Tag Archives: social justice

On Ferguson

I’ve hesitated to write about the events in Ferguson, MO for a few reasons. The first is that I have a lot of emotions, and that can be hard to sort through to write something clear and concise. But the feels are real, and I keep starting to compose this in my head, so obviously it needs to come out. The second reason is that this is not my story to tell, and I hesitate to make my voice heard over the folks that are truly affected, both in Ferguson and all over the country every day. So let me start by saying that I am writing about this topic as a white feminist ally. My experiences with gender discrimination make me empathetic, but they do not afford me authority to speak about racial discrimination. I cannot know the true depths of pain and anger that communities of color live with. Their words are paramount, and you should 100% go read this, this, this, and especially this, this and this.

The day after they announced there would be no trial I sat in my office, reading. I have read quite a bit about the shooting, the aftermath, and the effect it all has had. From my office in the Financial District, I read about the emotional and psychic pain felt in the community and I read about the callousness that some folks feel towards those people. From my office, overlooking the new World Trade Center, I thought bitterly about how lucky I am and about how uncaring and cruel the world can be. And even as I continued to read, becoming evermore angry and sad, I knew that my pain was nothing compared to the folks on the ground in that community, grieving their slain child and fighting against a system that was never meant for them, that was built on the very idea of their inhumanity.

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Black Lives Matter. You shouldn’t say ‘All Lives Matter’ because some lives, particularly white lives (and more specifically hetero-white-male lives) already matter and everyone knows they matter. It’s important to specifically say Black Lives Matter because black bodies are seen, by the state, as more expendable and dangerous than other bodies. Replacing Black with All is like saying that you think all lives are devalued in the same way, and this is not the case.

Privilege is a hard thing for a lot of people to comfortably grasp. It is hard for me to talk about my white privilege because I hate that it’s real, and because (obviously) I love a number of incredible black and brown people and it makes me ill to think about the personal and institutional ways they’ve been hurt because of racism. But acknowledging my privilege is essential. It allows me to better empathize, and without acknowledgment and empathy the conversation is not honest. Here is a classic and wonderful essay on privilege that we all should read and reflect upon.

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Racism is a feminist issue not only because it affects women of color. It is a feminist issue because structural violence and oppression must be dismantled in all forms. Racism, patriarchy and misogyny, classism and corporate greed, they are all interwoven. We must fight them all if we indeed believe in social justice. Black women are leading the protests in Ferguson, on the front lines and keeping this movement alive. Black women have always been an integral part of the civil rights movement, despite being overwritten by their male counterparts. Another example of how racism and patriarchy overlap and entwine.

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And we must believe that these issues are both structural and personal. If you do not believe that racism exists in the very foundation and fibers of our country, then you need to wake up and read more. This country was founded on stolen land and the death of an indigenous culture, and then built on the backs of black bodies that were enslaved, degraded, and hated. This hatred did not end with emancipation, and our educational system, housing laws, pop culture and police tactics are still laden with racist policies and attitudes. Not to mention the mass incarceration of black bodies. The deck is stacked. To say otherwise is to uphold the idea that if black folks just worked hard enough they could have the American dream, and that their communities are violent and impoverished because they as a people are inherently violent and impoverished. Those lies are gross, and perpetuated by white culture to relieve our own guilt and justify our discrimination.

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I do not believe that a kid deserves to be shot down in the streets for petty theft, for being tall and ‘threatening’, or for being black. Michael Brown was 18, still full of youth and potential. The loss of that potential is tragic, especially when taken in alongside the lost potential of other black folks who were murdered as part of our racist American history. I believe that any police officer who uses lethal force should always be subject to a trial. Fuck a grand jury. Police should be held to a higher standard, as they are acting as attendants of their communities, sworn to protect and serve. And if you yourself, as a white person, have never had a negative experience with cops or the justice system, I urge you to consider that as evidence that the system is not only racist, but working as designed.

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Furthermore I believe that the militarization of the police is an act of war against the American people. I believe that our state perpetrates violence on its own people each and every day under the guise of ‘protect and serve’ and also under the guise of state sanctioned war. I believe that guns have no place in homes or on our streets, and the police shouldn’t have them. Other countries manage just fine without them. The continued killing of children, of people of color, and yes even of criminals (who deserve a trial at the very least) disgusts and disturbs me. Even when a whole group of white children, and they were rich white children, were gunned down in their elementary school, we did nothing. That level of apathy, the fact that we’ve allowed our elected representatives to be bought so fully, leaves me speechless.

Gun control activists march on the NRA offices on Capitol Hill on Tuesday

I think about how women’s bodies are written as a site of out-of-control sexuality, and how we locate the shame and guilt of sex in all female-bodied persons. And then I think about how we criminalize the black body, and locate the fear of violence and chaos there. And I want to stop labeling bodies, and stop criminalizing and dehumanizing bodies. I condemn violence in all forms but do not and cannot condemn this community’s actions. I will never know how it feels to live my entire life with the burden of state mandated racism. I will never hear the daily comments, never live with a police force that targets my body and my family. I will never live with the fear of an authority that claims to protect you, and I have never watched my son/friend/brother/neighbor lie in the street for 4 hours in the late afternoon, shot dead for no good reason, knowing that justice was an unlikely ending to the story. If you are more outraged by the ‘riots’ and property damage than by the violence enacted each and every day by the state, and by the history of pillaging and plundering and slavery and lynching and rape that is our nation’s story, then I think you need a priority check.

I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.- Martin Luther King Jr

I suppose this is getting rambling, and I hope I’ve remember all the things I want to say. I want to say that my thoughts and feelings as an ally to oppressed people’s everywhere are tangential to the real story, which should be told by folks who live this everyday. My place is to march silently in the streets when I can, and to use my voice in harmony with theirs but never to speak over them. The story of racism should be told by black, brown and non-white folks, and their stories deserve to be heard and believed. And then we must all use our collective voices and our collective power to undo the structures that support our racist history and limit the potential and humanity of black bodies. I vow my solidarity and my support, as a feminist and social justice warrior. I wish I could do more.

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Feminist: It’s Not a Buzz Word

There has already been much written about the Time magazine decision to include feminist as a choice in it’s poll for what word should be banned in 2015, as well as the apology issued after the initial outcry.  I personally think that the whole point of this ‘poll’ is stupid, considering it pokes fun at/dismisses slang language which is largely used by a young and diverse population (“The list is supposed to be funny, but it is largely a policing of the vernacular of anyone who isn’t a white, heterosexual man.~ Roxanne Gay“). Here is the description from the actual poll site:

If you hear that word one more time, you will definitely cringe. You may exhale pointedly. And you might even seek out the nearest the pair of chopsticks and thrust them through your own eardrums like straws through plastic lids. What word is this? You tell us. ~ Time

I personally think that part of what makes language so cool is the way that it can change over time, the way expressions can be created out of nothing and the way that different groups can create their own vernacular. It is always changing, through both the addition of new words and through the evolution of the meaning of known words. Language is not static. It’s a beast of our own making, and it grows and changes along with our cultural shifts and revelations (revolutions). It transforms as the world transforms, it is remade and recreated as we remake and recreate the world around us. Language can be empowering and affirming. It can help shape our culture and our identity.

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the full list.

That being said, language can also limit our world view. Gendered pronouns, for example (she/he, his/her) and also words like husband and wife, do more than just describe a person or their marital status. They can create a world that is seen is distinct binary opposites, when in fact our world includes lots of grays and queers and inbetweens. Words  have subtext, and meanings outside of strict definitions that are culturally confirmed, and words can be used to condescend or confine.  The history of a word can never be erased, and reclamation attempts can fall short if that history is full of hate (bitch, the n word, dyke… I’m not of the belief that words can be totally ‘reclaimed’.) And this fact, the very idea that the construction and use of the English language continues to be a tool of patriarchy, is an excellent example of why the word feminism is (still) a vital word in need of broader understanding and utilization.

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And I get it, it’s supposed to be a joke. Like ‘OMG people keep talking about this, enough already.’ And I agree, enough already. Enough with pay inequality and the epidemic of sexual violence. Enough of the objectification of the female body, enough of the over-sexualization of girls and of slut shaming and of the fight against basic health care for women and families. Enough of a culture that caters to white men and attempts to silence other voices through ridicule or outright lies. Enough of the beauty industry and the impossible standards foisted on women and girls. Enough of the interrogation of ‘whose a feminist’ and ‘is she a good feminist’ and ‘is she a good mother’ and ‘is she pretty enough’ and ‘is she young enough’ (shout out to Hillary) and ‘who is she sleeping with’ and ‘should she be doing that’. Enough.

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Feminist, believe it or not, is not a buzz word. Feminism is a movement that has been around for more than 100 years, and, as Robin Morgan points out, feminists have been at the forefront of almost every social justice movement in American history. The fight for equality in all aspects of daily life is not a fad. The issues that feminism seeks to untangle are complicated, deeply rooted, and backed by a couple thousand years of patriarchal and misogynistic cultures. The fight cannot be won by laws or politics alone, as indeed all social justice movements require both the support of governing bodies and the hearts and minds of citizens. Women are half of the population for fuck’s sake. This movement is not a trend. It has a storied history as part of not only American, but global culture. And on my more optimistic days I believe that the internet will prove to be a tool of social justice and empathy and global momentum, and I think that one day our collective voices that proclaim ‘Women matter‘ or ‘We woke up like this‘ or ‘I am woman, hear me roar‘ will drown out the backwards thinking miscreants who would agree that this word (along with the movement and peoples it describes) should be banned.

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I’ll leave you with another quote from Robin, because frankly, I couldn’t have said it any better:

But I confess that for me feminism means something more profound. It means freeing a political force: the power, energy and intelligence of half the human species hitherto ignored or silenced. More than any other time in history, that force is needed to save this imperiled blue planet. Feminism, for me, is the politics of the 21st century. ~ Robin Morgan

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On Ebola & Empathy

You may be thinking to yourself ‘WTF?! This blog is about gender issues! This chick ain’t a biology major! What the heck?!’

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And I totally get that reaction. But be patient, stick with me, and I will bring it all back to feminism.

News broke this week that a man living in NYC is at Bellvue being treated for Ebola. The New York Times gives a detailed account of the situation, about how this man was a doctor who’d gone to Africa to treat patients of this deadly virus and how he’d had a check up right away upon returning to the US and about how he didn’t think his safety gear had been compromised but that he was vigilant about monitoring his temperature and that as soon as he saw a fever he reached out to the authorities and also about how the virus isn’t contagious until you are symptomatic and about how his girlfriend is also quarantined and also his friends. Mostly, it’s a sad story because viruses are scary and over 50% of people that get this disease die from it, and this guy was trying to help.

At yet. The reaction from my fellow New Yorkers has been, well, disgusting and deeply disappointing. I’ve seen folks posting things on Facebook about how they hate this man, about how he was such an asshole for going places in the city. How dare he want to do fun things with his friends after his altruistic and probably emotionally devastating trip?! I’ve also seen posts saying we all need to get hazmat suits and never go bowling ever again and OMG IT DISRUPTED CMJ THE HORROR.

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So, I’m not gonna pretend to be super knowledgable about the science, but everything I’ve heard and read assures me that this disease isn’t airborne and that in the US we have almost zero chance of being infected. Here, read this, it’s an excellent summary of the outbreak and the science of the virus. I’m not interested in debating conspiracy theories or the validity of stocking up on hand sanitizer, but if this guy didn’t spit in your mouth recently, then you are going to be fucking fine.

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UPDATE: Here is the main man himself, Barack, Mr Prez, hitting you with some fun facts about the situation. PS I could listen to this man talk all day. Swag. Science.

Em k, so how about, rather than attacking a man who left this country to go help a population that is actually being affected by the epidemic, we flex our empathy muscles. I happen to think that empathy is a radical feminist tool, that creates bridges and understanding, and has the power to undermine the ‘us/them’ worldview that creates too much distance and hate between peoples. I don’t think it’s outlandish to say that much of the coverage of this outbreak, the fear mongering and comparison to ISIS as a threat, is all thinly veiled code for racism and fear of black and brown peoples. Best internet comment on this phenomenon: ‘Which is the bigger threat, the brown people with a virus or the brown people wielding our cast off weapons? And the answer is, unsurprisingly: Brown People!’ It’s also a red herring given the other ‘threats’ to Americans that are more dangerous, more deadly, and closer to home.

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So I ask: What good does it do anyone to wring their hands and fret and say mean shit about this guy and his family? I imagine it’s devastating to the folks who love him, and to the patients he cares for. And what about the thousands who’ve died across the ocean? Is it cool for us to make jokes about the disease from leagues away, ensconced in relative safety? To yell and shout about how we should close the airports so those people stay over there. That kind of thinking does not align with the values of social justice or equality. Equality without empathy is impossible. Putting up walls between groups of people will only ever keep power in the hands of the few and not the many. It will strengthen and uphold the status quo. Only closeness, understanding, and true compassion will set us all free.

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 I wonder if instead it would be possible to actually imagine what it would be like, if your family and your community was ravaged by this plague. What if you had to care for those you loved, with near certainty that they would die and that you would get sick in the process. I wonder if we could all take a moment to remember a time that we were scared for ourselves or a loved one, and use that memory to generate some compassion for the people that this is truly affecting. Because shrugging it off as a problem that only affects those people over there is really not the best use of your humanity. That thinking creates distance. It keeps a large space between us and them, when really this experience is one that all people can relate to in some way. If your first thought is ‘OMG I hope they close all the borders so it doesn’t spread to America’ and not ‘I hope all parties involved can work together to stem this disaster so no more families must be torn apart’, if you don’t give a shit unless and only if it might affect you, then I’d suggest recallibrating your compassion-meter.

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It is only by extreme and random luck that we live in a time and place that is largely safe from these kinds of communicable diseases. I don’t think America is super great or superior, but I grew up in a beautiful home with plenty to eat and lots of technology and opportunities to learn, and now I live in my favorite city, and I know that I’ve had help and opportunities that folks born in other places simply do not have access to. This doesn’t make me better than them, and it doesn’t make any of us immune to heartache or disaster. The chances of Ebola spreading outside of Africa, of it actually affecting the life of anyone here, are very very slim. Let’s reroute that hateful energy to send light and love to the folks who are actually living amongst those who are sick, and if you have the resources maybe even give a few bucks to Doctor’s Without Borders or whoever else is doing the real work over there. Blaming Obama, wondering what the CDC is doing, or condemning one of New York’s resident MDs is truly a waste of time and energy. What this crisis needs, and indeed what the world needs, is more empathy generated, more understanding and closeness. Dare to put yourself in their shoes. Dare to care about strangers you have not and will not ever meet. Dare to relate to families that are an ocean away. Dare to give an actual fuck.

What’s Actually Annoying About ‘Women Against Feminism’

Maybe you’ve seen it by now. There is a tumblr happening with women holding up signs about why they don’t need feminism. A lot of the signs talk about not hating men. And a lot are about opening jars. But most importantly, the majority of the signs are confused. Confused about what feminism is and what feminism does. And I am just so frustrated.

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My initial response is to make a counter list about what I don’t need, and make up confusing reasons why. Here are some fun examples:

I don’t need water because it can be a liquid, gas, or solid and that means it’s tricky and can’t be trusted!

I don’t wanna go to school because you know who went to school?! The person who is responsible for making the atomic bomb (whose name I don’t know because school is for destroyers of the world!)

I don’t watch TV because they have TV in prison and prison is for reflection and reform, not free cable!

I don’t ride bikes because bikes are slutty and also they are for hipsters and cars are way safer!

I could go on. But being snarky is only half the battle. Because what is happening here is both a profound disconnect, as well as a deeply embedded self-hatred resulting from being born and raised in a culture that profoundly controls, disrespects, and abuses women’s bodies. Let’s look at just a few examples.

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I almost can’t even start with this one. First of all, feminism doesn’t look down at women who choose to stay at home. Feminism advocates for choices, and support for all those choices. At one point, not staying at home was not a choice for some* (*white, middle/upper class) women, and thus expanding those choices was the goal. If something is already an option, you don’t need to fight for it. This particular argument is a little tired at this point, and yet it persists. This woman has been a victim of abuse and assault not once, but twice, and yet cannot see how her abuse is part of a pattern, indeed a crisis, happening worldwide. Violence against women is not random, it is systematic, and pervasive, and one of the greatest clues to how patriarchy functions. Feminism doesn’t set out to vilify men, who in fact also experience sexual assault and abuse. Also some feminists really like penises. And some don’t. But I don’t really think that’s a ground breaking truth.

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Em k, well that’s cool. Compliments are nice. Feminism isn’t anti-compliments. It’s anti-harassment. And not all people feel appreciative or happy when they’re being ‘complimented’ by strangers. So their feelings are also valid, and everyone should respect the right of everyone else to walk to work/the store/a party etc without feeling like they are on display. Cause not everyone wants to be only display all the time. And also sometimes ‘compliments’ are actually about a pervasive system of violence and control. And also not everyone is nailing lipstick the way you are so maybe they’d rather just go on about their day?

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This is another weird trend. That people want to take responsibility for their own actions. That sounds super honorable. But we don’t live our lives in a vacuum. All of us are affected by culture, and by each other, each and every day we are alive. And sometimes, we make big mistakes and we need to own up. But sometimes, actions have root causes that are out of our control. (For example: the only people responsible for rapes are rapists.) This picture makes me kinda sad because this person is choosing to be vulnerable and own up to some insecurities, which is brave. And we all have insecurities. But to claim that some of those insecurities aren’t fed/encouraged/created by the patriarchal capitalist monster machine that is the beauty industry, and also celebrity culture at large, is just silly.

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This is another interesting point of logic for these folks. Feminism doesn’t believe that all women are victims, and it doesn’t believe that all men are rapists. At no time does it attempt to paint all women one way and all men one way. Feminism does shed light on the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault happening nation wide (and indeed world wide), and it names this epidemic a political problem. Women make up the majority of the victims (1 in 6 will be assaulted in their lifetime), but not all women are victims and not all victims are women. Feminism advocates for those that are raped, so that their rights are guaranteed and their attackers brought to justice. Victims did not always have a voice, nor was justice often found (and actually, I’d hesitate to use the word often now…) Not all men perpetrate violence, but most women who experience violence experience it at the hands of a man. But this itself is a feminist issue! Indeed, we do live in a culture that conditions boys to suppress their emotions, unless those emotions are aggressive. Our culture does glorify violence, especially as an essential part of masculinity. This is bad for men and women, and it is the fault of patriarchy, not feminists.

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Ah yes, this one is a real gem. Check out how she ‘subtly’ slut shames women she has never even met while defending the entire male population but also talking about ‘real feminism’ which is really just, well, feminism. It’s quite a feat. First of all, I would argue that respect and equal opportunity for women does actually involve access to safe abortion, contraception, and sexual empowerment/autonomy. Just saying. Additionally, and this is important: feminism doesn’t damn men. It points out systematic oppression. It highlights how issues that were once deemed ‘personal’ are actually political. It advocates for women to have a full breadth of choices about their bodies and their life paths.

Plus men can also be feminists! See below for one of my fav examples:

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Look, if you don’t want to claim the feminist label, that’s fine. Labels can be a real bummer. But please don’t disavow what you don’t understand.  At it’s heart, feminism is about equality and justice. It’s not perfect. We have a lot of work to do to make sure that the movement is inclusive of all issues across the lines of race, class, and sexuality. We’ve gotten better as the journey has continued, but feminism is a group of humans and humans are not perfect. It will take diligent work within the feminist community, and with our allies, to ensure that the movement continues to grow along an inclusive, empathetic and justice driven path. But you could be helping! Instead of holding these weird signs that mostly promote outdated or plain old incorrect misconceptions about feminism. Considering it, but still skeptical? Allow me to help clear things up:

Not all feminists choose to grow their natural body hair. Some do. If you don’t wanna grow your body hair, you can still be a feminist. Not all feminists think being a stay at home mom is wrong (most, I’d argue, don’t.) You can be a stay at home mom and be a feminist, although you should also advocate for mom’s that work because all mom’s are great and because not all mom’s have the option to stay home and because women’s work both in and out of the home has been undervalued for a really long time and that should stop. Not all feminists are humorless bitches. I’m sure some are. But some are wildly hilarious. If you have a sense of humor, you can still be a feminist. And not all feminists hate men. Some might. And maybe you are uncomfortable with their anger. But if some folks have been harassed and abused and assaulted, is their anger not warranted? Just because you would, or have, responded differently, does that mean that their voices should not be heard? Frankly, feminists are angry because by no fault of their own they live in a culture that values their humanity less than the humanity of men. This isn’t all men’s fault. It’s patriarchy’s fault. But sometimes men take advantage of their advantages and sometimes the appropriate response is righteous anger. I don’t advocate that we come from a place of righteous anger all the time, because it is exhausting and because I think that love and inclusion and empathy will bring us closer to our goals. But if you don’t hate men, congratulations, I don’t either, and we can still be  feminists.

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I’ll just leave this here at the end and say that feminism is responsible for the fact that women vote, for the fact that marital rape is illegal, for equal rights regarding access to school and the resources there-in, for birth control, and for Beyonce. Any young woman living in this moment in America is a product of feminists efforts in some way. You may think you don’t need it, but it has already positively shaped your life in one way or another. And maybe you aren’t down with the complete agenda, but denying it entirely is ungrateful and disingenuous, and ultimately it hurts us all.

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