Friday, December 4, 2009

Fighting oppressions

CrissLCox and I are having an interesting conversation on twitter that I thought I'd bring here to continue.

So far it's gone like this (used with permission):
DancingGrapes: Why do people think "feminist" means "screw everyone non-woman that's oppressed, we got our own problems"??? feminist=anti-oppression
CrissLCox: Our history is against us. Feminism started as white woman's movement, screw female minorities. We need to work to change it
CrissLCox: For example, in this health care debate, feminists are focused on abortion only. Where are trans women's health care issues?
CrissLCox:We need to make an effort to look outside cis women's needs & actively work for all oppressed groups; change our track record
DancingGrapes: I think feminists already are doing this work! We can always do more but shouldn't be misrepresented as not doing it at all.
CrissLCox: When you're part of the oppressed group, "some" is not good enough, esp when some fem leaders have actively excluded them

I can't (and wouldn't want to) speak for Criss, but I'd like to think through my thoughts out loud a bit and would love to hear more comments.

My general sense of activism has always been: I can't do all, but I can do some. To expound; there are a lot of issues important to feminism and fighting oppression, these all intersect and intertwine - oppressed also oppress, privileged comes and goes, and some are marginalized over and over again. I think all oppression comes from Patriarchy (some would argue that all oppression comes from Class. I think Class is a strategy of the Patriarchy). Therefore, some Feminists are concerned with the Environment, some with Abortion, some with Ability-rights, some with Class, some with Race, some with Orientation, some with Gender, some with Violence, some with ...

All of those are real and important and people really suffer because of the oppression associated with all our -isms (all of which I would argue support the Patriarchy). I recognize this, and support, admire, applaud feminists working against all these things.

But I can't do everything, I can do some things. I still have to live in this world, in this society. I still have to use gas to get to work, and can't always afford organic, and I can't go to every rally. But I spend my day job working against Gender Violence. Specifically Domestic and Sexual Violence. I work really hard against Gender Violence, and I spend a lot of time thinking and learning about it - but I still don't understand everything even in my little segment of the movement. And I know I know less about trans rights and disability and race and orientation. I've had varying exposure to each, but I feel like my role is to realize how little I know about each and to respect those who know more to lead the way.

I don't know much, for example, about Trans Rights (which I mention here, to be clear, because I understand it to be a part of feminism, deserving of advocacy, and trans-women as women). There are others who know FAR more, and know it from experience. It would be inauthentic, and not helpful for me to think my privileged allows me to comment. But I can read what these people are writing. I can support them in inclusion to Health Care Reform. I can feel the loss when someone is brutalized because of their body.

I think these things are all feminism, I think that we're all working towards the same end (of Patriarchy), but I know I can't do it on my own - so I'm looking to all my compatriots to help out, and I'll recognize where it's time to support others from the background rather than stand always on the stage.

What do you think? Is it really all or nothing? How do you negotiate your role(s) in the world? How do you navigate all the forms of oppression and all the struggles that need voice? What am I missing? I just know that we have to do this together, because sacrificing some for the benefit of others doesn't eliminate the problem, only by all working together can we come to an end that actually changes the world.

Update: GenderBitch wrote a post in response to this on specialization vs intersection. Read the post (and my comment). This ended up being surprisingly emotional for me. I'm thinking about it more so this definitely won't be the end of the conversation (I hope). 


voz said...

you have fundamentally failed from the start, full stop.

The way you frame Trans Rights as "other" from feminism, when in fact trans women are women who feminists has been heavily invested inoppressing AS WOMEN for decades shows the defect in your thinking.

Saying shit like "Trans Rights" is othering, and completely denies that certain women are women, just Trans, and therefore optional, and expendable.

You can keep you feminism of expendable women to yourself; count me out.

Oh wait, you already did. Never mind.

Criss L. Cox said...

I agree that we can't do it all, and that many of us now are looking into those other issues that were often neglected in the past.

The point I was trying to make (and Twitter is great for many things, but not deep conversations) is that we need to take this criticism of "feminism" and learn from it, not argue against it. This is how we learn about those issues with which we have less experience, like trans rights (for us cis people) and disability rights (for us TAB people).

My "area of expertise" is reproductive rights, but I have exposed myself to the issues women with disabilities face, and while I am by no means an expert, I will keep reading blogs that educate me and I will keep calling people out on ableist language. It's not much, but it's something. And when the issue comes up around me, I'll say my piece, and at least know enough to refer people to someone who knows more.

Same with trans rights. There is so much I don't know and so much I'm never going to "get," but I can do my part by making people more aware of the issues and by taking the time to learn. One thing I have learned from following people like @nueva_voz and @genderbitch (two strong, outspoken women who happen to be trans) is that trans women are often denied any services or shelter at domestic violence and abuse shelters. They are viewed as "men" because of their genitalia and while they are arguably the most vulnerable group of women, they are refused by the cis feminist society in these safe spaces.

As someone who works against domestic violence and sexual abuse, trans rights are something you should educate yourself about, and find ways to serve trans women's needs when they are victims of abuse. In this case, if you are not actively including trans women, you are actively excluding them, because they have been actively excluded by "feminists" in the past, and we feminists need to work harder to make up for our past transgressions in this area.

I know it feels unfair to say something negative about all feminists when we are working to be inclusive of all oppressed people, but we cannot deny the oppression "feminists" have been guilty of in the past. We need to own those mistakes and work to correct them -- and it's going to take time to regain the trust of the groups past feminists have excluded. We cannot expect it to change overnight, especially when there are still many cis women who identify themselves as "feminists" who continue to deny trans women and see them as less human (I would link to a post that exemplifies this, but I refuse to give those people any more traffic or attention. If you really want to see it, I can email it to you.)

(And on a side note: don't fight the patriarchy, fight the kyriarchy Oppression does not always come from the patriarchy: women can oppress other women; hetero women can oppress gay men and women; able-bodied people of color can oppress white people with disabilities; the list goes on and on. If we're going to fight oppression, which we are, then we need to realize that every group that had privilege can and does oppress, and that includes women like you and me. It's not just patriarchy v. women anymore.)

Thanks for this post. This is a much better medium that Twitter to discuss this :) Thanks for letting me say my piece.

DancingGrapes said...

So I already really appreciate writing this post and having these comments because I've realized 2 things.

First that in "writing out loud" I missed a chance to be explicit and clarify that by saying "trans rights" I was not making a category as distinct from feminism but attempting to spotlight them (along with environment, abilities, age, race, ism at large) within feminism. So Voz I appreciate your reaction and please let me be clear in my assumption of trans oppression as a feminist issue. Voz, can you tell me what to use as a term rather than "trans rights" to specifically point to the oppression specifically toward people who are trans?

Criss I think really that we agree more than disagree, and the point I was trying to make is that I attempt to learn and grow and be informed by all variety of feminists against all variety of patriarchy (under which I would categorize all the examples you listed), but I'm doing it in the frame of the little piece I've taken up (Gender Violence).

And you're absolutely correct that there have been and are feminists and feminist/women's organizations which are exclusive. My point, I guess, is there's a difference between being exclusive and focusing on one little part of feminism (repo rights, gender...).

Criss L. Cox said...

I think what Voz was trying to say about othering is that if you think of trans rights as a separate category, you're othering.

We need to realize that when we talk about domestic violence, we need to think about how it affects ALL women, trans and cis.

When we think of health care, we need to take ALL women's needs into consideration, not just the issues relating to the uterus.

When we talk about reproductive rights, we need to discuss abortion AND all other reproductive needs and options -- does a woman with disabilities get to choose if she carries that pregnancy to term, or does the state choose for her? Reproductive rights and choice are about taking control of our bodies, so are we also actively fighting for trans people's right to change their bodies so their sex matches their gender?

"Trans rights" shouldn't be a separate category, because that thinking leads to the mindset, even if subconscious, that someone else will deal with it (I'm working for X, someone else can work for Y). Trans women need to be an automatic thought for us when we look at all these other issues, just like women with disabilities need to be an automatic thought and women of color need to be an automatic thought. When we assess how this shelter treats women, we need to automatically think of trans women, not just cis women.

And I agree that we agree on most of this. We have to earn back the trust of the groups previously marginalized by some "feminists" and that's going to take time, work, and action on our part. We can't expect them to give us a free pass just because we say we're working on it (would you let a man get away with that? "I'm working on not being sexist. Why are you being so sensitive?")

DancingGrapes said...

I guess I think it's honest to say "I'm not perfect, I'm still working on it." Someone once said they were a recovering homophobe. I think we're all recovering from our socialization, so we're not perfect, we're all still trying to be better (hopefully).

Amanda said...

Thank you for this post Kate, and Criss for your insightful comments. I think that understanding our privilege and being aware of how we might unknowingly be oppressing others is something we all come into struggle with. But you're absolutely right, Criss: we need to earn back trust and respect from the faults of our history. That's how foreign relations work too. :-)

Criss L. Cox said...

Kate, I think I was addressing with you points that I have heard other feminists on Twitter make, when they've gotten very defensive about this kind of stuff. I'm sorry, because I've come down on you harder than I should...

You are open to listening, which some of the other women I've had this conversation with have not been. You are willing to learn the stuff you don't know. Some of my comments have been directed more toward those women who have immediately become very defensive when someone on Twitter has said that feminism is not inclusive (or as inclusive as those individual women felt themselves to be).

Instead of getting defensive or huffy, you wrote this post so we could talk about it more, and you have invited others, including members of those marginalized groups, to participate in the conversation. We are works in progress, and we're working and learning, and getting better...

Ian said...

“Why do people think "feminist" means "screw everyone non-woman that's oppressed, we got our own problems"??? feminist=anti-oppression”

My thoughts: because semantics matter and “feminist” does not imply “anti-oppression” of all humans but rather anti-oppression of women. The term has been focused to identify a particular groups struggle because there is power in focus and narrow scope. It is the difference between a flashlight and a laser-beam.

I would argue that all oppression comes from Groups. To claim that because you are a feminist you are against all forms of oppression is semantically misleading. Why apply a gender specific moniker to your belief system if your beliefs are universal to all Humans? Why not call yourself a Humanist, Individualist or Libertarian?

The smallest and most easily oppressed minority is that of the Individual. Feminism is fixated on the rights of a group rather than the rights of all Individuals. As such, it will always have a narrower scope than simply “anti-oppression”. That is not a bad thing; it provides focus and clear goals that ultimately lead to the recognition of the Individual Rights of a large number of People.

Ashley said...

While I feel I have very little to add to this threads 's thoughtful comments, I do want to say this: there is a difference between "some action" and "some people." Yes, we cannot do it all. But the actions we do take should include ALL people.