Suggested Actions for White Feminist Allies from Katie

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This post is several years old and may not reflect the current opinions of the author.

On my blog, I had just linked to an excellent and common example by BrownFemiPower of white women getting credit for helping women at large when they’ve actually done a lot of harm to women.

How did they do this harm?

By forgetting to ask themselves whether women in a population group would be disproportionately hurt (compared to men in the same population group) by whatever actions they’re advocating (be they immigration actions, medical funding actions, military funding and policy actions, etc.)


Today, BrownFemiPower saw another instance of white women getting credit for helping women at large when they have, by forgetting to apply their feminist knowledge to all their advocacy of various policy positions, done a lot of harm to many, many women.

Short summary:

  • White feminists were getting mocked by conservatives for not criticizing misogyny conducted by non-whites against non-whites strongly enough.
  • White feminists wrote a nationally publicized letter saying, “We do too! Hell, we FOUND that misogyny and were the first to tell the non-white perpetrators that they should stop it!”
  • BrownFemiPower retorted (unfortunately, in a venue that isn’t nearly as highly publicized) that
    1. they shouldn’t even worry about whether they’re criticizing misogyny conducted by non-whites against non-whites until they’ve spent a heck of a lot more time criticizing misogyny conducted by whites against non-whites (usually through foreign policy) and
    2. they did NOT find the non-white-on-non-white misogyny mentioned by conservatives and they were NOT the first to tell the perpetrators of that misogyny to stop it–the VICTIMS did both.

Quotes from BFP’s post:

her little list of wrongs that “American feminists” stand against was the most irritating…

Hm. Who could Ms. Pollitt *possibily* be talking about here?…

Do you think it’s the U.S. government that is currently enforcing horrific immigration laws that are degrading and violating women and their families–-IN KATHA’S OWN DAMN COUNTRY?…

Why the particular emphasis on “Muslim countries?” Does Ms. Pollitt think that “Muslim countries” are particularly hostile to women’s rights for some reason?

Even as her own country imprisons 8 year old girls and deports their mothers?

Fact: it’s feminists who first identified atrocities against women around the world–female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage, spousal violence, rape– as violations of human rights, not family matters or customs of no state importance.

Actually, Ms. Pollitt–it was the women who *experienced* those actions that first identified the violence being committed against them.


Please, please, please, please, please–if you’re a white feminist, consider my suggestion for action instead of signing Ms. Pollitt’s letter:
Next time you’re around white feminists who are upset that the right wing is saying, “You don’t do enough to stop non-white violence against non-white women!” STOP them from retorting with a, “Look at all we’re doing!” and, worse yet, a resurgence of interest in taking that kind of action.

Tell your white feminist peers only to tell the right wing commentators, if they must retort at all:

“I’m sorry, but you’re wrong to assume that that is our job. Our job is to stop white violence against white women and white violence against non-white women. And we will work on those issues in the proportion that they exist today.

“Though we may lend time and resources when and to the extent that they are asked of us by non-white women, we refuse to claim that it is our job to ‘stop’ non-white violence against non-white women.

“Thank you for listening, and please follow our bulletin for the amazing work we are doing stopping white violence against white women and white violence against non-white women in the coming months!”


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.

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Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there

Today’s PiA post comes from the Girl Wonder forums. It is, in part, a reaction to my privilege list, which the poster in question was linked to among other posts.

I have lived my life bullied and dismissed and marginalized and aloof; if there’s a “white male heterosexual privilege”, no one ever told me how to cash it in.

[From Untitled post comment on page 3 by Patrick Gerard]

Gerard’s statement clearly illustrates that privilege isn’t a binary thing. A person does not either have privilege or not, but rather that we all simultaneously benefit from privilege and are the victims of it because of our various circumstances. Gerard here benefits from privileges such as being white, male, and heterosexual (you can add to that ones like being cisgendered and able-bodied), but one of the ways in which he is non-privileged is class. He is neither rich nor middle-class, but rather makes it known that he has never been able to get above the poverty line.

He clearly has seen the discrimination he has faced because of power imbalances such as the one in his class status. In this way I think he’s like most of us: it’s much easier to see the imbalance when we’re the ones getting the short end of the stick. I think it seems so obvious because we’re the ones who are hurt, we’re the ones who are having to overcome hurdles others don’t, and we’re the ones who see others dismiss us without a thought.

And, you know what? That’s exactly what his post did to me. I mean, he may have done it on the Girl Wonder forums and not on this blog, but he basically dismissed the real experiences of myself and many, many others like me (not just women, but all varieties of anti-oppression workers) by calling concepts that I tried very hard to carefully and non-offensively explain “delusional”. I have another comment waiting in moderation that won’t be published because it breaks the golden rule of politeness, not to mention condescension. So, yeah, it really frigging hurts to be dismissed when all it would take is an extra two minutes of thought on how your criticism is worded to change your argument from being a high-class flame to being a critical one that may open up discussion and broaden the knowledge of both parties. You’d better believe that I remember almost all of these instances — everything from, “this chick needs some dick” to long rebuttals which engage with certain points while using turns of phrase that diminish me as an equal member in the discussion — because, well, being dismissed really hurts.

But instances where I benefit from privilege are much harder for me to remember, mostly because I count these things as normal. I am not excluded, therefore I am not hurt or unsatisfied. I will never, say, have a problem going to a public restroom if they are gender segregated. “But,” you may be thinking, “that’s not benefiting from privilege, that’s just using common sense. I mean, you wouldn’t want to share a bathroom with a man, right?” Therein lies the rub: it’s common sense to you and me because we’re cisgendered — meaning our gender identity (our belief that we are male or female) is the same as our expressed sex. What about a transwoman who looks too feminine to go into the man’s washroom without fear of having violence done to her, but looks too masculine to go into the women’s washroom without fear of having security called on her? Such incidents happen, but cisgendered people like you or I take it for granted that we’ll never be barred access or otherwise given trouble for using the bathroom of the gender we identify with.

And that’s just one example of how I, personally, benefit from something in society being made to fit my situation that is exclusive and hurtful to another kind of person. Going back to the original example of Patrick Gerard’s post, Gerard hasn’t ever “cash[ed] in” on privilege because that’s not how privilege works. Cashing in implies that the benefits are waiting there for the right people to take them, but the reality is that privilege is being the beneficiary of unseen benefits that are obscured because they are portrayed as common sense and/or just the way things are done.

Childcare in Australia

So, the media here has been all over a recent report released by the Federal Treasury Department that supposedly counters years of claims that there is a childcare crisis in Australia, and claims that childcare is ‘accessible and affordable’. One of the key claims is that there’s oodles of childcare available to parents, “just not of their preferred type”.

Now, I’ll admit to not being an expert on childcare, particularly since I was never in childcare (I was lucky enough to have my grandmother move to Australia from my mother’s country of birth, China, when I was a toddler, so she looked after me when my mother went back to work), and I have no children, so I’ve never had the need to access childcare. Maybe I’m just being strange, but childcare always seemed like something one should be able to exercise a reasonable amount of discretion over, given, y’know, you’re trusting these people with the care of your children. Basically, the report claims that the perception of a childcare crisis is masking the fact that parents just aren’t getting the type of childcare they want, and there’s no mismatch between supply and demand. I mean really, it sounds like “People who want Coke are having trouble getting Pepsi, and people who want Pepsi are having trouble getting Coke, but there’s lots of cola, so there’s no supply/demand problem.” except with something that I’d like to think is rather more important than cola preference. Now, even with my rudimentary understanding of supply/demand, which mostly comes from my partner, who’s a marketing academic, I’m not seeing how that’s NOT a supply/demand problem. Really, as far as government reports are concerned, I’d see it as a reason to encourage further research into what kinds of childcare are lacking and wanted with reference to other specific variables, like location that’s more specific than ‘urban/inner-regional/outer-regional’. Unsurprisingly, instead we’ve got a bunch of handwaving and data-massaging in order to pretend there’s not a problem.

As for affordability, the report goes from “affordability has remained fairly constant for middle and high income families, and decreased slightly for low-income families” in the bulk of the report, to a blanket statement about child care being generally affordable. Those more knowledgeable in this area are free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d think that affordability of child care was a particularly crucial factor for low-income families, given affordable and accessible childcare is likely to be fairly important if one is attempting to increase one’s income above poverty levels. I imagine it’s rather difficult to get a second (or third, or fourth) job, or get more training if you can’t afford to have your kids looked after whilst you do that. So, y’know, if anything, I think the decreasing affordability for low-income families outweighs the stability for middle and high income families. Now, the report does indicate that the data doesn’t account for a recent expansion of a government-provided childcare assistance payment for low-income parents, but I’m not really a fan of the assumption without exploration that this expansion would sufficiently address the problem. If later research indicates the further government assistance is addressing the problem, that’s great, but the assumption is just lazy undeserved pats-on-the-back.

Now, the television reports have taken great joy in summarising the report as claiming parents are being picky. Whilst I think the report is more subtle than that, the ‘picky’ claim will probably pick up a lot of momentum, particularly from conservatives. But honestly, particularly given the amount of criticism that’s often thrown at women if their children are in childcare at all (unsurprisingly, men get much less of this criticism), I’m not really seeing why being picky about where and how your children are looked after if you need to work/study is such a horribly bad thing.

Sexism on a Plate (Classism, too)

“I’ve had it with this m*****f***ing sexism on my m*****f***ing plate!”

Over on Feministing, Sailorman recently commented about an entry on The New York Times “Dining & Wine” blog concerning the increasingly infrequent practice of giving menus without prices to some patrons at restaurants. (Feministe has commented on this as well.)

The actual practices described varied from automatically giving a woman a menu “sans prix” when she dined with a man, to providing price-free menus only on request for people who wanted to treat a family member or business client.

I was most surprised at the comments to the blog entry, which had a surprising number of people bemoaning the loss of “class,” “chivalry” and “old world style” involved with this practice.

So sad to see yet another tradition dying out. I don’t see how the practice is insulting at all. I remember being taken to Le Bernadin to celebrate a special occasion, and being given a menu without prices. I thought it was a very chivalrous gesture; and on a day-to-day basis we all split enough bills in the name of equality and fairness that I can’t see how one old-fashioned gesture once in a while is something to decry.

Most restaurants I’ve met in Europe follow this practice (no menu prices for the guests), and I like it. Here in Florida, no such luck. I am often frustrated when taking my poor Depression-era mother to dinner and she goes into shock, ordering the meanest, cheapest salad instead of a meal. Absolutely no class throughout the state (but the winter weather’s nice).

Oh come on! Can’t you see the charm in it? It has a hint of old world class. It takes us back to a time when men took pains to put a lady at ease.

Doesn’t this make you long for the days when men still stood when a lady entered the room?

Here’s what I find wrong with price-free menus:

They Confuse the Customers

One recurring theme throught the comments to the post was that, despite protests that everybody knew more or less which entrees would be expensive (“chicken costs less than lobster”), many people whose menus didn’t contain prices made expensive mistakes as a result:

As he had prices, and I did not, I was unaware that I had ordered a $75 salad–I don’t remember for sure, but I think it was more expensive than our wine.

Then, after the meal, she asked for a copy of the menu, to remember the meal by. It came, autographed by the chef. She almost fell off the chair. She had assumed, not seeing prices on her menu, that we had a set prix fix meal with several courses, and naturally she wanted to taste all of them.

The most expensive meal I ever ate was at a restaurant where I — known to be the penny-pincher in the relationship and completely unaware that unpriced menus existed — assumed my price-less menue meant it was a prix fixe meal. My husband, shocked and happy, thought I was just caving in to the beauty of the experience. Well, hello! I’d never have spent that much money on a meal, and never have again. Though I sure did enjoy it, until the bill came.

The problem here is that these mistakes usually benefit the restaurant, which means there’s little incentive not to offer the menus, especially if they can play into class anxiety by doing so:

It seems the worst thing one can be called today is “cheap”. It is the most cutting insult of all. Liar, cheat, thief, addict, scoundrel, even racist or slut – these are forgiven and in some cases even admired. But “cheap”… cheap is the lowest.

But “cheap” is often nothing more than a ploy by others to manipulate one to spend more. Once labeled as cheap, the only defense is to go further into opulence. Typically the accuser is the benficiary.

I think it’s telling that the most common use of the price-free menu was traditionally during a date, where there can be even more pressure not to appear “cheap.”

They Make the “Guest” Uncomfortable

I see a lot of talk about “I’m the host and price-free menus are what *I* want!” but I don’t see very much talk about what the guests want.

The idea behind the price-free menu is to put the “guest” (i.e., the person who’s not buying) at ease by letting him or her choose her courses without being influenced by price. Of course, that doesn’t always work:

If I were handed a host who insisted on price-free menus, my anxiety would go through the roof. I would worry and try to guess what was a “safe” choice. When I eschewed the chicken in favor of salad and then found, to my horror, that the salad was $75, I would be mortified.

I’ve been a guest and received a menu without prices. I don’t care for it because, frankly, I’m not always sure what I want to order and use the prices to decide whether I really want the lobster if it costs $150. No matter how much money I have, certain things just aren’t worth the money…no matter who’s paying for it. It’s not a matter of being cheap…more a matter of using the price to assist me in a sometimes difficult decision.

When I was treated to that ilk of restaurant by my father years ago, not seeing the menu with prices left me the task of guessing which might be the modest choices. It therefore brought more frustration than ease.

I have seen it cause distress with some guests who REALLY need to know what the prices are and are then made more uncomfortable by the lack of that knowledge.

The idea that less information will put someone at ease doesn’t make much sense to me. If I’m being treated by someone I care about, the price is going to matter as much to me as it does to them, because their comfort is important to me. If I’m worried it’ll be a problem; it’s going to worry me as much, if not more, if I don’t know how much of a bill I’m racking up. If I know it’s not a problem, I’ll get what I want regardless. If I’m not sure if it’s all right, I’ll ask. (I’ll probably ask anyway, because I’m used to everyone sampling each other’s courses at restaurants.)

Besides, as one waiter points out:

It never works.

The other guest(s) always excuse themselves at some point and ask to see a menu with prices outside the watch of their host. I rarely sense they feel this was any sort of compliment to their company and it usually signals a first and last date.

It’s Sexist as Practiced

Quite obviously the practice of assuming that a man will pay for a woman’s meal is a sexist one, whether that assumption takes the form of handing the check to a man, or giving a woman a menu without prices. (Many commenters also pointed out that the assumptions get even more muddled when dealing with non-heterosexual couples.)

This is one of those things that straddles the border between chivalrous and “look how hard I’m trying to impress you, I must really, really need to get laid.”

If my attempt to pay for my meal is refused within a dating context, I want to feel less beholden than more, so again, not seeing the prices is an annoyance rather than a luxury.

May I also add that this is not sweetness or chivalry – this is taking the chattle out for a little treat, and since she can’t earn money (or drive, or vote, or think) why should she see the prices?

Another comment shows how this sexism intersects with other forms (in this case, emphasizing the cultural narrative of the date as an exchange of dinner for sexual favors):

How about this…I invited my husband and another couple for a wonderful steak dinner at La Queu de Cheval in Montreal. I was appropriately presented the bill but when I casually turned it over there was a quote imprinted, which equated something like “a good steak is like a good woman, juicy in all the right places”. This is not a verbatim quote since it was years ago and I have never been back.

However, I don’t think the sexism entirely goes away when the policy is made facially neutral (though you’re less likely to find such an offensive quote on the check), such as the proposed practice of asking who the host is. It’s akin to citing “asker pays” as a non-sexist alternative – while facially neutral, it’s not actually equal outside of a culture in which the idea of “asker” is not gendered.

It’s Classist

Throughout the comments, there’s a strong element of “it doesn’t matter,” with an implied accusation of cheapness on the part of the people who do complain.

if I am inviting guests to a meal at a restaurant, I greatly appreciate the option of being able to set aside the vulgarity of money, and enjoy each others’ company for its own sake.

If you find money so vulgar, how about letting those of us who don’t find it so relieve you of that burden?

Other commenters agree that being focused on money – i.e., not being sufficiently rich – is bad manners:

To me, it clearly [shows] the decline of proper etiquette and good manners.

Why must it be so hard to just be a guest and leave it at that? If you think your host can’t afford it then suggest someplace else. Jeesh this is not rocket science it’s called civilization.

Some commenters go so far as to insinuate that the riff-raff should know their place and stop trying to dine at “high class” restaurants:

It always strikes me as tacky / low rent when a server in an otherwise good restaurant is quoting prices for the specials. Turns any fine dining experience into a “my God, do they think we are at TGI Friday’s?” moment.

I agree with the post above that asks why you would go to a restaurant you could not afford in the first place?!?! If the $600 check is going to make you gag, then you should have gone to the Shake Shack with grandma!

Fuck you both, and the luxury cars you rode in on. I routinely go to restaurants (even that bastion of plebeianism, TGI Friday’s) with the assumption that I’m not going to get the high-priced items on the menu (if I did, I couldn’t dine there routinely).

As for the comment ‘if you can’t afford it, don’t go,’ well, there’s more than one problem with that. Firstly, there’s often a considerable price range on the menu. Just because you can’t afford the most expensive items doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat there! Myself and a traveling partner have several times ’saved up’ for a meal at a nice restaurant at the end of a trip. We always chose nice places, even if we could only afford a glass of wine and mid-priced entree, because it was a ‘treat’ as much for the ambience as the quality of the food.

I think a lot of the classist “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” folks underestimate the difference between low-priced and high-priced entrees. Even taking extreme outliers like lobster off the list, it’s not uncommon for the high-priced entrees to be over twice the cost of lower-priced ones, which can be a very big deal when you’re eating at a restaurant where even the low-priced courses will stretch your budget.

If a slice of pie is going to be $8, then we’d like to know before we order it. If that makes us classless and vulgar, well, we didn’t inherit our money – we earned it. It took a long time, a lot of care, and more than a few coupons. I guess that makes for vulgar people who like to know the price of things before buying! 🙂

Damn right.

Seeing the Classism in Racism

vegankid has an excellent post over at Ally Work debunking the myth of lazy “welfare queens”. The post traces the history of welfare, brings up statistics, cites sources… all you could want from a topic like this and more.

Here’s an excerpt:

Martin Gilens, in Why Americans Hate Welfare, finds that “the belief that blacks are lazy is the strongest predictor of the perception that welfare recipients are undeserving.” In a mid-90s study titled “White’s Stereotypes of Blacks: Sources and Political Consequences,” researchers Hurwitz and Peffley found that White people agree that most Black people are lazy (31 percent), not determined to succeed (22 percent), and lacking in discipline (60 percent). It was these stereotypes that fueled the racist attacks on welfare despite the fact that at the time, the majority of welfare recipients were White wimmin. By catering to racism through imagery and rhetoric, those with the agenda of wiping out welfare could convince the largest recipients of welfare (economically-poor White people) that it was a good idea.

All to often, people (white people especially) seem to conflate issues of race with class. But, really, they aren’t the same. At all. Anyway, vegankid says it better than I ever could, so go read the post.

Further proof that success isn't always about hard work

A few days ago, Astarte ripped apart the classist assertion that poor people do it to themselves (they ascribe to “a culture that eschews education and hard work”… right) in her post The Hurricane of Caring. She said many things in the post, but this one struck a chord with me [emphasis mine]:

I’ve been working since I was eleven. We weren’t dirt poor, but poor enough that I knew if I ever wanted anything, I was going to have to get it myself. I picked strawberries for $.11 a pound (think about that when you buy a pound of Strawberries next time). I sold office supplies for $5.60 an hour, made pizzas for $4.95 an hour, and made burgers for $5.20 an hour… all while going to High School. When I was done there, I took portraits for $6.00 an hour. My first tech job didn’t come as a result of working hard. My first tech job, which landslided into many others, came because I knew someone who knew someone who got me the job.

When I saw that, I thought to myself, “holy fuck, that is so true.” Now, I’m coming from the opposite position of Astarte, I’m one of the lazy rich kids who doesn’t know the true meaning of “hard work”. I’m 23 years old and I’ve never had a real job. Heck, I just graduated University and instead of going into the work force (of course, what I would use my Asian Studies degree for I have no idea), I’ve taken a year off to get my life taken care of before I go off to Japan to do language school (two years of learning the language to become fluent). Instead of the crippling debt that my friends have (well, less crippling for my Canadian friends than for my American ones, but still sizeable), I have money in the bank to use as I see fit. When I decide to start my own company, a dream of mine I have no doubt will be fulfilled, I’ll have the not only the financial support of my family but total access to their social network as well. And if anyone tries to tell you that the social network isn’t important, or isn’t as important as “hard work”, I say from personal experience that they’re lying their asses off or just plain ignorant.

I was talking to my uncle about a month ago about my elder sister who just went to law school. He turned to me and did to me what my dad is smart enough not to: he said I should go. After he listed off his reasons, I laughed at him (in a mostly nice way) and said that his points were valid but I’m just not interested. Apparently, me going to Japan and wanting to work in the video game industry is a waste of my time. Right. He then said that he had a friend in LA who runs an agent firm and that I should go get a job there.

side note: Okay, in what world do I look like the kind of person who would be able to smooze with celebrities? Seriously, I don’t know why he thought it would be a good idea to unleash me, the girl who speaks her mind 99% of the time and fuck the consequences, on a group of people who belong to a culture I consider to be vapid, boring, and part of the problem our society has with the evil -ism’s of all kinds.

Key point: Based on nothing more than a family connection and a hypothetical ability to do the job, I would be able to begin a career with a good salary and a lot of potential for upward movement.

Which brings me to the final straw that sparked this post: today I got a letter from UBC (my alma mater) that was an invitation to join the “Golden Key International Honour Society”. Well, UBC was obviously very excited because they sent me two copies (hopefully on recycled paper, otherwise whole forests of trees will mourn the loss). Somehow I managed to be in the top 15% of my faculty (apparently they don’t count my F from failing calculus, but even so I had a 77.7% average, which is on the top end of a B+ average for you non-Canadians) which qualified me.

I’m all for making my resume look good, but the first thing I noticed was an $80 membership fee. Honour societies already evoke the whole idea of elitist organizations that are primarily about furthering the careers of their wealthy members’ children, but it made me wary to see such an obvious way for discouraging the non-wealthy prospective members from joining. Perhaps I’m being too cynical – $80 may be a large amount of money, but many people may see it as an acceptable trade off for all the services that are available by becoming a member. In addition to the advertised scholarship programs, I did notice that once you became a member there was information on student loan debt reduction. Still, it sounds more like excuses to my ears than anything else.

In the end, I did become a member (I called my dad to talk to him about it, got my sister instead and she said “do it” without hesitation; she’s a member, too). I’m probably a big hypocrite for doing it, but if I have an opportunity to help my chances of getting the job I want in the future than I’m going to take it.