Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Feminist Puberty: Privilege, and Fucking Up


In writing in this forum, I've been trying to figure out what kind of feminist I am trying to be, and how to handle the privilege that blinds me, by looking at where other bloggers I admire have fucked up recently and a while back.

As a feminist writer, you can't not fuck up. People are essentially flawed, and even when we should know better, even when we do know better, we offend, oppress, and enact the privileges of our bodies upon problematized bodies. It happens. Maybe it shouldn't, but it does. As a woman of immense privilege, I identify with those that fuck up. I can see myself doing it. Maybe I've done something very like it before. When feminist writers of privilege get called out, it's not bullying (usually) - it's just hard to look at these writers, see where they fucked up, see where I might fuck up, and face it. And I want to be right. I don't want to be a part of the problem.

Feeling my privilege acutely for the first time is a bit like feminist puberty. As when I grew hips, all of a sudden, I realize that I have these adult responsibilities. I am no longer a preadolescent feminist, who can rant against the patriarchy and be righteous and oppressed without recognizing that I'm complicit too. As I was suddenly forced into recognizing sexuality at 13, I am forced to recognize privilege, too. Some may choose to pretend that feminism exists in a vacuum, that it's just about ladies. These folks are refusing to take responsibility for their own participation in a system they decry.

It's not that my privilege never existed before - I just didn't realize that sexism didn't cover all oppression. As I felt fat at 13, I feel bloated with privilege today. I can't just benefit from all kinds of systems of oppressions, be a feminist, and act like it doesn't exist. I can't pretend that I know what it's like to be a trans woman. This limits the conversation I can have - I cannot unilaterally declare that something is heterosexist, and I cannot tell others that they are being victimized.

Suddenly, I'm so aware of my embarrassing, awkward privilege, and I'm self-conscious. I feel like throwing up my hands and walking away, as I walked away from femininity when I was 13 because suddenly being a girl was too hard. That didn't help then (partially because I'm cis) and it won't help now. I have to face it, and try to negotiate, and accept it when I fuck up. It's a part of being in a conversation in which my privilege should marginalize me, in which I am not the authority.

There are a few different ways to handle fucking up: some problematic, and some responsible. Jessica Valenti has her issues, but her usual non-response, while problematic, makes some sense to me. When you fuck up as publicly as she does, it's probably hard to separate the legitimate criticism from the handwringing and to respond to every claim. By not participating in the debate on her actions, Valenti refrains from talking over the voices of others. Obviously, this silence is not blameless. By not responding to the claims, Valenti can continue to move in feminist circles without directly addressing the serious issues she presents, thus marginalizing the critical voices against her. But practically and comparatively, for a big big feminist blogger, Valenti is light-years better than the Amanda Marcotte how-DARE-you model, which works to avoid responsibility and further silence oppressed groups through loud whining.

For a better model of white women fucking up responsibly, I turn to Daisy's Dead Air:
And I have always wanted to spin. I have wanted to spread justice and righteousness, I have stormed statehouses, demonstrated against presidents and political parties; I have been teargassed. I have carried signs, signs, signs, more signs than anyone should have to carry. I blog about human rights. That is my version of dancing; I would like to SPIN. That is what I wanted. To LIVE the Social Gospel; to spread the Word. I wanted to do it well. ..

And now, I have hit the wall. The delirious happiness of falling in love and honeymooning is over, time to pay the bills. And the hard work has proven very difficult for me to do, or even admit that it needs doing...

And so, I apologize to my transgendered friends for my offenses, for insulting them, for repeating my clueless brainwashed blather wholesale when exhausted and not paying close attention. But where, I wondered, did it come from? How could this be? And I know: there are some things that we will never be able to transcend. Some damage is, unfortunately, permanent. We may compensate for it, we may learn new ways to deal, we may try "recovery" and yes, we may improve. But it is also likely that these things will be perpetually difficult, a constant trial, always confusing. I am willing to take on this trial, but please know, my friends, it is not easy, since I didn't even know it would be necessary in the first place. I thought I had it in the bag! Ha.

Daisy apologizes honestly, and from the very bottom of her heart. Once she realizes that she has fucked up, she takes responsibility and explains how and why she came to fuck up. This kind of introspection is invaluable to young feminists who don't yet realize that feminism is not a get-out-of-racism-free card (or whatever paradigm of oppression). Daisy takes responsibility and directly recounts how and why she is wrong, without whining about being misunderstood. She takes full responsibility for her fuck-ups, and humbly asks for forgiveness from the groups she betrayed. Time and scarcity of charges permitting, I think that this model of sensitivity and responsiveness is ideal, and it's what I hope to swallow my pride and follow when I, inevitably, fuck up.

Further reading:
Pearl Clutchers

Image via My Private Casbah

8 comments:

  1. While it's certainly logical to assume that you will fuck up eventually, I don't know that your wariness is warranted. That is to say that I don't believe it serves you, your cause, or your writing to be reticent. That might not be what you're getting at here but that's sort of what I gathered. That and the fact that you're a well-informed, talented writer.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the kind words, Apollo! I'm not trying to be reticent or silent, though - just sensitive.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a cool post (which I followed from feministing) and obviously sincerely felt.

    It's nice that you think to say these things in an open and public forum, but I am sure that your trans friends know you screw up the same as they do, as we all do. Don't be so hard on yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Left comments on your LiveJournal entry too... again, thank you so much for your kind comments.

    You've made my whole week!

    ReplyDelete
  5. So please take this as a compliment, but I always feel as if I'm being educated when I read your posts. Like, my mind is being opened to new viewpoints.

    And I also wanted to say thanks for all of your comments.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mr. O, that's a huge compliment since you described one of my goals in writing about feminism. And thank you for your comments!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. RMJ: Your writing does a lot of people (including me) a lot of good. And I'm sure that you do a lot of other things that make other people's lives, as well as your own, richer. Anyone who spends any amount of time in such pursuits will eventually "fuck up." If you're honest in, and sincere about, your intentions (which, it seems to me, you are), many people are willing to forgive--or even not to notice--your "fucking up."

    As for privilege, I've learned this: You don't know that you have it until you lose it. And, while losing it is a pain in the ass, it's not the end of the world. Privilege makes living easier and more convenient; it doesn't make life worth living.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Please don't get too worried about fucking up. Blogging is, essentially, a (comparatively) impulsive and often emotional form of writing that lends itself to mistakes. Every post I've read of yours has been enlightening and very sensitive to all kinds of oppression, so don't stress out too much about potentially offending others or inadvertently 'contributing' to oppression by writing from your 'privileged' position. You can't walk in the shoes of others whose own form of oppression differs from yours, but it does absolutely no harm to write about that oppression to inform others of it while acknowledging your biases. Which you always do. You're scrupulous and fiercely intelligent, and that's what we come back to this blog for, time and time again.

    (Sorry for the rambling.)

    Besides - mistakes make things so much more interesting.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin