Putting this here because I might blog about it at a later point, and thought I’d share it for now to see if anyone else had any interesting thoughts. That, and Facebook has a tendency to have things get buried after awhile, and I spent a lot of time writing this, so I’m archiving it on Tumblr.
Today on Facebook, a good friend of mine posted the following:
I’ve been totally caught up lately in examining how feminism has a history of racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, cissexism, etc, and I don’t think that the word “feminism” can’t ever be separated from that history…in other words, I think I’m making a conscious decision to not identify as a feminist anymore. Whoa.
This was my response:
I’d say that it had to start somewhere and it’s ever-evolving, just like any other philosophy or movement. If the ideals and foundation are sound, though, then it’s the job of radical thinkers (like yourself!) to call things out when you see them and help advance the issue towards one that reflects its full potential.
To me, feminism is completely incompatible with all the prejudices you identified, but plenty of people get exposed to mainstream feminism and come from sheltered backgrounds where they just haven’t yet connected the dots on how all the issues are connected, or that they may actually have their own prejudices against things they don’t understand because they haven’t been exposed or educated on the subject.
That absolutely doesn’t excuse someone for doing or saying things that are racist, gender biased, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc, but that doesn’t mean that those people are inherently those things, either. It’s similar to the eating disorder work I do where, before we earn support for our cause to be supported, we have to go in and educate people to understand the seriousness of the issues we want them to support.
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s… frustrating to ask politely for something that is so self-evident like adequate mental health care for a life-threatening illness, but part of it is just meeting people where they are at. If someone has never heard anything about eating disorders except for what they see on the cover of gossip magazines in the grocery store, I can’t expect them to realize that they effect diverse populations, have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder, etc. and I’m willing to educate on that fact.
Especially in the past year, though, as I’ve examined gender as a social construct with regard to my own eating disorder past and the barriers I encountered in getting help and being taken seriously, I’ve decided feminism is undoubtedly the necessary vehicle to bring about the changes required. At it’s heart, I see a vision where people are seen as people first, absent of any assumptions you might make about their personality, character, or interests based on their biological sex, gender identification, sexual orientation, race, etc.
The problems identified within the feminist movement are rooted in patriarchy, NOT feminism, and we are all inevitably severing our own roots to that patriarchal system because with few exceptions, we were all brought up in it no matter how much we fought it. For some people, those roots run much deeper than others, and I think it would be reactionary to turn your back on the movement which fights against patriarchy just because there are people involved who still haven’t fully realized the level of influence patriarchy has had on their life and worldview.
To me, the real question is what can be done to deal with it in a healthy way that isn’t confrontational or exclusionary (because feminism is for everyone!) but is also uncompromising in its intolerance for the pervasive and oppressing mindsets/attitudes that some people still haven’t broken free of.
Nothing starts out as perfect and you’re essentially working towards an ideal. A good foil to it is the idea that the US was founded on the ideals of a democratically free society, but it was flawed from its inception because it included the social systems of capitalism and puritanism, both of which are by their very nature patriarchal. It’s always been the job of more radical thinkers to call to attention the hypocrisy and injustice of outside ideas that allow prejudice to thrive within a system or philosophy who’s foundation shouldn’t allow for that prejudice in the first place (although someone should explain that to people like Bob McDonnell).
The important difference, of course, is that democracy is a system of government and feminism runs far deeper than that. But similarly, if you live in the US there’s a good chance that you have been exposed to the same capitalistic, puritanical bullshit. Some of us see through it really easily and feminism doesn’t seem so radical. Other people need to be completely re-educated and be exposed to new ways of thinking about the very basic nature of how we regard ourselves, our bodies, and what it means to be a diverse population.
This of course does not excuse prejudice and injustice. It just means we need to shout louder and more often.
“Yes of course, I’m scared of getting hurt, and yes of course I’m scared of being wrong. But at the same time my silence will convict me and the evil will carry on.” -Ian Mackaye, ‘Do Not Consider Yourself Free’