Saturday, June 18, 2011

Resources for Inquiry into the Politics of Being White, and the Limits of White Feminism

image of book cover is from here
For more on the above book, please see *here*.

image of book cover is from here
For more on the book above, please see *here*

image of book cover is from here
For more on the book above, please see *here*.

Feminism isn't whites-only--or unraced, but if you judge by some blogs that don't identify their race you might think "Radical Feminist" means all-white all the time. (The blogs that don't identify their race are almost always white because white folks, arrogantly and annoyingly, think of ourselves, quite mistakenly, as unraced). You, dear reader, might have been misled to believe that "radical feminist" means whites-only. Not so.

I've been making a rather well-evidenced case for years that radical feminism is comprised of the experiences, analysis, and justice and liberation struggles of women across the globe--and always has been, even before the term "radical feminism" came into existence in the English language. Yes, white radical feminism has its own history, but in my opinion it shouldn't be conflated with "radical feminism" generally.

I have welcomed discussion among white women about the meaning of being white. I have expected and unsurprisingly found it to be the case that most discussions of whiteness do not take place among white people. Similarly, most discussions of heterosexuality do not take place among heterosexuals, in my experience. Often enough the outsiders are the inquirers, and radical interrogators, and justice-seeking activists. The outsiders are made to feel and are forced to be outside the mainstream because of the unquestioned power, position, and privileges of the relative insiders.

White women and men of color in the United Rapes of Amerikkka do not hold powers of absolute authority and prestige to nearly the extent that white [het] men do. This tends to produce mixed alliances, with each group vying for some attention from and status given from WHM, while WHM give up nothing at all to maintain their own status. Both men of color and white women are known for one thing, among others: the systematic betrayal of women of color in justice-seeking efforts and liberation struggles.

Primarily through friendships, I have witnessed how often this occurs. It is painful to see it happening--especially so frequently; I know it is far more painful to live it than merely to observe it happening in the lives of people close to me. I have lived variations of this, but not this exactly. I have seen, for example, how white Jews jockey for position to achieve the same levels of status, recognition, and reduction of stigma as that which occurs more easily and "naturally" (meaning, structurally, without dominant cultural or political opposition) among white Christians in the US. I have seen white gay men do the same thing. In each case, Jewish white women across sexuality and lesbian white women across ethnicity, respectively, are often betrayed.

Left out of such observations, curiously, is how being Jewish and white, or gay and white, positions oneself to be a better or worse ally to women of color across sexuality. It is uniformly hoped among oppressed people I know that knowledge--emotional, intellectual, and visceral--of being marginalised or oppressed in at least one way (such as by gender, race, religion, ethnicity, economic class, sexuality, disability, age, language, or region) will make understanding the marginalisation and oppression of other people more possible. By "understanding", I mean experienced by proxy to the point of being actually felt in the hearts and minds of those with fewer experiences of being structurally below the top of social hierarchies.

I have little doubt that me being Jewish and gay, as well as white and male, has made identification with some of what women of color--Jewish or not, lesbian or not--endure regularly and routinely, as a matter of course living one's life in a racist-misogynist environment.

I don't know the full brunt of misogyny, but get to feel some of its sting when degraded for being "feminine"--as het men define and determine such arbitrary qualities of human existence. I don't know the full force of racism from whites, but I know how it feels to be seen as Other by white Christians and white Gentiles; to be deemed someone who is not "one of us", where "us" means "better than you and your people".

I have wanted my blog to be a place where intersectional realities come to life. Where stories about abuses and forms of endurance experienced by people across many social divides (divisions in status and stigma, power and privilege, position and location), are made existent and are not hidden or turned into something else, like trivial, an interference, or beside the point.

Part of this discussion involves analysing the meaning and experience of being a white woman. Most of my experiences of white women happened while growing up and throughout my early adulthood. In those years white women were "women" (unraced). My feminist mentor, a white lesbian, was the first person to highlight for me how being white can lead the white person to think they are unraced, or, rather, how it is allegedly only women of color (and men of color) who are raced or shaped profoundly by racism.

Proponents of Liberal Humanism interfere with deeply understanding and challenging how we are all shaped by racism by making anti-radical proclamations such as "racism goes both ways" and "we are all oppressed in a racist system". I disagree strongly with both contentions. I've written about why that is elsewhere on this blog. If interested, please do a search on the right side using the keywords "white supremacy", "whiteness", or "When White isn't Right" for more.

The first person I encountered who discussed whiteness in depth in published work, was Marilyn Frye. She, along with my mentor, also a white feminist and lesbian, gave me hope in the 1980s that being white didn't necessarily mean being in gross denial about the force and fury of white supremacy.

I will be discussing writings by white feminists in future posts. For now, I want to link you, the dear reader, to some resources for further reading. To understand, from reading materials, what whiteness is and does, I recommend reading the work of women of color. I'd say read the work of people of color but in my experience men of color do not sufficiently comprehend how whiteness shapes and insults the lives of women of color. So, do read the work of people of color--who are women.

Here are those links. The source website for these is *here* at With hugs thanks to them!!! (I only wish there were more essays and articles by women of color, for whites to read and learn from. There's plenty by Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and so many more writers, theorists, and activists.)

Feminism and Whiteness

Identity Politics and Race: Some Thoughts and Questions by Elliott batTzedek, from Rain and Thunder Issue #5, Winter Solstice 1999.

White Woman Feminist by Marilyn Frye, from Willful Virgin: essays in feminism (Crossing Press, 1992).

On Being White: Thinking Toward a Feminist Understanding of Race and Race Supremacy by Marilyn Frye, from The Politics of Reality: essays in feminist theory (Crossing Press, 1983).

Anthropology by Chrystos, from the "Dyke Humor" issue of Lesbian Ethics (Vol 3 No 3 Summer 1989).

From Practice to Theory, or What is a White Woman Anyway? by Catharine A. MacKinnon. From the excellent anthology Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed. This article is a must-read, a direct challenge to those who would assert that there's no such thing as a woman.

Please see also these articles at other sites:
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
Detour-Spotting for White Anti-Racists by jona olsson (pdf)

I am interested in reading the response essay to MacKinnon's above, called "Whiteness and Women, in Practice and Theory: a Reply to Catharine MacKinnon" by Martha R. Mahoney. Just below is a link to the first page of it. I'm also curious to know if C. A. MacKinnon has responded to this:

A friend of mine is trying to locate the whole of it. We'll see what we get.

In the mean time--sometimes far too mean time, here's to more community-building forms of discourse. As someone once remarked to me, "Radicals eat their young." This was meant as a caution about how vicious people can be when defending their own intellectual and political turf. It appear to also be the case that the young do their level best to ignore or dismiss their elders.

The masters of these and other, far more deadly, games are those with the most structural power in society. And in this society of mine, that isn't radicals. But I have noticed, among white radicals in particular, an odd kind of meanness that seems to not understand the meaning of care and compassion at all.

White Patriarchal Illiteracy and White Radical Feminist Writing: Exposing the Inability to Comprehend and Contextually Analyse Excerpted or Made Up Quotes

image is from here
I have no idea what the tiny writing under the term "Anti-feminism" is referring to, nor why there are badly photoshopped bracelets on the wrist above. I also have little to no idea how Tumblr works or even what it is. Yes, I'm old-school; I just do facebook, twitter, blogger, and email.

Not knowing something is one thing. Making CRAP up as if you believe you know something is quite another. In my direct, interpersonal experience, human adult males are notorious for doing this. We'll answer questions we know nothing about, just because we feel like we should know. And, often enough, we feel like we should know the answers because we feel entitled to act as if we know everything.

I've written a fair amount about the ridicu-list (credit to Anderson Cooper for that term) of quotes being passed around online as if doing so proves a point. The point it proves to me is that white "Educated" men can't read or intelligently analyse text, if the text is written by a white radical feminist. And, apparently, these same white men cannot read anything at all by radical feminists of color.

Below is the content of a Tumblr page I came across. If someone can make sense of who wrote what, please clue me in!! This concerns the list of white feminist quotes making the rounds among white anti-feminists online. Please click on "A Copy Of" just below to link back to the original post... or whatever it's called on Tumblr! I have only a couple of things to add, in brackets and bold.

A Copy Of

I am:
25. Male. Veteran.
interested in:
Guns. Politics. Violence. Civil rights. Compost.

My other blogs:
Hipsters With Guns
Trigger warning for some mention of rape in my commentary -Conquering the Bad Press

Feminism Is a Hate Group

When some of the most prominent feminists and famous women make openly hateful anti-male statements, and the mainstream feminist organizations say and do nothing to distance themselves from such public statements, then it’s clear that the hatred of men has an accepted place in mainstream feminism.
 Does this seem like a harsh assessment of feminism? Perhaps.
Is it true? Absolutely.
One of the main problems with “feminism” is that it exploits the legitimate claims of equal rights as a cloak to usher in its devisive, hateful and neurotic interests. Interests that are plainly anti-male and not at all about equal rights.
For example, here are some quotes from famous feminists.
  • “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honourable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.” – Robin Morgan, Ms. Magazine Editor
  • “To call a man an animal is to flatter him; he’s a machine, a walking dildo.”  -– Valerie Solanas
  • “I want to see a man beaten to a bloody pulp with a high-heel shoved in his mouth, like an apple in the mouth of a pig.” — Andrea Dworkin
  • “Rape is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear” — Susan Brownmiller
  • “The more famous and powerful I get the more power I have to hurt men.” — Sharon Stone
  • “In a patriarchal society, all heterosexual intercourse is rape because women, as a group, are not strong enough to give meaningful consent.” — Catherine MacKinnon
  • “The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately 10% of the human race.” — Sally Miller Gearhart
  • “Men who are unjustly accused of rape can sometimes gain from the experience.” – Catherine Comins
  • “All men are rapists and that’s all they are” — Marilyn French
  • “Probably the only place where a man can feel really secure is in a maximum security prison, except for the imminent threat of release.” — Germaine Greer.
The quotations above are from Kelly Mac’s blog. Kelly is ‘a woman against feminism’ because of its anti-male agenda. You can read more of Kelly Mac’s blog at
Kelly sums it up nicely:
If you’re going to say feminism is not a man-hating movement, I’m going to have to insist that you provide links either to sites showing feminists condemning the statements listed above, or feminists telling women to respect men as men.
While my knee-jerk reaction would be to provide several links (and a free asskicking,) I think this is foremost problem Feminism faces today. Not only does every misandrist with a chip on their shoulder don the mantle of Feminism, but they state such things very publicly without retribution. As much as I dislike this article, I do have to agree with some things. In order to reclaim the term Feminism, I personally think it’s important to start policing these elements within our ranks—or at least actively disassociating ourselves from those that would use Feminism as the hammer and social justice as the anvil to pummel people into a new era of inequality. 
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Gifs? I’ll start because it’s Tumblr and a necessity.
Let’s make Feminism awesome again.
[There was a video image here that was deleted by me, Julian. And, I'm not sure who wrote what comes next, but aside from not noticing that the C. A. MacKinnon "quote" is not something she ever said or wrote, and that her first name is misspelled, I agree with it.]

Ok I have a problem with this.
By no means do I think that you can conquer anything - be it an oppressive social system or “bad press” - by succumbing to it.
First of all, the post gives ten examples of supposedly man-hating comments coming from ten different supposed feminists. If ten is all that can be dredged up out of about 100 years of a movements existence - hell, even 40 years since they didn’t mention anything about suffragists and the first wave, I’d say that’s a pretty good ratio. 
Let’s take that number and put it up against the amount of woman-hating comments made by the same media that is giving feminists “bad press”. I think that’s something interesting to do. The same media that openly shames victims of rape, that is more interested in reporting on what women politicians wear or what “catfight” they might get into, that body polices women regularly. 
Golly, I’d hate to get “bad press” from an entity like that.
Now, I think that first statement is actually onto something. Really think about it. Why do feminists have to play so much nicer than patriarchy plays with us? Men, who have historically been the group with the most power - at least on the level of gender - cannot handle women hating them? Really? I wonder why that is? Women have handled the brunt of massive societal hatred for years - institutionalized oppression at the hands of men who were in power. And hey, that still continues today, right anti-choice politicians? 
So I guess that every time a woman who calls herself a feminist - or just so happens to be a celebrity! - gets fucking sick of it and makes a statement about men not being wonderful fucking human beings - well they get kicked out of the feminist club, because I mean, I wouldn’t want the patriarchal mass media to get the wrong idea, right? 
Oh and also will people stop holding up Valerie Solanas as some kind of feminist icon? When the fuck did that get started? Oh, right, when people needed a way to discredit feminism - again. 
Oh, and Brownmiller’s statement? Spot-fucking-on. What she said is the truth. She said it was a conscious process. She didn’t say all men were consciously participating in it. However, it is a systematic means of oppression. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be massive victim-blaming campaigns that attempt to limit the actions and freedoms of women (don’t go here, don’t drink, don’t walk alone, don’t wear that, don’t leave your house, etc. etc.).
Rape is a tool of oppression, and when men don’t actively fight against its use as that kind of oppressive mechanism they are complicit in it - and indeed, they benefit from it. If they didn’t, there would be no need for its existence in the first place. The benefit is from the continued lack of accountability on the part of men who do rape. Women are constantly in a state of fear, because when a rape culture persists there is no one to trust - and that is oppression. Spot-fucking-on there was nothing man-hating about that and to say otherwise is bullshittery.
Also, Sharon fucking Stone? Really? And did she say that she wanted to hurt men? Fucking christ, context much? I mean really, men have the power to hurt women as it stands - some revel in it (rape jokes, domestic violence jokes, etc. etc.). Oh, but one celebrity who also happens to be a woman makes a statement about simply having the power to hurt men - not even saying she wants to - and that is obvious misandry. Who the fuck are we kidding here? So now it’s bad for women to have power - and that’s feminism?
And Catherine Mackinnon’s quote isn’t man-hating either. It might be anti-sex [Julian's note: it's not anti-sex either; she never said it: see *here* for more], which is a legitimate criticism, but man-hating? Pointing out that women as a class lack power to consent - which is true, our culture has fucked up definitions of consent - is not hating men. 
Oh, and the Marilyn French one I had to look up, because I’ve read her work and it’s not outlandish. Oh look, here’s some context. I’ve not read the entirety of this work, but the entire context of the statement casts doubt on the notion that this statement is outright “man-hating”. Seems to me like more a comment on lived experience.
Also, uh, Germaine Greer’s statement? Definitely need more context there. 
So let’s see…that’s 7 out of 10 that really aren’t that man-hating at all or arguably taken out of context. So now we have 3 statements from 3 people…in a 40 year span. I’ll say again: I’d like to compare that to actions, to laws that were enacted that allowed men to rape their wives. To being barred from voting on the laws one must obey. To being forced into pregnancy due to a combination of un-addressed rape culture and cis men making decisions for uterus bearers. To years of barred access to controlling fertility and reproduction - whether by choosing when you had sex or by choosing what method of birth control you could use. Constant infantalization, objectification. Violence. Continued under representation of women and other marginalized people in media and legitimate positions of power that goes un-addressed - or if someone like Justice Sotomayor gets nominated a culture that wonders whether or not there will ever be more men nominated the highest court which has been 99.99% male for over a century. 
So I wonder why, as feminists, we have to divert our energy to denouncing the few statements of man-hating that might occur within our movement when there is still so much more work to be done to combat the hatred that our culture - and men who support the continued cultural status quo - have for women. 
Fuck the bad press. I don’t want them singing the praises of a lobotomized feminism in between sexist yogurt commercials and The Bachelor.
Fuck. that. I’ll start denouncing man-hating in this movement when men start denouncing woman-hating in this culture.

*          *          *

Julian here. I recommend reading this passage from Marilyn French's book, The Women's Room:

“I asked him how he felt about her now. He thought of her as ultimately desirable, but his memory of her was singed with anger. He had loved her, he had wanted her, and he had done nothing. He was angry with her but angrier with himself. ‘What could you have done?’ ‘I could have raped her.’
“I wasn’t even surprised. This guy was unbearably stiff and boring, impossible correct, Christian, mild, meek all that. But at heart, a rapist.”
“I know all this, I’ve known it always,” Mira said faintly.
“That story – and God knows how many others, how many pieces of history, laws, traditions, customs – everything congealed for me while I walked the streets of Chicago with Chris, watching the men looking at her. And it became an absolute truth for me. Whatever they may be in public life, whatever their relationships with men, in their relations with women, all men are rapists, and that’s all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes.”
Mira’s head lay in her hand. “I have two sons,” she said softly.
“Yes. That’s one way they keep their power. We love our sons. Thank God I don’t have one. It would hold me back.” [Val's] face was fierce.
Mira sat up. “Hold you back?”
“Everything came together. That guy – the minister – and the way Tad treated Chris, the kid who raped her, the lawyers who raped her soul, the courts and the way they treated her, the cops with their guns hanging down and the way they looked at her, and the men on the streets, one after another, looking at her, making remarks. There was no way I could protect her from it, and he way she’s feeling now, no way I can help her to bear it.
“And my mind was wandering, I wasn’t able to control it. I thought about marriage and its laws, about fear of going out at night, fear of traveling, about the conspiracy among men to treat women as inconsequential – there are more ways to rape than one. Women are invisible, trivial, or demons, castrators; they are servants or cunt, and sometimes both at once. … All these years, these centuries, these millennia, and all that hate – look at the books – and under it all, the same threat, the same act: rape.

I also recommend reading all of Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. And anything by Alice Walker, bell hooks, Andrea Smith, Yanar Mohammed, Vandana Shiva, Yanar Mohammed, and Patricia Hill Collins. And then, maybe, we can begin a conversation about what radical feminists, who aren't only white, believe about men. Start with "Man-Child" in Sister Outsider.