Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Intersectionality, or why Carrie Bradshaw speaks for few women

by Nidya Sarria

I was doing some reading the other day when my younger brother looked over my shoulder. “We studied feminism in school,” he told me, trying to draw me into conversation. Delighted that he was taught about the existence of feminism as a form of political discourse, I asked him what he learned.

“Oh, not much,” he said. “My teacher said it wasn’t very important. It wasn’t even on the test.”

Not even on the test. I guess I should have known better.

My neighborhood is mostly working class, first and second generation Hispanics of Cuban and Central American descent. Not many women in my community attend college after high school, if they graduate high school at all, and fewer women ever read feminist literature. According to popular opinion, there is no place for gender equality, because men and women are inherently different and should stick to their pre-ordained roles. Feminism is seen as something made up by “crazy white women” and adopted by girls that try to “act white.”

This should come as a surprise to no one. It has long been said that the feminist movement caters to the needs and concerns of upper-middle class white women. This has resulted in third wave feminism, which diverges from the second wave by attempting to deal with issues of race, social class, sexuality, and other factors often ignored by previous generations. Nevertheless, though today’s feminism is meant to be more inclusive, it often fails to reach a diverse audience. Many people still believe that feminism, as a movement, remains concerned only with the needs of a few.

To some degree, they are right. Though I consider myself a feminist, I have to admit that I can sometimes feel uncomfortable in feminist spaces, such as online blogs and forums, if only because many of these women debate issues of gender equality from a perspective that I consider privileged and presumptuous. In too many cases to overlook, when a woman of color gives input, especially when the topic of discussion is related to questions of race or socioeconomics, she is ignored or treated in a condescending manner. I don’t believe this is usually deliberate. Nevertheless, it happens often enough that many feminists of color question whether they belong in the movement at all.

I’ve questioned my place in the feminist movement. Sometimes I have been offended by the tone of certain discussions I have observed, which don’t seem to acknowledge or care about the experiences of women who lack economic security and white privilege. Other times, I have felt that some feminist sentiments really are “too radical.” But the truth is, radical is another word for scary, so when I feel some feminist thought is too radical, I usually force myself to take a step back and consider why I feel threatened.

More often than not, I initially feel that some concepts are too radical because I have never before encountered them. These ideas are completely foreign to me. It is easy to ignore the English-language, upper-middle class, white dominated media and the lifestyles it depicts when it seems to have so little to do with me. So what if Carrie Bradshaw can be forty-something, and unmarried, and apparently fulfilled? She has the money to live in Manhattan and buy as many shoes as her heart desires, as well as at least three friends of similar background that support her life choices. Not all of us can claim the same. And yet, I remain hopeful that all women, regardless of their circumstances, can achieve the ability to choose how they want to live their lives.

While my beliefs qualify me for inclusion in the feminist movement on the surface level, in reality, things remain sometimes uncomfortable. I feel that until women of color can speak to other women of color about gender equality, women’s liberation will remain incomplete. Unfortunately, there are not many feminists of color, precisely because they feel marginalized by the movement. This creates a cycle in which feminist thought remains a form of political discourse available and applicable only to a privileged few. And yet, here I am. I could tell you, little by little, why I chose to disregard my childhood values and take on new thoughts and ideas, but that would be a long story.

Mostly I’m here because I think that feminism should have been on the test.


At September 8, 2009 at 7:57 PM , Anonymous 16V said...

The sexual disparity of undergrads has been a hot topic recently also in this side of Atlantic. No surprise there, I guess, since such trend seems to be common in all industrialized countries. In America, something like 60% of today's freshmen are women. The reasons why young men don't go to college are well-known and better listed elsewhere, and now that college degree has become an important signaling mechanism in the job market, this trend is getting worrisome. If nothing else, pretty soon the young white women of America will learn what their black sisters exactly mean when they complain about shortage of educated men to marry. And speaking of which, if I have understood the situation correctly, the white men from the lower socioeconomic strata and the nonwhite men leak out of the education pipeline much more severely than their middle-class white brothers. This is not really surprising, since the societal changes and structures that favour women naturally tend to hurt the marginal males the worst, whereas men who are in a stronger position due to their talents and social position get to skate away completely scot free. This must be a great annoyance to leftists and feminists. (Or at least it should be, if they could ever bring themselves to think about it. But they don't, but rather just avoid the issue and reject it with violent doublethink whenever they are forced to face it.)

At September 9, 2009 at 2:35 PM , Anonymous Uncomfortable truths said...

Long before the Duke case attracted feminist uproar, I noticed that whenever feminists raise a big fuss about some rape or sexual violence or domestic violence case that they perceived to be a huge injustice, the alleged perpetrator always turned out to be white. It has gotten about as predictable as watching Law & Order. If anybody wants to prove me wrong, you can provide a link to even one feminist column or blog post that wants to bring attention to a rape case where the accused perpetrator is black and the victim is white.

The feminists write about rape so often that this should be an extremely easy task, since according to the Department of Justice statistics, each year in America there are about 800 rapes where the perpetrator is white and the victim is black, but about 15,000 rapes where the perpetrator is black and the victim is white. In addition, more than 3,000 gang rapes of whites by blacks happen annually in the USA, but virtually no white-on-black gang rapes. Yet this curious silence. I wonder why?

At September 10, 2009 at 1:22 AM , Anonymous Avilet said...

Uncomfortable truths, you're totally right. Feminists never get mad at black perpetrators of rape, sexual violence, and/or domestic violence. This is why Chris Brown is so popular among feminist communities of course. Uh-huh.

Also, your use of Dept. of Justice stats on rape is laughable given the extent to which a) rape is a notoriously underreported crime and b) this underreporting is influenced by factors such as race and class. As much as you would like to believe otherwise, the crime of rape has no color.

At September 10, 2009 at 12:57 PM , Anonymous LSG said...

I'm really happy you're writing here, Nidya, and especially happy that you're writing about intersectionality -- I think your voice will be a very valuable one here, and I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say. I'm very sorry to go totally off track, but I want to address the delightful commentators who decided to grace your first post with their presence.

There can be dozens of meaty conversations about the intersection of sexual assault and race or ethnicity, and the depictions of them in the media. We can't have them all immediately, especially not in the comment section of an unrelated post. (Also, I think it's very important to note that women of color have been blogging about these things and having these conversations for a long time now -- check out Renee at Womanist Musings or BrownFemiPower at Flip Flopping Joy, for a start.) However, I do want to point out that Uncomfortable Truth's post is playing into a sexist, racist construct that is prevalent in our society -- I think we should be aware of that.

In our society, historically and currently, black men are often depicted as sexual dynamos luring white women away from white men, and/or sexual predators preying on white women. This image, in its various forms, has been used to attempt to justify racism for hundreds of years -- The Birth of a Nation has some particularly vivid storylines about this very topic, I've been told, with white women hurling themselves off cliffs to escape rape by slavering hordes of black men. And remember this cover (http://blog.nj.com/entertainment_impact_celebrities/2008/03/large_cover.jpg), modeled after King Kong, with Lebron James roaring at the camera, his arm around Giselle Bunchen's waist as if he's about to carry her off?

Black women and girls, on the other hand, are often depicted as being promiscuous and therefore "unrapeable." (For an example: http://whataboutourdaughters.blogspot.com/2008/07/22-yo-black-woman-to-11-year-old-black.html) Black women are also classified in this narrative as "unattractive" in comparison to white women, and this ridiculous and subjective judgment is used as evidence they aren't/can't be raped. Which is twisted in several ways.

So not only are Uncomfortable Truth's statistics VERY suspect (Can anyone even find them? I can't, and I looked in earnest -- though I did find something similar on a white supremacist site) he's playing into the narrative that "black men rape white women but white men don't rape black women," a well-worn racist trope. The fact that something has been repeated many, many times doesn't make it "truth."

Avilet, yes. In poking around on the DOJ's website, I did find some interesting statistics on differing reasons given by black and white women for not reports crimes. If you're interested -- http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cvus/current/cv06103.pdf

At September 10, 2009 at 5:06 PM , Anonymous UT said...

"The fact that something has been repeated many, many times doesn't make it "truth.""

And yet, what you are saying, without evidence or statistics, is that the fact that it is an old meme makes it false.

At September 11, 2009 at 8:19 PM , Blogger LSG said...

Nope. I'm saying that a stereotype that was created and promoted in order to make sure white people looked at black people with fear and loathing is false.


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