A Continuing Conversation on Feminism: Do You Know Who You’re Fighting For?

by Latoya Peterson

I was planning to write this post when I began my guest blogging stint over at Feministe. Then I looked around and noticed a lot of smart women were thinking along the same lines, so I decided to go ahead and put this out there.

After all the issues in the feminist blogoshere, I had decided I was sick of feminism. Feminism is a space in which I feel like I shouldn’t have to fight so hard, and yet I do. I am getting sick of learning knowledge and tools and tactics at such a high cost. And while I have chosen to stay, it is more out of a sense of duty to others than edification of the self.

For you see, I wrote about the issues I have in engaging with white people last year. I have discussed often how this is still an existing bias, and something I work toward fighting against. What I have not talked about is how this translates into real life.

In real life, I generally do not have cause to interact with white people on a regular basis. My friend group is diverse, encompassing people from various races, ethnicities, and backgrounds – but there is no white representation in my immediate circle. Besides one or two friends I held over from high school who I see semi-annually, I don’t see many white people socially. I hang in PoC areas, go to events dominated by other PoC, work for a international organization in a predominantly black department, I pay my rent to the rental office staffed by black and latina women, my neighborhood and my building is predominantly PoC – even the belly dancing classes I take are operated by and designed for women of color. Outside of my yoga studio – which is predominantly white, but still manages to attract a large mix of ethnicities to practice within its walls – I generally do not come into contact with white people on a regular basis. I see them commuting, on the metro, in transit – but my life is generally one long PoC party.

So, it is important to me to state that it is mentally taxing for me to go into non-PoC spaces on a regular basis. I find it exhausting. White dominated spaces are difficult for me to deal with because of all the issues involved with privilege and reference points. I find it tiring to be lectured at about my lived experience. I get weary when I see the same tired ideas rehashed over and over as if they have never been debunked before (i.e. – “Well, did you ever think that all the black actresses who tried out for that role weren’t as good, so they gave the role to a white woman?” Wow, no, I never thought of that! I guess that explains all those roles who are offered to certain actresses to accept or decline before they ever make it to the casting!)

While I understand how to navigate such a space, it is never a place I find comfortable and they are places where I am constantly on guard. One could ask why it has to be this way? Why should I assume I need to be on guard in a space created to foster discussion between women? It is because these spaces have been proven to be hostile – and dropping your guard in a hostile environment is the quickest way to get popped in the face.

I continue to hang in feminist spaces for a few different reasons. One, some of the people I consider allies are there and I want to show them some support. Two, because I want to start catching people who are becoming disillusioned. I want them to be able to find me. I want them to find links to me to someone they can relate to. It doesn’t have to be me. It just has to be someone. And three, because it helps me to find like-minded women, also relegated to the margins. I could easily find a womanist space to fall into. I could find a space that is by and for black women (sans the “feminist” or “womanist” label) but I want a bit more than that.

Many other women of color have experiences I want to know, I want to hear from their lips. I cried when I read Yell-Oh Girls, when I read Colonize This!, when I saw I Like It Like That. I cried because in their pain, I heard echoes of my own.

We may not share the same lyrics, but somehow we are singing the same song. And that is what I want – that community.

But I digress.

Floating around the internet, it appears that other women are also working their way through this conclusion.

Sudy is on her own adventure in the Phillipines. She began questioning early:

What role do US feminist identified activists have in transnational feminist activism and issues?

[...]

What is the practical application of “intersectionality,” this popular term bounced around in the femosphere? Is it just a means to better understand and construct our kyriarchal society, or is it meant to lead to something specific in action?

Her mind is full of questions these days:

How do you survive?
How do you feed them?
What is life like as a poor peasant woman on this farmland which is repeatedly stolen from you?
Why is this world failing you?
How can feminism be so incomplete?
What is within my power to change, do, or improve?
How can you be pregnant again?

And she asks more:

I think of blogging. I think of blogwars. I think of inevitable drama that ensues among strong women who have agendas and egos the size of an island. I think of waste.

What IS my activism? Where am I in the unfolding story of ALL women’s liberation? Where do I want to plant my bare feet and which field’s soil do I want to plant? Judy asks me what is my statement.

“My statement?”

Yes. You must have a direct, strong, inquiring statement about what you want to do. Or else, she says, “…you’re just a feminist.”

WOOOOOah.

Feminists are the aware, the thinkers, the ones who see something very wrong in the world of gender and recognize the inequality on every scale: workforce to militarization, motherhood to childcare, state violence to sexual harassment.

And then what?


And she continues to explore
.

BlackAmazon is has still more questions:

And at AMC I was uplifted and inspired by many people seeking to do work that served communities and was LED by communities.

But I find myself asking once again ( and thank fully in the space I asked it in this time I was not made to feel like I was alone or crazy but instead embraced)

Who are we serving with this?

This being environmentalism, racial justice, educational reform.social justice,LGBTQ rights

Who are we trying to listen to?

(Or, as Latoya asked herself a few months back, what the fuck is the point?)

Brownfemipower penned an interesting piece discussing sexuality, the role of music as a survival method, and how we marginalized folks end up co-opting hostile spaces for our own needs. She then discusses the tactic that is often taken by feminist organizations:

Which makes me wonder. If feminists are interested in ending misogyny and sexism in music, is the way to do that really to work to ban the music or otherwise protest it? Or, thinking in terms of grassroots mobilization, if small town queers in the U.S. are manipulating those problematic spaces to suit their needs, will they necessarily stand in alliance with big time feminists? I know I personally never did. I was sympathetic to the cause–but honestly, bands like Aerosmith and Guns N Roses seemed to ‘get’ small town mentality so much better than the feminists.

Nasty pig boy Axl Rose was from small town Indiana and understood the how stifling dictates from above of “don’t do that it’s wrong and nasty and offensive” really were. And I don’t doubt for a minute that GNR manipulated things to appear as if they were “standing up for the little guy” all the while selling more music. But I don’t think feminists of that time ever *really* understood how they were perceived as little more than a continuation of the small town power structure that wanted to control and shame rather than liberate and encourage.

I don’t think they do even today.

Which goes back to the question–what is the answer for feminists that want to end misogyny and sexism in music? I think that creating alternatives is a much more powerful action–creating a space where those people who are looking to challenge or move away from the power that is stifling them can go and thrive. As an example, once I was introduced to punk/alternative (as in Nirvana, Green Day, etc) I pretty much left the hard rock/heavy metal scene. Punk/Alternative bands seemed to get their point across, rock out like crazy, and were totally accepting of queers and other misfits–and they did it (at least then) without the crazy sexism of the hair bands (I’m not letting punk/alternative bands completly off the hook, there was sexism, just not in the in your face style of the hair bands).

Could feminists do the same thing? And I ask this with the realization that *women* (as opposed to feminists) have been working within and outside of the music industry to create their own spaces for decades. And awesome feminists like Ani DiFranco have actually made a career of touring small towns. But when was the last time there was a queer pride music fest in Holland, Michigan (as an example)? When was the last time feminists who were protesting misogyny in music demanded that feminists bands like L7 got huge contracts rather than demanding that sexist bands be shut down (see the difference in the point of the protest?)? How many feminist concert tours have major organizations that have the money (aka NOW, Feminist Majority, etc) not just sponsored but organized and put on? How many scholarships for budding feminist musicians (or artists/writers/etc) have feminist organizations created? (On a side note, when it comes to funding, I’ve actually found that most mainstream feminist org’s actively distance themselves from artists in favor of those who are doing science and business).

However, the entire passage I just highlighted is struck through. BFP apparently had a midpost ephiphany:

I deleted the above because it was irritating me. Why am I constantly writing about how to “make a movement” when the damn “movement” has made it perfectly clear that I am not welcome? Do I really care about “the movement” or do I care about the lonely and depressed queer girls out in the middle of Religious Town U.S.A? Lonely and depressed queer girls, forget the above paragraphs and pay special attention to the paragraph below. There are alternatives out there. There are spaces where your presence is not only honored but desperately needed. And some times, you don’t have to leave your area to find those spaces. When you get out–pay attention to what amazing women like Invincible did–go back. Go back and sing that voice out loud and powerful and strong. Then teach other lonely and depressed queer girls how to do the same thing. Bless all of us with your words, your voice, your music!

Which brings us back to the question – do you know who you’re fighting for?

BFP nails it when she asks:

Do I really care about “the movement” or do I care about the lonely and depressed queer girls out in the middle of Religious Town U.S.A?

I don’t know if I still care about feminism.

I care about my homegirls.

I care about the girls who remind me of me. The ones with the dark skin and the full lips, the ones who will have their bodies develop before they understand what that means, the ones who will grow up listening to men implore them to be “Bust it Babies,” hearing that the most desirable women work at a strip club, the ones who feel like the things they want are desperately out of reach, the ones who feel as though they are always failing, that they will never be good enough.

I care about the girls who remind me of my homegirls. The ones who dare to have their own dreams when their parents have already written their destinies in stone, the ones who find that almond eyes and tanned skin will always be exotic, never beautiful, the ones who rock cornrows and stretch jeans knowing that for many the idea of brown-skinnned-thick-and-Asian is not something easily understood, the ones who realize that beauty ideals were never designed with them in mind, the ones with frizzy hair and thick thighs that find out early that men can be a way out of a bad situation or a way into a worse one.

I fight for them.

I fight for us.

So, if that means I am the ones taking in the lumps and hostility, watching people degender us because it is too inconvenient to deal with our race and class issues, trying to force myself to write civil responses to things even when I feel like screaming, then so be it.

If I can pass on just one thing that helps a young girl make it through, it is worth it.

That’s my story.

So I ask you, readers – what are you fighting for?

(Photo Credit: Sudy)