More Thoughts on White Feminism

The more I think about it, the more I think that my feminism is rooted on the women in my family, who didn’t consider themselves feminist, but believed in finding ways to do what you had to do to make room for yourself in the world, and women like my College Professor, who taught me an articulated feminism that, at the time, seemed to contradict a lot of what I thought I’d learned from my family.

Aw, hell, of course it contradicted a lot of what I learned from my family.  Let’s not kid ourselves.

But what I learned from all these women was a deep commitment to the well-being of everyone and a deep suspicion of being too certain of knowing what constituted “well-being.”

I am convinced that, for myself, the biggest pitfall I face in my desire to aid in everyone’s well-being (and I know that’s a vast oversimplification, but bear with me.  I’m not so much interested in talking about end results at the moment.) is how my being white intersects with my being a feminist.

The impulse, and it comes from a good place, is to take charge and fix things.  And I find it very empowering to take charge, to feel that I can have a powerful influence on the world.  And a lot of how I understand myself as a feminist comes from the belief that women, in general, but namely me, need to be able to take charge.

Don’t worry, I think, I will lead the way.

And I’ve never been non-white, obviously, so I don’t know, but it’s that impulse, I think, that’s very steeped in white culture–this idea that leadership is rightfully ours and that injustice is when we’re denied the ability to lead.  I even see it in the huge blowups we have in the feminist blogosphere, which many prominent white feminists seem to understand as critiques and checks on their leadership–demands that they change direction.  When, clearly, it’s about more than that.  It’s a critique of the structure of leadership in general.

Still, there’s that underlying belief that the women who take the lead deserve the lead, that we should have leaders, which I don’t think we, who feel the impulse to want to lead, do enough to question.

But here’s my point, and maybe it’s all the Sesame Street I watched as a kid, but I do believe that we’re all in this together and that we all suffer when anyone faces injustice.

I look at Obama and I feel amazed and excited.  I don’t feel cheated.  And I have a hard, hard time understanding the outrage with which some white women express their feelings of being cheated.  I’m not a liberal just because I want things to go my way.

Of course that’s a part of it.

But I believe that a black person being able to seriously vie for the Presidency is cool as hell.  This is the hope I have for us.

My hope is big enough to hope for a country in which a black person can be president and in which a woman can be president.  And yes, I am disappointed that Clinton’s failure to clinch the nomination came draped in real ugliness towards her as a woman, because I am a liberal and I believe that, when you’re arguing with a person, you argue their ideas or their personal behavior.  You don’t try to crush them with the historical ugliness you can bring to bear against them.

But I believe that about Obama, too.

And not getting exactly what I want when I want it is not an excuse to betray my core beliefs.

I just don’t recognize that.  I don’t understand that.

If it’s wrong to be racist, it’s always wrong to be racist, even when we’re pissed.

If it’s wrong to be sexist, it’s always wrong to be sexist, even when we’re pissed.

And yes, it’s been gruelingly disappointing to see the racist and sexist tropes bandied about by the folks we thought were on our side, but damn.  You don’t meet like with like.

Not if you want things to be different than that.

9 thoughts on “More Thoughts on White Feminism

  1. As someone who saw Obama’s speech, I couldn’t agree more…

    I would have liked a female candidate — personally, Hilary wasn’t my ideal, but I would have supported her. What I don’t understand is why some feminists see her female-ness is her only quality — and if they can’t have her they are going to cast a protest vote for McCain… it seems really, really illogical to me.

  2. I’ve never been non-white, obviously

    This part cracked me up. I will always remember another of your commentors from Brown Femipower scolding me for disagreeing with you about a racial thing because you were a BOC. After I looked up BOC and realised it meant “blogger of colour” I cracked up. I mean, you’re kind of pinkish sometimes when you are out in the sun, but otherwise…

    I took from that that you’ve convinced some people with some of your writing that you are indeed non-white. I never disabuse them, because why should I?

    I am a liberal and I believe that, when you’re arguing with a person, you argue their ideas or their personal behavior.

    I’m a conservativeish libertarian and I believe the same thing. I think what this election cycle has proven, though, is that national politics for the leadership of a superpower has become this ugly sort of guts ball with the rules of decency abated.

    While I don’t agree with the actions of those second-wavers (?) who are down about Hilary losing–and I seldom agree with their methods, anyway–I do understand. They’ve spent a lifetime with one vision of success. One hallmark that would be the pinnacle of their lives’ work. One totem that they strived for over decades.

    A woman in the white house.

    I was a member of NOW about 19 years ago, because I believed then–and still believe–in the type of feminism that raises women up, creates more opportunities for women and builds a globe where women are not lesser creatures and their contributions are valued. I left membership in NOW after about 18 months. The mailers I received, the articles in Ms. and the speaking engagements I went to all drove home one point. The second-wavers (?) were all about “It’s our turn now” and not “It’s everyone’s turn.” I’m an “everyone’s turn” person.

    Having a woman in the white house was and is to those folks the ultimate validation of it being The Grand Turn Of The Vaginas To Rule. To have come this close to that and then be undone has to be enough to make them physically ill.

  3. Coble, I do think that that’s one of the main difference between second and third wave feminism, which is directly the result of the influence of the Womanist and other movements by women of color. There is a strong strain of second-wave feminism that is indeed about just being the ones on top. Although, it’s funny because that’s not traditionally been the belief of radical feminists. They have, in a way that’s been very influential on me, been about questioning those kinds of structures in general.

    Midgetqueen, I’m blushing.

  4. They say that when Frank Robinson was fired as manager of the Cleveland Indians in ’77, it was a much more important day than the day he was hired. It is one thing to hire the first black manager. It is much more a sign of advancement when you can fire him, and not stir up a shit storm

    Apparently, those feminists who are threatening to “go on strike” because the first serious female candidate for POTUS narrowly lost on the merits (as they are in politics, anyway) have not reached that stage yet.

    Of course that begs the question, should Obama not win in Nov., how will that play out as well?

  5. Not only is it silly to suggest she’s the only viable shot at a female president, but I wonder — might not she have been a poor choice to be the first female president even if she had gotten it?

    I don’t mean for political reasons, but because I think there would always be a “yeah but if not for being Mrs Bill” asterisk on the thing. Seems like if you can one day talk about, say, President Sebelius, without that asterisk, that’s a much stronger statement.

  6. How to count the rewards accrued by activist efforts, the gold coin analogy. Think there are 4 people, a white couple (of both sexes) and a colored couple. There are 40 gold coins in a heap. Each person is asked to pick equal number of coins, in a fair system it would be 10 each. They all take 10 coins initially. Now due to male privelege, both the colored male and the white male take, 5 coins each from the females of their corresponding race respectively. Now the score is white male,15,colored male,15,white female,5,colored female 5. Due to white privelege, the white male takes 5 coins from the colored male and the white female takes 5 coins from the colored female. With sexism and racism, total scores will be white male, 20, white female 10, colored male 10, colored female 0. This is considering sexism and racism incur the same equal proportion of gains and losses(5 points in the analogy). If we eliminate racism, the scores would be, white male,15,colored male 15,white female 5,colored female 5 whereas if we eliminate sexism, the scores would be, white male 15, white female 15, colored male 5, colored female 5. If just one sexism or racism were to disappear and the other remained., the colored female stands at the same point, of course here the assumption is that both sexism and racism cause equal losses. However in terms of power and wealth in society, it seems likely that more gold coins are taken away for racism than sexism.

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