Girly Thoughts

September 23, 2008

Neutral words and Other words, and the ethnic aisle in the grocery store

Filed under: Race — judgesnineteen @ 12:29 am

I think a lot of the people who would potentially read my blog are familiar with the idea that you don’t want to define one group as Label X and everyone else as Non-Label X, because that sets up the former group as The Norm and everyone else as Other, defined against the norm rather than in their own right.  Sometimes I think this tactic doesn’t work as well as it’s thought to – like, please, just call me a non-Jew, because to me Gentile sounds more exclusive.  Maybe it’s all that Bible reading I used to do, I don’t know.  But anyway.  I just noticed that I’ve seen people use the term “ethnic” a fair amount, and there probably are people out there pointing out the problem with it, but just in case you hadn’t noticed…

Who’s ethnic?  When you walk down the ethnic food aisle in the grocery store, what kind of food is there?  Well, there’s Mexican food.  There’s Chinese food.  There’s Indian food.  The pattern escapes me.  It’s just everything that isn’t what American-born people usually eat. What’s ethnic hair, ethnic eyes, ethnic clothing, if not simply non-white and non- Western?

In this case, we’ve named the Others and left the Norm defined in the negative.  But it’s still the same thing.  And I know all you non-linguistics majors out there are wondering why the hell anyone should care, they’re just words, as long as you don’t overanalyse them, they won’t hurt you – but I think they are hurting us.  On both sides.

When I was in high school, I read a book called The Gatekeepers, which was about how college admissions people decide who to let in and who to reject.  I hated it.  Granted, I had a very different view of the world then, but I still think I’d hate it even now.  Instead of saying “this student is a minority and so she hasn’t had the same opportunities as everyone else, she’s fought against racism her whole life which has made her different from our white students and made her path harder, and helping her get an awesome education will help a little bit in rectifying the way her race has been held down in the past and can break harmful cycles, so let’s let her in” they said “we want our campus to have a mix of races because otherwise it would be boring.”  Now, I do think that it has been wonderful for me to be surrounded by so many people from so many places and with so many skin colors at college, because I had to confront my ideas about people of different races and start to “get” on a subconscious level what I already wanted to believe on a conscious level, namely, that they’re people too.  But.  I have a culture!  (Yes, white American culture is a culture.)  And an ethnicity!  And I’m not the same as every white person just by virtue of my skin color!  Isn’t that one of the tenets of anti-racism, that not all people of one race are the same, that stereotypes are wrong, that people are individuals?  Not that I’m trying to say poor me and reverse racism, I’m just saying that this way of seeing things is factually incorrect, and when you believe things that are false, it tends to cause problems, what with your mental representation of reality not matching reality and all.

So I think this attitude that white people have neither cultures nor ethnicities sucks for everyone.  I’m reduced to a blank (“white bread” comes to mind), and people of color are again otherized.  Even if you think the Other is interesting by virtue of being different, you’re still defining them as Not the Norm, not to mention that you’re exoticizing (a word I just made up) them by attributing something to them that (supposedly) normal white people don’t have.  That usually doesn’t end with white people appreciating the nuances of their culture so much as looking at them like animals in the zoo/stereotyping them/thinking about how different they are (as opposed to my much-needed recognition that they are in fact not that different; while understanding that cultures differ is important, I think in countering racism you need to show that we’re all people, no matter what we eat, wear, and say).

If you think white Americans don’t have a culture or an ethnicity, then beyond, you know, ignoring their culture and ethnicity, you’re basically setting them up as the center of the world, that by which everything else is measured.  You set something that actually has qualities to neutral, as if it couldn’t have been any other way, as if it’s natural.  If it’s natural instead of cultural, then why do other cultures do things differently?  Because they’re weird.  Probably the best thing you can learn from cultural comparisons is that there is no normal, no baseline from which people deviate (in certain things, that is; we all eat and breathe, of course).  From there you realize that people who are different from you aren’t better or worse, they’re not crazy for doing things in a way you would never dream of doing them, they’re just different, because of their history, because of their environment, because of chance.  They have just as much of a reason as you do, and you have just as little of a reason as they do.  That’s something people have to realize, because without going through a thought process along those lines, there are a lot of things we do that we take for granted as necessary or natural that are actually coincidental or random or that follow from a circumstance that not everyone shares.  (Stupid example: when you take exams in France, they have a special sort of packet for you to write it in.  Damned if I could figure out where to start writing, how to add more pages, or that I had to seal the flap with my name.  Nobody tried to explain it, because they thought it was self-explanatory, having used these packets for who knows how long.)  So if you speak in a way that allows people to very easily continue taking their normalness for granted, or the normalness of the culture that has always dominated the place where they live, you allow people to keep thinking in this Norm/Other way, and thinking that way allows for a lot of belief in falsehoods and a lot of racism.

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July 22, 2008

The other side of reproductive choice

Filed under: ableism,class,Gender,poverty,prison,Race,reproductive rights — judgesnineteen @ 9:37 pm

The idea that women should be able to have babies when they want to doesn’t seem as controversial as the idea that women should be able to NOT have babies when they don’t want to, especially when the latter involves abortion. And yet it is not a right that has been consistently protected. But, while abortion rights are denied to the poor via practical obstacles, like people saying they don’t want their government funds to go to something they oppose and therefore poor people not being able to afford abortion, people have purposely targeted the poor and minorities when it comes to denying people the right to reproduce. So instead of arguing that the denial of this right is wrong, like I did with abortion rights, I’m going to assume that you can see how it’s wrong already and that I just need to show that it has happened a lot and keeps happening, although nowadays often in more subtle ways.  I can’t cover every single incident, but here are some basics.

Forced sterilization (without consent, sometimes even without knowledge):

Targeted groups have included the Roma (gypsies), African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, the mentally ill, and criminals.  I’m also betting on Australian aboriginals.

Forced sterilization has been the law in Peru, Japan, Sweden, Australia, and the US and more.

States (27) that had sterilization laws still on the books (though not all were still in use) in 1956 were: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah,Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin.[9]

Forced abortion:

China (here’s a fun look at Pat Robertson’s hypocrisy)

This is the story of two allegedly forced abortions in the US.  I’m skeptical because the source is a pro-life(tm) organization, and they’re not always into telling the truth about abortions.  But if this is true, it is wrong, and ties into the way doctors should respect their patients’ ownership of their bodies more, which I mention below.

Coercive sterilization (taking advantage of someone’s limited options):

Undocumented women in Pennsylvania were allowed access to tubal ligations (without cost) but no help for other shorter term birth control methods. (This blogger thinks that was a reference to this story, which still classifies as what I consider “coercive” while not “forced” or “compulsory.” The laws may not exist in the US anymore, but the attitudes still do, and that is my point. Here’s more on what’s wrong with that story.)

Justice Now says there are still unnecessary hysterectomies performed on women of color in prison (this, on the other hand, may count as forced.) In fact, unnecessary hysterectomies are common in general, which ties into the problem of the medical community not always respecting women’s ownership of their bodies and making choices based more on convenience or payment for them than on results for the patient (example 1, 2 of this – more coming when my computer stops fighting with me.)

In 1989 free tubal ligations were offered to poor women in rural South Carolina. How much you wanna bet the same offer was not being given for reversible forms of birth control? (This link also points out an interesting legal phenomenon with implications for both sides of reproductive justice: a person is not SUPPOSED to be able to be forced to undergo surgery for the sake of someone else, and yet women are.)

Coercive abortion:

With the stigma of teen or unwed pregnancy, sometimes pregnant women can be pressured by others or just feel pressure from their culture to abort a fetus that they would otherwise keep.  Violence against pregnant women is also a serious problem and is often an attempt at inducing an abortion.  Additionally, in some cultures (here’s an article on India) there is pressure to abort female fetuses because institutionalized sexism creates financial and social privileges to having sons and disadvantages to having daughters.  Sex-based privileges and disadvantages are not unique to those cultures; think of the naming system we have in the US (no female juniors or the thirds), think of the way the parents of daughters worry more about rape, pregnancy, and “purity” than the parents of sons, think of the European rulers ( Henry VIII, Napoleon) who got rid of wives who didn’t bear sons to be heirs.  But in some places, these differences are more directly tied to finances because of dowries, limited career options for women, and patrilineal systems (where women become part of their husband’s family, leaving their own), which puts more pressure on couples to eliminate female fetuses, especially if they are pressured by law or by financial limitations to only have a certain number of children. 

Needless to say (actually, with some people it is needed), outlawing abortion doesn’t fix these problems.  Especially the violence one!  Sexism is the main problem here.

Barriers to childbirth:

Maternal and infant mortality rates are a big problem where people are too poor to afford good health care, where discrimination leads health care workers to give substandard care to certain people, and where health care infrastructures just aren’t there.  Here’s reproductiverights.org on this issue in Nigeria, in Brazil, and in the US among African American women: African American women are four times more likely than white women to die in childbirth.

The new trend is looking at birth rates in Western countries, and the immigration rates into Western countries from Muslim and other countries, and fretting that Team White is going to lose the population game. The racism inherent in this fretting is hardly even veiled, as people imply that there really is a race-based Us and Them, and that the consequences of Them outnumbering Us in our countries would be catastrophic. Though they don’t often explain why. I do think it would suck if Western countries adopted Islam-based laws, but I also think it sucks when Western countries adopt Christianity-based laws, and the people who I see fretting here are in favor of the latter, so it’s not the separation of church and state that’s bothering them – it’s losing their dominance. Meanwhile, encoding the separation of church/mosque and state real deep in our legal institutions would mean there would be very little to fear from changes in demographics, unless you fear brown people and their culture. Back then, “President Coolidge said that “America must remain American,” which is in relation to the fact that some of those targeted for sterilization were immigrants (Piotrowski, 2000).” That sounds a little too much like what people are saying now.

Someone I actually like read a book about this, possibly this one but I’m not sure, and said jokingly “I want to kill as many Muslims as possible.” Replace “Muslims” in that sentence with “Jews.” Sound familiar? Now explain to me why feminists like me are the ones who get called Nazis, while conservatives like him are the ones calling people Nazis.  He’s not going to start any death camps, but still.

As you can see, this is an issue that ties a lot of things together: ableism, racism, sexism, poverty, several aspects of healthcare (from doctors treating patients as human beings to ways of adequately funding pregnancy care), and more.  It’s even an issue that those who disagree on abortion rights can agree on, although sometimes they still don’t.  We need to start by asserting that all women own their own bodies, and then focus on making that principle work in practice, despite obstacles like racism and poverty.

June 1, 2008

I like this question better

Filed under: Gender,intersections,Race,the blogosphere,what they said — judgesnineteen @ 10:41 pm

So a while back I wrote about whether it makes sense to call racism and a lot of other things “feminist issues.”  My point was mostly semantic; I wasn’t arguing that feminists don’t need to worry about racism, but rather that I’m not going to say that everything is a feminist issue just to be fair, because 1) I think I can be fair without doing so, and 2) I don’t think that actually is fair.  And I still believe that, and I’d rather us call intersections “intersections” than try to fit everything under the title of feminism just because.

But Sudy at A Woman’s Ecdysis wrote a post that I just found through Feminist Allies that reframes the question.  Instead of asking “is this a feminist issue?” we can ask “has this issue been analyzed from a feminist perspective?”  That is SO much more useful.  Especially if you combine that with “has this issue been analyzed from an anti-racist perspective?” and all the other perspectives that we know are important and often left out.  Then you don’t have to worry about dividing the news up into the right types of slices.  And you can acknowledge that things are complicated and have many sides and many possible interpretations and affect different people differently; a quick example is how I just interpreted the Catholic Church’s stance against most, but not all, forms of birth control as coming from a belief that physical pleasure is sinful if sought for its own sake, while acknowledging that I could also interpret it as coming from sexist beliefs.  I think it comes from both, but it’s possible to look at one without looking at the other, and we need to try as many perspectives as possible (not necessarily in every individual blog post, but acknowledging that they’re there is helpful) to avoid letting certain people’s problems fall through the cracks.

I need to do more follow-up on the ideas that I laid out earlier about intersections in movements; specifically, how can we fight violence against women, sexual and otherwise, without relying on a racist criminal justice system?  (And racism is definitely not their only problem, but a big one.)  I haven’t gone into immigration issues yet because I’m not yet informed enough to give any worthwhile opinions. But I think the criminal justice issue is pretty important, since we appeal to the system all the time.  Can we work outside of it?  Can we fix it?  My problem here is that not only do I not know how to answer either of those questions, I don’t even know which one holds more promise (not that they’re mutually exclusive, but I think people tend to pick one to work with).

Another thing I wanted to mention is the idea that there are two sides to a lot of issues.  Take reproductive rights.  That means the right to have babies AND the right to not have babies.  A lot of times, and this example is no exception, two-sided issues affect different populations differently; some have to worry about one side of the right being taken away (sex ed, birth control, abortion), and others have to worry about the other side of the right being taken away (forced sterilization, forced abortion, poor pregnancy care).  And some people lack both.  So I think a rule of thumb to avoid letting some people fall through the cracks needs to be to keep both sides of these issues in mind whenever we deal with them.  That’s what gives women real human rights, after all; a woman who’s protected from rape but not given license to express her sexuality, for instance, is the madonna, and the one who can have sex but gets assaulted with impunity is the whore, and neither the madonna nor the whore is treated or viewed as a full human being, which is, you know, why we bother being feminists in the first place.

May 10, 2008

Is racism a feminist issue?

Filed under: Gender,intersections,Race,the blogosphere — judgesnineteen @ 8:17 pm

Preface: I use the stories of Romona Moore and Sean Bell in here to make my points, and this post is really not about the content of those stories so I don’t go into them much besides talking about where they should be covered. I just wanted to say that I find their stories tragic and I hope we learn lessons from them, and that I don’t mean to come off as callous or make light of their stories by talking about them this way.

My post All or Nothing was my attempt at finding concrete ways to react to recent criticisms of the feminist movement, to figure out what we need to do to not be racist and to be inclusive. But I just came across a post by Cara on Feministe saying that the Romona Moore rape and murder case shows that racism is a feminist issue, and now I think I finally get what the argument is about. But I’m not sure I agree with her (on that topic – I’m with her on the good people doing nothing part). I have a lot of respect for Cara, and I’m a little concerned about disagreeing with her because I want to be on the anti-racist side, but I also don’t want to say I believe something just because it’s “popular” (I know, it’s not that popular, but where I read, it is). Before you react, just read the rest, and then if I’ve missed something huge – which is a real possibility given that I’ve never read the books on intersectionality and all that – let me know.

I see two reasons for naming racism a feminist issue:

1. Because if we don’t consider these things feminist issues, feminists will ignore them. From Cara:

There’s a big difference between saying “things that happen to women of color are not feminist issues” and “things that happen to women of color because of racism are not feminist issues.” I have never, in my life, seen anyone argue the former. I have seen them argue the latter. And I don’t think that they’re really all that far apart, regardless of how it’s intended.

But I believe all feminists should be believers in human rights for ALL first. That means I think all feminists should be anti-racists. I don’t think we have to label anti-racism A Feminist Issue in order to say that it matters and that feminists need to care about it.

These issues do intersect, because people have lots of characteristics and can be oppressed for any number of them, so feminists have to be aware of racism and all the other types of oppression to 1) avoid personally being oppressive, 2) avoid oppressing members of their own movement, 3) avoid advocating policies that would have unforeseen oppressive effects, 4) advocate policies that will help women of color (and others affected by other kinds of oppression) in cases where they are affected by sexism differently than white women are, 5) use feminism and anti-racism (and other kinds of activism) at the same time when dealing with the case of a person who is oppressed by both. And I tried to address all of these things in All or Nothing, without having to name racism a feminist issue. Instead, I named racism and feminism both human rights issues and said that that’s where we need to start, with a belief in human rights for all. It just seems feminism-centric in a world of lots of issues that matter equally to say that naming something “a feminist issue” is so important and to spend so much time arguing about how related to feminism something is.

From Cara’s quote, I think she’s concerned that if we relegate things that happened because of racism to anti-racist blogs, feminist blogs will, perhaps unintentionally, stop including the oppression of women of color and focus only on white women. But rest assured, women of color are oppressed by sexism. If we’re determined not to ignore the ways in which they are oppressed by sexism and not to silence them, we should be able to keep reporting on the sexism against them even if we’re not reporting on straight-up racism. In cases where both are present, we should report them on both feminist and anti-racist blogs rather than each disowning it. (And for the record, I am all for feminist blogs posting on issues that aren’t feminist issues. I just don’t think it’s necessary for a feminist blog to do so to be ethical.)

2. Because something is a feminist issue if it oppresses women. From Cara:

You know, I’m one of those feminists who thinks that racism is indeed a feminist issue, just like poverty, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and much more are feminist issues, simply because these are factors that oppress women on a daily basis and prevent them from living lives freely, safely and to their full potential.

In her defense, there is a difference between ‘bad things that happen to women’ (like, when you’re unlucky) and ‘the oppression of women’ (caused by systematic injustice), and this distinction means that some criticisms I’ve seen are straw arguments. But still, I don’t define my feminism as ‘fighting that which oppresses women.’ I define it as ‘fighting sexism, misogyny, and patriarchy.’ Often, that does mean ‘fighting that which oppresses women.’ But both definitions include things that are not included in the other, so although they overlap, they are different ways of approaching feminism. Here’s why I choose the definition I do:

a. It’s the injustice that makes it worth fighting, not who the victim happens to be. I’m not just out to help women. In my capacity as a feminist, I want to help all people oppressed by patriarchy, and sometimes that means men. Some men’s issues are, in my book, feminist issues. On the flip side, not all women’s issues are feminist issues to me.

b. I think the way to solve a problem is to figure out what’s causing it and fix that. This isn’t a radicals vs. liberals thing, it’s about whether you divide up movements based on their causes/origins or based on their victims. I think it makes more sense to do it based on their causes. Therefore, I could be persuaded to call LGBTQI issues feminist issues, and vice versa, because I think they’re all caused by patriarchy. But I am not currently aware of a root cause that is shared by sexism and racism that is not shared by all oppressions (eg, xenophobia, pursuit of power), so I see no reason to group them together any further than I already do in putting them both under the umbrella of human rights issues. They have some things in common, but they’re also different, which is why people tend to come to such messed up conclusions when they compare them too much.

Interestingly, I think looking at things this way allows us to undercut the arguments of MRAs that men are really the more oppressed gender, because we can say that regardless of who is more oppressed (and I personally am convinced that’s women, but whatever), the cause of the oppression of men is the same as the cause of the oppression of women: patriarchy. And patriarchy was set up by and continues to be run by men. So in this case, finding the root cause of the oppression of men and fighting it means feminism, whereas finding the people hurt by the issue at hand and standing by them no matter what means being an MRA (although I’ll grant that they add in a few illogical steps to get there, like assuming that if men are the victims, women must be the culprits). I think you can guess which one I think works better.

But to show you what I mean with my points a and b, consider the hypothetical situation that all sexism is eradicated but other oppressions are still around. Yes, there would still be plenty of women who would be oppressed. For the moment let’s just consider the women of color who would be oppressed by racism, although there would be lots of other problems, too. This situation wouldn’t convince me that racism really is a feminist issue because these women of color aren’t free yet. On the contrary, it would convince me that feminism isn’t enough to free all women. It would be offensive to the people of color who didn’t identify as women if I said I would fight the racism that was oppressing them for the sake of freeing women. It’s not being a woman that makes you worth freeing, it’s being an oppressed human being that does. It would be silly for me to say I would fight that racism under the banner of feminism. Why feminism? Just because I’m attached to that word? These people wouldn’t be oppressed for their femaleness, even if they were female; they’d be oppressed for being people of color. We need different tools to fight racism (although some are the same) than we do to fight sexism.

The way to free all women, and in fact all people, isn’t to make feminism include everything, but to include more than feminism in our own tactics.

The Apostate wrote a post on Sean Bell counter to the one linked in Cara’s quote. I don’t agree with the whole post, but I think this part is in line with what I’m saying:

If anything that affects women either 1) equally with men (such as rising gas prices) OR, 2) second-hand through men (such as Middle Eastern men being arrested for minor visa infractions and being imprisoned without charge – they have mothers and other female relatives, I suppose), is a feminist issue… then what, pray tell, is NOT a feminist issue?

Why must we call this “feminism” if it includes everything?

And as for Romona Moore’s story, it just seems forced to me to say that racism is part of sexism just because sometimes they happen to the same person and affect the same incident. We can’t, and shouldn’t, tell Moore’s story without mentioning both, but that doesn’t mean we have to present them both as one thing. Their interaction is important – for example, we have to be aware of racism to fight rape properly, thinking about the racism in the criminal justice system before advocating lots of prison time for rapists or advising women on what to do if they’re raped. But to me, that’s still an intersection of two different things, with different causes and different solutions, rather than one big Feminist Issue.

To make this more concrete:

If you want to post about Sean Bell and other racism-related stories on a feminist blog, I think that’s great. But I personally would rather you just say, “Here’s a story on racism, because feminism alone won’t save the world” instead of “I swear, it’s somehow related to feminism, so you should read it” or “So this dude was shot and stuff…and his female relatives are REALLY suffering! Stop racism so there will be less bereaved women!” (I made those up and am not accusing anyone of saying things like that, just trying to make my point. Also, the bereaved women certainly do deserve sympathy, they just wouldn’t deserve to be the center of attention in a story about a man who was murdered.) And if you don’t want to post about Sean Bell’s story on a feminist blog, I think that should be fine, as long as you take the stance that your readers should also learn about racism somewhere else. In fact, I think you should do that no matter what. I think it’s better to have people read a blog dedicated to racism than to let them rely on a few occasional posts about racism on a feminist blog, first because the anti-racist blog is more likely to go in depth and cover more things, second because the feminist blog is likely to spend half its time arguing over how related this is to feminism, which has nothing to do with how worthwhile it is, and third because for white women like me, it’s important to learn to put ourselves aside and read about racism because it’s unjust instead of because sometimes it’s related to MY oppression. And writing this has convinced me that I need to make much more of an effort on that front, so I don’t claim to have gotten it right yet. I let myself feel like I’m covering my bases by reading feminist blogs that mention racist issues, but when I go to sites that are just about racism, I can feel the difference.

There’s also an issue of efficiency here. I don’t have a problem with occasionally including other stories in a feminist blog, because I haven’t seen it really take away from or change the purpose of the blogs I read. But since we talk mainly about racism when we talk about making intersections into Feminist Issues, we overlook what that would really mean if we did it thoroughly. Since intersections apply to every kind of oppression, every blog that is about a kind of oppression would have to write on every other kind of oppression to follow this principle. The result would be that we would have a million general human rights blogs and no specialized blogs. There’s a place for general human rights blogs, absolutely, but I think there’s also something useful in having a place that is dedicated to one kind of thing. It’s more efficient in some ways, because it can focus on one issue in depth and the writer(s) can get deeply educated in that one issue, and then it can be your go-to point when you want to show a friend that such-and-such really is a problem.

I know, I know, you’re saying people just won’t do it, they won’t go and read other blogs, they won’t really acknowledge intersections in their own movements. Some won’t, that’s true. But look, that’s how it works in activism. We can’t make people do anything. We point out problems and offer solutions, and then it’s up to each person whether or not they’re going to follow through. But the least we can do is offer solutions that are solid in principle, and I think the principle I’m supporting makes more sense.

By the way, there’s a rare respectful conversation from different sides of the debate here.

And all that being said, I do think police brutality can be a feminist issue, when you’re talking about gender-based police brutality and how sexism and gender roles keep us from paying enough attention to police brutality against women.  It is also a racism issue and a trans issue, and you can find more information at INCITE!.

May 6, 2008

More on why we have to fix our criminal justice system

Filed under: Gender,prison,Race — judgesnineteen @ 3:33 pm

Women in Prison

Prison and Racism is part of the point of this article about racism in the feminist movement that I found on Feministe a while back.

What do you think would be an appropriate way to handle men who commit crimes of violence against women, besides prison?  This website has some suggestions.

May 4, 2008

To think about

Filed under: Gender,Race,what they said — judgesnineteen @ 7:32 pm

What BrownFemiPower said, via Jaded Hippy.

What Jessica Valenti said.

The Apostate gives a different perspective than most other women of color I’ve read recently.  Just to keep you on your toes.

I’m still processing and drafting.

April 17, 2008

Hairy-legged feminists

Filed under: Gender,LGBTQ,Race,Uncategorized — judgesnineteen @ 8:36 pm

I have worn pants every single day since I’ve been in Paris, because it’s cold and I don’t have boots (which help if you wear a skirt). I don’t shave my legs when I’m not going to be exposing them, so I haven’t shaved the entire time. That’s like 3 months. It’s not a feminist statement, it’s just that I’m not motivated enough to shave unless I have to do so for other people.

Sometimes, when you mention feminism, people say something about hairy legs, and we feminists go “No! It’s not about that! We shave! Feminism is just about…” and so on with a much more accurate definition of feminism that ‘an ideology that requires women to be hairy’. “I don’t hate men” and “I shave my legs” are put in the same category of things you have to make sure people know in order to be taken seriously.

That is ridiculous.

I have no desire to shame people who shave. Next time I wear a skirt, I’m pretty sure I will. We have to deal with patriarchy, and if I ignored everything patriarchy wanted of me, no one would take me seriously, and I’d be a feminist pretty much all by myself. That may work for some people, and that’s great, but it won’t work for me, neither for my life as a woman nor for my attempts to get my friends to be more egalitarian. It’s a compromise.

However. The people who pointed out that the leg-shaving expectation is sexist were right. I haven’t done my feminist homework so I don’t know who they were, but I agree with them on that much. It is indeed quite sexist. It tells me that I can’t be pretty unless I change the way I look first. (Something to keep in mind next time someone who likes to benefit from the exploitation and objectification of women tries to spin it as just sex-positive or artistic: “Really, you just admire the beauty of the female body? Including its hair?” Because if he says hair or any other natural things about the female body are gross and only admires the beauty of the plastic surgeried made up shaven female body, no Enlightened Award for him. Not that true sex-positivity doesn’t exist.) It tells me that a part of my body that is natural and not dirty, is dirty. I should not have to shave if I don’t want to, and clearly, I don’t. Maybe I would every once in a while for my own sake, as it does feel nice, when I don’t get razor burn. But mostly, no.

The fact that we are so accepting of people’s horror at the thought of hairy-legged feminists is disturbing. Do we think they’re right? Do we think there’s any defense for someone who would throw out a person’s argument based on the fact that they choose not to remove harmless hair from their legs? That’s insane, not to mention an ad hominem feminam argument, a fallacy.

Why do people freak out at the idea of a woman who doesn’t shave her legs? Shouldn’t it only matter to her and maybe her partner? Are all the people who talk about hairy-legged feminists talking about their partners or women they want to date? I don’t think so. I think if I chose not to shave my legs and let them show, I would get comments, maybe just behind my back, from people, male and female, who had no interest in dating me. Why is it any of their business? How could my leg hair possibly offend someone who has no reason to be anywhere near it?

It’s sexist

They would consider it their business because it would be me refusing to be put in my place. It’s related to what I talked about in “thinking through a personal experience” where I said that guys have no right to judge me just because I’m there. People have no business standing in judgment over the attractiveness of my legs unless they’re my boyfriend, who is indifferent to leg hair. But men in patriarchy require that I try to live up to their standards, to impress them, to please them with my appearance, regardless of whether we’re in any sort of relationship. If I don’t, I face harsh criticism – not just them saying “I don’t want to date you” but them attacking my credibility and denying me respect as a person. That’s not ok.

It’s heterosexist and cissexist

Also, since men are NOT supposed to shave their legs in patriarchy (which makes the hairy-legged feminist stuff even funnier, because feminist men exist), women not shaving transgresses the rule that men and women must be opposites. It’s kind of hilarious that we can convince ourselves we’re so opposite when we have to make ourselves different by changing our appearance.  But it’s one example of a whole spectrum of things people can do that don’t conform with gender roles (eg, cross-dressing, sex changes, homosexual relationships) and the vicious responses they get from people who are completely unaffected by gender non-conforming behavior except insofar as it challenges the notion that humans only come in two opposite flavors, which is a big component of patriarchy.

Yep, it’s even racist (ethnicity-ist?)

The thing is, I bet I could get away with it if I told my friends that my soft, faintly strawberry-blond leg hair really wasn’t all that bad.  But I’d like to see someone with coarse black leg hair try that.  People will say that’s just because mine shows up less and can be felt less and so is more like it’s not there, it’s not that they just prefer the hair of people with my coloring.  That may be true, but the results are the same.  If you believe that leg hair is unfeminine, and that more noticeable leg hair is more unfeminine, and that the less feminine a woman is the less acceptable she is, and that women of certain ethnicities have more noticeable leg hair, you’re going to be prejudiced against those women.  And this hair texture and color is not confined to the hair on their legs, so these hirsutially (made that up) challenged women either have to spend a considerable amount of time and money making themselves “acceptable”, or resign themselves to being criticized.  Better option: we all stop coding body hair as masculine and stop requiring people to fit gender roles.

I know that making fun of hairy women is very socially acceptable in the US, but doing so is built on a foundation of pure assholery. Point that out to people who do so; they may not realize their “argument” is based on assholery, they’re just used to it, so don’t tell them they’re the worst person in the world.  But it’s just stupid for us to accept it as if it’s in any way legitimate.

“Actually, I’m a feminist and I do shave my legs, but are you really saying you wouldn’t think my ideas were worth listening to if I chose not to shave? And what’s so bad about a woman not shaving? Does that cause breast cancer or something?”

“It’s just gross.”

“Then don’t touch their legs. It doesn’t make them gross as people.”

You can’t get every point across to people who don’t get that things like leg-shaving are cultural constructs or to people who think the gender binary is self-evident but can’t explain why. But you can say something. And we can and should support women who exercise their right not to shave, rather than implying that we, too, think they’re crazy.

April 15, 2008

Dear googlers

Filed under: Gender,Race — judgesnineteen @ 8:37 pm

Dear googler who found my site by searching “black people want to be number one race”,

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that’s a line from a speech I don’t know about that you were trying to find in order to show your privilege-blinded friend that there are still people in the world who are amazingly racist against black people. Keep up the good fight.

Fondly,

J19

Dear googler who found my site by looking for “girly science fair things”,

I can’t imagine how many hits you must have gotten, since all science fair things are girly. How will you ever choose what to do your project on?

Keep studying,

J19

Dear googler who found my site by searching for “abortion hurt”,

I’m assuming you’re either considering an abortion and want information or have had one and need support. I sincerely hope you find what you seek, and I recommend the Planned Parenthood website for the former. It won’t lie to you, unlike some people who like to try to scare people out of abortions by telling them it’s much worse than it usually is.

Best of luck,

J19

Dear googler who found my site by searching for “human freaks men with two penises”,

Good luck with that thesis you’re putting off. And thanks for reassuring me that if someone searches for that, they’ll find my blog. Whew.

Peace,

J19

PS all: I can’t see who did this, just that someone did. Rest easy.

Edit:

Forgot this one.  I’ll actually give a serious answer in case anyone in this situation comes by.

Dear googler who found my site by searching “do guys know if you’re a virgin”,

Technically, no. They might think they do, but there is no virginity test – you can bleed more than once or never, you can have no blood but discomfort and stretching more than once or never. But listen read carefully. I don’t care if you have sex, or at what age, or with what toys, or in a box, or – well, no don’t have sex with a fox because foxes can’t give informed consent. But I’d rather you not get hurt unnecessarily, and if you do have hymenal issues (try to put a finger in your vagina. Keep adding fingers until it hurts/won’t fit. Less than four? You probably will), and a guy doesn’t know that, you are going to experience more pain than you need to. You shouldn’t have to do that to be liked! You should have enough power in the sexual situation to be able to be honest and to require that you are treated properly. If you’re trying to pull off a lie, you’ll probably be nervous (which is likely for your first time anyway), and nervous means tense and tense means it will be more difficult.  You need to be in control of how fast and how deep you go until you’re all nice and stretchy, at which point you share control. At least make sure to be REALLY aroused before you start actual intercourse – when you get really aroused, your vagina makes some lubricant (still a good idea to use extra, probably water-based) and opens up considerably on the inside, both of which make it more comfortable for you.  And at all times, hymen or no, you have the right to stop a sex act whenever you want, even if he hasn’t had an orgasm yet.  Also: nothing wrong with buying a sex toy and stretching yourself out solo. On the other hand, if you’re trying to pretend you ARE a virgin when you’re not, just say you were born without a hymen or stretched it in gym class.

Take care,

J19

April 13, 2008

hooray

Filed under: Race,Science,what they said — judgesnineteen @ 4:55 pm

So last semester I was in this discussion group at school where we talked about race.  We watched I think two parts of an apparently three part series from PBS on how race doesn’t have any biological basis.  I was going to try to recreate what I learned from it by retelling some stories and trying to find similar studies online, but fortunately, ABW linked to Karnythia and one of her commenters knows the website for the series.  I’m going to read their background reading and try to synthesize some ideas and make a post out of it, but in the meantime, this is really cool.

Privilege

Filed under: Big picture,Race — judgesnineteen @ 11:20 am

I’m thinking of submitting this to The Angry Black Woman’s Carnival of Allies, you may want to write your own submission.

Privilege is going to be an important concept to grasp for anyone who’s going to read my blog, and it’s something I’d like to flesh out a definition for, so here we go. I’m going to talk mostly about white privilege with respect to racism against black people, although there are many other types of racism and many other types of privilege. I’m going to ask you to first read this through and just think about it in relation to me and/or in the abstract. Think about whether you think this response is appropriate coming from someone in the group oppressing you, if you feel yourself to be in an oppressed group. Then, unless you’re a completely unprivileged queer atheist disabled fat mentally ill poor undocumented transwoman of color, read it again and apply it to yourself and your type(s) of privilege.

Clearly I think certain groups are oppressed. But the corollary of that claim is that other groups are privileged. For example, if people of color are oppressed, white people are privileged (via ABW). (Let’s be clear that racism didn’t end with slavery and people who have long been dead; this is about us, now.) It’s a lot easier to swallow the first part than the second part if you belong to the privileged group. Pity isn’t too hard of an emotion to work up, but guilt sucks. Not as much as being oppressed sucks, though.

My story

I’m white and I grew up soaked in white privilege. That’s different from growing up soaked in explicit racism. I heard some racism, but it was whispered and usually looked down upon. But I did grow up in a white neighborhood, and I belonged to a white country club, and I went to schools that had some black kids, but not a whole lot, and we tended to stay fairly separate. There was only one black person in the gifted program in my elementary school. At my high school graduation, I saw a lot of black people who I didn’t even recognize. And of course, the mainstream media wasn’t about to fill in the blanks for me on the lives of people of color, except for the cribs of a few rappers.

I believed in equality. But I didn’t really know black people, so I didn’t identify with them. That meant I didn’t need to examine whether or not I really felt that they were just as normal and just as human as me. Racism and other types of oppression can affect you without you even noticing it – for instance, I’m not only racist, I’m also prejudiced against women, despite being pretty much obsessed with feminism. I can’t get some of that subconscious “Men=Normative” to go away. So I’m suspicious of anyone who says they’re totally not racist (or whatever-ist) at all. It’s much more helpful to admit that we are and go from there.

Another result of not really knowing black people and not really living in their world was that I didn’t hear about how racism affected their lives, so I was able to think racism was over just because I didn’t see it. When I did think about people of color, I would more or less extrapolate my experiences to imagine what theirs were like. Since my life was free of the effects of racism and seemed to fit the idea of meritocracy pretty well, I figured theirs was similar.

I didn’t know that even in black families with the same income as my family (which were probably rare because they probably had less chance of getting the education my dad got), black people had less wealth than my family had, and that the difference in wealth was due to the accumulation of racist government policies and white privileges.  I didn’t know that the kind of cocaine more commonly used by black people was punished 100 times more harshly than the kind more commonly used by white people. I didn’t know that black women try to change their appearance to look more like white women because they’ve gotten the message that black is ugly. I didn’t know that the reason other races have their own special clubs and magazines and TV shows and so on was because they didn’t feel welcome in ours, and I was completely unaware that my clubs and magazines and TV shows and so on weren’t just general, they were white. I didn’t realize that if I was able to see white as general it was because of racism – because I saw white as the Norm, because I had no trouble momentarily forgetting about the existence of people of color, because I saw people of color as the Special Case, the people that would only be on a TV show if it was expressly trying to prove it wasn’t racist, and that PC stuff is so annoying, isn’t it? (Let it be known that calling something PC does not count as a real argument on this blog. You can say it, but get ready to be criticized.)

Privilege of Better Treatment

Privilege includes a lot of things – it includes how I get messages that my skin color is prettier than others, it includes how people assume I’m well-behaved, it includes how I can call the police and expect them to actually help me (potentially not in the case of rape and DV, but if I’m robbed, you betcha, and even in the cases where they often assume women are lying, they’re a lot less likely to assume I’m lying than to assume that of a woman of color).  It includes how I have connections with rich people that can help me get good jobs, it includes how my parents and grandparents have home equity that can give me a head start financially, that black people were systematically excluded from getting.

Privilege to Ignore

But what makes privilege so dangerous is that it includes the luxury to ignore. As Kate Harding said: That’s what privilege is. It’s the option to ignore nasty shit that doesn’t directly affect my own life, my career, my relationships, my bank account, my social standing, my housing situation, etc. I can ignore people of color; they can’t ignore white people. I can ignore racism; they can’t. And when I ignore them and I ignore racism, I make the institution of racism stronger, because I cover for it. I can swear up and down that it’s not there because I don’t see it, then sit on the pile of advantage I have and yell down at black people that they must not be working hard enough.  There aren’t a whole lot of people in the US anymore who are willing to openly say they hate people with a certain color of skin, but there are plenty of people who are willing to ignore what happens to people with a certain color of skin, and if there’s no listening to what people of color are saying, no awareness of the long history of institutionalized racism, no acknowledgment that it was more than “hard work” that got white people where they are today, and not even much concern for what it’s like to be a person of color because they’re not your friends or really on your radar, can you really be so surprised that racism is still around?

This is important. It means that although I can ignore racism, I cannot opt out of it altogether. I can feel like it doesn’t have anything to do with me, but I am already part of it. It doesn’t matter if I haven’t burnt any crosses on people’s lawns, I’m still part of it.

Privilege to Ignore + Privilege of Better Treatment = Entitlement.

When I don’t know that the privileges I get, the way people think better of me and treat me better, are in fact based on my skin, I assume that I earned them and that I am entitled to them. Then if someone tries to take them away, I get mad. I think I’m being robbed of rights, being penalized for something I didn’t do, but that’s just because I don’t see that I am doing something – perpetuating racism – and that I’m losing privileges, not rights, and that I have to give up those privileges in order for other people to have their rights.

Guilt

Now let’s walk through the analysis of guilt together, because this is where people get all freaked out.

There are two kinds of being guilty. There’s being guilty in a court of law, where ignorance of the law is not a defense against being found guilty, where guilty means you committed the crime. That’s guilty, the state. Then there’s guilty in terms of morality, where ignorance is a defense because you’re judged not on what you did but on what you intended, and where things that are out of your control are not held against you. That’s guilty, the emotion.

I only need to feel guilty, the emotion for things I had control over, times when I knew better. In those cases, guilt is a healthy sign that I’m not a psychopath (meant literally) or a hypocrite (believing in human rights only for my group). It should lead me to think and to try to do better. But that’s really my deal. Speaking as a feminist on male privilege for a sec, I frankly do not care how you feel. I care how you act. I don’t want revenge (see my posts on prison), I want results.

So whether or not I’m guilty, the state (actually did something to help racism) matters more. But there’s no need to get all freaked out about how I couldn’t help it and that’s not fair, because it’s not about revenge, it’s not about the kind of guilt that makes you sulk and hate yourself. It’s about taking upon myself the responsibility to improve. It’s an asymptotic kind of motion, I can’t just snap my fingers and be perfect, but I have to keep in mind that it affects other people’s lives whether I get it right or not (whereas my good intentions don’t really help them much). So I have to work on it.

From Negative Motivation (avoiding guilt) to Positive Motivation (creating change)

If I can see past guilt, the emotion and care about guilt, the state, I’m shifting the issue from being my personal problem about clearing my conscience and reputation (because let’s be honest, sometimes it’s less about how I feel so bad and more about how I look bad) to a problem about how other people are suffering. My conscience will always be involved in my personal thoughts about it, but in order to actually be helpful, I need to be motivated by the fact that people are oppressed and that is unacceptable, not by the fact that I don’t want to be criticized or to have to feel uncomfortable. I have to be motivated to move towards change rather than just trying to flee guilt.

Now what I have to do is stay in that I’m-not-the-center-of-the-universe mindset when I mess up and get called out on it, as is inevitable if I’m really trying in the first place (which I haven’t been doing enough, in case you were wondering). When that happens, if I get defensive and forget all about how my privilege means my racism detector is defective and thus I’m not the best judge of this, I’m going back to caring more about my comfort than about justice. Remember: being oppressed hurts more than feeling guilty or being wrong. It may be hard to believe in the moment, but it’s true. So what I have to do in those times is shut up and listen to the people who know racism from the other side. Be warned: just because someone belongs to the group in question doesn’t mean they’re right (see: female anti-feminists). But since I know my racism detector is defective – and only in one way, it only underestimates racism – I know that I should give extra credence to whatever a person of color says about racism being present somewhere that I didn’t see it. It may be wise to just think about it for a while and not say anything at first. Then I’ll probably have questions. Finally, in the vast majority of cases where I will be the one who was mistaken, I should apologize, fix my mistake as well as I can, and move on (via ABW again).

Ok, your turn.

PS: I hope to write a post about anger soon, which is another controversial emotion, like guilt, but on the other side of the oppression. I also have a draft going on how race is fake but racism is real; I know that sounds obvious, but people continue to argue as if it’s not.

PPS: Link to your favorite blogs by women of color in the comments. Clearly I find The Angry Black Woman’s blog pretty useful (and I swear I’m not sucking up by linking to it all the time, it just had related stuff).

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