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Feminism, Whiteness, and the Prison System
April 6, 2008 3:52 PM   Subscribe

"If feminism is about social change, white feminism -- a feminism of assimilation, of gentle reform and/or strengthening of institutions that are instrumental to economic exploitation and white supremacy, of ignorance and/or appropriation of the work of feminists of color -- is an oxymoron. And it is not a thing of some bygone era before everyone read bell hooks in college. It is happening now; you might be part of it."
posted by nasreddin (182 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's time for white feminists to challenge their own privilege, listen to all voices and take on the issues that matter.

Is this article US-centric or what? (And couldn't you have at least fleshed out this FPP with a few links? "bell hooks" seems like an obvious choice.

And the language in the excerpt in the post is somewhat clunky, polemic and abstract; ain't nothing new.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:09 PM on April 6, 2008


bell hooks?
posted by DU at 4:16 PM on April 6, 2008


The Bush administration has been doing its share to destroy VAWA, but is it really enough? What we really need is some leftists to tell women how spoiled and privileged they are if they expect their rapists and abusers to face some kind of punishment.

The kind of rhetoric in this essay is toxic, and I was devastated to see one of my favorite feminist blogs link approvingly to it. It's a slap in the face to any woman who has ever used the legal system to fight against violence.
posted by transona5 at 4:23 PM on April 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


Related:

"If anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools, as August Bebel said, and anti-Americanism is the anti-imperialism of fools, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudices (which tend to go hand in hand, due to the stereotypical equation of Arabs with Muslims) today are the feminism of fools."
posted by stammer at 4:24 PM on April 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


This should have been the pull-quote in the FPP text:
In recent years, members of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence have incisively and repeatedly critiqued the white-feminist-led antiviolence movement for its reliance on (and, thus, complicity with) the U.S. criminal-legal system, which uses the rhetoric of "safety" to destroy communities of color, squash dissent, and create profit for private corporations. Yet the primary macro-level strategies of the white-feminist-led movement against domestic violence and sexual assault continue to rely on this system, with a major focus on legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act and the push for hate-crimes laws to include gender and sexual orientation. On the micro/personal level, I have repeatedly seen white, class-privileged feminists unhesitatingly call upon police to protect and serve them; have listened to white feminists advise each other on which "authorities" to go to for protection from stalkers and other abusers; and so on.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:32 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


My pulling of that quote is not intended as an endorsement or a rebuttal, but it's the meat of the essay. I know, I know....
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:33 PM on April 6, 2008


Jeez, I'm sorry I fucked it up, apparently. It's late here.
posted by nasreddin at 4:33 PM on April 6, 2008


"One night in the summer of 1996, when I was eighteen, my (white, female, ex-gutter-punk) roommate and I rushed together to call the police when we were startled by a Peeping Tom outside her bedroom window. It was like a reflex, just what you do. We didn't pause to consider other possible responses -- and, after two LAPD officers promised to put our apartment on their regular patrol for the next few weeks, we gave no thought to what that added police presence might mean to our mostly Black neighbors."

Oh, I know! That they'd also be safe from the peeping tom, right?

...No?

Oh. I see. No, wait. No. No, I don't.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:39 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm hoping there are some people in this thread who can help flesh this out for me. I've read the article and I am completely, completely baffled.
posted by the jam at 4:41 PM on April 6, 2008


i'm gonna read this just before i go to sleep tonight....better than counting sheep...
posted by billybobtoo at 4:43 PM on April 6, 2008


Oh. I see. No, wait. No. No, I don't.

Yeah, I was confused too. I mean, it's pretty well known that LA's black community coexists in perfect harmony with law enforcement. An officer can hardly drive through South Central without being showered with flowers and thanks for their kind, respectful, fair-minded treatment of black people. In fact, just four years before this, the African American population of the city turned out in a spontaneous parade to celebrate the LAPD's beyond-the-call-of-duty heroism in providing safety and protection to a mentally-ill victim of drug addiction.
posted by nasreddin at 4:45 PM on April 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I was confused too. I mean, it's pretty well known that LA's black community coexists in perfect harmony with law enforcement. An officer can hardly drive through South Central without being showered with flowers and thanks for their kind, respectful, fair-minded treatment of black people. In fact, just four years before this, the African American population of the city turned out in a spontaneous parade to celebrate the LAPD's beyond-the-call-of-duty heroism in providing safety and protection to a mentally-ill victim of drug addiction.

Fair enough, but what really is being advocated here? Out of respect for one's neighbors, who may run afoul of the police due to no fault of their own, one should fail to report actual criminal activity? I'm sorry, but that doesn't even fucking make sense. I'm not sure at all what is being proposed in this article. Can you spell it out for me? I think I must be missing something, because it seems to be saying is kind of stupid, and that can't be right.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:49 PM on April 6, 2008


I fail to see how sitting around in a women's studies department castigating yourself and others for your white privilege really does the world any good.
posted by footnote at 4:51 PM on April 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


I'm hoping there are some people in this thread who can help flesh this out for me. I've read the article and I am completely, completely baffled.

Feminism isn't a single thing. Since white upper class women have already garnered all the benefits of equality that are available, radical feminists associate their work on gender with work on race and class that has yet to be completed. It is common to note that women of color and poor women have seen few benefits from the feminist movement and continue to experience patriarchal oppression in ways that are now unrecognizable to white, rich, well-educated women who we normally associate with the feminist movement.

Since work on prisons is at the forefront of a lot of class and race-based activism, the fact that privileged feminists make such frequent use of the penal and police systems strikes some feminists as the crux of the dispute between moderates and radicals. If there are viable alternatives, I haven't heard them, but the argument commonly runs like this:

"Rape is a rich woman's trauma, and so they have built an entire portion of economy around preventing black men, their fantasy rapists, from touching or frightening them. Poor women have bigger problems, and suffer significantly from fear of cops, prisons, and the damage done to their communities by the incarceration of their menfolk. A good feminist ought to be more cautious about making use of 'the Man' to fight patriarchy."
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:51 PM on April 6, 2008 [22 favorites]


I've read the article and I am completely, completely baffled.

It reminds me of being at university in Canada in the early 90s. I actually took a Women's Study class (peer pressure) and ended up going to the Women's Studies Course Union end of the year party in spring 1994.

I went there with my good friend C., a total pothead who resembled Tintin with curls. When we got there we were the only guys in the house, besides Gurp, who lived there. Gurp was from a logging town up the coast, and loved to smoke dope. He had dark skin, a hooked nose, long black hair and was wearing a Mudhoney tour shirt and a pair of shorts.

The young women danced with each other to Sinead O'Connor and Ani Difranco. Chris and I huddled in the corner with Gurp. C. produced a bag of dope and Gurp rolled a bomber. "Be careful, or you'll Bronto it," said C. But the joint didn't bulge. Gurp had rolled a fatty, about the thickness of a human thumb. C., Gurp and I smoked the thumb joint and watched members of the Women's Studies Course union dance together. Eventually Gurp claimed roomate's rights and put on a Cypress Hill CD. The Women's Studies students eventually escaped to the second floor.

It is my fondest memory of school.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:53 PM on April 6, 2008 [6 favorites]



Fair enough, but what really is being advocated here? Out of respect for one's neighbors, who may run afoul of the police due to no fault of their own, one should fail to report actual criminal activity? I'm sorry, but that doesn't even fucking make sense. I'm not sure at all what is being proposed in this article. Can you spell it out for me? I think I must be missing something, because it seems to be saying is kind of stupid, and that can't be right.


Move along, citizen, there's nothing for you to see here--just some of them crazy hippies. Always remember: The Police Are Your Friends. If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.

You actually can't understand why a movement that aims to fight oppression might want to take a critical look at using the long arm of the law as the instrument of its struggle?
posted by nasreddin at 4:54 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I fail to see how sitting around in a women's studies department castigating yourself and others for your white privilege really does the world any good.

Did you notice the ads on the site for the Southern Poverty Law Center and the grassroots radical faction of the SEIU? Or even Rock the Vote? What did you expect to find in this article, if not writing?
posted by stammer at 4:56 PM on April 6, 2008


You actually can't understand why a movement that aims to fight oppression might want to take a critical look at using the long arm of the law as the instrument of its struggle?

If someone is actually being victimized, I don't see an alternative other than vigilantism. If someone isn't actually being victimized, and is simply freaking out because they see a black face somewhere in the vicinity of their window, then of course the police should not be called. But I think this is self-evident, isn't it?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:57 PM on April 6, 2008


It reminds me of being at university in Canada in the early 90s.

My first thought was '1980 called. It wants its feminist polemic back.'
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:58 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


"One night in the summer of 1996, when I was eighteen, my (white, female, ex-gutter-punk) roommate and I rushed together to call the police when we were startled by a Peeping Tom outside her bedroom window. It was like a reflex, just what you do. We didn't pause to consider other possible responses -- and, after two LAPD officers promised to put our apartment on their regular patrol for the next few weeks, we gave no thought to what that added police presence might mean to our mostly Black neighbors."

I dearly wish that she had chosen to share some of those "other possible responses" because I cannot think of one.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:00 PM on April 6, 2008


Move along, citizen, there's nothing for you to see here--just some of them crazy hippies. Always remember: The Police Are Your Friends. If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.

You actually can't understand why a movement that aims to fight oppression might want to take a critical look at using the long arm of the law as the instrument of its struggle?


You didn't answer the question that kittens posed, though, and I'm curious as to what your answer might possibly be.

If someone's peeing into my house, I shouldn't call the police because my neighbors - who are Palestinian - might feel uncomfortable with an increased police presence? What should I do? Put on some spandex and use my super freeze power to fight for truth and justice?
posted by kbanas at 5:02 PM on April 6, 2008


Well, ok, peeping into my house. Peeing into my house would be shitty too, though.
posted by kbanas at 5:02 PM on April 6, 2008


Peeing into my house would be shitty too, though.

no - shitting into your house would be shitty
posted by pyramid termite at 5:04 PM on April 6, 2008


anotherpanacea seems to sum up the article & issue well.

Paraphrased, the People's Front of Feminism uses tactics that work for them, but the Feminist People's Front prefers other tactics that are more suited to their situation.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:05 PM on April 6, 2008 [10 favorites]


If someone's peeing into my house, I shouldn't call the police because my neighbors - who are Palestinian - might feel uncomfortable with an increased police presence? What should I do? Put on some spandex and use my super freeze power to fight for truth and justice?

No. You close the blinds and stop buying into the paranoia. Or you open the window and scream "Fuck off." Or you ask a neighbor to keep an eye out.

Calling the police is not the default solution to any problem. In this context, it is also not a morally neutral solution.
posted by nasreddin at 5:06 PM on April 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


no - shitting into your house would be shitty

Ha! How did I not see that one?
posted by kbanas at 5:06 PM on April 6, 2008


I feel like this author suddenly realized that feminism wasn't going to save the world, and that, for a woman, being a feminist isn't necessarily a 100% altruistic act - that it's also a means for her to look out for her own interests, and these means may entail, at times, making compromises with other groups, or at the very least interactions where needs have to be negotiated. Now she's paralyzed, because she still wants to pretend that feminism is this all-knowing, all-powerful, all-feeling panacea for all ills. Problem is, nothing is. She also has to deal with the fact that being a self-identified feminist doesn't mean that everyone single person she ever meets or thinks about is going to think she's a saint. To many people, she's just someone else.

She'd be better off relaxing and getting back to what she does.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:07 PM on April 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


No. You close the blinds and stop buying into the paranoia. Or you open the window and scream "Fuck off." Or you ask a neighbor to keep an eye out.

Calling the police is not the default solution to any problem. In this context, it is also not a morally neutral solution.


This is stupid. So, ok, a peeping tom - I stick my head out the window and yell. As far as you're concerned, there's a certain threshold of danger that has to be met, as designated, of course, by you, before the people who are paid to protect us can....protect us?
posted by kbanas at 5:07 PM on April 6, 2008


Did you notice the ads on the site for the Southern Poverty Law Center and the grassroots radical faction of the SEIU? Or even Rock the Vote? What did you expect to find in this article, if not writing?
posted by stammer at 7:56 PM on April 6 [+] [!]


I can bet you that all three of those organizations very much believe in the rule of law, which the author seems to think exists only as an arm of patriarchal/racist/classist oppression.
posted by footnote at 5:08 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


my (white, female, ex-gutter-punk) roommate and I rushed together to call the police when we were startled by a Peeping Tom outside her bedroom window. It was like a reflex, just what you do. We didn't pause to consider other possible responses -- and, after two LAPD officers promised to put our apartment on their regular patrol for the next few weeks, we gave no thought to what that added police presence might mean to our mostly Black neighbors.
This sounds to me like a radicalized version of "white guilt about gentrification" which is an emerging genre of progressive cultural (self-)criticism.
posted by deanc at 5:10 PM on April 6, 2008


Or you ask a neighbor to keep an eye out.

Or you ask to borrow a handgun. They probably have lots.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 5:10 PM on April 6, 2008


Most "feminists" don't even know what they want other than to replace Good and Evil with Female and Male.
posted by tarvuz at 5:11 PM on April 6, 2008


Calling the police is not the default solution to any problem.

Heh. Okay. I can think of one or two, maybe, but if you're comfortable with this belief, then be it far from me to try and convince you otherwise.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:13 PM on April 6, 2008


this thread has the possibility to go in all sorts of bad directions. but, i'm keeping my fingers crossed.




wait, nas, c'mon. is this flamebait? are you into pickin' fights with trolls today?
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 5:14 PM on April 6, 2008


I dearly wish that she had chosen to share some of those "other possible responses" because I cannot think of one.

I think the answer lies somewhere in this passage, if you search hard enough:

Meanwhile, my questions about feminist media makers' lack of attention to Arellano's story were largely blown off. When a couple of these journalists did eventually mention Arellano's story on their blogs, the focus was on violence against trans women of color (framed as perpetual victims), with no analysis connecting the story to movements to abolish the prison system or defy the legitimacy of national borders.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:15 PM on April 6, 2008


The central point that the author seemed to wish to discuss - that often, various social justice movements have points of practical and ideological conflict with one another - is important. But this article is entirely incoherent. She criticizes authors who publicized a case where a transsexual man died in federal custody for lack of adequate medical care on the basis that they failed to "defy the legitimacy of national borders" while they were at it. Talk about the best being the enemy of the good.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:16 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


(don't feed the tarvuz!)
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:16 PM on April 6, 2008


I dearly wish that she had chosen to share some of those "other possible responses" because I cannot think of one.

Probably something community-based, like anarcho-syndicalism would provide the answers.

Basically, the state is patriarchy and vice versa. The number one concern of the state is self preservation, and this often means economic exploitation and white supremacy, of ignorance and/or appropriation of the work of feminists of color etc etc.

So, when a peeping tom strikes, instead of relying on the police, it would be better to rely on the neighbourhood justice committee or whatever. Presumably each community (a neighbourhood, apartment building or co-op) has some sort of community justice community staffed by a rotating group of volunteers.

There is no leader, and neighbourhood safety policies are agreed by consensus (such safety ordinances are, of course, always just, and respect the diversity and individuality of each member of the collective, who also must help grow plants and shear sheep).

So, there is an alternative to calling the police the next time a peeping tom strikes! Call together your neighbourhood justice collective (just don't call it a "posse").
posted by KokuRyu at 5:17 PM on April 6, 2008 [6 favorites]


footnote: I can bet you that all three of those organizations very much believe in the rule of law, which the author seems to think exists only as an arm of patriarchal/racist/classist oppression.

I'm no feminist scholar (actually I'm not a scholar of any kind) but I don't think the essay is as black and white as you (and other posters in this thread) are reading it. I think the idea is to re-think your ingrained responses and find ways to set aside your biases and privileges in the interests of all women.

I think we always feel a bit of knee-jerk defensiveness or a feeling of being unfairly convicted in response cultural critique but in fairness the premise of the article makes complete sense -- there is inherent hypocrisy in using what you've identified as a tool of oppression as a tool of your own protection when it's convenient for you. Maybe the reason the answers aren't laid out in bullet form in the article is because there are no easy answers to this problem.
posted by loiseau at 5:18 PM on April 6, 2008 [7 favorites]


As much as I agree with anotherpanacea, I have to wonder...what other option is there? I've perused radical feminist blogs (such as IBtP) and their only solution to this mess is to "wait until the revolution comes". And until then? The legal system is far from perfect but as it stands I think there is more hope of working within it to change it rather than hope for a total overhaul of it.
posted by liquorice at 5:18 PM on April 6, 2008


Of course, I say all this as a feminist, law student and "woman of colour" so I have no idea where I fall in all this.
posted by liquorice at 5:20 PM on April 6, 2008


No. You close the blinds and stop buying into the paranoia. Or you open the window and scream "Fuck off." Or you ask a neighbor to keep an eye out.

Where the hell do you live? And are there vacancies?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:22 PM on April 6, 2008


Sorry, knee-jerk derail, self-flagged.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:23 PM on April 6, 2008


So, when a peeping tom strikes, instead of relying on the police, it would be better to rely on the neighbourhood justice committee or whatever.

or, as long as you're living in a state of anarchy, you could just set up some cans on a fence every sunday and shoot them off

word will get around and you will have a distinct lack of peeping toms peeping in that apartment building's windows
posted by pyramid termite at 5:23 PM on April 6, 2008


join us for the epic adventures of neighbourhood justice collective

[tonight on adult swim]
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 5:24 PM on April 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


I don't think the essay is as black and white as you (and other posters in this thread) are reading it. I think the idea is to re-think your ingrained responses and find ways to set aside your biases and privileges in the interests of all women.

I actually think she means the opposite -- that the interests of white women are diametrically opposed to the interests of women of color. I just can't get on board with that kind of divisiveness.
posted by footnote at 5:25 PM on April 6, 2008


I just so get tired of the argument that if something isn't perfect we should throw it away. Yes police departments around the country have often targeted black people and have committed atrocities, but they are in the minority and by and large having the police is a good thing. The answer isn't not to call the cops when you are in danger, the answer is to work towards getting rid of bad cops and making the good ones more responsive to minority communities that rightfully don't fully trust the police because of their past actions. The answer is to engage, not disengage. This article makes me mad.
posted by whoaali at 5:27 PM on April 6, 2008 [13 favorites]


Where the hell do you live? And are there vacancies?

The ghetto. You never heard of Flatbush?
posted by nasreddin at 5:28 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is the core of the article:
I'm using 'whiteness' here to talk broadly about assimilated identities and assimilationist politics, which undermine movements for social change. As white people in the twenty-first century, we can't undo or deny the skin privilege we have been granted via generations of erasure of cultural differences and assimilation to power. But as white feminists, if we are working toward profound social change, we can choose not to engage in political work that is about assimilation to and achieving "safety" or "empowerment" or "freedom" of movement within existing power structures -- especially when those structures (e.g., militaristically enforced national borders, the prison industrial complex) are designed to make others unsafe, and unfree.

I wonder again: What is your feminism for? If it is for disruption and redistribution of power across society (i.e., not just for women like you), it cannot be so ignorant of, exploitative of, and even counter to the prison-abolition and immigrants' rights movements -- not only because marginalized women are involved in and affected by those struggles, but because they are where some of the most significant challenges to power are being made today. ...

If feminism is about social change, it is about recognizing that safety in this society is a fantasy afforded only by assimilation to power, and the cost of that fake safety is the safety of those who cannot, or will not, access it. If feminism is about social change, it is about radically challenging prisons and borders of all kinds.

If feminism is about social change, white feminism -- a feminism of assimilation, of gentle reform and/or strengthening of institutions that are instrumental to economic exploitation and white supremacy, of ignorance and/or appropriation of the work of feminists of color -- is an oxymoron.

posted by LobsterMitten at 5:31 PM on April 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


I actually think she means the opposite -- that the interests of white women are diametrically opposed to the interests of women of color. I just can't get on board with that kind of divisiveness.

How about "The interests that white women have been pursuing lately are opposed to the interests of women of color"?

I mean hell, the author identifies herself as white. If she thought she was guaranteed to be fighting against non-white women forever, this would be a damn funny thing to be writing. She's not saying "We'll always be at odds," but rather "We've been at odds so far — let's cut that shit out!"
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:31 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Also: wow! Everyone's been civil so far! People have said some interesting and thought-provoking things! I know this is a challenging article, and lots of us are gonna disagree pretty strongly on it, but let's keep it going, eh?)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:34 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I actually think she means the opposite -- that the interests of white women are diametrically opposed to the interests of women of color.

Her thesis is far too tortuous to be summed up that easily. Her article is about "whiteness" (which is a useful and important concept for understanding history and privilege)... but by "whiteness" she means "not only skin privilege but also straightness, liberalism, a sense of entitlement to safety (especially within existing social structures), and other markers of an identity and worldview shaped by assimilation to power." Also, there's a footnote after "straightness" - it includes people who are gay, but whose queer identity is constructed such that it "suggests there even, naturally, is such a thing" as straightness. So. Long as that's clear.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:37 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Even though it's looking like this article is producing mutual incomprehensibility along the usual statist/anti-statist lines, I still think it might be possible to move past mocking the author's '80s Culture Wars Speak (undeniably bad) and try to debate the problem itself.

Just a suggestion.
posted by nasreddin at 5:41 PM on April 6, 2008


Ok, so I'll hesitatingly weigh-in. I 'm a feminist-in-training at an elite institution, surrounded by the kinds of people who this article ostensibly is written about. She misses the boat on two fronts although there's an important critique to be made.

Yes, there is no question that parts feminism is largely reflective of white interests and white voices and white interests in problematic ways but this is nothing new, has been written about to death, is not limited to feminism, and to be honest, she's pointing the finger at the wrong place. The radical feminists I know talk at length about prison and trans issues (and are close to the SRLP).

The worst racism I see is from so-called sex-positive feminists who think they're background as an Ivy League call girl shows how liberating sex work is and forcibly ignores the reality of the incredible majority of poor and minority women forced into prostitution, etc. Whatever poster above made the comment that rape is a privileged issue has it completely backwards; it's this nonsense third-wave stuff that ignores the gender-motivated violence and celebrates pornography where I see the worst of it. Personally, in my own experience, radical feminists are the best activists I know when it comes to issues of immigration, trans issues, race, and so on. That doesn't mean we agree with the author, but damned if we don't care deeply about the issues and put our money where our mouth is.

What kills me is that the author is asking women of color to do the same thing that men always ask of them, to put their own issues aside for the sake of the community. It's loud and clear -> Black women, your rights are less important than the community's, which really means Black men. This is what women everywhere are expected to do.

I believe that the prison system is a modern-day corollary of slavery, I do not trust the police ever since I got beat up when arrested (not my only time) and I know damn well the effect this has on minority communities. But women have a right to be free from gender motivated violence and we need to assert this by any means necessary. I'm sick of telling black women not to call the cops because the community could get hurt. There are lots of articles about this, new solutions like GPS monitoring that can create intermediate steps between incarceration and ignorance, and so on.

What is a community if it does not include the rights of its women to be free from gender motivated violence? The prison system needs desperate reform, the police need an overhaul, and so on, but why are we asking women of color to bear that burden?
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:44 PM on April 6, 2008 [28 favorites]


Wow, that second paragraph came out great. It should read: Yes, there is no question that in parts, feminism is largely reflective of white voices and white interests in problematic ways, but this is nothing new, has been written about to death, is not limited to feminism, and to be honest, she's pointing the finger at the wrong place.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:45 PM on April 6, 2008


The part that I don't understand is the apparent presumption that women of color would be better off without these toughened laws: I find nasreddin's earlier comment seems to trivialize the experience of women for whom the need for security is very real. (If you're afraid of feeling violated, you're just buying into paranoia, and the best thing you can do is ignore it for the sake of marginalized people in the prison system?)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 5:45 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


And yeah, I'm not sure I'm seeing anything new here at all. She acknowledges this - she says "you've all heard this critique before but you're ignoring its occurrence in the present".

I don't share that experience. Most feminists I know are acutely aware of the tensions she describes, and regard prison reform and immigration policy as important areas of feminist concern -- even if their approach is not to hold out for "the abolition of the prison system and defiance of national borders" as she recommends.

Those seem like bizarrely naive goals that are likely to yield zero improvement in actual conditions for the people who are trapped in those institutions, and zero change in the policies that put them there. Yes, in the abstract limit feminism is about equalizing power all across the board. But it better be about more concrete steps to help actual people now, too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:48 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


* and their not they're and so on. Sigh. I shouldn't type while angry.

Am still angry.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:48 PM on April 6, 2008


I get your point, nasreddin (and I thank you for posting this piece) but for me, the incomprehensibility of the article is part of what I find loathsome about it. According to her definitions, Thurgood Marshall, who worked to dismantle segregation via the courts? Part of the problem. Downright white with his sense of "entitlement to safety within existing social structures" and his "liberalism" (as opposed to, per her footnote, both conservatism and radicalism as she defines it). Conversely, the author believes that by worrying over that time she called the police when a scary dude was staring in her window - she is part of the solution! I find that narcissistic and absurd.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:49 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


nasreddin, which problem are you suggesting we discuss?
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:51 PM on April 6, 2008


Even though it's looking like this article is producing mutual incomprehensibility along the usual statist/anti-statist lines, I still think it might be possible to move past mocking the author's '80s Culture Wars Speak (undeniably bad) and try to debate the problem itself.
While it's not particularly nice to mock the language of the article, the main issue with it is that its argument, while the author thinks it's really fascinating, is a fairly mediocre one that you can find on the comments of any weblog. The argument is, "Why are you talking about issue X, when can't you see that issue Y is what's really important?" It is, as allen.spaulding just said, a call for women to "put their own issues aside for the sake of the community."

Issues of safety, specifically, are of paramount importance in that without basic safety, other concerns of feminism can't even begin to be addressed and lack of safety perpetuates the very community problems that the author thinks are more important-- in short, asking others to suffer in the hopes of holding out for a better deal when "the revolution comes."

Ironically, I feel that these criticisms, both from radicals and right-wing conservatives, that feminism "refuses to address [issue Y I will bash feminists over the head with]", when they're not simply false accusations, are just a means of silencing feminists from having their very valid issues addressed.
posted by deanc at 5:54 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I find nasreddin's earlier comment seems to trivialize the experience of women for whom the need for security is very real. (If you're afraid of feeling violated, you're just buying into paranoia, and the best thing you can do is ignore it for the sake of marginalized people in the prison system?)

Her point is that the kind of security offered by the State and the prison system is a) fundamentally false, like security theater, and b) dependent on the continuing oppression and incarceration of already marginalized groups. There are other ways to go about protecting yourself that don't involve sacrificing your agency to an ultimately malevolent source of oppression. Like building stronger community ties, for example.

I don't want to make this into another anarchism debate, because belief in the legitimacy of government is something that seems to be a matter of almost religious faith and I end up having a bad time. But keep in mind that the author is pretty clearly working from an anti-statist perspective, and assuming she hasn't thought through questions of reform, accommodation, recuperation, and so on is somewhat misguided. If you're expecting her to give a detailed defense of anti-statism, she won't have the space--but in order to understand her position, you need to be able to accept anti-statism as a possible premise. In other words, to keep an open mind.
posted by nasreddin at 5:56 PM on April 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


in fairness the premise of the article makes complete sense -- there is inherent hypocrisy in using what you've identified as a tool of oppression as a tool of your own protection when it's convenient for you.

That premise would only make sense if the so-called "white feminists" had in fact identified the police & legal system as a tool of oppression. However, that seems to be the poor, minority feminist position.

The white feminists apparently think that better rape trials, stronger laws around restraining orders etc are a viable solution, and that even if the legal system can be used oppressively, it does not necessarily follow that it must be oppressive.

This is another example of the schism between radicals & reformists throughout critical theory. Radicals think that only smashing the current structure in a revolution-that-will-never-happen can fix society's problems, while the reformists feel that there's no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and that even an imperfect system can slowly be improved over time.

As whoaali argues, "I just so get tired of the argument that if something isn't perfect we should throw it away", and the whole notion that the police & the state should be dismantled because at times they have been used oppressively reminds me of calls for a more wholistic, subjective legal system, on the basis that phallogocentric male rationality has failed at times to deliver good outcomes for women in court.

As with the idea of a state without prisons or police, I have no clear idea what this subjective "female" legal system would look like. I imagine trials going on for years, as all the subjective & emotive contextual detail is discussed from every possible angle by all concerned. My model also prominently features tea & cake, which we can all agree would be a vast improvement to the trial process.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:56 PM on April 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


I have no clear idea what this subjective "female" legal system would look like. I imagine trials going on for years, as all the subjective & emotive contextual detail is discussed from every possible angle by all concerned. My model also prominently features tea & cake

Um, Ubu, isn't that a pretty sexist thing to say in a thread like this?
posted by nasreddin at 5:58 PM on April 6, 2008


She wasn't saying that she shouldn't have called the police, she was saying that she shouldn't have accepted the offer of extra patrols in her neighborhood after the incident.
posted by delmoi at 6:01 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ubu, you made a really good comment and then you ended it with that stupid, inflammatory paragraph. Tsk.
posted by liquorice at 6:03 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


nasreddin: I still don't understand your argument, not putting away people who deserve to be in jail, in no way helps those that are unjustly imprisoned or improperly treated by our justice system.


Also, the whole premise of this argument rests on the foundation that police departments, judges, prisons, laws, etc are all equally bad or equally good. These institutions are comprised of thousands if not millions of people. Some are good and some are bad, and a lot waiver between the two. They are far too large and complex to be simply "bad" or "good" forces in our society, sure sometimes the scales might tip more one way than the other, but the whole premise of this argument is ridiculously simplistic.
posted by whoaali at 6:09 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't want to make this into another anarchism debate

Oh. I actually thought that was why you posted this. I actually thought that was why she wrote this, too. To try to rhetorically redirect the focus of feminism towards a general conception of "social change" involving the breakdown of prisons and borders, without using the "A-word".
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:16 PM on April 6, 2008


Hm, that must be why I only got a Credit for Feminist Legal Theory.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:16 PM on April 6, 2008


You know how people like to make fun of people being "pro-life" and also pro-death penalty? I think the same humor applies to people who want to be "Anti-opression" by keeping rapists out of jail.
posted by Bookhouse at 6:19 PM on April 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


I just so get tired of the argument that if something isn't perfect we should throw it away. Yes police departments around the country have often targeted black people and have committed atrocities, but they are in the minority and by and large having the police is a good thing.

I suggested earlier a link between this article's argument and the argument against "liberal interventionism" (or humanitarian imperialism). If we allow the comparison, I guess your argument is equivalent to the liberals who say the invasion of Iraq was bad because it distracted America from properly invading Afghanistan; that it diverted resources that would be better used crushing the Afghan indigenous resistance; that American state violence is not in itself a problem, but rather a solution that has not been properly utilised.

The problem is not a few ("minority") racist cops in a generally well-meaning justice system. 1/3rd of black men will go to prison during their lifetime, compared to 6% of white men. American blacks were imprisoned, beaten, lynched, eaten by dogs while fighting to achieve real voting rights, and now 13% of them have had that right taken away again due to felon status.
More recently, Princeton sociologist Bruce Western has mined NLSY data to show that incarceration has "large and enduring effects on job-prospects of ex-convicts." He finds that the negative labor market effects of youth incarceration can last for more than a decade and that adult incarceration reduces paid employment by five to ten weeks annually. Since incarceration rates are especially high among those with the least power in the labor market (young and unskilled minority men), he shows, U.S. incarceration dramatically exacerbates inequality. This research is consistent with numerous experimental studies suggesting that the employment prospects of job applicants with criminal records are far worse than the chances of persons who have never been convicted or imprisoned and from the testimony of job placement professionals who deal with ex-offenders. "Even when paroled inmates are able to find jobs," the New York Times reported last Fall, "they earn only half as much as people of the same social and economic background who have not been incarcerated."
The criminal justice system is not a disinterested protective service that can be called down like an airstrike into a poor, black neighbourhood without causing civilian casualties. MetaFilter users probably don't typically encounter it when it is fulfilling its usual role: as a massive, powerful, and extremely effective tool for destroying lifes, the state's primary tool of direct repression, which can act with near-total impunity against certain segments of society, with life-altering, community-wrecking consequences. Calling 911 is not an act that exists outside of politics.

This isn't really about anarchism or statism, and I don't think. It's about class, and about how government is never a neutral bystander in an active class war.
posted by stammer at 6:20 PM on April 6, 2008 [9 favorites]


Ubu did that on purpose. Bad boy, Ubu!

And isn't feminism supposed to be about women, not about ending the state? I'm fine if she's an anti-statist and believes that anarchy would be best for women, but that's not really feminism, per se.
posted by footnote at 6:21 PM on April 6, 2008


My total commitment to bombastic rhetoric leaves me no time for bourgeois notions of "grammar".
posted by stammer at 6:23 PM on April 6, 2008 [10 favorites]


You can choose to work with (aspects of) Leviathan to make it more just or you can hope and agitate for total revolution.

Systematic Revolutions rarely lead to the equality dreamed of by thier proponents. The upheavals are immense, injustices usually increase while the power strcture gives way, and guess what: that old friend, Lust for Power asserts itself nicely after the fall.

I am inherently distrustful of people that say we need to destroy the Nation State and the Patriarchy, not because these things aren't unjust, but becuase the states they would put us through to get us to an unlikely utopia would invariably pass through something much worse.

This is precious little comfort for those on the sharp and often unfair end of the current stick. All I would say to them is: given man's (and woman's) nature: there will always be a stick. It is our job to trammel it's tendency to grow, mitigate its corrupting power and delegitimize its nonjudicious application.

Wishing for the end of the stick will not make it go away.
posted by lalochezia at 6:23 PM on April 6, 2008 [12 favorites]


stammer, thanks for that. but still, what people in poor, dangerous neighborhoods want is more safety, right? even though real safety undoubtably has to come from outside our insane penal system, it's hard to argue that the guy shooting up the place shouldn't be put in jail.
posted by footnote at 6:23 PM on April 6, 2008


Does the author understand that poor black women can and do also use law enforcement and the justice system for their protection during protracted bouts with domestic violence? That in those cases the responding officers and prosecuting DA's might very well also be minority women? That's what I've seen in my experience as a social worker coordinating these kinds of resources in intervention settings. Maybe I just kept hitting that same outlier, you know, five times in a row.
posted by The Straightener at 6:23 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


(heh. that stupid, inflammatory paragraph was a precis of my major essay for feminist legal theory. this rather awe-inspiring woman was my prof)
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:24 PM on April 6, 2008


delmoi She wasn't saying that she shouldn't have called the police, she was saying that she shouldn't have accepted the offer of extra patrols in her neighborhood after the incident.

That may not be an "offer" as such even if it is framed as one, and rejecting it would seem suspicious. It's a reasonable expectation of the police that, if they're told there's a peeping tom (or casing burglar) in the neighborhood, they will patrol around more looking for him. If you tell them at all, that's what they can be expected to do.

As to the more general issue, these are problems with the specifics of this criminal legal system, ie how it works, not that one exists at all. If our house lets in the rain, that is a problem with our house, not with the idea that we need shelter.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:29 PM on April 6, 2008


I understand that within feminist circles, women of color have been marginalized. It appears to me as if white feminists have gotten the memo, and are taking measures to recify it.

What I don't understand is the precise accusations that are coming from many women of color. It's as if they are afraid to tackle the problem of sexism head-on, and so they would rather complain that the big powerful lobby of white sisterhood is the sole and exclusive cause of racism.

It's a self-protective distancing technique, so they don't have to deal with racism or sexism directly. Even when the secret cabol of white sisterhood is demolished, women of color still won't have accomplished much if anything -- because they never went after the original source of the problem.
posted by bravelittletoaster at 6:33 PM on April 6, 2008


Does the author understand that poor black women can and do also use law enforcement and the justice system for their protection during protracted bouts with domestic violence?

As an anarchist it is unlikely the author understands anything much at all. Understanding implies gathering ideas, weighing their relative value, considering their consequences and testing them out, and this reduces the anarchist's freedom of thought. It's much easier to simply assert, over and over again, regardless of the outcome of any previous arguments on the subject, that anarchism is somehow a good idea.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:36 PM on April 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


I just so get tired of the argument that if something isn't perfect we should throw it away. Yes police departments around the country have often targeted black people and have committed atrocities, but they are in the minority and by and large having the police is a good thing.

I suggested earlier a link between this article's argument and the argument against "liberal interventionism" (or humanitarian imperialism). If we allow the comparison, I guess your argument is equivalent to the liberals who say the invasion of Iraq was bad because it distracted America from properly invading Afghanistan; that it diverted resources that would be better used crushing the Afghan indigenous resistance; that American state violence is not in itself a problem, but rather a solution that has not been properly utilised.


Stammer that isn't an appropriate comparison. A more analogous example would be that the Iraq war is unjust and that in that war the US military has been used as a tool to execute that unjust war. However, simply because the US military can be used as a tool to execute an unjust war, does not mean that we should not have a military, because the military can also be used to fight a just war and for self defense. Having a military is vital to fulfill those two needs should they arise, the simple fact that something can be manipulated for evil purposes doesn't mean it shouldn't exist, indeed that would eliminate virtually everything on this planet.

The police are the exact same thing, in theory police improve society, that doesn't mean they can't and aren't used to unjust purposes. You don't have to convince how bad some people departments are or how destructive they have been, but the answer here isn't no police, it's better and different police. I agree than vast reforms need to be made, but I don't see anarchy as a preferable alternative.

Also, just as an aside, did it ever occur to the author that her black neighbors down the street might prefer not to have a peeping tom looking in their daughters window also?
posted by whoaali at 6:37 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


So for all the people arguing in favor of the article, or against statist intervention in the case of gender-motivated violence, I would like some response to my challenge that this is nothing more than telling women that their rights are less valuable than men's. We simply do not ask men to put their rights aside in the same way, or ever. We all support an unjust system whenever we go to work, eat something, use money, electricity, vote, and so on (and nonsense lifestyle activism is not the answer, this is going to require radical change).

So why should women be the ones who give up their righs for the community? Doesn't this notion of change ultimately exclude from its scope the issues women face as women? Why should any woman get on board (except for fear of reprisal from the community, meaning other men)?
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:41 PM on April 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


The problem is not a few ("minority") racist cops in a generally well-meaning justice system. 1/3rd of black men will go to prison during their lifetime, compared to 6% of white men. American blacks were imprisoned, beaten, lynched, eaten by dogs while fighting to achieve real voting rights, and now 13% of them have had that right taken away again due to felon status.

Boy, feminism sure has expanded its focus.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:46 PM on April 6, 2008


allen.spaulding: I do see your point, there is something about this article and this line of thought in general that is almost attacking feminism for being too pro women.
posted by whoaali at 6:48 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


whoaali: I don't think this is anything in particular to prison abolitionists (many of whom I consider to be close and dear friends) or anarchists, or anyone on the left. One of the reasons I will always have a job is because society as a whole expects women to give up their rights for the greater good, especially women of color.

Imagine how ridiculous it would have been for anti-war activists to tell civil rights leaders to stop asking for social change, because the US Government was a genocidial occupier and that anything that the federal government did inevitably would result in more Agent Orange being dropped (some dates may be fudged for the sake of analogy). Yet this is exactly the message given to women within the Panthers, SNCC, and other civil rights groups, who were told that their issues had to wait.

Furthermore, in 1978, the Supreme Court said exactly this to Native American women as well. Thurgood Marshall (ahem) decided that tribal sovereignty trumped women's rights in the case of Santa Clar Pueblo v. Martinez. That's an even harder issue than this one. Unsurprisingly, women were expected to take a back seat to the interests of the community and once again, the community was conceptualized to exclude women as women.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:59 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think that's partially because the author is arguing for a kind of "transformative" feminism: instead of fighting for women's equality (within a state framework) it's about transcending the patriarchy that is The State. (Because since The State is run by men, it's white feminists responsibility to move beyond "their own issues", and get to the important thing, which is dismantling it.)

At least, that's what it looks like.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:05 PM on April 6, 2008


by any means necessary…

I suppose attempting to address the causes of sexual violence (abuse, sexual frustration, mental illness, etc.) aren’t as significantly effective as simply strengthening laws to lock people up (I mean it has just worked wonders with drug addiction). Or am I to assume that sexual violence is just innate condition of man?

Not that this matters much when you have the ear of people armed with billy-clubs who can express your point of view for you.

by any means necessary…


I guess I should further assume that there is no such thing as a positive aspect to sex workers, and that the best means to protect marginalized folks from forced prostitution is simply outlawing prostitution instead of improving access to where the poor have more options than they currently do now?

by any means necessary…


I’m sorry. I can’t get the phraseology out of my head. I understand the point, but I keep reading it as “the road to hell…”.
posted by quintessencesluglord at 7:09 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


stammer, thanks for that. but still, what people in poor, dangerous neighborhoods want is more safety, right? even though real safety undoubtably has to come from outside our insane penal system, it's hard to argue that the guy shooting up the place shouldn't be put in jail.

There was a great bit in Dave Chappell's standup where he was talking about walking around the streets of NY with his "White friend" named Chip, stoned. They were lost and spotted a cop. Chip walked up to the cop and asked for directions to Whatever street, and says that he's "a little stoned". And the cop says "Woah, woah hold on son, you're on Whatever street." And Chappell says that this is when he realized that not everyone is afraid of the police.

And that's the thing, If you look back in history, say Chicago in the 1960s or 70s, you'll see a situation where for most African Americans, having more police on the street would make them less safe, literally less safe.

Part of the problem with modern Feminism is that it seems like it's based on a lot of theory that was created in the 1960s and 70s, and times have changed. Yet, if you look at today through that prism you can see a lot of confirmation. It also, I think, tends to put a focus on feelings more then actuality.

So, while in 1996 LA having more police patrols in the neighborhood might not actually make the residents less safe, it might make them feel less safe. Especially given this was just a few years after the LA Riots
posted by delmoi at 7:10 PM on April 6, 2008


Boy, feminism sure has expanded its focus.

No, I don't think so. Or it depends what kind of feminism you mean. There's, I guess, "liberal" feminism, which militates for women to be more fully integrated into the power structure - our first female trillionaire, our first female Defense Secretary, etc. And there's radical feminism, the first principles of which necessarily require a commitment to anti-racism, and which aims to end oppression generally, with the end of gendered oppression (and the role of gender concepts play in reproducing oppression) as a central focus. The same division exists within anti-racist activism.

aeschenkarnos, you can characterise this as meaningless and of interest only to woolly-thinking anarchists, but I figure it's pretty self-evident that calling for more armed state intervention in the ghetto - in the name of a struggle against oppression, no less - is a strategy worth thinking through in detail. Again, these are the arguments for the invasion of Afghanistan repeated in miniature - we've got to save the brown honeys from their brutal husbands, brothers, and fathers! Let's send in the massive, racist attack dog that, for decades, has been destroying their communities wherever it sets foot! Similar race-and-sex arguments were also made to justify the disastrous domestic invasion of parts of northwestern Australia last year.
posted by stammer at 7:11 PM on April 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


A very interesting variation on the problem Jessica Hoffmann is trying to address is playing itself out in Texas even as we write, but without the confusing (and in Ms. Hoffmann's case apparently utterly blinding) issue of race:

Texas removes 183 women and girls from sect ranch

HOUSTON, Apr. 6, 2008 (Reuters) — Texas officials investigating a potential child abuse case said on Saturday 183 children and women had been removed from a ranch that is home to a breakaway Mormon sect linked to jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

Texas Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said the 183 consisted of 137 children and 46 women, but she could not discuss why they were taken from the ranch or whether they had left voluntarily.


and it all started with a complaint bearing a very strong family resemblance to the peeping Tom incident Ms Hoffmann recounts:

Investigators were looking for a young woman whose complaint sparked the raid in the first place...

I'm starting to believe that only state power in some form can keep human males from banding together to control women and girls-- and disposing of most of their competitors (other human males)-- just as this sect of Mormons has done.
posted by jamjam at 7:14 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I first starting hearing the ideas expressed in this article, I admit part of my initial response was due to defensiveness, but really honestly it doesn't make any sense to me. You hate racism, so of course the first thing you do is criticise white feminists??? And of course the white feminists reply "oh certainly, you're right about everything because you're perfect, and mistakes in logic or strategy would be impossible for you".

Allen, are you saying that women of color are being asked to take a back seat somehow? Because I really don't understand. What is seems like to me is that women of color are wanting white feminists to concentrate on racial injustice, instead of women.

It isn't women who are being imprisoned at high rates, so why is that a feminist problem? There's still much gender inequality that needs work, and not many activists, so why browbeat them into taking on yet another problem which isn't even theirs? Am I misunderstanding?

Why is it a woman's job to fix everything? lol
posted by bravelittletoaster at 7:23 PM on April 6, 2008


So why should women be the ones who give up their righs for the community? Doesn't this notion of change ultimately exclude from its scope the issues women face as women? Why should any woman get on board (except for fear of reprisal from the community, meaning other men)?

I don't advocate her positions, but I once took a class with a Dr. Clenora Hudson-Weems, whose theory of Africana Womanism stated (loosely, it's been a decade) that a black woman's duty was first to her race, then to her class, and then finally to her sex.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:24 PM on April 6, 2008


It isn't women who are being imprisoned at high rates, so why is that a feminist problem?

ya, this is the bit I'm curious about.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:26 PM on April 6, 2008


It isn't women who are being imprisoned at high rates, so why is that a feminist problem?

Because the position taken by the article is that women of color should not call the police when they are abused, raped, stalked, etc, because a member of their community (read: man) might be imprisoned. Women are being told that they should not exercise their right to be free from gender-motivated violence because of the conditions of the prison system.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:43 PM on April 6, 2008


Why is the wildly disproportionate imprisonment of American black men a feminist issue? Three thoughts:

1. There's the (very roughly) Marxist idea that the struggles of all oppressed people are basically the same struggle, so the underclasses (on whatever kind of class hierarchy - sex, race, economic class, etc) should band together and work for each other's liberation. The people, united, will never be defeated. (This is the conception of feminism animating this article.)

2. As black men are imprisoned at such high rates, the communities and families they're coming from are destabilized. The adults who are left there, to cope with the destabilization and other effects, are women. To help those women, one might think we should help the men too.

3. Another strand of feminism is the idea that socially-freighted gender differences are harmful to both men and women, and for this reason (for the good of both men and women) should be dismantled as much as possible. The social structures that cause black men to do crime, and the justice system that arrests and convicts them for crimes in huge numbers, do so (partly) because of socially-freighted gender differences -- so this is a major social injustice that stems (partly) from the thing feminists want to get rid of.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:44 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


"I don't advocate her positions, but I once took a class with a Dr. Clenora Hudson-Weems, whose theory of Africana Womanism stated (loosely, it's been a decade) that a black woman's duty was first to her race, then to her class, and then finally to her sex."

If black women are going to put the needs of black men before their own, then it's blatent hypocrisy to expect white women to do something different. Plus, it's downright stupid. If white feminists did that, they'd still be waiting for the right to vote.
posted by bravelittletoaster at 7:54 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


It isn't women who are being imprisoned at high rates, so why is that a feminist problem?

It's true that women make up a minority of prisoners in the United States, but it's also true that the fastest growing demographic of U.S. prisoners is women. Here's a little more context about women in prison and the drug war. Additionally, women often end up in prison for taking heat as accomplices for activities their partners are engaged in. Also, over 50% of men in prison in the U.S. are fathers (over 70% of women are mothers), and their absence effects many families in many communities in the United States. Not to mention the repercussions for families when the mother is imprisoned. I think that certainly makes it a feminist problem. Feminism to me is more than about women - it's about families, communities, relationships, and men and gender, too.

Thanks, Allen, for articulating a completely different way of interpreting this article that I hadn't thought of before.

And, this thread is awesome. Thanks everyone.
posted by lunit at 7:55 PM on April 6, 2008


Why is it a feminist problem?

Every so often you hear feminists bemoaning the fact that there aren't more women of color in their women's studies classes or activist groups, and where are all the feminists who aren't white? Is it because feminism needs better marketing?

Well - feminists have not been very successful in convincing people that they care about the rights of all women, not just rich white ones.

If black women aren't getting imprisoned at high rates, that doesn't mean the humongous rate of incarceration doesn't affect them. They lose fathers, boyfriends, husbands, sons, brothers. Republicans bemoan unwed mothers on welfare, but how would that change if the prison system changed?

And besides - it seems fundamentally selfish to fight against the oppression of your own group while shrugging your shoulders at the oppression of another group.
posted by Jeanne at 7:56 PM on April 6, 2008


a black woman's duty was first to her race, then to her class, and then finally to her sex

eventually one gets around to oneself, right?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:57 PM on April 6, 2008


Another strand of feminism is the idea that socially-freighted gender differences are harmful to both men and women

This idea is shared by strands of masculism, as well.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:59 PM on April 6, 2008


Just here to say that this thread has made me think of some things I had never thought about.
posted by Dr. Curare at 8:11 PM on April 6, 2008


Ubu, yeah, it's a weird thing about the term 'feminism' that in at least one of its major meanings it's the belief in equality between men and women.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:14 PM on April 6, 2008


The author's heart is in the right place, but she doesn't go far enough.

Rather than merely encouraging rape victims not to call the police, particularly not when the perpetrator is of color, she should also encourage people to accuse more white men of rape, irrespective of what may or may not have occurred in a particular instance.

This will have two effects: 1) it will punish the actual rapists, whose rape of entire cultures and peoples and genders makes the "crimes" of imprisoned men of color look laughably insignificant, and 2) it will turn the patriarchy's weapon back against it, forcing the closure of prisons.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:20 PM on April 6, 2008


a black woman's duty was first to her race, then to her class, and then finally to her sex

eventually one gets around to oneself, right?


No, the argument is that a black woman is a opressed 1). because she is black, 2). because she is (often) poor and only (3rd) because she is a woman, and that fighting to uplift her race (which is as much a part of her as her sex) will do more to better her situation than teaming up with NOW will. As I said, I don't embrace the idea totally, but I certainly feel there's some truth in there.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:21 PM on April 6, 2008


> And besides - it seems fundamentally selfish to fight against the oppression of your own group while shrugging your shoulders at the oppression of another group.

That's reasonable, but there also seem to be some valid concerns that the "radical" feminists are basically asking more "liberal" feminists to do the reverse: intentionally put themselves at a disadvantage -- perhaps even a life-threatening disadvantage, if you take the calling-the-police examples seriously -- for the possible betterment of some other oppressed class. That seems like a bit of a tall order. It's one thing to try and take other groups' struggles seriously and try to help whenever possible, but it seems like taking the radical viewpoint too far could quickly become self-marginalizing and paralyzing in practice.

If you refuse to call the police (or, more generally, make use of some aspect of the extant power structure) and end up getting murdered in your home (or otherwise become less effective), the ideological point you might have been making by not picking up the phone (or whatever), becomes moot. You've just taken yourself out of the game: The Man wins by default.

I question where we'd be as a nation if every rights movement had taken such an ideologically strict attitude. It seems that the most successful movements have been the ones that have courted public opinion and worked either within, or just without (but still within a tolerated zone of), the boundaries of the dominant system in order to effect change. I suppose it's possible that if they had refused to compromise, the Revolution would already have happened and we'd all be living in a glorious anarcho-syndicalist paradise, but you'll have to forgive me if I don't think that's really likely. I'm trying to keep an open mind but the track record of non-statism seems lacking.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:38 PM on April 6, 2008


I figure it's pretty self-evident that calling for more armed state intervention in the ghetto - in the name of a struggle against oppression, no less - is a strategy worth thinking through in detail. Again, these are the arguments for the invasion of Afghanistan repeated in miniature - we've got to save the brown honeys from their brutal husbands, brothers, and fathers! Let's send in the massive, racist attack dog that, for decades, has been destroying their communities wherever it sets foot!

I honestly never thought I'd see the day when women would be asked to not call 911 on a rapist because sending her attacker to jail would harm the community. How is that different in any respect from an (say) Islamic father pressuring his daughter not to report a rape because doing so would harm the prestige of his family?
posted by Avenger at 8:40 PM on April 6, 2008 [9 favorites]


Sticherbeast sums it up nicely.

What we are seeing here is the same kind of divisions among causes that we saw in the vegan strippers thread - traditionally liberal causes finding themselves in conflict with other causes when their agendas don't align perfectly. These are movements progressing a limited agenda, and inevitably some conflict must arise. Cf. PETA and feminism. When special-interest groups collide, agendas suffer.

This example is just on a more refined scale. It's an intra-feminism divide - in many cases, the white woman's problems are not the problems of women of other races. So game on.

And it's kind of sad but true, as Kadin2048 says above, that the successful movements are those that worked within the pre-existing framework created by the very oppressors the movement is trying to overcome. It's called 'the world', and it's not looking to be reinvented any time soon.
posted by cosmonik at 8:49 PM on April 6, 2008


If you don't view the police as having legitimate authority - or if you view their authority as ultimately rooted in a patriarchal power system that shouldn't even exist - and I'll admit this is a pretty radical viewpoint here, but if you believe that, then relying on the police for public safety is the moral equivalent of a sucking up to the class bullies so that you won't get beaten up and your enemies will be. It's not even a good position to be in strategically, because you don't have any guarantee that their power won't turn against you.

I don't know how much I agree with that. I'm not SO much of a radical. I tend to think that the culpability isn't with liberal feminists, but with the mainstream media, for making a big deal about stranger rape and especially the image of the big bad [black] guy lurking in an alleyway - when most rapes are committed by people known to the victim, and 88% of rapes are intraracial.
posted by Jeanne at 8:58 PM on April 6, 2008


"Women are being told that they should not exercise their right to be free from gender-motivated violence because of the conditions of the prison system."

Oh gawd, and this is the fault of white feminists?

--

1. I'm sorry, LobsterMitten, but marxism barely works in theory and I'm practical. Sexism is based on SEX, a way to control the access to sex and reproduction. So I think the case could be made that sexism is unlike any other ism in existance. And I don't see large numbers of men clamoring to eliminate gender prejudice, or agonizing if they're doing enough.

2. Letting people get away with wrongdoing also does not work in theory nor in practice. Holding people accountable is the only way we will be responsible. Some sensitivity training or anti-racial profiling for the police would be an appropiate response.

3. I can agree with your third point but the solution is not exclusively dependent upon white feminists taking up the banner. It is this assumption which is highly questionable. Black men can empower themselves, white men can help them. Why don't they? It is the absolute height of exploitation to expect white women to clean up the stinking mess of the world and then be denigrated by everybody for not doing it fast enough. Only if you expect white feminists to be your little doormat would this be expected.

I realize you're trying to educate me, (and thank you for putting it so succinctly) but it's possible that someone doesn't need a degree in Women's Studies to parse this out.
posted by bravelittletoaster at 8:59 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Avenger I totally agree.

This is the problem when arguments get pushed to their insane, but logical extreme. It's one thing to say that since black men are so disproportionately persecuted we should take huge steps to prevent the circumstances that often lead to crime, increase rehabilitation through job training and drug rehab, and reduce the ridiculous sentences for non violent crimes. And on top of that help the women and children affected by their absence. And I'm sure there are a multitude of other social programs and reforms that would help to reduce the amount of black men in jail and committing crimes.

It's quite another to want a rape victim not to call the police on her black attacker because he's a victim of the system and has a wife and kids at home. Two wrong do not make a right.
posted by whoaali at 9:00 PM on April 6, 2008


bravelittletoaster - I think you missed my point. This is what the author is arguing, not the targets of her scorn. Specifically, she's upset with white feminists who work to improve women's lives by working with the judicial system to improve enforcement and reduce violence against women.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:03 PM on April 6, 2008


that the successful movements are those that worked within the pre-existing framework created by the very oppressors the movement is trying to overcome. It's called 'the world', and it's not looking to be reinvented any time soon.

I think the argument is that sacrificing or silencing the very real dynamics of racism, sexism, etc. that occur within movements for "the sake of the movement" kind of makes one question the validity of that movement itself, and whether or not its goals are actually even worth fighting for. Seeing anti-oppression work - and the struggle to create movements that value their members in holistic ways - as an "agenda" feels dangerous and dismissive to me. Calling for the voices of women and people of color to be valued within social justice movements should not be an "agenda" of a "special-interest group." It should be a part of the strategy, organization, and identity of a movement.

It's not about conflicting agendas. It's about doing the work of critiquing our own movements when they contain inherent contradictions in mission. I fail to see how being sexist and racist supports the work of organizations like PETA who espouse a mission based on respecting humans and animals.

Failing to call out uneven power dynamics when they occur within movements for the sake of appealing to a "pre-existing framework created by the very oppressors the movement is trying to overcome is a cop-out. I believe we can do better than that.
posted by lunit at 9:07 PM on April 6, 2008


bravelittletoaster, my comment was directed to Brandon Blatcher, not you - sorry if that was confusing. I don't endorse the view articulated in the article. There are three standard reasons for thinking that prison issues might be something that should concern feminists, and I was just reciting them. You don't need to accept Marxism to accept the first reason; I called it roughly Marxist because that's the intellectual root of it. And nobody's saying that white women should be the only ones trying to change the prison situation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:15 PM on April 6, 2008


The author's tack reminds me of a gay sociology professor I had, who spent the semester talking about how the understanding of gender needed to change in America, all the while cloaking his ultimate thesis: gay activists should stop fighting for gay marriage, and instead campaign for normalization of polyamorous open relationships for everybody. You can make the argument, but it doesn't always follow.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:15 PM on April 6, 2008


It's one thing to try and take other groups' struggles seriously

This is exactly the point though, isn't it, that white women only have the gender struggle to fight for, and have the luxury of saying that race or class injustice is just not their fight? White women shouldn't be expected to take race or class injustice seriously because they're not the ones suffering? Is feminism advocacy for one special group of people or is it a program of social justice for all?

these are the arguments for the invasion of Afghanistan repeated in miniature

Stammer's link about the feminist pretext for the war in Afghanistan (and Iraq) is worth reading. If muslim women are suspicious of "white feminism", this is a sterling example why. What woman's lot has improved as a result of American invasion? Who is naive enough to still maintain empowerment of women is a real goal of American occupation? Yet that was an undeniable selling point of the invasion that was virtually unquestioned: Of course we should send in the army to liberate Afghan women. Armies are such skilled liberators of women after all.
posted by BinGregory at 9:16 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


bravelittletoaster: Whoa, upon looking again, I guess Brandon Blatcher was quoting you in asking that question. So I was addressing you without realizing it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:20 PM on April 6, 2008


GACK! as an old-ass feminist and one who has walked away from any and all "training" the following is one of those things that drives me nuts :

The worst racism I see is from so-called sex-positive feminists who think they're background as an Ivy League call girl shows how liberating sex work is and forcibly ignores the reality of the incredible majority of poor and minority women forced into prostitution, etc.

EXCUSE ME?

THE MAJORITY OF COLORED WOMEN ARE PROSTITUTES?

ARE FUCKING SERIOUS!?!?!?!

This is the kind of fucked up white privilege the author is writing JHoffman picks apart in her essay. This is EXACTLY what is wrong with a lot of what passes as feminism these days.

UGH!
posted by liza at 9:38 PM on April 6, 2008 [6 favorites]


I'm going to take a wild guess that the poster you quoted liza actually meant the majority of prostitutes are poor and minority women.
posted by whoaali at 9:42 PM on April 6, 2008


Um, liza, methinks you need a lesson in parsing. That sentence does not claim that the majority of colored women are prostitutes, but that the incredible majority of people forced into prostituion are poor and women of color. Of course, for the privileged white women who go slumming wiith brief forays into sex work, this is ignored.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:44 PM on April 6, 2008


Check that outrage reflex and read allen.spaulding's comment again.

"ignores the reality of the incredible majority of poor and minority women forced into prostitution"

As in; the 'reality' of the 'incredible majority' of 'poor and minority prostitutes' is being ignored.

(quote marks mine to help people parse it)
posted by cosmonik at 9:56 PM on April 6, 2008


No allen.spaulding, this is EXACTLY the kind of parsing that needs to happen. because this is the kind of parsing that we women of color have to live with every single frigging day of our lives.

you even say it again!

>the incredible majority of people forced into prostituion are poor and women of color

DON'T YOU SEE THE STUPIDITY OF THIS STATEMENT : POOR AND WOMEN OF COLOR!


If you don't see it, you are functioning from a position of white privilege.
posted by liza at 9:58 PM on April 6, 2008


It was like a reflex, just what you do. We didn't pause to consider other possible responses -- and, after two LAPD officers promised to put our apartment on their regular patrol for the next few weeks, we gave no thought to what that added police presence might mean to our mostly Black neighbors."

I dearly wish that she had chosen to share some of those "other possible responses" because I cannot think of one.

Here's one: Move your white ass out of the ghetto. Good lord, you can cut the white guilt and self-loathing with a knife.

In 1983, when I was in kindergarten, white (Jewish) lesbian feminist Adrienne Rich implored a white-led feminist movement: "Without addressing the whiteness of white feminism, our movement will turn in on itself and collapse."

White, Jewish, Lesbian Feminist? Did she crib this quote from The Onion or something? Better get crackin' Whitey McWhite White before what's left of your "movement" collapses.
posted by MikeMc at 10:05 PM on April 6, 2008


Yes, they are poor and yes they are women of color. These are seperate problems that must both be addressed and must both be acknowledged. I don't think I could have made that point otherwise. If you've got a position, it might be worth saying so without merely repeating in boldface and demanding acknowledgement.

And I always operate from a position of white privilege and I'm fully aware of it. If you'd like to point out how my statement somehow belies insensitivity, I'd like to hear it.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:08 PM on April 6, 2008


You're both somewhat off. The sentence says that for the incredible majority of poor and minority women forced into prostitution, their experiences are not sex-positive (as certain privileged white women are claiming).
posted by casarkos at 10:10 PM on April 6, 2008


no casarkos, the sentence says that privileged women slumming as prostitutes, who now constitute part of sex-positive feminism, forcibly ignore the reality of the incredible majority of poor and minority women forced into prostitution. The reality is one of rape, abuse, and moder-day slavery, but I didn't say that outright.

Perhaps it was poorly constructed, but I can't see why this is the focus when the claim itself seems more controversial than it's being treated. I'm accuing a lot of third-wave feminists of the equivalent of taking a Spring Break to Haiti, never leaving a resort, and then telling everyone how happy the Haitian people are. Or we can argue about sentence structure when I've already admitted I wrote it quickly and that it's riddled with typos.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:15 PM on April 6, 2008


Less caps, more expounding, please.

Operating from a position of white privilege, I don't see the problem with the bolded part you hold to be self-evident, liza. Is it one of association?

casarkos - you're telling allen.spaulding that he/she is somewhat off on their own comment?
posted by cosmonik at 10:15 PM on April 6, 2008


The author of the article seems naive about the possibility of radical change and the small scale of the illustrations of her very broad thesis are a bit jarring. But it's clear there is a real division in feminism. (Striking that nobody has mentioned this in the context of the Presidential election featuring a white woman and a black man, and the communities allied around each.)

The Peeping Tom story distracts from her thesis (or what I think her thesis should have been!) You see the underlying conflict play out when white families decide where to live based on which schools their kids will go to. Integration of schools still has not been achieved, and is a major barrier for African American kids of either gender. "Safety" makes white parents fear more diversity than they can handle.

I think the author should have concentrated not so much on real safety vs. real safety as the conflict but emphasized that people fight for their perceived safety (not, of course, knowing exactly what will make them safe). Is this hypothetical "white feminism" defined as a fear of the "other", meaning men, or more particularly poor or minority men? And maybe reluctance to side with women not born women may follow from this kind of fear (hey, the person in the next stall was born a man! maybe it's a Peeping Tom!)

Speaking as a white male who has heard of but never read bell hooks... Maybe this is discussed over and over among passionate feminist women?
posted by Schmucko at 10:18 PM on April 6, 2008


stammer There's, I guess, "liberal" feminism [...] And there's radical feminism, the first principles of which necessarily require a commitment to anti-racism, and which aims to end oppression generally, with the end of gendered oppression (and the role of gender concepts play in reproducing oppression) as a central focus. The same division exists within anti-racist activism.
Anecdotally, this would be because it's the same people in the "radical" division. They are first and foremost radicals, and they try their hardest to turn any "-ism" they touch to the service of that radical ideal. They do not ask "how can I help these people fight oppression of women?", they ask "how can I persuade these people, whose primary political interest is fighting the oppression of women, towards the larger goal of fighting absolutely all oppression of everyone everywhere?". As usual, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Gains that could be made, by liberal feminists, liberal civil rights activists, liberal animal welfare activists, liberal environmental protectionists etc, are denied and set back by the relentless insistence of a vocal cadre of radicals on ignoring the matter at hand in order to pursue activism ad absurdum. Which, being absurd, is easily argued against.

It's like fighting a war, and deciding that the only way to win is to build a cannon so big that it will kill all of the enemy soldiers at once. It has the same effect on the prospects of victory and the morale of one's allies.

aeschenkarnos, you can characterise this as meaningless and of interest only to woolly-thinking anarchists,
No, I characterise it as the wooly thinking of an anarchist. It' s not meaningless--its existence has a great deal of meaning, and perfectly illustrates what's wrong with anarchism--and it is of significant interest to others, hence this thread.

but I figure it's pretty self-evident that calling for more armed state intervention in the ghetto - in the name of a struggle against oppression, no less - is a strategy worth thinking through in detail.
All things are worth thinking through in detail, but (a) there's diminishing returns in that, ie you have to stop somewhere and do something; (b) as others have pointed out, there's a distinct lack of any alternative strategy presented. I'll take armed state intervention in the ghetto, over leaving the ghetto's inhabitants to each others' mercies.

Again, these are the arguments for the invasion of Afghanistan repeated in miniature - we've got to save the brown honeys from their brutal husbands, brothers, and fathers! Let's send in the massive, racist attack dog that, for decades, has been destroying their communities wherever it sets foot! Similar race-and-sex arguments were also made to justify the disastrous domestic invasion of parts of northwestern Australia last year.
Again, it is not the concept of intervention per se that is the problem. I would argue that those who possess the means to do so are obligated to intervene on behalf of those unable to protect themselves. That's the justification for having police forces: the appointment, training, and equipping of people to perform the role of protectors. It is the manner in which that intervention is done, that role fulfilled, that is the problem here.

If we must delay until some perfect method of intervention is found, we will never intervene. If the only solution acceptable to you is the complete reinvention of human society into some kind of utopia, as seems to be the anarchist Step 3 (and I draw your attention to the total absence of Step 2), then you become just another problem, for those who actually want to solve problems.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:18 PM on April 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


The incredible majority of the poor and minority women who are forced into prostitution do not experience sex work as liberating.

In contrast, when white, sex-positive Ivy League feminists take a stint as call girls, they report that it is liberating.

This ignores the reality of the majority of the (subset of) poor and minority women who work as prostitutes out of necessity.

Parsed that for you.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:25 PM on April 6, 2008


Things get really confusing for toasters late at night. I have to be up early! So apologies for any confuddlement.

"Is feminism advocacy for one special group of people or is it a program of social justice for all?"

I think that's the problem. For the record, I detest injustice for anyone and would do my best to help eliminate prejudice whenever I see it. But for me personally, I resent the implication that it is the sole, exclusive DUTY of feminist groups to tackle racism on a large scale. If there was no implied duty, then assistance would be asked instead of demanded and there wouldn't be so much general criticism for not eliminating it soonest.

It is an assumption that every oppressed group is entitled to a woman who cares; it is an assumption! That is sexist! Go ask your father!
posted by bravelittletoaster at 10:28 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I thought that sentence was from the article. In no way am I trying to contradict the point you're making.
posted by casarkos at 10:30 PM on April 6, 2008


I would argue that those who possess the means to do so are obligated to intervene on behalf of those unable to protect themselves

This is true, but only true if there is a plausible likelihood that that intervention will improve things. Using moral obligation to help improve the lot of muslim women as an excuse to invade and occupy another country is bogus in the extreme. If you aren't reasonably sure of a positive outcome, then you don't really possess the means you think you do, and the obligation is lifted.
posted by BinGregory at 10:48 PM on April 6, 2008


The incredible majority of the poor and minority women who are forced into prostitution do not experience sex work as liberating.

In contrast, when white, sex-positive Ivy League feminists take a stint as call girls, they report that it is liberating.
people who deal with the suffering and difficulties of a particular mode of existence to transform into an idealization of that mode of existence itself. The former is a necessary step toward empathy and working to improve conditions, the latter tends to shortcut any real reform. We fetishize suffering.
Just to clarify, I'm not saying that industrial or agricultural labor are the same as prostitution, just giving other examples of how this tendency seems to appear again and again in our culture.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:54 PM on April 6, 2008


UbuRoivas, I'm so sick of your white priv-...oh wait, you got it in one.

I think bravelittletoaster's point is true, that it's unreasonable to put the burden of all causes on the shoulders of white women, but I don't think that's what is being asked here. Nor do I think anyone is saying it's the 'sole, exclusive duty' of feminist groups to tackle racism; feminism is merely part of a larger effort and has a role to play, even if that role is as simple as progressing their agenda while not harming the agenda of non-white feminism.

only true if there is a plausible likelihood that that intervention will improve things.

BinGregory, the problem there is that many believe beyond a doubt that they have the capability to affect positive change, and that their intervention will improve things - nay, that such an intervention is the only way of improving things. It's just that they're dead wrong.
posted by cosmonik at 10:54 PM on April 6, 2008


Gah. Apologies, that post got a bit messed up. First chunk after the quotes should have read: This reminds me of how some Marxist intellectuals have chosen to view industrial labor, and Romantics in the 1800s portrayed agricultural life. There is a nasty tendency to allow our repect for people who deal with the sufferings, etc.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:57 PM on April 6, 2008


Well, a lot of Marxists complained that the unions etc undermined the revolutionary struggle by improving the conditions of workers enough that they were reasonably content with a 40 hour week, TV, SUV etc. If things had played out as they wanted, the capitalists would have oppressed the workers so badly that revolution would have been the only option.

Something about expecting people to sacrifice themselves as individuals - in favour of perceived race / community needs - reminds me of that criticism.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:09 PM on April 6, 2008


UbuRoivas The incredible majority of the poor and minority women who are forced into prostitution do not experience sex work as liberating. In contrast, when white, sex-positive Ivy League feminists take a stint as call girls, they report that it is liberating. This ignores the reality of the majority of the (subset of) poor and minority women who work as prostitutes out of necessity.
Both, taken at face value, are valid reports of personal emotional experience. I expect that, if forced to have sex with brutal, foul-breathed drunken louts who may or may not pay her the small market-rate fee and pass on an STD as a tip, if addicted to crack, harassed by police, brutalized by pimps, marginalized by society and always aware of the total dependence of a child or five on her efforts, the white college girl would find the experience of prostitution absolutely horrible. Far more horrible than the poor minority woman does, because it represents such a deep drop in conditions.

If allowed to set her own times and rates of work, treated with deference, paid a fortune, able to get good medical care, cosmetics, and food (often at good restaurants), and having generally unconfronting and pleasant sex with relatively presentable and respectable-looking, clean, discreet clients, armed with the certain knowledge that if she screamed and ran away, he would be the one facing the worst outcome, I expect the poor minority woman would find that lifestyle far more liberating than the college girl does, again because it represents such a massive rise in conditions.

What these two women's experiences say is that it is largely the conditions under which prostitution is done, rather than the fact of prostitution itself, that determine the emotional impact of the experience. Which is kind of a "well, duh" observation, equally applicable to laundry.

Parsed that for you.
And for you.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:15 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Isn't that what splits the truly radical apart from run-of-the-mill causemonkeys? The focus on actually wanting to increase oppression to where they cause a 'critical mass' and revolution takes place? The incentives to play nice within the system - decent working hours, wage, material reward - are therefore seen as pay-offs to the worker for selling out the revolution.

This can be applied here - "Suffer more so we can show how bad the system really is!" as opposed to minimalising suffering wherever possible.
posted by cosmonik at 11:18 PM on April 6, 2008


cosmonik the problem there is that many believe beyond a doubt that they have the capability to affect positive change, and that their intervention will improve things - nay, that such an intervention is the only way of improving things. It's just that they're dead wrong.

Believing beyond a doubt is always a huge risk. As Bertrand Russell said, "the wise are full of doubt, the foolish are cocksure". That said, those who believe they might or will be able to affect positive change, might actually be able to do so (and the odds go up to near-certain if they intelligently evaluate and re-evaluate the effects of their actions), whereas those who believe they can't, are absolutely correct about that.

At the risk of another quote, "Not only can a small group of dedicated people change the world, it's the only thing that ever has." (Margaret Mead)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:24 PM on April 6, 2008


aeschenkarnos - you realise Ubu was referring to allen.spaulding's comment above?

Even without the stereotyping of respective experiences, your comment that "it is largely the conditions under which prostitution is done, rather than the fact of prostitution itself, that determine the emotional impact..." only supports the point put forward by allen.spaulding that white women who have this 'ideal' experience of a stint as a call-girl can hardly compare their experience to forced prostitution as experienced by other segments of society.
posted by cosmonik at 11:26 PM on April 6, 2008


yeh, don't shoot the messenger.

other than that, i agree.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:27 PM on April 6, 2008


And just to clarify, I was challenging the author by pointing to what I consider to be the main location of racism within modern feminist activism.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:28 PM on April 6, 2008


cosmonik Isn't that what splits the truly radical apart from run-of-the-mill causemonkeys? The focus on actually wanting to increase oppression to where they cause a 'critical mass' and revolution takes place?

Ugh, those guys. The sheer hubris and brutality of that agenda boggles the mind. At least even the exploitative capitalists are doing their capitalistic exploitation for some rational--though selfish--reason, not just to prove a point to people.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:30 PM on April 6, 2008


This is an important discussion and deserves better than the usual MeFi feminism dismissal (on preview, there are some good comments so far), but it also deserves better than this letter and its marginalizing identity politics. The value of safety is an important core value for a lot of people and it is invalidating for the author to give the idea such a one-sided, inflammatory definition. If the common goal is to diminish the dominant, racist, classist, genderist police state powers, there are many ways to fight that good fight. One of those ways is actually to diminish the police state power by increasing the community's voice and its ability to sic the existing powers on those other dominators and monopolists of violence: rapists and violent criminals. A cop spending his time on the watch for a specific rapist is a cop who is not spending his time fighting a corrupt drug war, harassing homeless people or racially profiling motorists.

White guilt is, itself, a dangerous byproduct of privilege. The most significant change agents I know have had to make some compromise and work within the system. I think it's important to maintain diversity of tactics and support those fighting the good fight no matter whether they're fighting from the outside in or the inside out.
posted by Skwirl at 12:06 AM on April 7, 2008


you still don't get it Ubu

When you say this : "The incredible majority of the poor and minority women who are forced into prostitution"

You are doing a few things :

1. "Poor Women" means here "Poor White Women" but you've erase whiteness from the picture, in part because universal categories of humanity (poor man, rich woman, greedy child, charitable man) are only afforded to white people.

Which explains why

2. You render POOR equal to the "demographic" status of MINORITY. Meaning, that Poverty is equated to "Minority" Status.

So in your parlance since white people are the norm they lack the specificity of race and ethnicity. They are the non-race and non-ethnicity that has the privilege to be identified by economic status.

On the hand, "minority women" are marked phenotypically by race or ethnicity and thus considered REGARDLESS THEIR SOCIAL CLASS, equal to Poor White Women. Hence the construct of your sentence : "The incredible majority of the poor and minority women who are forced into prostitution... "

Why in the world would you choose to equate "poor" to "minority" in that sentence? Why not say "poor white and minority women who are forced into prostitution... "? Or just simply "poor women who are forced into prostitution..."?

Most people cannot because most people in this country are conditioned to not only not speak of social classes and economic inequities, but to treat it as a condition that is inherent to being a minority while only being an accident or a tragedy for white people.

Hence, you and Spaulding and most people who still have not picked up on this detail still speak to and for the privilege of whiteness.

Have I parsed this enough for you? I can go on forever if need be.
posted by liza at 12:16 AM on April 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Late to the game, but I have a thesis to procrastinate on and I'm still trying to figure out why Liza has been driven to ALL CAPS by the sentence

>the incredible majority of people forced into prostitution are poor and women of color

and why missing to the stupidity of the last five words reveals my white privilege. She has me pegged there, though; I can't see the stupidity.

I feel she might object that mixing class and race doesn't work in this case: that the majority of women who are prostitutes are prostitutes because they are poor, a horizontal category which cuts across race, not because they are black, a vertical category which includes all classes, and thereby implies that a black investment banker may be forced to streetwalking by virtue of her race. The salient factor here is class--race has nothing to do with it, although due to preexisting issues of class it might be the case that "women of color" are hit harder.

Or it might be that she objects to the repeated linking in this thread of the words "poor" and "black." It's not an "or" linking the two; it's "and." Prostitutes are only prostitutes if they're poor and black. There is, by implication, something indelibly black about prostitution or vice versa. However, if it's fair to point out the incredibly high rate of incarceration for black men, then I can't see the objection to pointing out that prostitution effects black women at higher rates than it does the white iterations of that gender (providing, of course, that it actually does--I don't know the statistics).

That said, I don't think that either of these are the issue here. Through four years of discussing this sort of thing in college (humanities major), I've always been able to do mental contortions pretty easily around ideas of gender, sex, race, class, power, privilege, radical [theory], and so on. And then I head out of the ivory tower and slap, I'm blinded by white privilege. Liza, you're right. I am flummoxed, and I wouldn't have even noticed had you not pointed it out. I paid good money for that education, too. Can someone give me a hand here?
posted by postcommunism at 12:16 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Even without the stereotyping of respective experiences,
But we've been doing that all along, with our talk of liberated white sex-positive college girls and poor oppressed minority women. That it's a stereotype, that more individuals differ from it than meet it, doesn't invalidate it as a mechanism for discussion.

your comment that "it is largely the conditions under which prostitution is done, rather than the fact of prostitution itself, that determine the emotional impact..." only supports the point put forward by allen.spaulding that white women who have this 'ideal' experience of a stint as a call-girl can hardly compare their experience to forced prostitution as experienced by other segments of society.
Well yes. I think we're agreed there. The two experiences are "hard to compare" in the sense that they are vastly different in whatever terms we care to put up (personal impact, social desirability, exercise of personal decision-making capacity, ability to change lifestyle, etc). But they are still comparable; they are still both prostitutes, still both women. Thus the question can be asked, what is it that makes their experiences so different, and the answer is of course social class.

There are a lot of social divisions down which these two women are on opposite sides. But as prostitutes, as women, and as human beings, they do have commonality of interests. My point is that feminist activism can be undertaken by them and on both behalf of them, as they are women, for some cause (abortion rights springs to mind) and this activism is a good and valid thing. We might also argue or fight for the rights of the poor woman as a member of the social underclass, and/or as a member of a minority race; but we need not do all three at once, we need not attempt to roll up all three into a ball of coherent total narrative, and we need not let class or race issues detract from our ability to pursue feminist issues, or feminist issues detract from our ability to pursue race issues, class issues from race issues, etc.

In other words, I'm taking an antithetical position to the radical (stereotypically anarchist) activists. I'm saying that activism on behalf of commonality of interest, limited to the cause at hand, is effective, whereas holistic activism for every imaginable cause that might affect a given individual, is not effective. This is the thing the right-wingers have had over us for the last twenty, thirty years. No matter how stupid their cause and facile their argument, the whole lot of them get in behind it.

To repeat: the whole lot of them get in behind it. That's why we've been losing, because we've been distracted into this holistic activist model where one can't contemplate racism without considering feminist narratives and poverty and parenthood and so on and so forth.

I'm saying it doesn't matter where racism fits within modern feminist activism. Or vice versa. Let's advocate against racial prejudice against racists, and advocate against gender prejudice against sexists, and stop looking for overlaps and contradictions. There is a small risk of cross-purpose as the article points out, and it's worth considering the possibility, but a bit of cross-purpose won't kill us; inability to act due to this constant compulsion to ferret out the slightest hint of cross-purpose first will. Given that racial and gender equality derive from the same basic set of logical propositions (in summary, a person deserves a fair chance in life, to be considered as themselves and not just a member of whatever groups they are a member of), cross-purposing isn't such a major risk for liberal activists anyhow.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:19 AM on April 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


postcommunism ...

You are EPONYSTERICALLY correct!

thank you.

and I already gave you a hand ... or I'd like to think the slap, which i hope is more like Zen, so carry on.
posted by liza at 12:22 AM on April 7, 2008


To repeat: the whole lot of them get in behind it. That's why we've been losing, because we've been distracted into this holistic activist model where one can't contemplate racism without considering feminist narratives and poverty and parenthood and so on and so forth.
...
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:19 AM on April 7 [+] [!]


if you see my parsing of class inequities two posts up from yours, you'll see that most people didn't get the difference between speaking of "poor women and minority women" vs. "poor white and minority women" or "poor women".

it's because of this deficit that i would say that liberals have never EVER been capable of coming close to anything holistic because, if they did, CLASS and ECONOMIC INEQUITIES would be completely inescapable.
posted by liza at 12:27 AM on April 7, 2008


Look, Liza I get it, but I think you picked the wrong battle. Your criticism is apt when people are talking about the struggles of the poor, blacks, women, etc, and anyone worth her salt knows that such a formulation implicitly assumes that all women are white, all blacks are men, etc. That's not what I'm doing here (and incidentally not what you accused me of originally).

I was arguing that rich white 3rd-wave feminists are ignorant to the realities of poor women of color. I did not mean poor whites and women of color. If I was putting race and class back into the picture that 3rd-wavers have whitewashed. I know the move you're describing, but if you reread that original post, I don't think it's there. I was pointing out both the racial/ethnic status and class position of the people I was contrasting to rich white women (both class and race there too).
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:35 AM on April 7, 2008


liza it's because of this deficit that i would say that liberals have never EVER been capable of coming close to anything holistic because, if they did, CLASS and ECONOMIC INEQUITIES would be completely inescapable.

I think it's "are" more than "would be", and that's exactly my point. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:47 AM on April 7, 2008



Are you with the People's Front of Judea or Judean People's Front.
What was that? The Romans are building Roads?

Perfect = enemy of good.
Hand Wringing Holism = recepie for failure.
Picking your battles = key for actual, rather than rhetorical success.

Reductive equations = only form of communication whiteymale can do at 1250am.



In short: nthing aeschenkarnos.
posted by lalochezia at 12:51 AM on April 7, 2008


liza, once again, don't shoot the messenger.

i was merely paraphrasing allen.spaulding's comment, which you apparently read to mean "the majority of minority women are prostitutes".

when i and others pointed out that you had misread that comment, you came up with a whole bunch of semantic nitpicking that turned a molehill into a mountain.

i'll agree with your point, then, and rephrase my paraphrase as "poor women who are forced into prostitution".

set theory would normally allow one to comprehend that people can be poor and/or white and/or minority, but in your apparent desire to seek offence where none was intended, you've once again spun a whole bunch of strawmen out of the most minor of grammatical points. a comma here, a definite or indefinite article there, and you start thinking that we're worse than hitler.

take a step back, try to see the forest for the trees stop picking the wrong fight with non-enemies (although that's actually quite apt, considering the original article linked in this post).

seriously, if we all took your tack, i'd be jumping on this comment of yours:

most people didn't get the difference between speaking of "poor women and minority women" vs. "poor white and minority women"

WHAT?!?? You're talking about "(poor white) and (minority women)"

IN DOING SO YOU EQUATE BEING A MINORITY WOMAN WITH BEING POOR AND WHITE!!!!

quite easy, really, when one is more prepared to seek differences than commonalities.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:06 AM on April 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


1. What is your feminism for? Two recent studies out in the last quarter - First, women with the same degree from the same college make 80% of a man salary in the first year after graduation. Second, middle school and high school girls continue to test higher in essay writing than boys.

My feminism comes from Booker T. Washington, among others. The market is the basis for equality. We have to understand why women are making less and combat it.

2. Illegal immigrants and criminals of any color are not and cannot be a focus of feminism. Equal rights for women is a position that requires a respect for the rights of all citizens. We can argue about non-citizen rights, sure. But when we find that some of us consider law enforcement a threat rather than a protection, then we lose the common ground of commitment to a shared social order. The decriminalization of victimless crimes is a feminist issue, but race is not. When we rank gender identity first, and race second, then a commitment to a gender neutral legal framework, aka feminism, ends up third. Women-of-color do not have a feminism any more than angry-white-males have racial integration.
posted by ewkpates at 4:31 AM on April 7, 2008


aeschenkarnos, I think we've been in agreement for some time, just took us a while to realise it. Thanks also for those points on cross-purposing, I think you said what I was trying to say, only more eloquently.

And it seems, liza, that once you took the time to explain your point, sans caps, it actually made sense when read through a somewhat jaded perspective; I'd recommend a more charitable reading to avoid wasting time slugging it out with people who are, more or less, on your fucking side.

We have to understand why women are making less and combat it.

Don't we know why? And isn't the trouble in combating it because those in power simply don't care to? Having said that - does anyone see the differences in salaries paid between genders a systemic thing, as opposed to something simply attributable to employers? Indded, with the market a theoretical basis of equality, as ewkpates says, we're seeing market interference by self-avowed capitalists in the form of remuneration inequalities between genders. I hadn't thought of it like that before.
posted by cosmonik at 4:54 AM on April 7, 2008


This idea of the market as a basis for equality is pure Booker T. Washington. He argued that for minorities to successfully integrate as equals in a social system, economic equality was more important than legal equality... that money creates equality, not the power of the courts. Further, he frequently warned against the assumption that the market discriminates. He was confident that competition trumped racism. Given what we are seeing now in the US race relations, it appears that Booker Washington was right and that Du Bois, an advocate for court enforced equality, was wrong.

I'm concerned about the salary difference because I don't know why women are paid less right out of college, especially given that they might be more technically competent. But I take Washington's warning seriously: Is it possible that women are less confident salary negotiators? What are the variables?
posted by ewkpates at 5:14 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Threads like this make me wish I could anti-favorite comments. Make the minus appear alongside the plus! Let us truly express our opinions of the comments of others!

Oh perfect world, will you never exist?
posted by m0nm0n at 5:54 AM on April 7, 2008


I don't understand why radical is being equated with believing in - or actively fighting towards - the revolution. Most radicals I know, including myself, lost interest in the hope of a revolution to really change any of the systems of oppression operating in our society. Because doesn't relying on armed resistance bring up some of the exact same problems with feminism and racism and etc. that relying on police does? Believing in "the revolution" is, in some ways, a dream for white, male radicals. The word "radical" means something very different for me, and for some of those radical communities out there struggling for change through actions and discussions like this one.
posted by lunit at 6:20 AM on April 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


lunit - how is believing in the revolution a dream for white, male radicals? I think there's many radicals who are neither white nor male who would ardently disagree. Similarly, I think there are many white male radicals who would disagree that it's their sole provenance.

As for my part in the 'radical = revolution' line of commentary, I apologise as it was simply a convenient way to split the two camps between those who support revolution and those who do not. Although I'd still argue that, strictly speaking, those who pursue revolution are almost by definition seeking the most radical outcome of all (i.e. a revolution, a turn-around of which there is no more extreme action).

As you say, the word radical means something very different to you; I recognise it's open to interpretation and don't mean to say that everyone who calls themselves radical is automatically a revolutionary.
posted by cosmonik at 6:30 AM on April 7, 2008


If there's one thing that I've learned from the academic feminist movement, it's that you can make major political, legal, and economic advances without touching language, but that the simplest grammatical dispute will bog you down forever. You can remove epithets and address inciting speech, but anything more deeply rooted is untouchable through political action. "Language is the house of Being," and a feminist poetics has to address its audience in their own idiom, not in an incomprehensible yet egalitarian alternative. At best, disputes about linguistic structure serve to provoke a conversation that turns, in frustration, away from linguistic structure and towards those things we can change: our political institutions and our prejudices.

This thread was going pretty well until the syntactical-concern troll showed up. I hope that the principle of charitable interpretation will always play a part in debates like these, so special thanks to allen.spaulding for responding charitably where no charity was offered.

There's been some dispute about what this article really advocates, but I'd like to return to the impasse around security: police forces drawn from the lower class maintain a coercive order that often becomes violent. It's quite likely that women suffer as much under the heavy-handed 'protection' they receive from these distant Men of the State as they might from some smaller, more communally organized 'protection' that is also run by men. The problem in both models is that women are institutionally indebted to men for their protection from other men. In either case, a man serves the active role while the woman plays the part of the passive victim.

But the problem that sticks in my craw is this: political action requires institutions. Rights-claims (to poverty alleviation, freedom from violation, or dignity) require institutional guarantors. The radical critique often seems to suggest that, since all institutions are equally patriarchal, the best institutions will at least forgo racism and perhaps even class domination. I'm not sure how this is different from claiming that sexual difference is a natural category, while race and class are artificial. Thus, race and class can be fixed, while misogyny is 'built-in' to the human race. No institution can fix it (like language, which is why this is often the focus of our efforts.) But if we don't think we can get law-maintaining violence right, then what hope is there for women, who seem to suffer disproportionately from violence? The radical critique seems to answer: "None, and stop trying, you're making things worse for everybody else, including those women who are also non-white or non-rich."
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:48 AM on April 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


This idea of the market as a basis for equality is pure Booker T. Washington. He argued that for minorities to successfully integrate as equals in a social system, economic equality was more important than legal equality... that money creates equality, not the power of the courts. Further, he frequently warned against the assumption that the market discriminates. He was confident that competition trumped racism. Given what we are seeing now in the US race relations, it appears that Booker Washington was right and that Du Bois, an advocate for court enforced equality, was wrong.
I'm going to have to disagree. If anything, Booker T. Washington was proven wrong, given that a discriminatory, corrupt legal system actively prevented the ability of African-Americans to acquire and maintain wealth (eg, the destruction of black Tulsa and lynchings that targetted African-Americans with successful businesses). Also, the market did, in fact, discriminate-- separate was inherently unequal and such a system was going to be used for the specific purpose of impeding economic progress.

Booker T. Washington seems to have succeeded in allowing whites to feel that they wouldn't have to worry about the issue too much, since he allowed it to be "acceptable" to feel that the solution was to just stay out of seeking any kind of legal redress and just wait until the day when African-Americans got to economic parity at some point in the indefinite future.
posted by deanc at 7:33 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The problem in both models is that women are institutionally indebted to men for their protection from other men. In either case, a man serves the active role while the woman plays the part of the passive victim.
However, there is less "personal" debt owed by the woman to the "Distant Man of the State" than there is to the "Community Protector." Part of expanding economic opportunity and access for men and women is the ability to take advantage of the protections of the legal system without "making it personal." When an individual can benefit from jobs, opportunity, and safety on the basis of his or her existence as a human being, rather than because of one's personal connections and relationships, then we can be a step closer towards equal opportunity for all. The author of the alternet piece seems to feel that if we get rid of the "Distant Man of the State Patriarchal Institutions", they can be replaced by egalitarian community organizations. Instead, what you end up with is a warped form of Ghetto Capitalism where opportunities are constrained based on the judgment and whims of others, many of whom may be crazy. The reality is not a situation in which the community deals with the Peeping Tom. The reality is that the Peeping Tom is in charge or manages to put together a large enough group to threaten the community.
posted by deanc at 7:44 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well... first, I guess I failed to make the distinction between a revolution - like a Marxist or violent revolt - and a cultural revolution. Cultural revolution is what I believe every radical can get behind; the goal/ideal of a violent revolt is more problematic, I think.

I didn't mean to suggest that a violent revolt is an ideal lifted up only by white men, or that all white male radicals lift that idea up. I intended to imply only that a violent revolt is a situation which would be infinitely more desirable for white men and that, considering that, a violent revolt as the stated goal of "radicals" is somewhat exclusive. Any incident hoping to change the system that relies on physical domination somewhat institutionally privileges the physically stronger over the weaker, and in some ways men over women. Likewise, were people of color to participate, they would almost certainly be the first targetted by the powers that be. A similar microchasm of this argument is often true for protests that turn into confrontations with the police.

Aside from that, I think there's an ideological question about how ideal a violent revolt actually would be. While a wide-scale revolt may have the capacity to break down capitalism - maybe - what's to stop human society from re-establishing the exact same racist, sexist, etc. society we had before? Confronting the "state" will do nothing to confront the systems that perpetuate patriarchy and racism in our institutions, norms, etc. I don't think that a revolution is an answer to the problems that we're talking about at all.

I know that this is semantics in some ways, but I think it's an important point to make. There is a difference between people who advocate for class revolution and identify as "radicals" and people who advocate for radical anti-oppression and identity work and identify as "radicals". Sometimes those two groups overlap, but not always.
posted by lunit at 7:56 AM on April 7, 2008


Most of the time I go through life on mostly autopilot. Get up, go to work, spend some time with friends, do the whole thing over the next day. I don't think about the forces that keep me employed and eating frozen dinners, where I take the assumption of personal safety as a given and feel the right to be angry when its taken away.
My big problems are worrying about paying rent and my biggest pleasures are the thought of getting together with my friends at a party and sharing food and conversation about our hobbies. Because hey, I have hobbies, why shouldn't I, and I don't think about the fact of having the time and money free to have a hobby.
I get angry at the government and the tools of that goverment - the police, the military - when they don't act in a manner I find appropriate, and hardly ever think that I'm not really the one they're oppressing, and why should they oppress me, because I'm priviledged enough to belong to the demographic they exist to serve.
So, what do I do about it? Its a good day if I think about the issues of priviledge and safety and access to food and shelter. Throwing money at the problem doesn't really seem to work, save as a band-aid. Overthrowing the goverment is likely to replace it with something worse, or at least as antiethical to my interests as the government that exists now is antiethical to the interests of others. And besides, I have a new computer to buy, and I don't know how to make a bomb any way.
The best I can do, really, is recognize just how bloody lucky I am, to have a means of getting shelter and food, about how relatively safe I am, about how I have friends to make me laugh and watch my back. And if I start to complain too much about my 'crappy job', at least I have one. My apartment is too small? At least I have a solid roof over my head. I'm fat? At least I have food, apparantly an abundance of it.
So I go back to my job, and my apartment, and my hobbies and my friends, and stop thinking twice about if its a political act to call the cops if I feel unsafe. And I lull my senses with television programs, a head full of music, and a good book or thirty. Because damn it, I have the priviledge of being educated and with access to that sort of stuff.
I may be selfish about it all, and I've stopped feeling guilty about it.

But I don't supose that's an improvement.
posted by sandraregina at 8:25 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


However, there is less "personal" debt owed by the woman to the "Distant Man of the State" than there is to the "Community Protector." Part of expanding economic opportunity and access for men and women is the ability to take advantage of the protections of the legal system without "making it personal."

Perhaps I misspoke by using the 'indebted' metaphor. Call it 'dependency,' a set of institutions that render women dependent on one or another man. No one's keeping the account, the problem is one of domination. (Although, somewhat ironically, single middle class women with children, predominantly black, pay the highest portion of their paycheck in taxes.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:51 AM on April 7, 2008


I'm certain most people are through reading this thread but I feel I must comment anyway.

First of all, even though this article was written by a woman, having it pointed out to me by a dude feels a little like, "Hey little girl, you better stop that or people might think you're a privileged little white racist bitch." I'm not saying that's what you meant by it, nasreddin...maybe you were just trying to inspire a thought-provoking discussion - which you did.

Second I have to agree with the "why is this our (feminists) problem?" people. Yes, of course, solidarity against all forms of oppression is important but in order to get much done people need to specialize. That's just the way stuff works.

As a white woman, I'm not about to tell black women what their priorities are. I can only say that I welcome them (and anyone else who's interested) with open arms to the cause of once and for all gaining full-fledged human being status with all the rights and privileges it entails for all women. God knows we need all the support we can get. And while white women may have the upper hand in feminist issues as far as institutions go, I think, in general, we have a lot to learn from our black sisters as far as everyday issues like independence and self-reliance are concerned.

Ideally, the two battles (againt racism and sexism) would be fought along side each other as they are both symptoms of that same disease called "fear of the other". The thing is that while the effects of racism are often felt more acutely than those of sexism (at least in the Western World), sexism is a problem with more breadth. While we may never completely divest ourselves of racism, it is waning at a far far faster clip than sexism - one needs only to look to the Obama/Clinton race for evidence of this. Sexism is still far more socially acceptable than racism. See Ubu's "tea and cake" comment upthread, for which he was lightly chastised by a couple people. You have to admit that if it were a "fried chicken and watermelon" comment instead, he would have been totally castigated and called out MetaTalk by now.

I'm not sure how this is different from claiming that sexual difference is a natural category, while race and class are artificial. Thus, race and class can be fixed, while misogyny is 'built-in' to the human race.

I certainly don't think misogyny can't be fixed but this DOES make it a more deeply-rooted problem. The fight against racism already has a head start because scientifically race does not exist however heavily it may weigh on us socially. Gender always has and always will exist. Although the dynamic of men needing women and vice versa in order to propagate the species tends to soften the blow a little in some ways.

I guess my opinion is I don't think we should fault people for choosing whatever cause is closer to their hearts. Just because their priorities don't match up exactly with theirs doesn't mean they're working against you. But coming up with bizarre, guilt-fueled ideas based on a world that doesn't and probably won't ever exist is as pointless as sitting around discussing how all sex with men is rape. Never mind that law-enforcement/prison/immigration issues are way too multi-faceted for anyone to really be able to claim to speak for all feminists on.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:54 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


While we may never completely divest ourselves of racism, it is waning at a far far faster clip than sexism - one needs only to look to the Obama/Clinton race for evidence of this. Sexism is still far more socially acceptable than racism.

I don't want to start a fight here, but I've seen this a few times in this thread and other places and I feel a little compelled to respond. I think it's true that blatant sexism - code phrases, insults, etc. - is more socially acceptable than blatant racism, but sexism and racism in their most blatant forms do not strike me as being the heart of the issue. In fact, I think they're distractions that let people scapegoat individuals who happen to cross certain socially-constructed lines.

Racism and sexism are still very much socially and culturally intertwined in our society, and the subtle ways in which they manifest are by far the most incidious. Just because you can't make a "watermelons and fried chicken" comment without being socially ostracized doesn't mean that racism isn't still very much alive and kicking, and largely unnoticed, in politics, society, and our institutions. The way that black men are portrayed as criminals, for example, is still very much acceptable in the media as long as this portrayal is free of such inflammatory things as the n-word. Instead, we've devised a whole language to skirt crossing those contrived lines while still maintaining and permitting racist ideas and policies to go unchallenged.

Racism is as socially acceptable in those subtle ways as sexism is. The fact that it's more subtle, unfortunately enough, makes it more difficult to challenge, and ultimately to change. I don't think that's a good thing.

The problem with people choosing whatever cause is closer to their hearts to the exclusion of other causes is that white feminists insist all too frequently on framing the feminist cause as a white woman's struggle. Gloria Steinem's op-ed back in January is a perfect example of framing women's issues with a subtext that concerns of women of color will not be included or considered as being feminist. If we truly want feminism to be about challenging patriarchy and supporting women, we need to be dedicated to addressing racism in our movements and in ourselves. There is no other way to truly fight for women's rights when the default woman is still considered to be white.

And it's certainly not about including the voices of women of color in feminist discussions. It's about creating feminist spaces that are anti-racist and safe places for women from all backgrounds to come together around what it means to be a woman in this society. It's about women of color being included from the start in the visioning, agenda, and identity of our feminist movements. Anything else is just patronizing and counter-productive.

And I say all that as a white woman myself.
posted by lunit at 12:05 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think the two sides of this issues are just sort of talking past each other because they don't start from the same premises. To people who support standard feminism, women's rights are something that can hypothetically be achieved within the structure of liberal democracy / consumer capitalism / the modern Western open society etc. To those who reject it, a so-called "women's liberation" that accepts the oppressive framework of patriarchy is a joke, an outright paradox to begin with, self-negating and non-sensical.

The original poster said they didn't want to get into a discussion of anarchy, but it seems to me that that's the only way for a conversation here to go anywhere. When some people say "don't let the Man keep you down" it's an actual expression of political philosophy, in that they think the state is representative of male domination, unrightful power, etc. For people who think that state military is justified, that democracy is as good as it gets, & that anarcho ideals are naive & can only result in opening room for totalitarianism of one sort or another, the entire premise is flawed.

That doesn't mean that any given female has to fight harder for feminist issues than, e.g., prison reform, but it means that if you think prison reform is possible as part of improving a liberal democracy, rather than overhauling the structure of government altogether, then standard feminism is still perfectly compatible.
posted by mdn at 12:08 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


This thread has really surprised me - it's nowhere near as shitty as the usual feminism-related discourse on this site. Kudos, all (or rather, kudos, most).
posted by waxbanks at 12:16 PM on April 7, 2008


Wow... this coupled with the French philosophy thread above is like reading my coursework before I even get to Hyde Park this week.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:42 PM on April 7, 2008


deanc has done the impossible... back to back posts one complete right and the other completely nonsense!

When an individual can benefit from jobs, opportunity, and safety on the basis of his or her existence as a human being, rather than because of one's personal connections and relationships, then we can be a step closer towards equal opportunity for all.

This is the problem with link's argument in a nutshell. Exactly so.

How do we get to a point where our social institutions treat us equally? Du Bois thought, like many do, that legal enforcement of protections gets us to equality. This hasn't played out. We continue to see blacks and women recieving a lower quality or service from instituions of all kinds... until they get rich. But rich blacks and women have private hospitals and private schools and private clubs that everyone, regardless of race creed or color, would like to get into. As Booker T. said... when everyone wants to come to our schools, then that will be the end of racism.
posted by ewkpates at 12:49 PM on April 7, 2008


"Equal rights for women is a position that requires a respect for the rights of all citizens."

No, it really doesn't. That's the exact same type of thinking that will make feminists say that they couldn't fight for women's justice if they didn't love men first. It's rendering two overlapping concepts which are mutually exclusive; one is in no way dependent upon the other.

Fighting for women's justice only requires that you love women enough to fight for them. I fight for women because I am a selfish bastard. When women of color are treated unfairly because they are women, then I will fight for them too. But I cannot give my unilateral support for their movement when I see any criticism of people of color automatically decried as racist, regardless of how helpful or well-founded that criticism may be. Equality is a two-way street for me.

It is sexist to claim that all white feminists are this nurturing mother goddess crap who loves everybody on sight, no questions asked, and everybody has the right to her time and attention. I reserve the right to be just as ruthless as any man when going after what I want, and to say "now now, I'm busy".

Incidently, if you want to know why women are still making less money then men, there's at least part of your answer. Women are brainwashed that they have to be some kind of giant mommy to the world, letting everybody suck her tit -- and if she's not gentle kind nurturing forgiving patient, well, she's not much good to men and maybe we should treat her as a second class sexbot in revenge because men still have this stupid entitlement mentality going on. Equal means equal, it doesn't mean equal with reservations.
posted by bravelittletoaster at 1:15 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


like reading my coursework before I even get to Hyde Park this week

So, is MetaFilter your training ground for Speakers' Corner, or is it the other way around?
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:48 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Equal rights for women is a position that requires a respect for the rights of all citizens."

No, it really doesn't.


Have fun getting people to respect your rights then, if you don't respect the rights of anyone who dosen't share your particular brand of oppression.
posted by Snyder at 5:26 PM on April 7, 2008


Fighting for women's justice only requires that you love women enough to fight for them. I fight for women because I am a selfish bastard.


That's not a position you can really rally a lot of not-in-your-group people to get behind. It's not about being expected to have motherly love for all. It's a basic question of following through on your commitment to justice. It's a cliche, but what you're describing is Just Us, not Justice.
posted by BinGregory at 7:01 PM on April 7, 2008


Jess the Mess said of the article:"having it pointed out to me by a dude feels a little like..."

That kind of sexism is just lame. Devaluing something purely because a male brings it to your attention? WTF?

bravelittletoaster, how can you say 'equal means equal' following on from your own rant bursting with gems such as claiming you can pursue equal rights without respect for all citizens? Can you see what you're missing there?

If you're seeking to turn it into a male vs. female model, instead of those wanting change vs. those resisting it, then it appears females have already lost, yeah?* If you're going to 'reserve the right to be just as ruthless as any man', then why would men want to change the way they behave when you validate their discriminatory treatment of people based on gender? When you're claiming victimisation (or being hard done by the system, or an underclass, or whichever terminology you ascribe to), you're really in no position to say "game on!".

Male-dominated power structures aren't going to be collapsed from the outside.

* cf. lower wages and other legitimate claims of systemic inequality as made by feminists.
posted by cosmonik at 9:02 PM on April 7, 2008


As a pragmatist, I value the work of liberal feminists working within the system to achieve parity... and I equally value the activism of radical and/or anarchist feminists working against the system toward a more just society. I think both the holistic and the issue-driven goals are important, and I don't think that feminism can, or even should, be expected to be a single unified front with buttoned-down goals and prescribed - or proscribed - means for gaining those objectives.

Does this mean that there will be conflict and disagreement among the ranks of those who identify as "feminists"? Sure. It also means there will be overlaps of purpose, dialogs that may inform and expand various viewpoints, and generally greater depth and nuance to what is after all a set of political, philosophical, humanitarian, and biological issues. When you are talking about the specific concerns that affect half the earth's population, why expect everything to settle down nicely into happy sound-bite solidarity? I would be amazed and alarmed if it did.
posted by taz at 2:03 AM on April 8, 2008


Just because I am willing to fight for justice for one group in no way obligates me to fight for any other. The reason for this is based on practical constraints: I only have so much time and energy. It doesn't mean I think those other groups are not entitled to justice or that I wouldn't help them at all; it only means that in addition to recognizing the limits to my own time and energy, I am smart enough to allocate my personal resources to my own advantage.

The patriachy hates this because I'm supposed to be momma tit to the world, and so comes up with all kinds of justifications and excuses for why I should drop everything and kiss everybody's boo-boo just because they tug at my skirt.

The external expectation that I have a DUTY to do so is predicated upon the assumption that I am allowed to fight for my own needs only if I fight for others. That is assuming that I am not worthy enough to base my claim for equality on my needs alone. Instead, I must hide behide all the other groups and push their agenda as well as my own, else no one will take me seriously.

The assumption itself is sexist. No one else has the right to decide for me what I choose to fight, or where, or for how long. The sexism becomes obvious when we look at any other group and ask if they are required to fight as equally hard for every oppressed group on the planet as they do their main concern.

Now, if you want to say that the basic platform of mainstream feminism is that all oppression has a root cause, and the primary goal of feminism is to destroy that root cause; you may have a point. However, it is wise to remember that one reason feminists took that approach originally was because it was politically expedient to do so; there really was no other tactic open to them three hundred years ago which would have been taken seriously. It was literally the only argument which men could not shout down.

I don't know exactly how many problems back then which fell under the feminist umbrella, but there sure a lot of groups clamoring to suck at the feminist teat today, and crying when she doesn't pick up the squalling brat fast enough. At some point, there are simply too many issues, with too many complexities and nuances, to expect the majority of feminists to handle them all equally well. It becomes reasonable to say "hey, you can do some of this work yourself and if you give me something easy to do, then I can help you with that".

As far as most women of color feminists are concerned, in general, they seem to think that their "work" stops at getting white women to substitute racism as the only game in town -- imao -- and then are far too eager to subliminate their own needs while making racism all about teh menz. Which is why I can't support them unilaterally. I can get behind them when they start putting themselves FIRST. But they won't, because they believe every white person is out to get them and until they get over this self-destructive willy-lynch mode, they'll believe that their only option is to defend men of the own race against all comers. (which is why I said they can't handle criticism, my saying that is considered ZOMG racist.)
posted by bravelittletoaster at 9:57 AM on April 8, 2008


bravelittletoaster: Defensive much? You had a point (one that I didn't agree with, but still, a point) until the little rant at the end in small type. Complete with the lynch reference and everything. Dang.
posted by lunit at 1:41 PM on April 8, 2008


The patriachy hates this because I'm supposed to be momma tit to the world, and so comes up with all kinds of justifications and excuses for why I should drop everything and kiss everybody's boo-boo just because they tug at my skirt.

The external expectation that I have a DUTY to do so is predicated upon the assumption that I am allowed to fight for my own needs only if I fight for others. That is assuming that I am not worthy enough to base my claim for equality on my needs alone. Instead, I must hide behide all the other groups and push their agenda as well as my own, else no one will take me seriously.


No, it's not because of the patriarchy that you're expected to respect the rights of others. It's not about expectations that you have to fight all injustice everywhere at all times, but that you recognize your own privelage as a white woman, and understand that your rights and desires as such are not the baseline for women everywhere, and that "women of color feminists," (not to mention poor feminists,) are not (neccessarily) betraying the movement or subliminating themselves when they air they're particualr or orthanigal grievances.

(which is why I said they can't handle criticism, my saying that is considered ZOMG racist.

Maybe they're saying you're a racist because you use an absurdly large brush to label "women of color feminists," and consider them, at best, a group of sub-feminists, while equating "feminists" with people of your background, (namely, white women.)
posted by Snyder at 5:50 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


> I'm concerned about the salary difference because I don't know why women are paid less right out of college, especially given that they might be more technically competent. But I take Washington's warning seriously: Is it possible that women are less confident salary negotiators? What are the variables?

All the Booker T. stuff aside -- which I'm sure could merit its own discussion some other time, but I don't think this is really the time or the place -- it seems to me as though there's a lot more to be gained from taking a hard look at practical concerns and considerations, and trying to devise realistic, implementable, and fair ways of fixing them, than in bleeding gallons of ink (or grams of electrons, as the case may be) arguing over philosophical or ideological details that quickly become divisive.

Also, while some feminist rhetoric can become more than a little anti-male, sometimes to the point where I've found it pretty sexist in its own way, many practical steps to alleviate gender inequality (particularly in the workplace) can be beneficial to men as well. Framing the debate purely as a power struggle between mutually-exclusive male and female interests is unnecessarily and falsely antagonistic.

For example, I suspect (and have seen some evidence) that maternity and childcare represents one of the major underlying causes why a woman with an equivalent education and background might be paid less than a man. The man is perceived to have a lower risk of suddenly* taking a lot of leave and then either not coming back to work, or having substantial out-of-work time commitments. This is obviously and undeniably sexist, and it's damaging not only to women, but to men as well. And what I find most significant: some of the policies which alleviate the difference in perceived risk are ones which allow, de-stigmatize, and encourage men to take paternity leave, work reduced hours and participate in childcare, and generally eliminate the expectation that their job will be their first priority and that they'll be the primary wage-earner in a family.**

I think in terms of practical steps there are a lot of win/win measures out there, and that it's not always necessary (or, IMO, productive) to go around pointing the finger of blame or responsibility. I'm not saying that anyone is doing that here, but it does seem to happen and I've always thought it rather unfortunate.

* That's "suddenly" from the employer's perspective; I'm not implying that the decision is made lightly on the employee's side. But for obvious reasons, most people don't inform their employer in advance that they're planning on taking maternity or paternity leave, so typically it's viewed as unexpected.
** This example is admittedly somewhat heteronormative, although I think some of the policies can have wide-ranging, positive effects, especially those that provide for maternity-equivalent adoption leave.

posted by Kadin2048 at 11:06 PM on April 8, 2008


Kadin,
It goes in both directions. If I'm begin paid less and given less opportunities to advance at work than my male partner, when it comes time to deciding which job gets sidelined/has lower priority, of course that will have an impact!
posted by Salamandrous at 6:12 AM on April 14, 2008


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