Thursday, January 24, 2008

Which Americans? Which Feminists? Which Women?

I had to sit around thinking about this post for awhile because I knew I was not getting something.

I'm a slow learner, but I've learned this much: I've learned not to draw from that itchy, uncomfortable, this-feels-wrong feeling the automatic conclusion that the stimulus must be wrong. I've learned to consider that it might be me who is wrong.

So, this post at La Chola: I didn't know what to do with it besides share it in the Google Reader, because I hoped to come back to it. I think I will just take you through what I thought at first to what I think now, and if we're lucky, what I think now will evolve into what I think later, and it will improve with more time and more thought. Why not? Most things do. Okay? Okay:

Why the particular emphasis on “Muslim countries”? Does Ms. Pollitt think that “Muslim countries” are particularly hostile to women’s rights for some reason?

At first, I thought, well, hell, BFP: Don't you know how many right-wingers like to attack American feminism on that basis?--That "American feminists" don't care, don't do enough for, don't mobilize as quickly in response to, the problems of women in "Muslim countries?" Don't you know how often we hear that? Hell, I started receiving hits on an old post at Pandagon just this weekend over that. The post from which my work was linked was titled, "Iran Oppresses Women--American Feminists Silent." So American feminists get this all the time. What are we supposed to do, ignore it? Let that meme propagate unchallenged?

That was my first thought.

My second thought was, "Of course BFP knows this happens. She never said it didn't happen. Why are you responding to that? Why aren't you addressing what she said?"

My third thought was, "Wait, what'd she say again?" Because ADD.

I had to read that post several times and then let it bake in the rusty, unevenly heated oven of my mind. And finally it occurred to me: "If feminism is FOR WOMEN--not just American women, not just white women--then women in Muslim countries are right there in women's conversations; not being talked about, not being lectured at, but being talked with and listened to. They're THERE, if feminism is working right--and thus there is no need for American feminists to write letters showing how much we care about them. They can write their own letters if they want to. Or they can be smart like American white feminists ought to have been and realize that you don't ever win anything playing purely on your opponent's terms."

The opponent's terms here are:

1. Women in Muslim countries need American feminists to do things for them.
2. Women in Muslim countries are unable to do things for themselves.
3. Women in Muslim countries lack their own feminisms and need American feminists to show them how it's done.

And, of course, the real idea behind this particular wingnut criticism:

4. This would all work out just grand if we enlightened Americans went into Muslim countries and showed them how it's done. Forcibly.


If I could pick only one thing I ought to have recalled back when I was thinking "we'll just FORCE Western democracy on folks across the globe" was, God forgive me, a good idea--if I could pick only one thing to have remembered, here's what that one thing would have been: I would have recalled that most of the Western democratic benefits I personally enjoy did not come from Republicans or conservatives.

Wasn't Republicans who ensured my reproductive rights.

Wasn't Republicans who founded the ACLU.

Wasn't Republicans who came up with Miranda rights.

Wasn't Republicans fighting police brutality.

Wasn't Republicans securing my right to vote.

None of the things conservatives and/or Republicans (they are not necessarily identical) want to export to these poor picked-on (by whom again?) "Muslim countries" are things they themselves had shit to do with--and in fact, they're things conservatives have traditionally opposed. Women don't need reproductive rights because it's God's will if you have a baby. People don't need civil liberties because you should trust the state to look out for you. People don't need Miranda rights because only hardcore criminals benefit from them. Police don't need the hassle of investigation because their jobs are very hard, you don't understand. And women don't need to vote because look at all the stupid ways they vote OH HEY LOOK, IT'S ALL ABOUT ME AGAIN.

There's no need to go sending a damn letter with a billion women's signatures on it to prove American feminists care about all the bad things going on in those crazy mysterious "Muslim countries." Repeat! There's NO NEED. What we "American feminists" NEED to do is stop playing defense. We need to stop accepting the dishonest terms being bandied about by utter jackasses with selective recollections of basic ninth-grade history.

We need to go on the offense and ask, "What have American conservatives done for the women of their own country?" We can win that one and easy, because guess what the answer is?--"Jack shit" on a good day, and "the high hard one without so much as a reach-around" on a bad day--and lately, we've had more bad days than good.

Finally, we, American feminists, for lack of a better term, need to quit thinking of other women on the globe as Far Away and Over There, as women to be talked about but never to. Yeah yeah, I repeat that a lot, but I run out of clever ways to write it, and it's true.

If Muslim women had been properly acknowledged and listened to from the start, we wouldn't be hearing this criticism because our critics wouldn't know where "American feminists" left off and "Muslim women" began. There would be no "American feminist" label with all the assumptions wingnuts tack onto it. An American feminist in the conservative view is white, heterosexual, cisgendered, unattached, middle- to upper-class, college-educated, abortion-obsessed, insular, grasping, selfish, and shallow.

And if there were such a label, it would be so obviously crafted by wingnuts and it would so obviously fit no actual people that--just as we do with swamp creatures, dragons, and wicked witches--we could, as grown women with some sense, ignore the whole damn thing.

Instead, we're ignoring each other. Perhaps this should end.

UPDATE: Magniloquence kindly emailed to say I would really like this post at Tiny Cat Pants, and as usual, Magniloquence was right. Oh, now, don't fall over dead and make me send the paramedics! I like this particularly:

. . . isn’t this the way we do it? We refuse to pay attention to what folks are telling us about their experiences, convinced as we are that we treat everyone the same, completely willfully unaware of how assinine that is.

People don’t want the right to be like me (or you, rather, because, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s good fun to be like me). They want the right to be respected on their own terms for being themselves.

Yes! Is that so crazy? I don't think that's so crazy.

Magniloquence also tells me that there are many d00ds crying butthurt in the comments to that post, something about how the marginalized are obligated to make sure they phrase everything Just Right. Yes, yes, I know: That AGAIN.

Anyway, I throw that out there for those of you who have been wondering when I was going to get back to my usual shtick of picking on the d00ds, but I am busy today. Perhaps you could gently assist the be-penised over at Tiny Cat Pants yourself? Or if you're not feeling that generous, I hear you. Me neither, at least not today. If you prefer to just point and laugh and groan and eyeroll, please consider this safe space in which to do that.


Blackamazon said...

I agree but also after a couple weeks I am starting to think that we have to really and truly adress the fact that a lot of American feminists don't care.

ANd it blows but if we are going to be honest about the fact they really don't care about anything but their " feelings" and the perceptions of the people they hope to join in the power structure ( HELLO ERICA JONG)

The but were GREAT isnt actually a defensive posture but a recruitingone trying to get more people who AGREE iwth this to reflexivelysid eiwth them as WOC are objects to be bandied about.

Their not out recruiting WOC feminists tehir out recruiting other white women

Anonymous said...

Jeannette Rankin (June 11, 1880 – May 18, 1973) was the first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives and the first female member of Congress

On November 7, 1916 she was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana, becoming the first female member of Congress. This was quite remarkable at the time, considering that the Nineteenth Amendment (which gave women the right to vote) was not ratified until 1920. Therefore, during Rankin's first term in Congress (1917-1919), many women throughout the country did not have the right to vote.

cinnabari said...

Damn, I'm glad you're back blogging.

ilyka said...

ANd it blows but if we are going to be honest about the fact they really don't care about anything but their " feelings" and the perceptions of the people they hope to join in the power structure ( HELLO ERICA JONG)

You know I still haven't brought myself to search out that Jong essay and read it? I'm not looking for a quick ticket to a migraine, I guess.

You're right: It's a maneuver to convince the sorts of white women who are all "I consider myself more of a humanist than a feminist" that Yes, You Are Too a Feminist, Come Join Us, We Are on the Side of Angels, etc.

Not only is that dehumanizing to and dismissive of WOC already hard at work DOING what Pollitt claims credit for in her letter, I don't think it even works for what they want it to work for. I don't think it will convince white women who've now had years and years of being bombarded with the meme that "American feminism" is a self-centered, shallow, and possibly obsolete enterprise that any of that is incorrect.

Pollitt is not going to erase that perception with one letter. What that letter IS going to do is accept and reinforce the framing created by conservatives, while once again tripping gaily over the backs of the women it purports to care about.

Their not out recruiting WOC feminists tehir out recruiting other white women

To their own detriment. Funny how that works.

Blackamazon said...



when her big complaint is wahh men on my boards are mean to me

i wish I hadnt

Me and SYlvia keep bandying it about but I love that these older feminists don't talk about how for many young middle calss owmen

ignoring feminism isn't a hwim but sane life choice.

That if in a world where you earn less your family makes less and teh only wya to not die in debt is to marry well

( and tehy failed spectacularly a tlobbying for equal pay and teh ERA)

being careful about not reducaing your marriage prospects

isn't you being timid or silly

but you being really smart.

You ignoring peopel who ignore your life to stare ta their bellybuttons

not stupid
but really smart

Elizabeth said...

I'm glad you posted this. I had the exact same two thoughts at first. But then my mind jumped immediately to

"American feminists, for lack of a better term, need to quit thinking of other women on the globe as Far Away and Over There, as women to be talked about but never to."

It's good you fleshed this out a bit more.