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.

Can we stop misrepresenting our own movement?

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

So, Feministing is soliciting submissions for a new book called Yes Means Yes! (hat tip: feminist_writer LJ community). The book aims to brainstorm constructive ways that a more positive attitude towards sexuality, especially female sexuality, can help dismantle rape culture:

Imagine a world where women enjoy sex on their own terms and aren’t shamed for it. Imagine a world where men treat their sexual partners as collaborators, not conquests. Imagine a world where rape is rare and swiftly punished.

Welcome to the world of Yes Means Yes.

Yes Means Yes! will fly in the face of the conventional feminist wisdom that rape has nothing to do with sex. We are looking to collect sharp and insightful essays, from voices both established and new, that demonstrate how empowering female sexual pleasure is the key to dismantling rape culture.

Now, I am 100% behind the intent of the book. If I had the time, I would definitely submit something (unfortunately I barely have time to write my WisCon paper, and I have until May to finish that). It’s no secret that I’m a sex-positive feminist and I believe that sex-negative attitudes — both conservative sexual shaming and liberal forced sexuality — are harmful to a truly equal society and I think this book is an excellent opportunity to get some positive ideas out into the mainstream (or at least feminist-leaning mainstream). The book will go on my Amazon wishlist when it comes out.

However (there’s always a “however” with me, isn’t there?), I am not so pleased with this part of the pitch:

Yes Means Yes! will fly in the face of the conventional feminist wisdom that rape has nothing to do with sex.

There are two basic problems that I see with that line:

  1. It perpetuates a fundamental misunderstanding of what “rape isn’t sex” is saying.
  2. It is setting the editors/contributors in direct opposition to “conventional feminist wisdom”.

Below I’ll go into more detail as to the problems and talk about why I feel that this way of presenting feminist theory is problematic and ultimately hinders feminism as a movement. Continue reading

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.

Feminists: answering sexism with sexism? So not cool.

So Jill has a post up defending Ann Coulter because Maxim decided that the best way to “zing” her for her anti-Semitism would be to call her, in so many words, an ugly tranny. First off, good on Jill and the other posters who are calling that crap out as not cool.

But, for those of you who think it’s “fair game” to use those misogynist and transphobic insults on Coulter because she spouts sexism and misogyny? Shame on you. The “she started it” line didn’t work in kindergarten and most certainly doesn’t work within feminism.

sophonisba points out exactly why it’s wrong to use bigotry against a person, no matter who it is:

Really. I will spell it out, then. You can’t use misogynist premises (women shouldn’t have human faces, human throats, or human hands–all those things are for boys only) against an individual women without using it on all women. Answering sexism with sexism? Well, see, that’s bad, because sexism is bad. Not bad unless we use it on someone we hate. Just, you know, bad. In itself.

Think, if you will, of what it would mean if someone responded to Coulter’s “perfected Jews” spiel with remarks about she has a pretty Jewy-looking nose herself.

I also threw my own clarification into the mix:

The point is that we, as feminists working to end oppression, have an obligation to ourselves and other women to speak out against sexism no matter who that sexism is directed against. I definitely do think that it’s worth pointing out, as you did, that the attack on Coulter is a logical product of the kind of world she’s working to create, but that does not mean that we, in turn, should endorse that result, even if that endorsement is simply silence on the matter. Sexism is sexism, even if the person who is being hurt by said sexism has endorsed it. And I think that one thing that we, as feminists, can agree on is that sexism is wrong and should be combated.

As feminists fighting for the end of oppression, we don’t have the luxury to avert our eyes because the target of sexism is someone morally repugnant to us. We don’t have the luxury to pick and choose who is “worth” defending and who isn’t. If we are truly committed to ending oppression, then it is our responsibility to fight bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head. Even if it means standing up, in a limited capacity, for someone who is actively working against us. Because saying “what they did to her was wrong, sexist, and should not be tolerated” is different than saying “what she does is right”.

I don't like being an educator, really….

If you’re wondering where my internet- and writing-oriented energies have been going lately, that would be into fleshing out the Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog FAQ:

The truth is, I really don’t like being an educator. It’s a lot more comfortable for me to be able to reach out to other feminists and work with helping clarify issues and give them the tools to improve their situations. But one of the things I’ve come to realize when engaging with commenters, and later doing the research for the above FAQ entries, is that if I don’t do these things, there’s no guarantee that someone else will.

And I think that it’s more effective to point people to these articles — which I’ve been able to spend hours researching and writing — than it is to try to argue the same points in a comment, sans references and the time needed to fully explain the argument.

I believe in the Feminism 101 blog, and I think that it’s helped to enrich the way that feminists communicate with each other, as well as the way that they communicate with their commenters. And I think that’s why I’ve been working hard at contributing there even though I don’t like educating (and am far from convinced that I’m the best one to be doing it).

Amber Hawk Swanson: "Feminism?" and Realdolls

A feminist artist named Amber Hawk Swanson has been profiled in a Chicago Reader article called When Amber Met Amber. Given the recent discussions here about author intent versus conveyed message, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the work that was profiled.

What follows is less a critique, because I can’t properly critique a work without seeing it, and more a gathering of impressions. I’m interested to know what impressions you get from all this, as well, and would highly recommend reading the article in full. Continue reading

"Prostitute" does not mean "worthless"

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

Jeffrey McKee was convicted of raping two women, but received a lighter prison sentence because his victims were prostitutes.

Luckily, there are people in the Washington state judicial system who aren’t total fuckwits.

Read the article for the full story, but here are a few notable quotes that illustrate the persistent sexism and victim-blaming in public attitudes towards sexual violence. Sure, society says, we’ll protect the victims of rape – but only if you’re the right kind of victim.

Superior Court Judge Douglas McBroom said the sex acts were against the victims’ will only because they didn’t get paid,

“Only because they didn’t get paid” and they didn’t want to. Payment may be a necessary part of consent for sex workers to engage in sex, but it is by no means the only part. If you insist on equating sex workers with any other kind of worker (without regard to the social context in which they perform this work), then you must also acknowledge that a worker who is kidnapped and held at gunpoint while robbed is the victim of more than simple robbery.

and prostitutes were “a far cry from the innocent rape victim” that lawmakers envisioned when deciding the severe penalties for the crime.

Ah, yes, the “perfect victim” idea. As if the so-called “innocence” of a person determines the nature and extent of the crime. Funny, I thought the behavior of the perpetrator determined that.

In its ruling Monday, the appeals court called the judge’s reasoning behind the sentencing “a reflection of his personal opinion and subjective belief that raping a prostitute is not as brutal as raping a woman who ‘did not willingly start off ready to perform a sex act.'”

Scary, isn’t it? If you are – perhaps, if you ever have been – “ready to perform a sex act,” that makes you less of a victim, in the eyes of Judge Douglas McBroom. Ready to have vaginal sex, but your partner forces anal sex on you? Not a victim. Ready to have sex with one guy, but he calls in his buddies and they force themselves on you? Not a victim. Experience pain or discomfort during sex, but your partner doesn’t stop? Nope, not a victim.

The three-judge panel also rejected many of McKee’s claims, including an assertion that his crimes were more like robbery than rape, and that prostitutes are not as traumatized by rape as other victims.

So the perpetrator attempts to belittle his crime by attacking the victims again … Yeah, that’s an indication that you want to give this man a shorter prison sentence and unleash him upon society sooner. *eyeroll*

The fact that this ignorant, sexist decision was overruled by the appeals court is heartening – as is the fact that the news article itself is written intelligently. Here are the names of people worth listening to, and worth supporting – in elections, with donations, what have you.

Appeals Court Judge William Baker, the man who threw out the inadequate prison sentence, says that, The fact that the women “may have been willing to have sex for money does not trivialize the trauma of being raped at gunpoint.” It’s sad how rare it is that you actually hear public officials say something that makes so much sense.

Eboni Colbert, co-executive director of Communities Against Rape and Abuse, says, “It’s kind of scary to think that who I might be as a victim will impact how the criminal justice system chooses to punish the perpetrator.” CARA, if you haven’t heard of it, is a wonderful local anti-abuse organization, and I’m glad they were highlighted in the article.

The article (whose author is Tracy Johnson), also noted that prostitutes are often seen as disposable and deserving of whatever happens to them — even though abuse or other desperate circumstances may have led them into selling sex in the first place.

“Everyone deserves the protection of our laws,” Deputy Prosecutor Andrea Vitalich said. “The failure to protect the most vulnerable in our society is a failure to protect everyone.”

That’s really all you need to know in relation to sexual violence against prostitutes. Regardless of how you feel about sex work – whether you think it’s empowering, oppressive, or somewhere in between – it makes absolutely no difference as to whether a person was raped or not, nor how much of a criminal the rapist is. I’m not sure why there’s even a question on this issue – except, of course, that I know we still labor under the malicious lie that a woman who’s sexual is fair game for sexual exploitation.

I’m sending emails to the author of the article and the editor of the newspaper, to let them know that their intelligence regarding this crime is much appreciated, especially in light of the shameless misogyny of Judge McBroom. I’d encourage other people to do the same.

Feminism is Post-Feminist

I would like to talk about the word “post-feminist”. Now, this word came about as a backlash against feminism and goes on the premise that feminism is no longer necessary.

But let me illustrate something: a world in which feminism is not necessary would never define itself as post-feminist. Why? Because a world in which feminism is no longer necessary would have no problem recognizing the important achievements of the feminist movement, and therefore would have no need to label itself post-feminist.

In fact, it is very likely that in an equal society most people would take it as assumed fact that they were, in fact, feminist. Feminism wouldn’t be just some obscure subject covered in Women’s Studies, but it would be taught as part of history to help people understand how we got to an equal world. Feminist theory would be one of the background theories that we are taught when critically examining literature.

Simply put, the label “post-feminism” would be unneeded because “feminism” would be so commonplace that it would be unremarked upon. Why? Because the only way for equal rights to win is if the doctrine of equal rights becomes part of every one of us.

Dealing with harassment isn't that easy

I recently stumbled across a post called Cuppy, aka the anti-feminist, which was written in response to Brinstar’s I Reject the ‘Big Boys’ post. There’s actually a lot in it that I disagree on, but I’m going to focus on just one of her arguments.

One of the things that Cuppycake argues is as follows:

When you play in a video game, no one cares what gender or race you are except the immature idiots who you wouldn’t want to associate or group with anyway. Learn to avoid the immaturity and the disrespectful people and familiarize yourself with the ignore button and the fact that you can always meet new friends. Quit lumping all the men into this stereotype of “asshole, hardassed, disrespectful, immature, condescending jerks” and instead find yourself embracing the differences in people in the gaming culture. Just like the real world, you have people you need to avoid and distance yourself from and others that you will want to become closer to. The glory of current MMO’s is the ability to talk in private chats, to use ignore features, to join guilds, to pick and choose who you group with, to use chat profanity filters. We really can make gaming an enjoyable experience if we choose to and put a bit of effort into it.

I think that there are too many over-simplifications in her argument, starting with the way that she represents the opposing view and ending with the way she presents personal action as the solution to the problem of harassment. Continue reading