were all cheap options. The cost of my meal was usually about £6-7, and paying £10 every time was irritating. I tried to suggest, several times, that I’d rather we all paid for what we bought; to this, most people responded with “Oh it evens out in the long run”. I pointed out, more than once, that it didn’t even out for me, because the only meals available to me were always less than £10: to which someone always rejoined “Oh, there’s nothing to stop you ordering what you like”. When I finally lost my temper about the situation, and got hauled up before my manager and rebuked for lacking team spirit and trying to spoil other people’s team spirit/enjoyment of pleasant lunches together, it wasn’t because I thought that my colleagues were being hostile towards me because I’m vegetarian: it was because I had been confronted with their complete indifference to the situation that my being vegetarian put me in, at far too many departmental lunches at which I was expected not only not to mind part-paying for other people’s meals as well as my own, but not to irritate other people by talking about it.

One aspect of privilege is that you do not have to be aware of being privileged. If something is set up to convenience members of a privileged group, members of the group privileged will often react with anger and hostility to any reminder that the way things have been set up is not “just how things are”: that arrangements have been purposefully made to convenience members of the privileged group, with – at best – complete indifference as to how this may inconvenience people outside the privileged group. It should be fairly obvious why this is: if this is “just how things are” then they will not change: everything will always go on as it now is. If you acknowledge that “how things are” is a purposeful arrangement made to convenience some people and inconveniencing others, the question necessarily arises: why are some people deserving of convenience, while others are not?

I would suggest reading the piece in full for the rest of the examples and analysis she gives.

More on harassment on the internet

So, the Angry Black Woman posts about an experience she had with a troll who, when banned, continued to harass her. The post itself is worth a read, but (oh so predictably) another troll shows up in her comments to start telling her how bad and wrong she was for informing the guy’s company of his actions online.

Now, I’m not here to talk about that, but rather to highlight two of the comments that came out of it because I think that they make very important points about the kind of harassment that occurs on anti-oppression blogs and why it’s important to not lie down and accept it in the name of “free speech” or “tolerance” that shouldn’t be just a footnote of another post.

The first one is by Nora about the difference between a normal troll and the racist, sexist, etc trolls that come to harass us:

Here is the crux of the issue: I just don’t think that initiating arguments with a troll is actually helping the social problems-
Wait, wait, wait. ABW does not go to these people’s blogs and make anti-racism speeches. They come here and start shit. So please remember — she’s not “initiating arguments” by any means.

The thing you need to remember is that this blog does not operate in a vacuum. Look at the links along the right side sometime. ABW is part of a vast and growing network of anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-other-oppression blog sites, and she’s only the latest in a long line of textual crusaders. There have been many others since the internet was popularized. Quite a few of the pioneering sites have died — enough that we’ve learned a few things about the tactics of racists on the ‘net. For example,
a) Racists are not ordinary trollers, any more than stalkers are ordinary annoyances. Racists aren’t just out to have some fun by pissing people off; harassment is not an end in itself for them. They’re trying to disempower others, using harassment as a weapon. This distinction is important, because it gives them great incentive to persist long past the time when a troll would’ve gotten bored and moved on.
b) Like harassment, persistence is also a racist weapon. Racists do not go away. When they realize they have free reign, they usually take encouragement from the silence. There are never as many of them as they want you to believe, but to make up for their small numbers, they never shut the fuck up.

c) Racists act out of fear. They fear the loss of their power; some fear the loss of their “racial purity”, some just fear change. Regardless, frightened people are irrational people, and irrational people are dangerous. Would you ignore an irrational person who was coming after you over and over again, and getting worse each time? I don’t care how Zen you are; that’s not smart.
d) All this has the side-effect of silencing the non-racists, who get tired/frightened by the ugliness.
And of course, d) is what kills blogs.

Then there’s ABW’s response, which talks about why taking steps to stop harassment is, you know, a good thing not a bad one:

One of the things we learn as children is that actions have consequences. the fewer consequences a child is subjected to in their early years, the more they get the impression that they can do whatever they want. Same works for adults. If a person spends their day being a racist troll and nothing comes of it, they learn that being a racist troll has no consequences and continue doing so. For minor trolls, the mere act of banning them is consequence enough. They go “Oh, no one likes it when I do that. Ah well, I’ll go away.” Hopefully they go away to be a better person, but my instinct says they go away to be a racist troll somewhere else. If so, my hope is that others will ban them and, finally, the consequences will mount up and either change that behavior or drive them into a small hole where they have no one to talk to but other racist assholes.

The bigger the entitlement, the harsher consequences must be. The guy who replied to my banning him with “I’ll just keep trying to harass her until I get to do it again” was obviously in need of harsher consequences. because he believed it was his right to continue being an asshole on my blog. Well, it wasn’t. This is why I took things to another level. not because I enjoy calling people’s workplaces and informing on them, but because otherwise, they won’t get the message that what they are doing is not okay. Consequences are important.
Sometimes the mere threat of consequences is enough to make people realize where they are in the wrong. or, at least, get them to back off. Michael sent me a note very soon after this post went up to say that he would not darken our doorstep again. He tried his own version of consequences by implying that I had threatened to expose his name and daughter’s name and address publicly (which I did not). He wanted me to take this post down. Maybe he was afraid his employers would see it. He was definitely afraid of me going to his HR department, that was clear.
In the end, I didn’t have to do any such thing. I just had to let him know that I meant business. Hopefully this post will serve as a similar deterrent to others. Now that they know the consequences, they won’t be so quick to think “I can just keep on doing what I’m doing.” That’s the problem with Internet trolling. people think they can do it without any consequences. I’m here to say: you can’t.

Not Michael, this may offend your Zen sensibilities and I’m sorry for that. But it’s not as if I’ve actually physically hurt someone here. Also, even MLK and Ghandi brought consequences. they didn’t just stand around and yell that they wanted equal rights or a free India. they *did* something about it. that something was not war, that something was not physically fighting, but that something was NOT just turning the other cheek. It was refusing to meet violence with violence but instead with protecting one’s self and showing the futility of violence.
I could respond to trolls by just being nasty back at them and that would be the equivalent of meeting violence with violence. Instead, I show them the consequences of their actions. for MLK, it was to bring hundreds or thousands of people to the government’s workplace and to show them that injustice would NOT be met with silence and would NOT be patiently endured. That they were prepared to take action 9though that action would not have been violent). I’m doing the same (though not comparing myself to MLK or anything). Harassment will NOT be met with silence. I won’t come to your house and beat you up or anything, but I will use the resources available to me.

If you’re expecting some deep and thoughtful commentary, I’ll have to disappoint. I’m still technically on blog break. But, really, I think the comments above speak for themselves. Harassment is not okay, and cyberstalking — what Micheal was starting to do — is a crime, people. You don’t have the right to systematically harass another human being, whether offline or on. One would think that this would be common sense, but the 84 responses that the original thread has gotten would say otherwise.

So, in summary, stay in school and don’t harass people because there will one day be consequences that you probably won’t like.

If you have to say "i'm not racist" chances are you are

A trend that you can’t help but notice if you follow any sort of racial issues is that when white people do something racist, they almost always include in their apology, “I’m not a racist”. Most of you should know the Michael Richards “but I’m not a racist!” protest in his apology after he was caught on tape being racist. But it’s not just the celebrities who pitch this line, it’s average people as well.

Case in point: a bunch of white people posted pictures and a video of them performing a reenactment of the Jenna 6 incident while in blackface. If that weren’t bad enough, when the woman who posted the media on her Facebook page got caught, this is what she had to say [emphasis mine]:

Smith, who did not respond to a TSG e-mail sent to her school address, apologized for the images in several recent Facebook postings. “We were just playin n the mud and it got out of hand. I promise i’m not racist. i have just as many black friends as i do white. And i love them to death,” she wrote. She added in a later message that her friends “were drinking” and things “got a lil out of hand.”

People who aren’t racist would own up to their racism in their apology, not try to erase the reality of the racist act with the “I didn’t mean it” plea. People who aren’t racist wouldn’t use excuses like “some of my friends are black”, “we were just playing”, and “we were drinking” in order to try and downplay the impact that such displays of racism have. People who aren’t racist would not have thought to do such a ‘reenactment’ in the first place, much less thought it was ‘funny’ enough to post on Facebook.

So, yes, Ms. Smith, you are racist. But, you know, that in of itself isn’t a damnable offense. I’ve said and done racist things before, as have all white people. It’s an unfortunate product of our culture, because — by virtue of our whiteness — we are both enabled and encouraged to enact out varying forms of racism in our everyday lives.

But what separates the allies from the racists is that, when the allies fuck up, we admit it. We don’t try to minimize what we did, but we own up to our own mistakes, fully and without reservation, and then we go educate ourselves in an effort to not fuck up again. We don’t insult the people who we’ve hurt by saying things like, “I’m not racist” because we realize that, especially after committing a racist act, we are the last people who have the authority to decide such a thing.

So, to Smith and all the other white people out there who think “I’m not racist” is an acceptable thing to come out of a white person’s mouth: if you have to say it, chances are you are, in fact, harboring a lot of unaddressed and unacknowledged racism. If you truly don’t want to be seen as racist, then the first thing you need to do is to take a hard look at yourself and the world around you, and then start educating yourself on what it takes to be anti-racist. The information is out there, but you’re the only one who can get yourself to take that step and use it.

Via stoneself’s LJ.

Luxury of Travel: Ariel's Trips to Canada & Nicaragua

I’m in Nicaragua right now and taking advantage of my American right to travel. I can move fairly freely in a country impoverished by my nation’s doing–and by extent my own. I certainly benefit from globalization and the United State’s imperialism, do too little enough to actively resist it.

Continue reading

Who's the one arguing in bad faith?

Blog against racism This week is International Blog Against Racism Week (hat tip to Oyce for the icon). I actually contributed to day one without meaning to, posting a quick rebuttal to the claim that the no one complained about the previous games in the Resident Evil series because it was white people killing white people. To kick off day 2, I’m going to devote another post to the great RE5 wank of 2007 (you can find the trailer that sparked the wank here and a link roundup within the comments over at Iris’ forums).

One of the things that struck me about the discussions on blogs that broached the subject of potential racism in Resident Evil 5 was the way that the same arguments were brought up over and over again, and many of them are iterations of arguments I’ve seen come up when people protest discussions on gender.

The “no one is saying/has said anything about [x thing] in [y] game” argument is the one I will be addressing here. The racist-apologist complainers who bring up that argument do so in bad faith; they aren’t arguing it because the presence of said critique would solve the problem, but rather because they see the argument as a tool to shut down discussion on the game in question. They are, sometimes literally, saying, “You didn’t say anything before, so you have lost the privilege of saying anything now or in the future!” Which is a problematic argument, to say the least. Behind the cut I will explore some of the specific problems with the argument in more detail. Continue reading

Resident Evil 5 Trailer

Can you spot what’s wrong with the trailer? Hint: it’s not the cg or the cinematography.

Via Iris forums.

ETA: For all the racist-apologist fanboys who are offended at the very thought of people engaging in criticism of their beloved Resident Evil series: criticism doesn’t equal “the only thing the game’s about is a white person killing hordes of black people!11eleven”. Criticizing the trailer doesn’t mean that we hate the game, or think that it couldn’t possibly have anything of merit in it. Nor does it mean that we won’t be buying the game. It just means that it’s being advertised in a highly problematic way that deserves criticism.

I’ve published the dissenting opinion in the comments. Further comments that say the same thing will not be published because there’s no need to rehash the same misreading of the criticism over and over again.

When you can use offensive terms and not be offensive

If you’re part of a privileged group, when can you use offensive terms without being offensive? Watch the video to find out. Personally, I think the last example using the white person cuts through all the crap about bigoted humour taking the power out of hate speech and highlights the underlying message that is sent when a person from a privilege group uses bigoted slurs from a group they’re not part of.

Via homasse.

Forcing all spaces to be privilege-oriented spaces

A lot of time my Privilege in Action posts are born out of me seeing two unrelated areas of interest facing the same exact privileged arguments. This time, it’s on the subject of women-oriented spaces, but of course it can be applied to spaces geared towards any non-privileged group.

Let me begin my post with a quote from one of the essays linked in the two threads I will be discussing [emphasis mine]:

After a while, we began organizing “chick nights,” gatherings of just the four of us and maybe some other women we knew from outside the group. For reasons that were often kind of bizarre, some of the men in the group took exception to this. They never organized nights at which we were excluded. When we pointed out that by the law of averages, a good half of the various social outings ended up being guy-only, they replied that it was not the same thing.

“Look,” I finally said to one of them, “when we get together Saturday night, we’re going to paint our nails and put goop on our faces and play with each others’ hair and watch movies with really hot guys and talk about how hot the guys are and probably talk about sex and periods and all that fun stuff. Do you really have any interest in that?

No,” he replied, “but we could do other stuff instead.

Those of us who are veterans of anti-oppression work get the point that Gillam was making, even before her explanation of why they had “chick nights” in the first place, but for people such as her male friend, the concept is foreign and seems discriminatory in nature. He is used to, by virtue of his privilege, being included in things as a default, and therefore to him the natural course is not only to be included in the nights, but to be given a voice equal, or greater, to the women in deciding what is done in those nights.

And it is with that thought in mind that I begin this post on Privilege in Action.

Please Note: Since this post is going to be long enough as it is, I would rather not explain the difference between privilege-only spaces and non-privileged spaces. For those of you who wonder what the difference is between the two, please read my post on A Deeper Look at “Minority Spaces” before continuing with this one.

I. This is our garden. We like it.

I would like to first start by discussing a series of posts on the Feminist SF blog regarding the female-dominated slash fandom. The posts, for reference, are as follows: Slash fandom and male privilege/hetero privilege (a great PiA post written by someone who isn’t me!), This is our garden. We like it., and So, why do fanboys hate fanfic, especially slash?. The common thread that I want to talk about (also addressed in So, why do fanboys hate fanfic, especially slash?) can be summed up with this quote: “The fanboy… perceived a roomful of women, talking about men, and was infuriated to find that his opinion was regarded as of no value.”

When non-privileged groups form our own spaces to talk about our issues, whether or not we welcome participation from privileged groups or not, there is always a backlash from someone who feels that their privileged opinion is not being properly respected. In addition to the examples that Yonmei listed in her posts, every single one of them had an angry man coming on to lecture her and the other commenters about his opinion on slash/fanfic in the same exact style that Yonmei was criticizing in her posts.

Yonmei sums up the problem with conflating privileged participation and privileged domination in spaces for non-privileged groups:

If you find it comfortable to play in the slash sandbox, as is, I don’t think you’ll find any female slash fans telling you you can’t. If what you want to read is slash, no one can stop you. If what you want to write is slash, slash fans will want to read it. If you want to join in metadiscussions about slash, this is also possible – so long as you do so as a slash fan, and not as a gay man arguing that you know how gay men experience the world, and this or that in a slash story isn’t it. Because then you are not trying to join in metadiscussions as just another slash fan: you are trying to distort metadiscussions about slash with male privilege.

Going back to the quote I used in the introduction, it is not that there is necessarily a problem with privileged groups wanting to participate in non-privileged spaces, but that it often comes out that they want to dominate and change those spaces so that they appeal to them in the way that all of the other kinds of spaces out there do.

II. Defining how friendly “privilege-friendly” spaces should be

I don’t put much stock in old adages, but one thing that the constant tug-of-war over defining spaces brings to mind is, “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” I’ve been feeling that way about the woman-oriented gaming network, Iris and its child magazine Cerise that I recently created with Revena. In anti-oppression speak, I would call us a inclusive non-privileged safe space. In real terms, that means that we are a feminist/woman-oriented site that welcomes participation from men as long as they come as allies.

But most guys in the gaming blogsphere, even some who position themselves as allies or openminded, are not content with that. Take, for example, this heated exchange between myself, some other women gamers, and a male commenter on a post on New Game Plus called More reasons for a magazine for gaming women.

The exchange can be summed up as such:

Him: Why care what a guy says? Why react to the negativity? Why create a validation for them?
Me: Women need to see others sticking up for us — both within our community and without… Because It’s. Not. About. Teh. Mens. It’s about networking and safety and creating a non-toxic gaming environment.
Him: But again, why bother?… Why bother trying to convince them otherwise when you could better spend your energy living and creating the world that you want? [Insert a several paragraph diatribe about women wanting to be fetishized, that we shouldn’t “force” our view of equality on him, and that there is no problem because he doesn’t see it.] Me: Listen to what has already been said. It’s. Not. About. Teh. Mens… Men like you, who feel the need to talk over us and not listen to us, are exactly why we need a separate space in order to get our voices heard.
Him: I don’t feel the need to talk over anyone. If anything, this is a need to know. But I think I’ve learned enough.

Well, I wasn’t nearly as nice sounding in the actual exchange. But the deluge of misogyny and privilege in his 17+ paragraph argument about how we women need to just shut up and realize we’ve already achieved equality since our voices are already being heard, all being said while he was simultaneously failing to hear what had been said only one comment above about how the premise to entire argument was false did not put me in the mood to make nicey-nice.

Anyway, the point of it all is that Nic felt affronted at the very idea that there was a space out there where his voice was given less weight, and decided to rectify that fact by dominating the conversation on another woman-oriented space in order to tell us all how much we hate men, freedom of speech, and “equality” that recognizes men’s rights to silence women.

So as not to give the impression that criticism of openly women-oriented spaces is confined to only misogynists like the Kotaku commenters and concern trolls like Nic, though, it is important to point out he is not the first to have criticized the community for not properly catering to male needs. Tony Walsh of Clickable Culture wrote an entire post about how put off he was by our magazine having a tagline saying that it was for women gamers.

Both arguments boil down to: “Your community/magazine doesn’t appeal to men enough, change x, y, or z to make it appeal more.” Both of them miss that, while we welcome privileged participation and want to reach beyond the scope of our group, we are here to give voices to women and women’s issues. Why do we need a gaming magazine “for women”? Precisely because of the assumption that underlies the two arguments being made, that male needs need to be catered anytime and anywhere, those women in the gaming community and the gaming industry (not to mention those who are actually allies who want to try to understand women’s issues rather than assuming they know “what women want”) be damned!

III. Conclusion

None of the privileged people could wrap their minds around the idea that their opinions were not only not worth more than those of the non-privileged group whose space and conversation it was, but actually meant less. These men were coming into a woman-created, woman-oriented sandbox and instead of playing by the rules of the community, they were trying to force it to conform to their ideas of what the community should be!

Privilege is believing that, regardless of the purpose behind a space, any space you enter should conform to your ideas, and that the pre-existing members of that space should give your singular opinion weight equal to that their group as a whole. If someone entered a community devoted to Spiderman/Peter Parker, telling them that they should focus on Mary Jane instead is something that, I think, is universally recognized as rude and presumptuous. Why, then, is it considered acceptable to go into communities devoted to giving women a voice in a certain area (like fandom, gaming, politics, etc) and tell us that we need to change to cater to privileged groups, or listen to a privileged point of view, and otherwise change what we are doing because it is not exactly like every other privilege-oriented, excuse me, every other normal space does?