Friday, April 25, 2008

Feminism, Liberalism, and Racism

Here is one of the images from Seal Press' latest book, It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments by Amanda Marcotte:





















In a riff off the title, feminists are represented in images throughout the book by a powerful white woman -slim and busty - who defends a white man against indigenous brown 'savages.' As Holly from Feministe explains:
In a reversal of classic damsel-in-distress, she’s rescuing a white man from the title’s “inhospitable environment.” But what ends up being part of the analogy here for the politically inhospitable? ...Spearchuckers. Literally. ... In the history of this country, there has always been one broad and well-lit path for oppressed classes of people to “better themselves” — side with the oppressors against someone else. That is exactly what these images are depicting: women gaining power through helping men against savage, violent brown people. Again, I can’t believe that the author or publisher would intend this, but how did these images end up in this book?
Race has always been an issue that intersects with feminism, for the challenges facing women of different ethnicities have always been different in nature or in degree. Take the pay gap that faces us today, for example. Women in general face a challenge. That challenge is far, far greater for women of color.

This is why feminists must also be liberals. Liberalism asks privileged people to acknowledge the advantages we've had, to realize that the deck has been unfairly stacked in our favor. It isn't a comfortable realization. Liberalism asks us to work to erase those advantages, to work to ensure that others have the opportunities we've long enjoyed taking for granted. That's why liberalism is often hated. Finally, liberalism demands that we listen to the voices of people unlike ourselves, and to invest our energy in working to improve life - not just for ourselves, and not just for people like ourselves, but for all people. As it turns out, that isn't always an easy task.

After recognizing the advantages we hold, the first question many white feminists ask is "what can we do?" In the comments made on her blog, Feminocracy, Outcrazyphelia provides an elegant answer:
Too many are too comfortable in their own privilege, the privilege that allows them not to see the eclipse of non-whites in the feminist movement. Too many are silent about these things and that’s what makes it the most frustrating. They don’t trust women of color to understand their own lived experience, they tell us that we’re overreacting or that we have the wrong tone to be listened to, they band together in solidarity to shut down our voices. All they have to do to end this bull is to listen to our voices, and speak out against this privileged nonsense that keeps popping up in the women. We can be united under feminism without having to be the same people. Differences in lived experience did not create this split, its the valuing of the white, able bodied, heterosexual experience over others that brought us to this point.
Being united under feminism without being the same people is possible only if we listen to one another and accept criticism when we do fall short of the liberal values we've espoused. It is only possible if we honestly confront our failings. That's the challenge that faces Seal Press today, and all of us.

5 comments:

OutcrazyOphelia said...

"This is why feminists must also be liberals."

I think this is the issue at hand. People presume that feminism and liberalism are so interconnected that you cannot have one without the other. They presume that by virtue of being feminist, they are open minded and understanding. Having it brought to their attention that they aren't as progressive as they think is painful and jarring and many don't want to hear it.

Confronting privilege is a difficult thing to do, but I imagine it is especially so when you consider yourself as a well meaning progressive.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Its the "don't criticize me, I'm one of the good people" syndrome. Like with the NiceGuys (TM), the assumption is that you get the added privileged of being beyond reproach in exchange for not wanting to be an ass.

I think that being open-minded and understanding is an up-hill battle for everyone, all the time. It would be so much easier if we could just declare ourselves to be 'feminist liberal progressive anti-racists' and call it a day.

Casmall said...

I think you guys are on to something- "Good" people always assume their preconceptions are also good.

OutcrazyOphelia said...

"It would be so much easier if we could just declare ourselves to be 'feminist liberal progressive anti-racists' and call it a day."

I know what you mean. Yeah, I'm an African American woman, that doesn't mean I understand every struggle ever, and I know that my perception is skewed away from the experiences I've never had. While I may begin to understand or at least temporarily focus on struggles that aren't mine--I have to make myself do that, it doesn't come automatically. Not being on the ball all the time doesn't make you a bad person, but refusing to open your eyes to the choices you make in adapting your focus is pretty inexcusable.

La Pobre Habladora said...

"While I may begin to understand or at least temporarily focus on struggles that aren't mine--I have to make myself do that, it doesn't come automatically. Not being on the ball all the time doesn't make you a bad person, but refusing to open your eyes to the choices you make in adapting your focus is pretty inexcusable."

Seriously, when are you running for office, and where do I go to vote?