Meta Feminist Stuff

This is a post that’s probably of no interest to anyone, but I need to work some stuff out for myself and, I think, just try to figure out what even my questions are.

It’s more of a floundering than a post.  For some background, see here.

Here are the questions that I have.

1.  Has Amanda Marcotte ever posited herself as a feminist leader?  I don’t think so, but I may have missed it.  She does have a popular feminist blog and seems to be regarded by some as being not just a voice of feminism, but A Feminist Voice.  In other words, I’ve read Marcotte as someone who, metaphorically, just yells loudly interesting things.  And yet I read comments by other people and it seems like they think Marcotte is a voice that must be listened to.

In other words, because of her perceived popularity, Marcotte seems to have been annointed a Spokesperson for White Feminism.

Same thing with Jessica Valenti.

2.  I remain confused by what some WOC bloggers and their allies are upset about.  I feel like I’m missing a crucial point and it’s just a blind spot for me.  I cannot see what I’m missing.  A while ago some WOC and their allies complained that the big feminist blogs don’t treat the WOC perspective with enough respect (when it is that such perspective is even acknowledged).  This, it seems to me, was and remains a legitimate criticism.

And so, it seemed, there was a push by some WOC bloggers and their allies to have their blogs linked to and their perspectives highlighted by these big feminist blogs.  And, it seems to me, that happened.

But, again, it seems to me that those WOC bloggers and their allies made two crucial mistakes.  One was to assume that, if the big blogs started paying attention to them, those white feminist bloggers would really start to get something deep about what it means to be a WOC in our society.  And I mean deeper than “it sucks that when a woman of color disappears it doesn’t dominate the 24 hour news cycle.”  That, it seems, didn’t happen.

The second crucial mistake they made was to not recognize how female white blogging rhetoric works.  And, if you demand to be included without also demanding a paradigm shift in white people’s thinking, you are going to be treated by white people how we treat other white people.

Which is… not always very nicely.

The way it works, at least for me and I assume for most other white feminists who’ve been through the university system, is to assume that everything is fair game for scrutiny and that everything is up for discussion and that, if those discussions are pointed and hit too close to home, you don’t take it personally.  We’re not talking about you specifically; we’re speaking in generalities.

This is a rhetorical strategy that works for us on one level, because it allows us to see how sexist bullshit permiates our lives and helps us figure out how to counter it without feeling like we’re at fault for succumbing to it in the first place.

But I think it fails for us when we’re trying to talk to women who haven’t had the same cultural upbringing we have or the same training in how we talk about these issues.  Because we forget that we’ve been trained to think about how we talk about these issues in a certain way that sheilds us from the full blast of how we talk about these issues.

For women who’ve not been taught, over and over, to understand that we are both talking specifically about you and not about you at all, our rhetorical strategy sucks balls.

It hurts women because they feel, and rightly so, that they are being singled out for scrutiny and their specific choices called into question.

So, I use the term “mistake” loosely in this context only to mean… Well, hell, let’s be honest–to do what I as a white feminist have been trained to do–to talk about a choice those WOC made while at the same time trying to insist that I’m not actually scrutinizing that choice as if the people who made it are at fault for anything.

It’s kind of insidious.

But, my point remains that I think these WOC and their allies thought that, if they were included and understood, that white feminist would realize how damaging our rhetorical strategy is and try another one.  They were wrong, at least in the short term, I think.

3.  But here’s the other thing I don’t undertand.  Since so many white feminist bloggers aren’t quite getting the job done, why continue to ascribe to them any power?  Those WOC and their allies are, again, my opinion, interesting voices with important things to say.  Why not band together and quote each other and other voices sympathetic to yours and make for yourselves a power base?  Why give two shits about what’s going on at Pandagon or Feministing or wherever if it doesn’t meet your needs?

This is where I feel like I’m missing something crucial and that, probably, it makes me an asshole for missing it.

But Marcotte and Co. are only important feminist voices because people perceive them as important feminist voices.  But they’re just people.

Can’t anyone be an important feminist voice on the internet?  Isn’t that one of the things that makes it so awesome?

Edited to Add:  Here are links to a couple posts about this post that WordPress didn’t do whatever WordPress does to make them show up in the comments.  If I’ve missed you, let me know:

Twilight Sleep & Childbirth and Feminism

So, the most famous healthcare blogger in town and I went to see Ricki Lake’s documentary “The Business of Being Born.”  It was awesome and made midwives seem like the most cool women on the face of the planet.  We got to watch a lot of natural childbirths, which, for those of you unfamiliar with childbirth, seems to require a lot of walking around, grunting, squatting, and naked men rubbing your back and holding you while you scream.

Now, normally, I’m all for naked men, but I have to say–naked man time is supposed to be fun time.  If there’s any chance I might need you to say “Hey, wait, now’s the time for us to get to the hospital, immediately!” I don’t want to have to wait around while you play “Where’s my underwear?”

When I’m having a natural birth, you have your jacket on and your car keys in one hand.  You can rub my back with the other hand and I will feel much more secure leaning against you in the birthing tub if I can see that your shoes are on in case any sprinting to the sidwalk to motion the paramedics in needs to be done.

But, other than the fathers’ strange propensity to take off their clothes, watching women give birth in their own homes was just amazing.  This one woman was like “grunt” “groan” “wiggle wiggle wiggle” and then “grunt” and out popped her baby.  Another woman was all just crouching on the kitchen floor, also grunting when, flop, out came her baby right on the kitchen floor.  Amazing.

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about.  Instead, I want to talk about Twilight Sleep, which is how many of our mothers were born and maybe even some of us.  I did not know anything about this.  I really thought it was what it sounded like, a light sedation that kept you kind of woozy and pain free while your husband was out in the waiting room passing out cigars and you both waited for the doctor to bring you the news that the baby had been born.  And I assumed it feel out of favor because the women couldn’t help push or something.


America, during twilight sleep, women went bat-shit crazy from the drugs and the pain.  They hurt their heads (and so women’s heads were wrapped in large gauzy Q-tip looking arrangements).  They thrashed around and tried to claw at the doctors and so they were strapped to their gurneys, sometimes for days, in their own piss and shit.

Twilight sleep didn’t supress pain; it suppressed the memory of pain.  So the doctors could just do whatever and the women would not remember it and since it was ‘indecent’ for new fathers to be there, there was no one with the woman to advocate for her.  Plus, and this is the part that just creeps me out, they used lamb’s wool on the restraints because it didn’t leave bruises and so the husbands stopped seeing bruises and stopped asking questions about what was being done to their wives.

The whole thing makes me want to puke.  Here are women being tortured and given a drug so they can’t recall it and the people most likely to protect them–their husbands–aren’t allowed in the birthing process so that they don’t cause trouble.

On the ride home, Rachel and I were talking about why childbirth isn’t more of a feminist issue.  In the movie, they talked about how we have almost third-world levels of mother and infant mortality and how that’s directly tied to how we do birth in this country, the medicines that are administered during labor, and the rush to c-section a woman just because she’s not progressing fast enough to suit the doctor.

I think it’s tough.  It is a feminist issue, of course.  Women getting dicked around by the system is always a feminist issue.

But it’s a fine line.  Individual women do a lot of things for a lot of reasons and, even if we know that most c-sections are medically unnecessary, we have to be careful not to judge women who’ve had them.  They were making the best choice they could as to what was best for them and their babies with the information that they had.

But we need to reduce the number of c-sections and the number of chemically aided births in this country, because we know those kill women and babies.

We need birthing processes that, regardless of whether they take place in the home or the hospital, respect women’s right to control what happens to our bodies.

That was another thing that bothered me about one of the doctors.  He never referred to the obviously distressed and scared women in front of him by her name.  He kept calling her “mommy.”  I swear, I don’t understand how she didn’t just kick him in the face.  Here she was trying to get information about what was happening to her (they were taking her in for a c-section, but it was unclear–apparently even to her–why) and he’s all “Now Mommy just needs to calm down.”

It’d be interesting to go back and watch the movie with that in mind, because my impression is that the “good” medical professionals all called women by their names and the “problem” professionals were all “mommy” or “the patient.”

Anyway, the whole thing with the twilight sleep just bothers me to no end.  It’s like here you have the perfect example of how the System (coughPatriarchycough) hurts folks.  You have midwives, who’ve been helping women birth babies for generations, kicked to the side because they’re supposedly stupid and superstitious and the doctors in the hospitals know best.  And women go to these doctors and are given drugs and strapped to gurneys like they’re having psychotic breaks, because, you know, women are teh crazy anyway and it’s easier for the doctor.  And the people who would know that something wasn’t right–husbands and other family members–are kept out of the process because “men just can’t handle it” or “it’s improper for you to be in there.”

How convenient.