Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Site Recommendation: Womanist Musings

I am tired of spending my energy trying to get privileged white feminists to understand the ways in which their behaviour mimics patriarchy. The same action that these women would not tolerate from a man, they are more than willing to subject women of color to. Gotta love how vagina solidarity works until the woman is question is understood as “other”. I could dedicate a lifetime to yelling and cajoling white women all to no avail. For many white feminists all that matters are the ways in which a WOC can be useful. When it is about promoting something that is in their best interests we are all women. [from The Name of this Blog Is]

Renee Martin's year-old blog Womanist Musings is important reading for persons of privilege, allies, and those interested in social justice. But it's not fun, or easy. Womanist Musings has been extremely and personally challenging to me as a white feminist. Martin holds women who are used to feeling righteous and ethical responsible for their lapses in a courageous and honest way. I know there have been a couple occasions on which I've read Martin's posts and reacted poorly, blinded by my own privilege. She does not coddle, or soften the blow, but attacks your privilege with the full force of her deft logic and experience fighting oppression. Though WM's focus is on womanism (not feminism), Martin writes passionately and knowledgeably on a number of issues, including ableism, trans and LBGQ rights, mothering, and foreign affairs. Martin's ideas are far from narrow. She often focuses on masculinity and the contributions and concerns of men in an incisive way that's rarely seen on other sites.

I have known that I have privilege for a long time, but it was only after I started reading WM a year ago that I stopped patting myself on the back for that basic recognition quite so much and started criticizing my own prejudices and privileges, and the ways in which I entrench them. As this blog is evidence of, I often focus too narrowly on the oppression of folks like me - white, rich, straight women - and much less on the myriad ways in which I participate in the oppression of others.

My first few drafts of this post criticized Womanist Musings for her lack of examples, but after more research I don't think that criticism is valid. Martin always includes at least one supporting example in each piece of analysis; considering that she posts in such depth several times a day, this is more than adequate. When she is writing off a specific news story such as Jena 6, supporting examples are not always necessary. At other times the lack of constant examples contributes to the wide application of her ideas.

I have also come to realize recently that though Martin does not always specifically cite examples of the privilege that she describes, she does a very powerful job of developing long-term examples:

Normally Jessica Valenti appearing on CNN would not cause me to watch the video, however when it was suggested that feminism may be obsolete I was curious to see which women this little segment involved. Can anyone guess what I was to discover? That’s right, white women were busy debating whether or not feminism has a role. The women held up as feminist icons were none other than Hillary Clinton and Angelina Jolie. Certainly no woman of color could accurately represent feminism, we seem to be fit only to babysit while famous feminists rush off to seminars to discuss their marginalization. [from Feminism: The White Women Are Chatting]

Martin's frequent critique of Feministing at first struck me as mean-spirited and bullying. I like Feministing's content and respect all of their editors, and I think that they do a good job at many things, and they have a very strong presence from a superb WOC writer - Samhita Mukhopadhyay. But as I continued to read both Feministing and Womanist Musings, I came to realize that my assessment and defense of Feministing was rooted in my own privilege. Of course I like Feministing - the editorial staff's concerns are very similar to mine.
Part of the reason I started this blog and called it "Deeply Problematic" was to engage my own bigotry and privilege. I don't think I've done that yet, but I'm learning, and I'm doing the best I can:

Decolonizing your mind is dirty work, so don't expect to be all pretty when you are done, but at least at the end of the road you can declare yourself a thinking woman of courage and agency. [from Pearl Clutchers]

The rift between WOC and white women needs to be healed. Each new slight just adds to the bitterness and contempt and is the equivalent of pouring salt into an open wound thereby further dividing us from each other. When there is such a large history of betrayal we cannot afford to continue to fuel the negativity as it only detracts us from our common enemy: patriarchy. [from Womanism/Feminism....Feminism/Womanism]

Miranda's ill-advised post on Feministe got me thinking about this again: why don't we do our own dirty work? What's so hard with sitting down, and listening? I know I've used friends of color and trans friends in the past as teachers, and I shudder to think what kind of ignorance I've subjected them to. When we know which sites are resources, (I'm thinking of Questioning Transphobia in addition to Womanist Musings), white cis feminists need to add the feed to our reader, learn, and comment on issues of substance rather than expecting experiential knowledge on demand.

Womanist Musings is a valuable resource for any reader interested in social justice. Though it is not a feminist site, it’s been crucial to my recent development as a feminist. WM is a difficult but worthwhile body of work that has brought me to a new, fuller (though still incomplete) understanding of social justice. I highly recommend it.

Recommended posts (in addition to the links above):

PETA Dresses Up As KKK
I Am Not a Feminist
Can A White Woman Be A Womanist?
Starting The Feminist Dog Uprising [Martin is often funny; this is a good example.]
Big Girl Panties and the Cycle of Victimology
What Is A Feminist Issue?
I'm An Ally But
The Convenience of Super Crip
Activism: The Best You Can
It's All Because You Are Fat
Disability And What You Should Know


  1. i definitely give Renee tons of credit. while it's not her job to educate us white ladies, i do acknowledge that the much needed change in my perspective and confrontation of my own privilege, is a direct influence of her writing. she tackles a variety of issues that i might not read about otherwise.

  2. I just wanted to pop by and say thanks so much for the shout out. I know that my blog is not an easy read but my hope is that it will cause people to pause for a moment and think about the things that they take for granted.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Renee - it means a lot. :)

  4. This is a great post. I fully agree with your well-rounded recommendation of WM -- it has been eye-opening and head-slapping and necessary for me to read.


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