Why I Stopped Identifying With White Feminism
(Inspired by @SamAmbreen’s post here: We will not let white feminism divide and conquer us)
Today I’ve been talking with @HadleyFreeman about a series of posts she made to @JudeinLondon earlier in the day. Short story: Freeman wrote a problematic article, Jude discussed it on Twitter without linking to Freeman, someone emailed Freeman about Jude’s response and Freeman demanded, repeatedly, that Jude take the discussion offline. In my opinion, she abused her platform and privilege. She called Jude’s preemptive blocking of her account “childish” when it was an act of self care. Eventually, she used the same tone policing on me and I believe she has blocked my account, although I fully admit to blocking her and not checking back. Maybe later. It was yet another example of why I don’t belong in White feminism and why many other White feminists feel the same way. Today, @SamAmbreen asked for White feminists who practice intersectionality to discuss this, and after a lot of thought, here I am.
I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was a little girl. Poems, short stories, papers. I’ve edited papers for publication. When I used to perform poetry, I was often called a “feminist writer.” At the time, I really didn’t know what that meant. I was raised in a very anti-woman environment with more than a few religions. I shied away from the term “feminist” in direct conversation but that didn’t stop me from allowing the label to promote my writing. Few poets and writers have writing careers, and I am not an exception. I’m okay with that. As I have said many times, I love nursing, and these days, I find my energies are better spent in active campaigns, protests, phone calls and letter writing.
But then came the internet. I played with learning about feminism, and quickly found early online feminist communities to be battlegrounds. After witnessing a few virtual bloodbaths, I left the communities. I don’t like being flamed, I really didn’t like direct confrontation (but I’m getting better at it).
I read. I went to college. I started to learn more about feminism. But it was in a conversation with a women’s studies major that I realized I would never quite fit into mainstream White feminism. I’ll get into that. While women of color were happy to talk about feminism in class and online, recommending sources and books and Twitter accounts, White women were less welcoming. Still, I got involved the day Caroline Criado-Perez started receiving rape threats. It was too much. At the time, I had no idea how prevalent rape threats on Twitter were, but I found out, because I received my own. I quickly followed her account and my tweets in her support rapidly gained me new Twitter friends. FEMINIST friends. I was so excited. Finally I could learn. And I did.
Then one day, I saw a heated, excited Twitter conversation. Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices) had written a blog post at http://www.redlightpolitics.info, and one line kept ringing throughout the discussion. “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be BULLSHIT.” At the time, I thought a different Twitter user had coined the phrase. This is important later. I knew nothing about intersectionality. In fact, most of the books on feminism recommended to me were written by white women. I was also ignorant of how readily information was available. I asked a close Twitter friend, @judeinlondon what intersectionality was. Jude gave me a brief explanation and told me to check Wikipedia. I realize now I really should have gone to Google myself. Jude, I love you and I thank you so much for your direction and that we are such good friends.
I read. I realized ~ MY FEMINISM WAS “BULLSHIT.” It wasn’t intersectional. Intersectionality is really a simple theory and easy to understand if you want to understand. My feminism wasn’t transinclusive. My feminism didn’t recognize the different struggles faced by women of color, women in poverty, sex workers, or even the struggles I faced as a disfigured woman with a disability. I began to see feminism in a new light. I began to see where I might fit in as a feminist.
Eager to learn about trans issues, I went to Google. I read GLAAD’s page on trans terms. And I followed a few Twitter accounts run by trans individuals. And then something happened. I began to see drama. I hate drama. I really do. The drama I saw was linked to a couple of terms I had never heard before. TERF, SWERF. This feminism was “bullshit.” I started tweeting about it. I started talking with trans individuals, and one day, my follower count dropped by about 20 people. All white feminists. Mainly British white feminists. I was really hurt, but I quickly learned I wasn’t alone.
I mentioned talking with a women’s studies major. This is important because it was this young White feminist’s opinion that because I chose a female dominated field and not something else, I was supporting the patriarchy and had no place in feminism. I didn’t talk further with that young woman because her feminism wasn’t open and inviting and uplifting. She was kicking down. I realized her feminism was “bullshit.”
One day, I was tweeting along and I incorrectly credited Flavia Dzodan’s (@redlightvoices) now famous quote to Judith Wanga (@judeinlondon). Someone told me I was wrong but I was quite certain I was correct. I could have easily verified it but I was lazy. Flavia let me know how wrong I was. I deserved it. I apologized. In talking to Flavia, and reading her blog and Twitter, I realized how much education I was losing. But I didn’t want to impose upon her. So one day, I asked her if I could follow her. I reiterated my apology, and the most amazing thing happened. Flavia forgave me. She followed me back. We have had a few very enlightening and uplifting conversations. She doesn’t kick down.
I’ve screwed up several times. initially, apologizing wasn’t a skill I had. I got into an incredible, damaging argument a few years ago with @amaditalks and we blocked each other on my primary account. I still followed her on my nursing account and eventually I began to feel very guilty and intrusive about following her when she didn’t know who I was. So I brought it up. I apologized. And we are friends. We are good friends. If I had not apologized, my life would be poorer. Amadi has taught me, along with others, how to more skillfully debate. She has reminded me to use inclusive language and given examples of what this is. I was wrong, so wrong in our argument, and while Amadi had forgotten it, I never had. Because I was wrong, and I knew it.
So here I am. In intersectional feminism, I have found a place. I have come to terms with my own gender fluidity. I am out to my husband and online and I will never deny my queerness or gender fluidity in person. I have learned about White privilege, and learned to check it. I have become a better person. I have become a better nurse. I have learned to confront people, first online, and then in person. Thanks to Ngọc Loan Trần, I have a new method of calling out problematic behavior. in their article Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable, I learned a way to call out bullying behavior without crying and shaking. It has made work easier.
I don’t fit inside White feminism’s neat bubble. I’m not going to take extra classes when information is so readily available. I do not need a women’s studies degree to practice feminism. I need my brain and my heart, both of which are currently functioning. I’ve been called “divisive” by White women when I back up women of color, primarily when I back up Black and Muslim women. It’s pretty obvious. I’ve been told that feminism needs to focus on the needs of ALL women instead of subgroups.
White women are a subgroup of feminism. It is true that placing the focus of feminism on subgroups is divisive. This is why White women must learn to stop crying for “unity” (Adele Wilde-Blavatsk) and realize that women of color, trans women, trans men, and others are moving on in unity WITHOUT us.
Am I going to screw up again? ABSOLUTELY. That’s the thing about White privilege, it doesn’t go away because you start recognizing it. You have to actively work to be a better person. You have to actively work to change the world. I doubt I’m going to change many minds with words, but I hope I do so by actions. That is the inspiration behind my @TransDyingYoung project, and my tentative decision to focus my NP on care of the transgender population. This is work, and with work comes mistakes. But I have learned to apologize. I have learned to Google. These are not difficult things to do with practice.
I don’t believe mainstream “White feminism” wants to change. Instead, it will die a painful death by attrition. A few days ago, I tweeted that White feminists are angry because they didn’t come up with intersectionality and make it about white women and I really believe this is true. I have seen White women say “we have to come up with a better term.” This rebranding of intersectionality is nothing short of plagiarism and theft of its founder, Kimberlé Crenshaw. It wasn’t a White woman’s idea. It wasn’t about White, cis gendered women. This is appropriate. This isn’t “bullshit.”
I want to thank so many people, mentioned in this post, and unmentioned, who have let me learn, who have told me when I was wrong, and who have taught me what my White, racist parents never told me: it is okay to be wrong. Apologizing doesn’t make you weak. Learning new things makes you stronger, and we will come through this with a more unified feminism.