I’ve been thinking about this post by Blackamazon all morning, just because I feel like, even if the critique is not directed specifically to me (Blackamazon doesn’t read me, doesn’t know me from Adam, etc.), there’s a lot in there that I need to hear and consider.
I know I keep coming back to this idea of pleasure, but it’s because it seems to me that, if we as feminists want to be respectful of other women’s circumstances and their own autonomy, AND if we want to create new ways of dealing with each other, we have to stop acting like we know what the end result of feminism will and should be.
In the comments she says
I sit agape because for real
LESS THAN five years older than some of them.
AND I HAVE NO DAMN CLUE that was going on
and rather than give them avenues or tools to discuss it
we send it more bullshit. [emphasis mine]
This is exactly what I want to do, find a vocabulary for talking about how we know what paths to take, and, if we ought to, how to advise others what paths to take.
This is why I think pleasure is so important as a guidepost. First, it undermines a whole lot of the expectations we have for how women should engage the world. And second, no one can dictate to another what will please her, so it puts each woman’s own experience at the center of her own politics, which is, I think, exactly where it should be.
But I want to temper that pleasure slightly, because I think there’s a way in which pleasure untempered leads to cruelty and that’s not really something we need more of in the world. So, I want to ask, does this bring pleasure to me? Does it hurt anyone else?
I want to figure out how to recognize avenues to a better, healthier, more just world. I don’t think it’s my place to decide what constitutes better, healthier, and more just.
What bothers me is that Blackamazon is not a feminist and she is not the only one. If we’ve alienated the very women we think we’re making things better for… well, shoot, how can there be any bigger sign that we’re doing something wrong?
And part of what we’re doing wrong, I think, is that we’re not careful about not acting like our experiences are the default experiences and our hopes and dreams the default hopes and dreams.
I don’t know. There’s a lot of good stuff to mull over, anyway.
How about pleasure coupled with empathy? I’m not a big fan of Rimbaud, but “I am another” (or, in keeping with the spirit of the translation “The “I” is another”) is a useful idea.
Yes, yes, I like that. Pleasure coupled with empathy. The movement being then, both in and back out and in and out. Not that it’s always a great guide, but I like the idea that a good guide takes the same shape as breathing.
You say Blackamazon is not a feminist. By that do you mean “Blackamazon is not a feminist as I define the word”, or “Blackamazon does not embrace the label ‘feminist’?”
I think the distinction is the root of the concern. As sympathizers define feminism, it’s mostly about equality, which seems something that everyone should support. As critics define it, it is something very different. That (I’d say slanderous) redefinition makes people reject the label even if they agree with the principles (cf. ‘liberal’).
The good news, though, is that the issue may be the label and not the belief.
Ugh, this is why you are supposed to READ the links before commenting. Sorry.
Ha, Jebbo. Yes, in this case, it’s pretty clear. In terms of the stances advocated and willingness to go for it, Blackamazon is one of the most feminist people we’ve got. But she explicitly rejects the term… for reasons that go beyond the “but I don’t want to be labeled one of those hairy legged man haters!” that we hear so often. At the micro level, BA, and most of the people listed (Nubian and BFP in particular) have gotten so much shit from the feminist blogosphere the pressure to leave in disgust is amazing. At the macro level, this has happened again and again in the ranks of progressivism in general and feminism in particular.
Those things, unfortunately, combine to leave us with a lot of the best WOC/POC bloggers either retiring their keyboards or becoming separatists or being intimidated into silence.
Having actually read the post and comments, here’s how it translates through my filter:
Let’s say feminism is about women’s rights as such. No woman is just a woman though, she has a race, a belief system, a socio-economic background and status, etc etc.
So for many women, the woman-ness of her situation may be the least of her concerns. Perhaps classism or racism is a greater concern.
In that case, I’m reminded of the question of religion vs church. Feminism as a principle (women’s rights) may be attractive, but its adherents (women – and men – of varying classes, races, beliefs) may not only disagree on many other issues, making them unpleasant company. Worse, their greater power in other regards may allow them to co-opt the prioritization of feminist issues themselves.
Sounds like that’s BA’s objections, and they are fair. Do you think it is possible to limit feminism as a movement to being only about women’s rights (minimizing potential conflicts) and to allocate agenda power within the movement in a way that is more democratic (rather than reflective of other power structures)?
See, and this is something I really don’t get and I don’t get it in a way that I think shows a really dangerous naivety and blind-spot on my part (I just want to admit that up-front). I get that Amanda and Jessica and a few others are popular feminist bloggers. What I don’t get is how that popularity translates into power.
God, I’m embarrassed to admit that, but it seems like we make them popular by linking to them and reading them and discussing them and, if we no longer find them as useful in terms of what brings us pleasure and helps us empathize with others, why can’t we just all link and read and talk about what’s happening at, oh, say, Women’s Health News?
I don’t know. The other thing that Blackamazon has me thinking about, too, is how often we want to make the Feminist movement about fixing the world to make it more friendly for the girls we were when we realized it sucked for women. I just keep thinking how much my life and my politics, for instance, are really motivated by a fear of rape and are in response to my stalking and the failure of response from my family, school, and police.
I’ve said this before, I only know a couple of women who’ve never been sexually assaulted, whether it culminated in a full rape or not.
And yet, Mag, you’re only ten years younger than me and you’re coming up in a world in which the numbers of sexual assaults are plummeting, in which people talk openly about child molestation, and in which the police take at least some instances of stalking seriously.
It’s impossible for me to imagine that world. And yet, I live in it. And yet, it’s hard for me and I think a lot of women of my age, to kind of let down our guards a little bit and enjoy the world we fought so hard to live in.
And I can’t help but wonder how many things that feel so urgent to us are not that urgent to the women who are coming up right after us. That’s why it’s so important, I think, to honor and listen to those voices, because their world is not our world while, of course, it is.
I don’t know. I feel like I’m being vague. I hope what I mean is coming through.
Do you think it is possible to limit feminism as a movement to being only about women’s rights (minimizing potential conflicts) and to allocate agenda power within the movement in a way that is more democratic (rather than reflective of other power structures)?
Jebbo, I don’t think we need to minimize potential conflict. I can see the temptation, but I think that gets right back into some traditional women’s roles bullshit. We need to learn how to fight and struggle with disagreeing and to do some openly and fairly and, when we are done, to honestly and with our whole souls put it behind us and vow to leave it behind us. The women I know, me included, have a really hard time doing that. Smoothing things over and avoiding potential conflict doesn’t let us ever learn to fight cleanly.
But I think that this is part of what I want to try to articulate–a means for us to interact with power that isn’t hierarchical in the way we usually experience it. I want to say to you, organize your life around pleasure and empathy and it will take you someplace interesting. I don’t know where and it’s bound to be some place different than where I end up. That’s what I want, for each of us to be free to go where we need to go, to change direction when we’re not getting what we need, and to have those decisions respected by others.
I don’t think feminism should be a “movement” so much as a reworking.
The conversation going on in that thread is awesome… but it is also highly coded and probably none too useful for the majority of Tiny Cat Pants readers if they don’t know BA or BFP (I’m sure they’ve seen Belldame around… she’s everywhere. In a good way.), or the different fights/struggles they’re pointing to. I’ve written about some of it, but mostly in passing, or in comments on others’ sites.
I think that’s an excellent point, Aunt B. We’ve bounced off this topic in a number of your other threads, and … yeah. I think that’s exactly the problem. Even the most well-intentioned and well-read people get all caught up in it. It’s hard to think that the things you want so badly could suck for other people.
What really grates, for me, is when people get called on this and say things like:
“Liberation from oppression” means “doing what we say is liberating.” I get that there’s a pretty fine line between questioning the conditioning that lead to a choice (“Yes, you like English and you’re good at it, so of course that’s a valid course of studying… but do you think you were steered away from more masculine interests when you were younger, and maybe didn’t develop other interests you might have had?”), and questioning the choice itself (“Of course you like English. You were programmed that way. Studying Physics is a more valid choice because it isn’t what you were programmed to do.”). But it’s damn insulting to hear people pull out this tired old saw whenever someone questions the way lives are being constructed.
It goes hand in hand with the “why are you forcing your pet issue on us?” tactic. Because if it’s not important to the privileged members of the group, it is obviously just a silly little side issue that we oughn’t be concerned about. Never mind that, as Blackamazon pointed out in that thread: for a lot of this shit, these are our lives that are being weighed.
So if, for example, you’re a woman of color arguing for waiting periods on sterilization operations, because of the awful history of women being sterilized against their will, you will often find yourself being both told that wanting to have children isn’t as important as not wanting to have children (because what are you, a tool of the patriarchy? Don’t you know our planet is too overcrowded as it is, you selfish whore!)… and besides, white women are already having a hard time being voluntarily sterilized in their twenties. We should clear up these important issues first, before you go arguing about some (probably poor) women who want to go have more kids and clutter up the Earth.
And heaven forbid you should try to bring race into it, in any discussion more complicated than “hip hop bad! trees good!” If you’re not a good little ethnic, telling them everything that’s wrong with your communities so they can swoop in and “fix” it (but not demanding that they do it now, because they’re too busy saving the world), then you’re just derailing their thread with irrelevant pet issues, and/or colluding with the enemy. (How dare women of color support men of color! Don’t they know how misogynist nonwhite men can be?)
Looping this back round to the last time this came up… I do think the pleasure standpoint is radical. Like the enthusiastic consent idea. If it brings pleasure and doesn’t cause harm, it is good. We should bend our efforts toward increasing pleasure and decreasing harm, not forcing people to go our way “because it’s better for them.” Yes, sometimes that means tough questions and tough answers… but mostly it means working for a world that’s so big that what I’m wearing (or who I’m sleeping with, or where I came from or how my body works or what I believe in…) doesn’t cause problems for you. Where people can be happy and safe doing different things, rather than all learning to swear and fuck ‘like the boys,’ or being ‘superwomen’ with jobs and children and hobbies (but no time on our hands), and pretending that’s what liberation looks like for everyone.
Oh. Belldame said it better than I did, and shorter to boot:
See, and that’s why I have to figure out how to stand against that, because I’m allergic to strawberries.
You sound like my mother, there. When we were talking about my crazy landlady, she would tell me “not to carry [her] with me.” She’s not following me around; I don’t have to keep her with me in my head and heart.
And I think, on the micro level, that’s exactly right. In my daily life, in your bloggy life, in whatever…you can choose just that.
But on the slightly macro-er level, that’s a little infeasible. Online life isn’t inextricable from offline life, and saying that we can all just go somewhere else if this place isn’t working is a little like saying “Oh, if you don’t like Imus/that dumb sitcom/porn, you can change the station/flip the channel/just not watch it.” Amanda and Jessica and Jill and Twisty have power, not just in their hit counters and ad revenue, but in their actual connections to actual people. And their hit counters and ad revenue add up to credibility (offline and in communities not familiar with ours), and bring up things like the book that sparked this particular thread. If you don’t know anything about feminism, and start wandering around the blogosphere, the people you’re going to find linked to, mentioned, and blogrolled all over are going to be them*. If you want to pick up a book about it, you’re either going to get a lot of old, dense theory and history (not bad, but not going to grab you when you wander by it in Borders, either), or you’re going to stop at the picture of a half-naked torso and flip through it and maybe think it’s easy enough to dip your toe into.
They have power partially because we support them, yes. But they also have power because power is self-sustaining. They could take severe hits in popularity, and it would take a long time before the print newsmedia figured out they weren’t the go-to people any more. And they’d still have many many people who are fond of them because they went there, found something they liked, and never felt the need to move forward or branch out. People for whom blogging might not be a fulltime pastime. The people who are disaffected right now are, sadly, not as numerous as the people who are currently enthralled, and certainly not the kind to get invited to dinners with Bill Clinton. Which is part of their disaffection; it’s hard to be heard when one isn’t, well, allowed to speak.
(I think I’m going to pull a Belldame today, and split my thoughts up into different posts)
* That is, incidentally, one of the things that lead me here. I was exploring the scienceblogs and Dean Dad’s place and small feminist blogs, and like half of them had you blogrolled, B. It was a distinctive enough name that I just had to see what it was all about, and why it kept coming up in so many different contexts.
That’s a good point. I’m coming up in that world, and I consider myself one of those lucky few. I’ve been on the recieving end of a lot of unwanted attention, but I’ve been physically quite lucky.
That actually reminds me of this post I found through Amp’s latest link farm. Dov Bear answers the question “Are we better off today? Or were we better off yesterday?” with a cute table. Things are, on the whole, getting better. But they’re still not perfect, and I think that leads to what you were saying here:
I think a lot of that is the generational thing you mention. But I also think that a lot of it, for WoC and disability and poverty activists, is that it hasn’t really gotten that much better. Hell, for women attempting to immigrate to the US, one might argue that it’s actually taken a huge step backward. And the sheer cognitive dissonance of having a bunch of relatively privileged women tell us that everything is fine, and that, say, immigrant rights and the feminization of poverty and the suppression of free speech where brown people are concerned are just “pet issues” is… astounding.
My world is safer than yours was when you were my age, and I’m grateful. And I’m hella privileged, and I’m grateful for the protection that’s given me as well. But I have a really hard time with the repeated insistence (not from you, of course… but from many of the names we look to) that it’s better for everybody. Especially when that’s coupled with the entrenched power beatdown of “hey, if you go agitating for your problems, we’ll lose! We’re going to be less respectable if you don’t shut up!” It’s just… like my favorite comic of Amp’s (and if that link doesn’t work, it’s also at the head of this post at Pandagon)
Hee. Ain’t that the truth?
“…it seems like we make them popular by linking to them and reading them and discussing them and, if we no longer find them as useful in terms of what brings us pleasure and helps us empathize with others, why can’t we just all link and read and talk about what’s happening at, oh, say, Women’s Health News?”
See, my first reaction was, “Because I’m not showing enough boobs or making enough snarky comments.” But that’s just catty, because I’m glad those sites are there. Really, I’m a little jealous that those ladies seem to have all the time in the world to make blog posts. Most of us don’t have access to that kind of leisure, which is a form of power of its own. I think it’s hard for smaller sites to garner the kind of access mag is talking about, simply because most of us have other jobs and families to attend to. The feeling I get from a lot of the big name feminist blogs (except maybe Bitch PhD, who clearly works and has a family) is not one I can necessarily relate to.
Also, I think having the time to blog many, many things per day allows for more topics to be touched on (however lightly), which generates more discussion.
While I’m talking to myself… I do try to include a mix of things in my own blogroll. If you go there, you’ll probably find some things you’ve never heard of or read before, and they’re there simply because I like them and find them informative and valuable, big and small.
Oh yeah, I’d forgotten all about this. I mean, with Amanda and Shakes, they were actually offered jobs to do nothing but this. (Granted, that didn’t work out too well… but the fact is that their contributions were so well recognized that they could leverage that into the chance to do more of the things that had gotten them recognized, and do so more prominently) That’s a lot of power, even in the face of overwhelming opposition.
It’s also a result of a fairly specific kind of privilege. The not-having-to-choose-between-food-and-internet privilege. Ampersand made a hard choice to sell his domain, which cost him a lot of readers for ideological reasons (which, of course, has ad revenue implications and implications for blogospheric status and whatnot). BFP occasionally stops blogging because it’s hard to get internet access. Googling to find that brought me to a lot of people whose voices would be louder if it weren’t so hard to cross the digital divide.
I wonder if to some degree feminism then is a victim of its own success. If the problem is that women don’t have the right to vote, or the right not to be raped by their husbands, then that problem is shared by women across the class. As the most egregious issues are addressed, the remaining ones by definition become either less important or impact only a portion of the population. As B. said, many of the things she worried about growing up are better now.
But maybe that’s too easy. Was the value of the right to vote the same for women of different backgrounds and positions? Isn’t prioritization always a problem for any diverse collective, especially after success with foundational issues?
I think my (naive) longing for narrowness of focus is not so much an appeal to politeness, as a hope that by separating the movements for This and for That, any individual’s greater emphasis on one doesn’t lead to conflict and identity crisis. Each person spends their energy where they have passion, with the support of generally-likeminded travelers. Maybe that’s splitting the coalition and weakening it, so maybe it’s a bad idea. But diversity is more easily accepted in a loose coalition than in a (putatively united) movement. And energy spent fighting for control of a movement’s agenda feels – to my innocent gut – like energy wasted. (Did I mention I rarely donate money until the general election?)
See, I think this is where I get blindsided a little bit, again, in a way that, again, I’m not very good at navigating. I get that I have white privilege and I do so often succumb to the luxury and temptation of assuming that those bigger bloggers have a reader who is very much like me in mind. And yet, so much stuff I read leaves me feeling like “I know they’re talking to me. Why don’t I feel like they’re talking to me?” and it takes me a minute to figure out the class stuff.
They aren’t talking to me.
It’s funny, you know. I know I’ve written about this before, at length, the way the system works, that poor white folks are given the false impression that, if they’re willing to police racial norms (let’s call it “if they’re willing to act white and help impose white hegemony) they’ll someday be allowed to move on up. In the meantime, they/we have the privilege of believing that when a middle or upper class white person is talking to other white people, we’re included in the discussion.
I get that, in my gut, that the system falsly promises me a way up and out of this class if I just help perpetuate the hegemony.
And yet, damn it, I cannot help but fall for it–by believing that, when middle class feminists talk, they’re talking to me, that my issues will be addressed next, once they’re done talking about the big issues, you know, that I’ll get a turn at the big time (whatever that means) that’s been promised to me.
And if I’m buying into that part of it, even inadvertently, then I’m afraid I’m buying into the second part of the deal–monitoring what’s acceptable (read: white) and policing it in such a way that continues to keep y’all out.
And that bugs me because I can sense that it must be true, but I don’t know how to get enough distance from my situation to really see if it is and, if so, if I can undo it.
I think that’s one of my weaknesses as a blogger. I hope people get that and compensate in their own minds for it. I’m a white woman, from the higher end of lower class, who’s put herself in debt up to her eyeballs to move herself up to lower middle class. That’s my perspective and my biases all come from that. I want pleasure tempered by empathy, but I want those things because I often feel cut off from them.
Ha, I don’t know.
Jebbo, you snuck in on me, but I caught you right before I hit submit. But, yeah, I see what you’re getting at. I just wonder how we’ll know when the time is right for us to go our separate ways.
Though, ha, I guess if the women of Mag’s generation have decided that now’s the time, now’s the time.
Hmm, the thing about this is that it only works if you’re kind of near the top anyway. The privileged women could split off like that (and did, it seems… if only by kicking the rest of us out), and still have the time and energy to get things done. The problem is… well, I’d like to be not raped and have the opportunity to have a job outside of my home and still have a uterus with which to have children and have my voice heard when I offer an opinion that may differ from the mainstream, and love the people I want to love, and not worry that if I marry the wrong person s/he might be “disappeared” and our children get locked up “for their own good.” If I have to go to a different meeting for each priority, I’m kind of screwed.
More importantly, for me anyway… the issues are all way too interconnected for any of that. How can you talk about having lactation rooms for working mothers and daycare on college campuses and not talk about the increasing feminization of poverty and the lack of safe, affordable childcare in general? How can you talk about the pressures of forced motherhood for middle class white women (because the birthrate is declining! or babies are precious! or abortion is eeevil!) without talking about all the women who want to have babies but had that option taken from them by doctors who didn’t think they were “good enough?” How can you talk about “choice” if you only want to talk about your choices? Especially if you’re going to give my choices so much power and yell at me for derailing your movement with them? I just don’t get that.
This is pretty much the thing. To an extent, you are right. It’s a much easier gulf to navigate than the racial one… largely because we’ve hidden conversation about race under so much linguistic and psychological baggage that it’s difficult for privileged people to even work out how to talk about it (so they don’t). But also because there’s still some class mobility here, and there are a lot of stories like yours. Even if the only direct experience some people have is “law student poor,” many people are at least sympathetic to the idea that people don’t always have what they need. (Granted, that particular example is pretty bad because it tends to give people a distorted view of how easy it is to get out of poverty… but it still leaves a little window for talk.)
The sneaky thing about it is that that’s the big lie. It’s a fault of the system and a tool of the powerful…. there are just enough cracks to let a few through…. so that everyone feels like they can get there. And if we tell you to quiet down while we’re working, and then you’ll get in… it’s hard to not buy it. And it gets magnified by the knowledge of people even further down the totem pole…. knowing that could be you, and fighting to stay at least where you are.
I don’t think most people do it, on the micro level. I certainly don’t think it’s a conscious narrative. I just think it’s a function of privilege, and a function of the way our society works.
One is that separation of missions can be a net benefit, if the rich white woman is co-opting your moral standing and your energy to fight for her pet issue. Yes you lose her if she can just walk away when she’s done with you. But it sounds like that is happening anyway. Mine is more of an argument (or thinking aloud about) saying “let’s get a group together for people who want to work on Issue #17, and let the ‘Feminism’ sorority plan its Ball.”
Having said that, your interconnectedness comment points out the weakness of my approach. In some situations, as you are the “minority” on increasing dimensions (poor brown-skinned immigrant gay woman), it may make increasing political sense to get into a coalition of sympathetic people and steer their agenda to yours, rather than to strike out boldly on your own. Laser-like focus gets things done, but only if there is enough light.
Other point. I think most people, especially in America, approach life from an individual perspective rather than a collective one. So a semi-fluid pyramid-like system where anyone can in theory ride to the top, but few ever will, passes muster. For example: want a better job? Study harder. (“But what if everyone studied their asses off? We’d still need someone to clean the restrooms! Why not have more equal pay?” “But people don’t study their asses off, so if you do then you can get rich rich, which you can’t do if everything is equal! And if you fail, since you had a chance, it is to your shame.”) Just like buying lottery tickets, people want that shot at a million even when they know the math doesn’t add up. Mix in unequal starts, private property ownership to invest people in the stability of the system, corporate media trumpeting of upward mobility while ignoring downward drift at the bottom … and you’ve got a prescription for a rigged game that at least 50% of the population wants to play.
Oh, and yeah you justify your standing in the socioeconomic hierarchy by hazing the clique immediately below. Same as middle school.
Billboard that fucks me off in Houston: “Act Your Wage!” What the hell is that supposed to mean?
Hi Aunt B. I think that the big problem here is for MCWF many of them want the idea of intersectionality to go away and don’t want to say anything about it.
I started the post the way I did because what most made me want to throw a fit in borders was the dismissive way she treated teh adressing of race and class issues , because for myself
and many of my young ( not fictional young) woman peers, we really are navigating new territories
and the young women behind us
I navigate a lot of identities that aren’t even close to be served by ” women’s concerns ”
as they try to define women. Not because I’m trying to be difficult but because I was born.
Rather than address these issues it has been a constant with feminism and a worse one with feminist bloggers to try and disappear these differences as aberrations rather than my realities. But they will link to our work some days and that same day call us fools.
I am poor black foreign .
I am also educated not in the top ten or even five percentile. I’m
approaching the top one.To do better than I have done in general education involves Switzerland,Oxford and private finishing schools.
I can not and will not apply to the set vision of black woman in the mindset they have
and when I or others bring it up they consistently treat us as if it’s willful sabotage of their utopia.
And for us these identities can’t become pleasure centered until their acknowledged and made non
Some of us for these identities they are so quick to dismiss or exile or ignore will die and have died for the games they play, and the link no link hoard attention tactics.
It really is that serious.
yeah. ultimately it boils down to myopia, and lack of real empathy. Not lack of -sympathy,- necessarily; lack of genuine curiosity about the person who isn’t just like you, or who can’t immediately give you something familiar and easy (tangible rewards, strokes, etc.)
that’s what’s disconcerting, i think: you say, “not empathetic,” and people think you mean “not kind” or “heartless” or something. it’s not about that really. thing is–once you presume to speak for large groups of people, it behooves you to -pay attention to what they’re actually saying- before you start collecting accolades for Power to the People!
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