***At some point I will address how any why my plans to track my progress fell apart so spectacularly, but for now, this:
Recently on Tumblr I saw a post about a news item that’s been making the rounds. The item was interesting and relevant to the feminist narrative, but someone had made the comment that it was about a white woman, and the issue being explored had a lot of potential relevance to issues of race as well. Their commentary came off angry; aggressive, even. I hit the reblog button and started to type a reply to the effect that, while the issue of race would be interesting and well worth exploring, it didn’t invalidate the relevance of the original news story to feminism in general.
The thing is, I do believe I had a point, but I still hit ‘Cancel’ instead of ‘Post’.
I’m smart. There are very few words that have been consistently used to describe me throughout my life, but smart was always one of them. I’m also opinionated. And vocal. When combined, these traits mean I often have reasonable, relevant opinions which I can and do express. I can make good points. I can change minds.
But just because I can, doesn’t mean it’s always my place to do so.
I’ve been involved in feminism to varying degrees for the last dozen years, and one thing I’ve often noticed is the eagerness of men to jump into the dialogue. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s completely necessary for men to be involved in feminism because we won’t get anywhere trying to force a certain ideology upon half the world’s population unless they believe it, too. We need to engage with men, tell them our stories, educate them, hear their responses, and move forward together as equal partners.
Problems arise, however, when men step forward and make arguments that essentially dismiss the experiences of women as paranoid, overreactions, or generalizations. They shout “not all men” from the rooftops (ironically, I’m going to take a moment to say ‘not all men do this’, but what matters is that enough of them do that it has become a substantial barrier to both dialogue and progress). Many of these men are very intelligent, and can make excellent arguments for and against certain aspects of feminism.
But it isn’t always their voices that we need to be listening to.
If women are coming forward to say that they feel threatened, belittled, or demeaned, no one is helped by someone else coming forward and saying “but…”. These women feel threatened, belittled, and demeaned. Full stop. Let’s do something about that. This isn’t the time for debate, this is the time to say, “What can we do about this?”
It’s also not the time to worry about making someone feel bad about themselves because they unintentionally made someone else fear for their physical safety.
And that’s what makes me a hypocrite.
I believe in feminism, and I believe feminism necessarily needs to be intersectional. We need to realize that every issue that negatively impact women is that much more severe for women of colour, queer women, women living in poverty, and transwomen. We need to fight for equality for women, and we need to fight that much harder with and on behalf of women who are members of other minorities as well.
I’m white. I enjoy the benefits of white privilege. In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to them that unless someone points them out, I tend not to notice them at all. But because I have this privilege, it is my obligation as a believer in equality to sometimes take a step down so that someone else can take a step up. In issues of feminism I have a valid, worthwhile opinion. But when those issues intersect with issues of race, I am no longer the expert. I can have my opinions, but I gained them academically. I didn’t live them. I have never faced discrimination based on the colour of my skin, so if someone else comes forward and says, “There is something wrong here,” I am not doing the issue any favours by tapping them on the shoulder and saying, “You seem to be really angry about this. Maybe you should calm down a bit and ask yourself if you aren’t overreacting.”
If a person of colour is angry about an issue of race, it’s because the issue impacts their life enough to make them angry, and my attempt to “be reasonable” comes off much more like an attempt to conceptualize and intellectualize something very real and dangerous in their world. It doesn’t matter how smart I am when it comes to abstract ideologies. If they are another person’s reality, their opinion matters more.
The first time I made this connection between “not all men” and my own vocal opinions was several months after a conversation I had with a friend of a friend on Facebook. As soon as it hit me, I sought her out to apologize. Twenty minutes ago I almost did the same thing to a stranger on Tumblr. I still think my opinion is smart and valid and reasonable, but none of those things matter more than that other person’s ability to be heard.
If I screw up again, I sincerely apologize. Even after more than a decade of activism I’m still learning the ropes. Please be patient with me, because I promise you, if you are facing some kind of discrimination that I will never face first hand, nothing matters more than what you have to say.by