The Internal Journey Feminists Need to Take: Questions for Feminism.

Not that long ago, I would have distanced myself from the word ‘feminist’. I would have held it at arms length, and maybe even  gone so far as denying that I was one. Through my late twenties and thirties the last thing in the world I would have wanted to be known as was a feminist.

Not because I didn’t believe that women should be treated equally; not because I thought that women really should be paid less and certainly not because rape, sexual harassment and the diminishing of the reality of those things didn’t matter to me.  They all did, and do, matter very much indeed – all the more so as I learn how both my faith and feminism are intertwined with each other.

What caused me to distance myself from the fiery early feminism of my youth were those things that continue to cause such arguments, difficult conversations and schisms** within that movement now: the colonial racism, the appalling transphobia, that strange dichotomy within feminism that calls for an end to a bi-gendered approach (because that keeps women in a pre-defined box of idealised womanhood) yet struggles to accept trans*/transgender women; the obsession with wanting the same power as men (best typified by the hot mess that is the ‘Lean In’ thing), yet failing to notice how our daughters still sought to define themselves by how they looked.

(**I’m a Christian – I know a good schism when I see one.)

In fact, whilst Western Women had the vote, the right to an education, access (at least in some cases) to birth control and a degree of bodily autonomy that their Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers could only have dreamed of – it seemed to me that in some very fundamental ways, the political movement that was feminism was more interested in navel gazing and a self-obsessed approach to the world than in addressing the primal motivators that prevented it from making the kind of changes of which it was (and still is capable) of.

It is not an accusation, or criticism, to say that we white western women have internalised colonial, racist, hetro-normative societies attitudes along with the rest of western society. Despite being so angry about all of these things (but without the language to articulate them, far les address them) I had also internalised these same things and no amount of ‘liberal mind set’ was going to change that.  How could it. Growing up, the People of Colour I saw were often objects of fun, I cannot recall the media giving a platform to the work of women of colour and I would be hard pressed to think of any representation of trans*/transgender people that wasn’t sensationalist and poorly informed. (And very little changes there).

So for all the ‘wins’ that feminism had achieved – or helped to achieve – the lack of both grace and generosity in the face of such victories is either startling, or not surprising.  How far can feminism really go – how  much can it really achieve – without addressing the internalised racism (both colonial and prejudicial), the patriarchy we thing we think we are actually fighting against, the transphobia.. why, if we are truly ‘liberating’ ourselves can we be so absent of joy in that liberation that we would not want to change all these other oppressions?

Stopping the daily sexism that women still have to deal with will not liberate us; ending the violence, the rape culture and the victim blaming will not free us: not if feminism remains so white/cis centric, so bound up in patriarchal, colonial structures within which we have allowed ourselves to be defined.

That is why my feminism and Christian faith are so bound up in each other: the liberation offered by Jesus was not focussed on the external, but the internal. Each of us must engage in an internal journey to free ourselves of the chains which bind us to the slavery of power. If we struggle against the powers that bind our external lives without seeking to free ourselves of power which would still bind others, the struggle will never end.

Do we want equality – or a platform for power? Do we want liberation and equity – or rights for ourselves that maintain the status quo? Are we angry about what happens to us – or driven to change the world for the benefit of society as a whole?

I want a feminism and a faith that is gracious in it’s failures, generous in it’s victories, courageous enough to hear the hard questions – and honest enough to answer them.

 

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Silence, White Guilt and Colonization

So another white feminist writer says stuff and fails to grasp why it is a problem to women of colour – really, twitter is ripe with it and if being on that particular social network has taught me anything, it has taught me just how much I needed to re-examine myself and my newly re-claimed feminism to see just where it was failing to be supportive of WoC/trans WoC.

As a result of these car-crash articles that do so much to illustrate just how codified white supremacy is in white western feminism, I have been having serious (and possibly seriously radical) thoughts on the subject of silence, specifically in the context of the intersection of gender and race. These thoughts, however, led me to confront the notion of ‘white guilt’ and brought me to the inescapable conclusion the white guilt is in itself an extension of white colonial attitudes and is.. well, racist.

White guilt is racist because it keeps thoughts, attitudes, feelings and discussion centred on the white person/people/society. Whilst I am sure that feeling bad about the shit we white people have done (and are doing) to people of colour is all very well, the shit is not being done to us. And beating one’s chest in public about it means that attention is not being focussed where it should – i.e., on the shit being done to people of colour.

It’s logical really, and it doesn’t take an Einstein-like brain to figure it out. (Believe me, if Einstein had had my IQ, goodness knows what E would have equalled).

Adele Wilde-Blavatsk’s article was self-centred – but Eve Ensler (again) took the prize for best example of white colonial supremacy in feminism with her ‘Congo Stigmata’ thing, which is too sickening and awful to link to. So I have to wonder – at the intersection of gender and race – if white women should consider sacrificing their voices in favour of WoC.

There are several reasons for this – and the attitude and entitlement of Wilde-Blavatsk and Ensler is merely an illustration of many of them. But also, frankly, whilst there are white women on the fringes of mainstream debate who have a decent grasp of intersectional feminism, it wasn’t white women who developed either it’s theory or it’s practice and there are too many examples out there of it being hijacked and colonized by white women. This damages women of colour, whose struggles and concerns so often differentiate from ours; a typical colonial thought process in feminism is that it assumes itself the pre-eminent theory in tackling patriarchal structures and continues to fail to do so because it does not recognise – historically or currently – where it carries white patriarchy’s own attitudes to women of colour.

In that context, silence could be valuable – having the grace to stand back and be silent so that the pre-dominant voice is that of women of colour is something that white women could perhaps consider.

Perhaps instead of white guilt driving a conversation that silences women of colour, we could put away white guilt and stand back, shed the need to speak for others whose concerns we probably have not grasped anyway, and listen.