Intersectionality

(63 Posts)
dashoflime Sun 18-Aug-13 19:36:45

I'm looking for help to get my ideas straight on this. I am really not a fan of intersectionality. I agree that feminism alone cannot/did not provide an analysis for all oppression's or all women's experiances. However, I don't think an attempt to broaden feminism to encompass all things is the way forward. Far better to situate feminism within a broader political analysis; eg: socialism.
Apparently, I only think this because I'm white and have been challenged to find one black feminist theorist who would agree with me.
Can anyone help me out here. I'm willing to revise my opinions if it turns out I'm in the wrong

FreyaSnow Sun 18-Aug-13 20:08:32

I think that everyone uses intersectional thinking all the time. As far as I understand it is the idea that somebody having experience A and somebody else having experience B cannot combine their knowledge to know what is is like to be somebody who is having experiences A and B at the same time. I find it hard to understand how anybody can get through life and survive without employing that principle to basic day to day tasks. For example the facts that I have painted metal items and have been on a bridge doesn't give me the skills or experience to be an expert on how to paint a suspension bridge. If I just went out and tried to do it or tell others how to do it, there would likely be terrible consequences.

What has gone wrong with intersectionality is that it has become used as a way of claiming moral superiority, as if there are people who use it and people who don't. People merely saying they are intersectional doesn't make it so. It has no more meaning than me saying I am altruistic and somebody else is not. The truth is more likely that these are traits everybody sometimes employs and sometimes does not. The other issue with is is that it is only one a range of ways of thinking that are useful in working out what to do, and sometimes people seem to think intersectionality is the only theory you need, which seems totalitarian.

NiceTabard Sun 18-Aug-13 20:16:51

Isn't it sort of to do with keeping at the forefront of your mind that people are different and have different lives and stuff and to endeavour to remain open to what other people say?

So I need to be aware of my privilege and understand that the things that resonate with me are because of who I am and where I live and all of that stuff. And to understand that why those things are important to me, I have to understand that other things might be more important to other people and that some of the things that have affected me are just not in their life experience and so are not so important to them...?

So it's just sort of common sense really and being self-aware and listening and keeping an open mind and stuff.

I do think that feminism shouldn't be watered down by saying that feminists also need to fight x, y and z as people often say, in an attempt frankly to get feminists on the back foot (oh you don't care about X you are MEAN that stuff). At the same time I think that all women need to be listened to so eg a white woman growing up in a middle class UK family will have different experience and ideas about what needs doing to a poor woman growing up if Afghanistan and again and again to do with colour, wealth, education, opportunity and so on and so on. It isn't an either / or though, which critics often seem to overlook.

That's just what I think anyway smile

MiniTheMinx Sun 18-Aug-13 20:47:27

I agree with a lot of what freya has said, so well. I am not an adherent to intersectional theory but I accept that the theory helps to make sense of the real material, emotional and structural inequalities faced by some people who experience subjugation in ways that are particular to them. I accept that a poor black women or a women living under a reign of fear from the Taliban suffers a different form of oppression, its particularities different. I do though think that the reason for all oppression stems from class inequality and exploitation for material resources, so a joined up offensive is needed to end all inequalities.

Where I would agree with you dashoflime is that Feminism situated within a broader left wing politics is most likely to succeed.

But what of Liberal feminism? Not a natural bedfellow with socialism!

FreyaSnow Sun 18-Aug-13 22:38:34

NiceTabard, isn't the first part of your post more of a description of diversity than intersectionality? The first part can be applied to the issues of children as being different to those of those of the elderly, but those are two mutually exclusive groups; there is no intersection there. But we would still think about them in the way you describe as part of diversity. You can of course make it intersectional by adding extra factors to both groups, but what you say remains true even if you don't do that.

The second part of your post is one of context - a woman in Afghanistan has different issues because their context is totally different. I don't know if intersectional thinking helps there or not.

Intersectionality has to be adding something more than just diversity and context. Maybe it is the issue that two groups in the same overall context experience the same prejudice differently because homophobia (for example) manifests differently against lesbians and gay men. So being a lesbian isn't about experiencing generic homophobia and generic sexism; it is that the kind of sexism you experience will take a different form to that experienced by straight women because it often takes a different form when carried out against lesbians.

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Mon 19-Aug-13 09:22:15

I think - from my perspective being a married, middle-class white woman - it would be massively patronizing of someone like me to get all gushy about 'intersectionality' in the way I've seen some people do.

I agree context is perhaps a better term, or yes, common sense! But I think it's ok to say, sorry, this is a debate I'm not informed about. And I will try to inform myself about whatever it happens to be so that I don't drop clangers or unintentionally perpetuate prejudice, but I'm not going to pretend I can make all the issues that affect other women my own, or central to my feminism as they stand. What's central to my feminism is that women deserve to be treated equally to each other and to men, and that we need to liberate ourselves from the patriarchy.

I think as long as people are honest about what their own context is, and aware of how it might limit their perspective, it doesn't matter that we all have different perspectives on what issues are most important to us as feminists. Trying to construct an overarching feminism that includes everything and we can all agree on is one of those projects that might be interesting on occasion, but is basically unnecessary.

KRITIQ Tue 20-Aug-13 23:41:48

I first encountered the concept of intersectionality about 20 years ago in a workshop led by the late Ellen Pence, co-founder of the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. We were using the Power and Control Wheel to explore the similarities between the mechanisms of oppression used systemically against women and other marginalised groups in society. What also occurred was that for women who were also part of one or more other marginalised groups, heir experience was bound to be more than just "oppression plus." Conversely, those disadvantaged due to one part of their identity might have a greater degree of resilience and resources to draw upon than those who faced exclusion on more fronts.

Soon after, I experienced something of an epiphany reading this article by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw (link opens a PDF) named "intersectionality" and enriched my understanding of the complex social, economic and political interplay of oppression and privilege.

So, it's not a "new fangled thing" as some claim, nor is it an "academic concept." Its roots stretch back to the 19th Century racism and classism of early women's rights campaigners and suffragettes and the sexism of abolition and civil rights movements. More recently, Women of Colour in America, including Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, Alice Walker and bell hooks have spoken about being excluded from mainstream feminism, (led by white women) and mainstream civil rights movements, (led by Black men.)

For those who follow Twitter, the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen started by Mikki Kendall the other week (I posted a link to her blog on intersectionality on another thread here last year,) led to an outpouring of frustration from Women of Colour worldwide, citing experiences of exclusion from mainstream feminism. There was also plenty of defensiveness from white feminists.

(This was followed by a hashtag #blackpowerisforblackmen where Women of Colour similarly vented their frustration at Men of Colour for expecting their support but not reciprocating on specific concerns/issues for Women of Colour. Cue similarly defensive Men of Colour!)

This exclusion happens when those who are amongst the most privileged in a group (in this case white, non-disabled, relatively economically privileged, etc. etc. feminists,) assume that their experiences are universal experiences of women and their issues and concerns are the ones that must be prioritised. When other women challenge or question this, they are often ignored, told their issues "aren't about feminism," or that in complaining, they are being divisive and damaging the feminist cause. Sometimes, this may come from genuine ignorance and naivety, but I suspect often it comes from those more privileged feminists wanting to hang tight to the power and status they DO already hold and not share.

In my view, an intersectional approach starts with a genuine commitment to wider social justice and the liberation of ALL women from patriarchal/kyriarchal oppression - not just fighting for the things that affect you. It's more than just acknowledging different experiences, but locating those within a complex patriarchal/kyriarchal structure that values some people more than others (quite likely including you.) It's continuously reflecting on how one's own actions contribute to the liberation OR oppression of other women. It's using the status and opportunities one DOES have to ensure the voices and issues of those more marginalised are represented and not just relegated to the "fringe." It's being open, listening to and acting upon the painful truths of more marginalised women without getting defensive and compounding their sense of exclusion.

Wider awareness means feminists can learn from other social justice initiatives and often join forces to increase impact (e.g. tackling poverty, saving NHS, promoting human rights, etc.)

I highly recommend this article by Chitra Nagarajan, White Domination, Challenge and the Feminist Movement ? ‪#Solidarityisforwhitewomen‬ and What It Meant for Me. I'd be really interested in folks' response to this.

I don't see my advocacy for intersectional feminism as "gushy" but just as giving a damn about other people and issues that I don't have to care about because of my own privilege. Do intersectional feminists appear to have or claim "moral superiority?" I suppose it depends on how one's moral compass is calibrated! smile

FreyaSnow Wed 21-Aug-13 00:12:25

It isn't that intersectional feminists have or claim to have moral superiority, it is the idea that there are intersectional feminists and non-intersectional feminists that has to be about moral superiority.

It is like saying there are kind feminists and unkind ones, and you are one of the kind ones, or informed and ignorant feminists and you are one of the informed ones. We are all sometimes sometimes intersectional, kind and informed and all sometimes not.

KRITIQ Wed 21-Aug-13 00:53:36

To be fair, I've noticed those who follow all strands of feminism suggesting that their version is "best" in some way - most progressive, most authentic, most practical, closest to the "root," or similar, and that other strands don't "make the grade" in the same way. Surely that's the same thing you are describing here.

I don't actually understand your last sentence though, but it is very late. Very interested still in responses to Chitra's article.

FreyaSnow Wed 21-Aug-13 01:07:20

No, it isn't the same thing I'm describing. There are clearly feminists who are socialist feminists and some who most certainly are not. That makes socialist feminism a strand of feminism.

There is no strand of feminism that is opposed to intersectionality. People who refer to themselves as intersectional feminists tend to change the intersection they focus on rather than actually increase the amount of intersectionality.

KRITIQ Wed 21-Aug-13 10:07:26

Perhaps I'm still not understanding what you mean. confused

Both in real life and via the internet, I have certainly encountered those who describe themselves as feminists, sometimes advocating for specific "strands" of feminism who clearly oppose intersectionality as a concept and the views of intersectional feminists as a strand of feminism.

Again, I don't really understand that last sentence. By its very nature, intersectional feminism requires consideration of a range of factors, connections and intersections. If you see that as "changing the focus," I don't understand why that is a problem. I'm not sure how one "increases the amount of intersectionality," either. It's not something that can be counted or measured. As an intersectional feminist, I would seek to increase awareness, understanding and consideration of intersectional privilege and oppression in campaigns, in education, in policy, etc. That's something quite different.

FreyaSnow Wed 21-Aug-13 10:49:14

Clearly there are people who are not fans of Intersectionality - the OP of this thread! So I don't disagree with you there. On the other hand the OP is interested in socialism and therefore presumably class - so she is interested in that particular intersection, she just deals with it using a different form of analysis.

Your arguments for what the absence of intersectionality causes - classism, not looking at additional oppression, relegating marginalised women doesn't make any sense when the OP is arguing for socialism and other broader forms of political analysis.

Your argument is essentially that various women are oppressed in different ways and to different extents and combinations change the nature of their oppression. But we already know that and have kinds of political analysis to deal with it. Feminism in that sense is already intersectional.

If you want to use intersectionality as a term to be something beyond a way of claiming moral superiority, it has to be able to compete with other forms of analysis as a way of providing solutions and courses of action.

Your link is an example of that. The writer mentions an issue which her audience recognises as intersectional but then does nothing about. I would suggest the reason for that is because the writer gives them no course of action to follow, which is what generally happens when people mention intersectionality.

In terms of the amount of intersectionality, I think we can crudely measure it. Currently a large amount of feminism seems to be about young women with no kids. Being a mother is a major intersection of oppressions. The amount of intersectionality around that issue has reduced, while the amount of intersectionality around other issues - sexuality has increased.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 09:02:56

KRITIQ - thanks for the link to the blogpost by Chitra Nagarajan, I will be interested to read that. I've read various of the discussions about SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen but by no means all.

The thing that puts intersectionality into relief for me is when lots of white women were really happy that Lena Dunham (I think, can't stop to google, sorry) had her tv show Girls, because it was obviously a strongly female cast, doing stuff we often don't see women or girls doing on the telly. But when women of colour weighed in saying, well actually it's not that progressive is it, it's very white, there is no representation from non-white women (and this is unrealistic in the situation that it was set in), the typical white feminist reply to this was rather on the lines of "but it's female representation on the telly, it's all good". Caitlin Moran was famously indiscreet in the way she often is, where in reply to this whole debate (being challenged on her championship of the show, I think), she said "I literally could not give a shit". Now surely what that says to women of colour is, we (white feminists who are all that count as feminists) don't care about your battles and difficulties, we've got white women more visible, we're winning the battle (which is our battle).

It's not about trying to do all the things at once, trying to actively battle racism as well as sexism. It's seeing that sometimes in battling sexism we can be being massively racist at the same time without even noticing it.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 11:15:35

(Obviously as well as my example of racism I could/should include ablism, transphobia, and so on.)

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 11:41:33

ComixMinx, which US and UK TV shows do you think are preferable to Girls in terms of intersectionality? It would be nice to have some recommendations. Also, which TV shows do you think are a better representation of Jewish women than girls?

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 12:14:30

I haven't watched Girls so can't comment, and in any case it's not really about what's actually on the telly right now, I don't think. Rather, I think it's about what are we aiming to have on the telly, or what might we be happy to see on the telly. (I can't comment about current tv generally as I barely watch it.)

I don't know what tv shows are a better representation of Jewish women, but as far as I know that's not a demographic that is specifically under-represented, is it? In any case I'm not saying we shouldn't have a show like Girls on the tv, but rather that when women of colour point out rather a big gap in the progressiveness of it, it behooves white feminists not to be dismissive about it.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 12:38:01

I do think it is an issue of what is on the tv right now. I don't know if Jewish women are under-represented or for that matter mis-represented on the tv right now. That is rather for Jewish women to decide, isn't it?

I do think that Girls, a show where three of the four main characters is Jewish, is being criticised to a far greater degree for being racist than any of the shows about non-Jewish white women.

I didn't know that much about the different ethnic groups of Jews or how that had an impact on Jewish women's lives. I'd never even heard of Camp Ramah.

I think anti-semitism is still a pretty major issue, and one Lena Dunham has to deal with.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 13:00:34

I also don't know why we are discussing 'white women' and 'people of colour' to discuss the comments of a woman of Irish Catholic descent about a largely Jewish TV show on a British website.

We don't make a distinction between white people as the privileged minority and people of colour as the ones who experience racism. There is no 'we' as white women in that sense. There are the privileged majority - white British people and the people who experience racism - minority ethnic groups, some of whom are white.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 14:09:27

Fair point about that being for Jewish women to decide! And you may well be right in saying that Girls is more criticised for being racist than any shows about non-Jewish white women (which shows are you thinking of?). I don't see that this means that the show is let off the charges levelled, though. It could be being unfairly singled out while the people singling it out still have a point.

'White people' or 'white women' are not monolithic groups, and minority ethnic groups can experience racism, I agree. I don't see that that means we can't use the terms white women and people of colour in this discussion, though. Multiple strands of oppression and of status is part of the whole issue.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 14:13:44

Sorry, I mean "white minority ethnic groups can experience racism, I agree".

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 14:45:16

We don't use the term people of colour in the UK; this is not the USA. We refer to minority ethnic groups. I think it would be ridiculous to claim that in the UK an Iranian person has privilege over say, a Chinese person because Iranian people are white and Chinese people are people of colour it would be ridiculous. A distinction that a white group like Iranians experiences less racism in the UK than a group of people of colour is simply not true. That is why we don't use the term. It has no meaning here. We refer to minority ethnic groups, not racial groups.

On a separate note, you seem to be saying that if people make a tv show about a particular minority and don't include another minority, the people who view that show and the people who watch it are 'massively racist.'

On the other hand, if I select a particular minority and hound individuals from it into the ground for writing or watching that minority rather than about an another group, I'm supporting intersectionality and a good feminist?

Does that count for all groups? Can I constantly complain there are no Asian people in a show with black characters? is it okay for me to target that show rather than say a white show like Gossip Girl or Two Broke Girls? How about if I target shows with a gay character for not having a bisexual character rather than target a show with all straight characters? Can I set up a blog devoted to complaining about a show with Hispanic characters because there should be more Asian people in it, but not do the same for a show about white people of Dutch descent?

Why do we use intersectionality in the way we criticise media, but are content to be racist, sexist and homophobic in the way we select the people we choose to criticise?

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 15:21:42

Actually the term people of colour is one I've heard in the UK and used by British people.

The Iranian people I know wouldn't call themselves white, I'm pretty sure. But I agree that there will be white minority groups who are discriminated against; historically, Irish people, for instance. I am not saying that white minority groups will experience less racism; they will experience different racism, and it is perfectly possible that they could be racist with regard to other minority groups. I am not in any way saying that if people make a tv show about a particular minority and don't include another minority that means viewers and creators are massively racist! I'm saying that we are not magically exempt from ourselves being oppressive in some ways just because we are also oppressed in other ways. We can be racist without noticing it while being totally on the lookout for sexisim in all its forms.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 16:02:13

The Iranian people in the UK who I know wouldn't consider themselves to be white. In the US however, 'people of colour' are those who are in a category that is not white on the US census. The term was coined to stop people saying non-white as it has racist connotations given the US history of one drop rules etc.

It is the case that in the US census Iranian people, like people of other West Asian and North African descent are white categories. That is their legal definition in the US census. They are therefore white in the US.

It makes no sense to use the term people of colour and say Girls is a white show but then use the term to refer to the British population and start saying Iranians are not white because they say they are not.

If you are now inventing your own definition of who is and is not white, rather than using the US definition of POC or the British definition which is about minority ethnic groups rather than some notion of a white race, then on what grounds are you defining Girls as white? We know that in the US, they are either of European, North African or West Asian/Arabic descent, so are white. Under your personal racial categories, how are they white? Shoshanna, for example, has never said she is white and she has never said what Jewish ethnic groups she is descended from. She could be of Iranian descent; many Iranian American are Jewish.

It would seem to me that rather than try and use an imported American system of race, it would actually be more useful to use the international human rights understanding of ethnicity.

To return to the other point, while it is true that people can be from a minority and themselves be oppressive to other groups, there is a huge issue that racism and other forms of prejudice are carried out by criticising some groups more than others. Classic examples would be subjecting the wearing of the hijab to more discussion and law around sexist clothing standards than we do to Western clothing standards, paying far more attention to sexual assaults carried out by black men more than white men, and complaining more about gay men abusing teenagers than straight men.

Part of the solidarityisforwhitewomen discussion is about the demonisation of black men. It is about this very issue of criticising a minority to a far greater degree when members of that group do something which we feel we can criticise. It just isn't good enough to say being part of a minority doesn't exempt you from criticism when that criticism can lead to murder, persecution and war.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 16:31:33

Sorry, I'm finding this confusing now. People do use the term 'people of colour' in the UK - here's Doreen Lawrence, here's Anna Chen. It may be a jargon/technical term in the US but I don't believe that is how it is generally thought of (in terms of the census, that is). What international human rights understanding of ethnicity are you referring to?

In any case we agree not only about the point that people can be from a minority and still be oppressive to other groups, but also that racism can (usually does?) mean that some groups are criticised more than others. Surely this is part and parcel of intersectional thinking too and in saying this you are speaking intersectionally.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 16:56:55

I don't know if we agree or not. I believe that out of all the vast numbers of tv shows that you could have mentioned which do not have main cast members who POC, you and many other feminists have chosen to single out a show about Jewish women. That is evidence of a problem of anti-semitism in feminism generally and in your posts on this thread.

POC is not a jargon term in the US. It is the case that people in social justice circles in the US do consider POC to not include various ethnic groups who they deem not POC to be the oppressors and not capable of experiencing racism. Many also believe that one POC group can perpetuate racism against another POC group as only white people to be racist.

When I say international understanding I mean the international laws set up after much discussion between all the countries of the world on the elimination of racial discrimination. They are what our laws are based on, EU laws are based on and the racial discrimination laws of most countries. Why that should be replaced with a US understanding of race as somehow being about whether you are or are not white according to the USA's racist legacy of segregation seems to be an example of xenophobia (a kind of racism) and US cultural and political imperialism. I'm not sure how intersectionality provides a better explanation.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 17:00:00

Sorry, that should have been many believe members of one POC groups can't be racist to members of another POC group because they claim only white people can be racist.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 17:32:10

My original point wasn't about the show itself (which as I say, I haven't seen) but about the discussion around it, where as far as I could see there was a lot of dismissiveness by white feminists of the points made by women of colour. If as you think the issue is rather that the show has been attacked preferentially because it is representative of a different minority ethnic group then that's a construction I haven't heard before; I'm not trying to dismiss it because I haven't heard it before, but that's not what I was taking from it.

You were talking about POC as if it was a jargon term, by saying it was to do with the census. I don't think the view that only white people can be racist is in any way a majority view in social justice circles, or even a substantial minority view.

I can't add more to this discussion right now because I'll be away from keyboard but I will be interested to see any further input from anyone this evening.

comixminx Thu 22-Aug-13 18:19:00

Or to put it more succinctly before I properly go AFK: I am prepared to believe that feminism has issues of anti-semitism. I am prepared to believe I am not immune to it either, and to try to learn from what people tell me. But surely these discussions we're having now are precisely intersectional ones.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 19:44:17

A large number of the people complaining that Girls is racist are white, so the idea that it is the concerns of POC are the ones being dismissed is speculative. The fact that you personally are claiming not to hold anti-semitic views is simply how racism and other forms of institutionalised oppression works. Most people claim they are not racist, sexist etc etc and they just randomly happen to be talking about rapes carried out by black men rather than white men, or just randomly happen to be talking about the sexism in the clothing of South Asian women rather than white British women, or just randomly happen to be talking about a gay child sex offender rather than a straight one. And you and a whole load of other feminists just randomly happen to be talking about Jewish women rather than the dominant white group.

As for you not believing that social justice people believe POC can't be racist in the USA, have you tried googling 'can people of color be racist?' There are many, many links explaining that they can't be, including university anti-racist training material.

The definition in the US census isn't jargon. It reflects the beliefs and attitudes of people in the US as to what the major ethnic groups are and which groups are and are not white, although it remains very contentious which is why I prefer the European system based on an international understanding.

I think that the issue here is that you don't have much knowledge of the US context you are discussing and that you are expanding intersectionality to lay claim to all theories around racial discrimination, xenophobia and cultural imperialism. There is nothing wrong with intersectionality as a concept; there is a problem if people are going to have a really poor understanding of all other theories and replace it with just jumping in and going, 'everybody should just be more intersectional.'

The whole idea that international human rights around race which the whole international community came together to decide is now some trivial thing that allows you to keep claiming we're all talking about intersectionality really is staggeringly... Actually, I have no words. It's just staggering.

KRITIQ Thu 22-Aug-13 21:52:20

I've been rather busy but do hope to return to this thread. I do plan to when I get a minute, but just a couple of quick points.

People of Colour can only be racist if you agree that women can be sexist. In other words, even if People of Colour dislike or are bigoted towards people of other ethnic backgrounds, they do not hold the privilege that white people do in our white supremacist society. That means their attitudes and actions are not backed up by the dominant history, culture, institutions, laws, traditions, etc. in the way that systemic racism against People of Colour is. Same goes that women can dislike or be bigoted towards men, but they lack male privilege or the sanction of history, culture, etc., so the impact is likewise far, far less.

People of Colour is a term that originated in the US, but particularly through increased use within global social media, it's become a common term chosen by People of Colour, including in the UK. There is no point in the discussion getting derailed on this issue any more than one where someone goes on about not liking the term "feminist" and that "humanist" or some such would be better.

I've never seen the Lena Dunham programme but I did see the discussions afterwards in social media to which comixminx refers. While anti-semitism is a thing and yes Jewish women experience intersectional oppression due to anti-seminism and sexism, but if white, also experience racial privilege that Jewish Women of Colour and non-Jewish Women of Colour do not enjoy. However, the issue here wasn't about the programme in the context of oppression of white Jewish women - it was the discussion that followed, particularly in social media.

This involved "popular" feminists like Dunham, Caitlin Moran and later on Helen Lewis (who maybe calls herself a socialist feminist? *) and other white feminists dismissing concerns raised by Women of Colour and their allies about their erasure and racist stereotyping in popular culture, the media, etc.

* I say Lewis "may" be a socialist feminist from her comments during the discussion on the marginalisation of Women of Colour within feminism (following the #solidarityisforwhitewomen Twitter discussions,) Channel 4 News where she and Bonnie Greer were guests last week. Lewis tried to derail the discussion by saying it was an issue of class, not race (to which Greer tactfully argued that it was both.)

Lewis became embroiled in yet another argument on Twitter yesterday by posting a spiteful tweet criticising this blog on Sexual Normativity in Food Writing (of all things) by Flavia Dzodan, (a Woman of Colour and proponent of Intersectional Feminism), then whining that she was being "attacked" by those who didn't like the tweet, compiled all the tweets into a blogpost (which didn't paint her in a good light at all), then flounced off Twitter. I see just now she's issued a feeble "apology" for the "hurt caused."

Just a wee final point, comixminx, you said, "It's seeing that sometimes in battling sexism we can be being massively racist at the same time without even noticing it." That is definitely true. But, in some of these discussions, where a person just gets more and more defensive, digs themselves in deeper and deeper, if the "exercise of racial privilege" at least isn't actually an accident.

Will pop back when I can. Ta!

KRITIQ Thu 22-Aug-13 22:05:11

Sorry - last but one paragraph above should read " . . . in deeper and deeper, I'm not sure if the "exercise of racial privilege" at least . . ."

Finally, I have no idea to what degree comixminx understands the US context, but I'm a US and UK dual national, so I have a pretty good understanding as it goes.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 22:27:52

Kritiq, I entirely agree with your post as an explanation of what the position of people in social justice movements in the US is. I think there are issues with that position that some POC are finding damaging in the US, but other parts of it make sense in a US context.

The issue I have with it being used as the explanation of racism and oppression is that it doesn't readily transfer to other countries. It is highly problematic in countries where neither the ethnic minorities experiencing racism nor the dominant group are white. Their experience of racism is not one of white supremacy. It is also problematic in various European countries which have a dual experience of recent serious human rights abuses against minorities that are currently considered white and those who aren't.

There is a further problem that the US has a dominant global position in political, economic and cultural terms. One of the reasons we are talking about US tv shows is because they make up a very high proportion of global media sales. Large proportions of populations of various countries are opposed to US (and sometimes British) foreign policy and imperialism. To them it is a question of US values and actions. People who are concerned about drones in their countries are not generally sitting around going, oh, the issue is just with those white people killing people, only those 59% of the US who are not POC, white Middle Eastern or white Hispanic. Their issue is with the whole of the USA.

So while I think intersectionality is really useful for understanding different experiences within one country or region, the rest is better understood through ideas about contemporary colonialism, imperialism, international relations and international laws about racial discrimination which were globally constructed, not just decided by some activists and academics in the West. The danger is that with the global dominance of the US, other people's understanding of what racism is and how they experience it is silenced and development of ideas that are useful in other contexts are thwarted, which is what I see happening in internet discussions elsewhere. People from other countries (particularly those which don't have large white populations) are shouted down and told social justice ideas around intersectionality, cultural appropriation and so on that are dominant in the West are the only valid ways of dealing with racism.

vesuvia Thu 22-Aug-13 22:39:13

KRITIQ wrote - "People of Colour dislike or are bigoted towards people of other ethnic backgrounds, they do not hold the privilege that white people do in our white supremacist society."

I understand the idea that only men can be sexist: men as a class oppress women as a class. Men are at the top of the sex hierarchy everywhere. Oppression is in one direction everywhere.

I understand the idea that white people can be racist to people of other ethnic groups where white people are at the top of the racial hierarchy in a particular society.

What I don't yet understand is: can other ethnic groups be racist in societies where there are no white people? Or is your comment only applicable to the subset of societies that are white-dominated?

How would you describe the actions of e.g. a Chinese mining or construction company that maltreated its African workers in Africa? Dislike, bigotry or racism?

MiniTheMinx Thu 22-Aug-13 22:54:21

KRITIQ thank you for the links. I am just reading Chitra Nagarajan and several things struck me.

My pleas for us to focus on poverty, race, immigration status, exclusion and marginality are taken very seriously........people think ‘that’s interesting’ for a few minutes, to offer the illusion of diversity and to lend legitimacy with the melanin in my body to whatever is taking place

Feminism that fails to tackle the very worst most pressing and dire forms of oppression that effect the most disadvantaged women fails in its own mission.

I wanted though to concentrate on what Nagarajan lists as areas of disadvantage, poverty, immigration (status) exclusion and marginality. Poverty and immigration share in common the fact that they are not culturally defined but socially defined. Exclusion and marginality, I am assuming that Nagarajan would define these culturally.

I don't accept that racism stems from cultural differences and therefore I would argue that exclusion and marginality are the cultural manifestations of class exploitation under a capialist system that seeks to hove off groups, creating some that are super exploited. Slavery or more recently the maquiladora factories along the U.S boarder, many argue that the exploitation stems from racism but the exploitation of workers is colour blind in so far as we are all exploited but some groups are further disadvantaged. Not by skin colour or culture but because they lack social power, social power being the accumulated wealth of previous exploitation.

As a feminist, even I conclude that feminism is like many other "isms" post 70s, essentially single issue activism centred around women's liberation. A movement that fails to alleviate the subjugation of ALL women would seem to be failing. A movement that fails to listen to the different experiences of all women, failing to create equality amongst women stands little chance of achieving its mission because it lacks the methodology and tools to tackle inequality. But its mission is to tackle gender/sex inequality, no one ever claimed that feminism would tackle global warming, stagnating wages, rising poverty, racism and bring down the state!

But we have many single issue groups all proclaiming that their very own, very specific and very individual battles should take special precedence. This draws us to conceptualise oppression as being a result of cultural, racial, sexual and theocratic differences. We have new political groupings reactionary to established movements, a recent invention "the MRA groups" which is reactionary to the feminisation of labour, falling wages and rising male unemployment. In what way male unemployment and impoverishment is meant to benefit working class women is a mystery to me but the MRA think we women are celebrating a great victory.

I believe that people are encouraged through the study of history, modern media, education and mainstream politics to accept a cultural explanation, which is why feminism has to some extent made the great gains that it has for white middle class women. Liberal feminism in particular is very much in keeping with the aims of neo-liberal economic policy and political ideology. Liberal feminism is very much extended into the mainstream and not just because we women are shouting and getting our message over. If anything it is more to do with changes to the mode of production under capitalism and an acknowledgement that in the short term women could be further exploited both as cheaper labour and uber-consumer.

This cultural hegemony which goes unchallenged disallows us from starting to concentrate on what we have in common. To do so would require a different methodological approach, a theory that would explain the origins of all oppression.

The fascinating thing to me is the question of whether there is a progressive purpose to this period of liberal single issue politics where not only has feminism disowned its left wing roots but where women themselves are divided along class, race and theoretical lines. Maybe it is evolutionary in some way or maybe it is simply a product of neo-liberalism and beneficial to capitalist class exploitation.

FreyaSnow Thu 22-Aug-13 23:25:59

Mini, I don't disagree with your points about the underlying system of exploitation. I do think that such systems generally operate not just by threats of violence and/or starvation but by a process of cultural mystification around the worth of resources, what is and is not work and how much somebody's work is worth.

This process of mystification ends up taking on a life of its own. So while many of the things done to various Native American groups started out and was perpetuated in order to extract valuable resources from them and force many of them into an economic system, the concepts of racism and sexism applied to them to justify those actions and make people feel less empathy towards them when they see those actions carried out now extend far beyond their original purpose. The very high number of Native American women raped may well have its origins in that system of exploitation for economic purpose, but the people doing it are presumably doing it for racist and sexist reasons that are decoupled from those origins in resource exploitation. Dealing with the underlying capitalist issues may not make those things disappear.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 03:29:21

Freya - I find your tools used to dismiss any criticism of Girls to be rather worrying. To summarise your arguments would appear to be:
1)Why are you criticising this programme, there are worse shows out there?
2)I think you are bigoted for criticising this programme
3)You are not qualified to criticise this programme - this would be your very untrue claim that the majority of those criticising Girls were white.

These sort of arguments are exactly the same as those used by anti-feminist men to deflect accusations of misogyny, yet you've happily employed them to counteract accusations of racism.

Also the idea that it is somehow fighting the system to defend Girls from accusations of racism, when the powers that be depend on racism being downplayed and ignored, just like they do with misogyny.

Anyway here are four different articles, all by women of colour discussing Girls. I would highly recommend you read them:

www.racialicious.com/2012/04/19/dear-lena-dunham-i-exist/

www.boston.com/community/blogs/hyphenated_life/2012/04/girls_in_white.html

www.womanist-musings.com/2012/04/hbos-girls-is-all-about-spoiled-white.html#idc-cover

jezebel.com/5903382/why-we-need-to-keep-talking-about-the-white-girls-on-girls

garlicagain Fri 23-Aug-13 04:06:43

Kritiq, I'm loving your posts on this thread!

It's not such a compliment, perhaps, as I'm uninformed and uninterested in the kind of sociological/theoretical approach to feminism, with all of its needs for classification, that is in action here.

I decided to reply, dashoflime, because I was already thinking what your critics told you, before reading that they had, indeed, said your opinion on intersectionality could only come from a white feminist.

In her very fabulous TED talk, "We should all be feminists", Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells about a male black activist, who gets terribly frustrated by the way she always speaks of her experiences as a black woman. "Why do you not speak purely as a black person," he asks, "why must you always dilute the point by mentioning your gender?" Because I'm black and I'm a woman, she answers. "But I'm a black man," he protests, "and I don't feel the need to keep highlighting my gender!"

If you can see why that male activist was wrong, you can also see why the white feminist is wrong to deny intersectionality smile Don't even get me started on class differences and feminism's middle-class accent.

This is all about another of Chimamanda's very good points - The danger of a single story.

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 10:05:48

Gosh Anne, I am not actually arguing that there are no problems with the content if Girls whatsoever. I have never argued that there are other shows that are worse.

What I have argued is that there are huge numbers of other tv shows that exactly the same criticisms could be made about, but they are instead being made about a show where most of the main characters are Jewish and the writer is a Jewish woman.

Yes, I would use exactly the same argument in an argument about misogyny if the example a large number of feminists had chosen to talk about misogynistic behaviour were all about Jewish men, black men, gay men etc. I would think they were a bigot.

I have also not denied that there are POC criticising the show. There are. That doesn't make it untrue that the majority of intersectional feminists/ social justice activists are white women who are attacking Lena Dunham.

Even in the context of the four articles you have linked to, there is no mention of Lena Dunham being Jewish or the show having Jewish characters. Do you not think it is bizarre that in a discussion about minority groups who have experienced oppression all four writers are choosing to not mention that it is a show about Jewish women? Like even in passing?

JuliaScurr Fri 23-Aug-13 12:24:52

Mini I have some sympathy with the idea that the current stage of capitalism demands changes in gender relations, women's employment, etc. While needing to maintain domestic labour too. Feminism arose at a specific historical point in UK because those contradictions became so stark. Possibly...
what do you think?
(I've been up for 7 hours after 5 ish hours sleep - not really awake)

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 13:02:14

Freya - the Jewish argument is red herring because Jewish people are very well represented on US tv, Friends, Seinfield and Curb Your Enthusiam to name just 3 had main characters who were Jewish.

Also, you're missing a main plank of the criticism which is that Girls posits itself as the voice of a generation - to make that claim and only show white people in meaningful roles. On top of that set your show in an area which is 2/3non white, no the criticism is deserved.

Also, the idea that other shows don't face the same criticism, I would wonder where you are reading. Shows like Two Broke Girls have faced massive criticism for their steretyped portryals of PoC.

Film casting is also an area of huge debate, the Last Airbender is an example of this.

These discusssions are happening all the time.

comixminx Fri 23-Aug-13 13:18:46

Not able to comment on this today because of lack of time but many thanks GoshAnne for posting those links - the Racialicious one in particular is the main one I read originally, linked to via Twitter discussions so not that easy for me to trace back to.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 13:28:20

I also need to add that Jewish people generally have white privilege or are read as white. All these four actresses could play any white role on tv, actresses of colour don't have that opportunity. Also when people see posters of the show they don't see four Jewish women, but four white women.

The article which detailed the casting notices for WoC roles in the show were a painful illustration of exactly what poor roles are available.

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 13:46:31

GothAnne, As I have already said, it is up to Jewish people, and in this case Jewish women, to say whether or not they feel they have been adequately represented on tv. The shows you mention are no longer running. The last series of Seinfeld was made 15 years ago! These are the same arguments that are made about POC. The fact that there have been certain shows with a largely African American cast in the past does not mean that African Americans aren't under-represented and mis-represented or that we shouldn't all be pushing and campaigning to get the tv show Twenties beyond a pilot.

I disagree that shows like Two Broke Girls are equally criticised. There has been a huge hate campaign against Lena Dunham.

The recent spate of anti- Semitic graffiti that was investigated by the police at Dunham's former college (she spoke out against it and got further abuse for doing that) and led to the police identifying the main culprit. He turned out to be a member of a white ally opposed to racism group and the director of a pro-Obama group. So I don't believe for a moment that people claiming to be intersectional, opposed to white supremacy etc makes them suddenly not anti-Semitic. It is a serious issue.

And this pretty much sums up my original problem with intersectionality - it is about moral superiority. Once someone has announced they are in favour of intersectionality, the fact that they don't actually apply the same set of ideas to Jewish people, gay people, people with disabilities or whoever it is that they don't like is simply ignored.

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 13:51:37

So what is your argument from that last post? That we shouldn't support a tv show about Jewish women because the Jewish actresses could pretend not to be Jewish and play non-Jewish roles? There are white passing POC. Do you think we should not support shows with POC characters on the basis that we could watch shows about white people and employ some white passing POC to play the parts?

comixminx Fri 23-Aug-13 14:33:06

Freya, but surely that is "Intersectionality - UR doing it RONG". Intersectionality's not only about racism, it's about (as I said originally) ablism, transphobia, and so on, and yes, about anti-semitism too. But any one of us is subject to prejudices that are in the culture and should be able to be picked up on it!

OddSockBox Fri 23-Aug-13 15:42:21

I am an intersectional feminist because feminism is for all women: disabled, poor, trans, straight, bisexual, lesbian, of a different race than myself, living in a different culture than myself...

I can't understand why anyone would want feminism just to be for white middle class women and not care about all the other women out there?

I mean it's hard, sure, I've broadened my mind learning about it and realising what other women go through that I don't experience, but we're stronger when we fight together, and we help more people.

garlicagain Fri 23-Aug-13 16:03:10

I doubt that many feminists want feminism just to be for white middle class women, OSB, but am sure the "single story", or false assumptions of commonality, causes that effect all too frequently.

On a personal level, I've found my feelings about feminism changing as I age. Age discrimination and 'able-ism' are now greater issues for me than the gender-based problems, which beset younger feminists. Of course, being an ageing woman brings its own special unpleasantness, but feminism doesn't have an awful lot to say to me about that. On balance, I'd say my age-related problems are now more pressing than my gender-related ones. The point about intersectionality is that sexism makes my age-related problems worse, not vice versa. In general, feminism doesn't seem to get this. It is a pervasive weakness ime.

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 16:24:41

ComixMinx, sorry to sound like a stuck record, but I do not think it is all about just being better at intersectionality. The reasons why the contemporary racialisation of Jewish people is denied and they are made out to be just white people with white privilege has a complex and racist history behind it. To put it all down to an issue of intersectionality is misleading.

garlicagain Fri 23-Aug-13 16:58:07

Once someone has announced they are in favour of intersectionality, the fact that they don't actually apply the same set of ideas to Jewish people, gay people, people with disabilities or whoever it is that they don't like is simply ignored.

This is curious, Freya, because it looks to me as though you're describing "good" feminist intersectionality as blind. I question whether you'd do any good by applying the same set of ideas to white jews and to black lesbians! I must have misunderstood?

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 17:24:45

Sorry garlic, I genuinely don't understand. Could you maybe rephrase or expand?

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 17:57:32

Freya - you are being deliberately obtuse and seem to have little understanding of how whiteness plays out in society.

Do you honestly think a show featuring four black women or women who cannot pass for white would have received the same publicity as Girls? Can you even name any shows with that sort of cast?

Did you miss the racist backlash to the Hunger Games having a black character? Or the racism dished out when Awkward Black Girl won a webby - no book deal or tv series for her, mind.

Lets be clear, this show is on a big network, had huge publicity, Lena Dunham has received a big money book deal, she is not some little victim being "hounded" by the mean WoC, who are only picking on her and have nothing else to say ever about other issues of racial representation (also love your assumption that WoC are not ever LGBT or disabled, so are silent on those issues too.)

I really resent the accusations of anti-semitism you're using here. The critiques I've linked are valid and heartfelt, for you to assign ulterior motives to them is underhand as best, and deliberately undermining at worst.

Upthread KRITQ mentioned Flavia Dzordan, a writer who has written so well about race and intersectionality in particular. The Vagenda recently did a spectacularly patronising piece about intersectionality where they not only mocked Dzordan's words, but failed to give her any credit for them. Can you guess who has got the six figure book deal and who hasn't?

You seem to think you know the answers already, without listening to what WoC have to say and you are still using the classic derailing tactic of "Why don't you care about x,y and z too?" - again this is what men do to feminists. Why are you doing this to women over race issues?

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 18:25:38

GoshAnne. To address your main points:

1. The main racist issue around the hunger games is not the inclusion of the black character, but that the main character, Katniss, is a POC in the books but is now being portrayed as a white character in the moviesand then often appears in a white saviour role.

2. I made no suggestion that women of color could not be LGBT or disabled. I mentioned how a member of a white ally group was the main perpetrator of antisemitism graffiti at Lena Dunham's former college. I then followed this up by saying people who claim to be intersectional over one issue but not another (in this case a white man who was opposed to racism against POC but was happy to write antisemitism slurs and threats on walls) to show how antisemitism was a problem in social justice circles. I gave LGBT and disabled people but I did not suggest the people ignoring those issues were WOC.

3. I am not suggesting WOC have ulterior motives. Antisemitism is often institutional and ignoring Jewish ethnicity is a symptom of this. It doesn't have to be due to conscious actions or an ulterior motive.

4. I a not derailing. Firstly, because this is a thread about intersectionality in general, not the specific intersection of race and sex. Secondly, if you want to talk about the many examples of problems of poor media representation of POC I am happy to discuss that as long as it isn't how a group of women who just happen to be Jewish are the problem. I am sure that between the people on this thread, one of us can link to an article about this which isn't about Lena Dunham. If not, I suggest discussion of the pilot of Twenties (as I already mentioned).

5. Lena Dunham has a book deal. How does that make the social justice warriors (usually white) constantly hating her less antisemitic? Obama is president of the USA. People still make racist comments about him and attack him for racist reasons.

6. The issue of the relationship between whiteness and Jewishness is complex and distressing. There's lots of discussion by Jewish people on the Internet. I would feel uncomfortable trying to defend such a sensitive topic here.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 18:39:47

I still don't yet how being Jewish gives you a magical pass to erase 2/3 of the people in the location where the show is meant to be set.

I live somewhere equally diverse. If someone where to set a tv show here and pretend the population were entirely white, I would find that an extremely creepy whitewashing of reality.

You have no proof that the "social justice warriors" are mainly white. None, so stop stating it as if it were a fact that in any way lessens the value of what WoC say.

Again, look at the tools you are using to bolster your argument. Those "attacking" (a violent verb) Lena Dunham are "angry", they are "warriors" they "hate", they are "hounding" her. You don't describe their criticisms as in any way positive, valid or rational.

I ask you again, where do you see these tropes being used? Also, are you not familiar with the racist stereotype of the Angry Black Woman?

Lena Dunham gets mentioned because Lena Dunham is one of the many occasions that the mainstream voices of feminism (who are generally white, middle class ect) have dismissed the voices of WoC and claimed that critiques from WoC were destructive and "not helpful" for feminism. It is an absolute primer as to how feminism fails at intersectionality.

MiniTheMinx Fri 23-Aug-13 19:16:34

I haven't watched Girls as I don't think it is something that would interest me. I am assuming only from what other's have said that the Jewish identity of the characters is explicit. I don't know but surely it could be argued that their experiences in a rich western city is quite different to the experience of a Jewish housewife in north london and certainly quite different from the lives of black Jewish women in Nigeria such as the Igbo. Of course it is ridiculous to think that every conceivable difference can be represented equally.

I can't speak for all Jews but from my experience and reading, Jewish people carry within them a whole history of oppression. The history of having been enslaved, the expulsions, ghettoisation and mass killings might possibly explain why Jews still feel marginalised if not damn right disliked. Claims that the media is controlled from films to newspapers by rich Zionists, to conspiracies about bankrupting states and starting wars and poisoning wells. Just about everything that is wrong in the world seems to be due to some Jewish conspiracy or simply because the state of Israel destabilises the middle east. If the western imperialist notion of people of colour is that they are uneducated and their lands undeveloped then jews are portrayed in an equally unpleasant and false way. From having large ears, big noses, being labelled baby eaters and rapists

“Know, dear Christian, and have no doubts about it, that next to the Devil you have no more bitter, poisonous and determined enemy than a genuine Jew" Hitler. And the catholic church held much the same view throughout its entire history. Show me another race of people who have been so systematically hated, alienated, enslaved and murdered.

If intersectional theory can be used to explain more than just the intersection where gender and skin colour produce a very specific form of oppression then surely it could also be applied to a multitude of other identifiable differences. Surely it could be applied to the very specific forms of disadvantage that "white" Jewish women feel they face because being Jewish can be about race or religion. I'm not in anyway trying to reduce the very real disadvantage that WOC face but I do wonder whether some of them are able to accept that not all white women are experiencing only gender oppression?

However my real problem with accepting Intersectional theory as having to be central in any feminist discourse or activity is

A) what specific form does the oppression manifest in each conceivable combination of identities?

B) Does this theory offer any useful insights into how we end all of these various manifestations of inequality?

I don't think we know the answer to A at a cultural level but I can make a fair estimation of the social/economic impact but I feel fairly certain the answer to B is no.

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 19:18:58

GoshAnne, it is a widely discussed issue online that the group of people who are called 'social justice warriors' are largely a group of white people who do gather together to attack individuals, often selecting individuals who are from a minority group.

There has been a lot of discussion among activists who are POC about how misplaced this anger is when the white social justice people are not actually experiencing the racism themselves and that such anger is misplaced, as it is actual POC who genuinely have those experiences.

As a consequence of this, various POC have posted about the issue of this anger from white people in social justice, how problematic the hounding is and have suggested more appropriate ways white people could respond.

I have not made these issues up.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 23-Aug-13 19:57:15

You're still dodging the issue - that those who criticised Girls had a valid point to make. Again complaining about "Social Justice Warriors" (a quick google of which brings up complaints by the sorts of people who complain whenever race is discussed, ever) is another way of dismissing criticism.

How many times have you heard "It's not what feminists say, it's how they say it". This is all you're doing here.

You still haven't truly engaged with what the WoC have said. You've accused them of anti-semitism, had issues with tone, being fixated with Lena Dunham and then talked endlessly about the actions of white people instead.

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 20:13:45

As I've said, I'm not prepared to engage in discussion that singles out links criticising 'Girls' for all the reasons I've already given. Perhaps somebody else wants to discuss that with you.

In terms of the problem of white social justice warriors, there have been numerous studies on this. For some reason I can't paste the link, but if anyone wants to read a literature review and paper on why white allies end up engaging in destructive papers, it is called 'Aspiring social justice ally identity development' and if you google that a link to the PDF should be on the first page of results. Part of the issue I'm talking about would be:

'One means of managing guilt is to seek the role of “rescuer” or “hero”
for members of the subordinate group. Aspiring Allies for Altruism see
members of the subordinate group as the sole victims of oppression
and do this work for them. The paternalistic nature of this altruism
may lead to positive gains in the short term, but ultimately perpetu-
ates the system of oppression by placing aspiring allies in the role of
exceptional helper to the victims of oppression. This paternalistic
approach may also unconsciously feed one’s own sense of power and
privilege. Aspiring Allies for Altruism seek to empower members of
the oppressed group, which maintains credit and some control in the
person doing the empowering, rather than encouraging and support-
ing members of the oppressed group to empower themselves. This
may be part of a spiritual or moral view that helping others is the right
thing to do. Freire (1972/2000) explains that rationalizing “guilt
through paternalistic treatment of the oppressed, all the while holding
them first in a position of dependence, will not do” (p. 49). In this
way, Aspiring Allies for Altruism fail to recognize that one “must speak
withthe oppressed without speaking forthe oppressed” (Reason et al.,
2005a, p. 1).

Burnout in Aspiring Allies for Altruism is common because of the
energy needed to maintain their status as an exceptional member of
the dominant group, denying to both self and others their own
oppressive socialization, and a need for continued acceptance from
the other. Because these aspiring allies do not see how members of the
dominant group are also hurt by the system of oppression, aspiring
allies view their efforts as selfless and altruistic efforts that should be
welcomed with praise and approval from the subordinate group. In
this way, aspiring allies’ guilt can become a liability, as members of the
oppressed group are often sought out to reaffirm and support the
aspiring allies, once again placing the burden of oppression on mem-
bers of the subordinate group.'

MiniTheMinx Fri 23-Aug-13 20:58:15

This reminds me of research I read years ago about the paternalistic relationship of psychiatric nurses to their clients. The idea that the helper should gain something from maintaining and even abusing their position of power and trust is not new.

garlicagain Fri 23-Aug-13 21:00:07

Freya, I just want to acknowledge your question. I think the conversation's moved beyond it.

Mini - I'm not sure the answer to B is no! Feminism has lots of image problems, quite likely impeding its progress by failing to get a large enough cohort of women on board. If feminists (generic) had more of a clue about how the problems associated with "being a woman" intersect with those of "being old, being brown, being poor," etc, then perhaps the movement would not alienate other women so readily. And perhaps some of the inequalities would be ended more efficiently.

I do think it's ridiculous to assert that only the victims of a certain oppression may act against it. Sure, there are valid arguments wrt patronisation & other issues, but it's a bit bloody harsh to insist that only the silenced may speak.

And, fwiw, my first thought on seeing a Girls trailer was "Is this supposed to be Brooklyn? It's too white!" I haven't watched it. The criticism is valid. Ugly Betty managed to portray a culturally mixed New York, while storming the charts. Plus ... New York Jewish is a special thing. It's neither a 'universal' Jewishness, nor 'universally' New York. It is true that many New York Jews assume they epitomise New York. Culturally and statistically, they are wrong.

But I don't understand why this thread has become all about some TV show and Jews confused

FreyaSnow Fri 23-Aug-13 21:29:36

Mini, actually the very next paragraph goes on to say about how workers in the field may well recognise themselves in the description! It is well worth reading for anybody who wants to 'help' anybody they have are actually in a position of social power or dominance over.

Garlic, I don't think it is the case that only people who are victims of a certain oppression can act against it. I think that when you are in a dominant group for any reason you have to think very carefully about why you are doing something about an issue, how you are doing it and consider if you are having a negative impact.

I think the reason that feminists are keen to stress that 'patriarchy hurts men too' is so that they see feminism makes society better for everyone, and by being feminists they are not just doing something for women for altruistic reasons. But once we move to talking about groups we're not personally part of, we have to consider that very differently so as not to 'help' in a destructive way.

MiniTheMinx Fri 23-Aug-13 22:15:09

I'll have a google later for it. I would like to read it, thanks Freya

Does feminism have more image problems now than at any other time? Whilst vast inequality has opened up btw women incl but not limited to white women and woc (which I believe is essentially a class issue) I'm not certain that we have any more or any less support. We have many women from all backgrounds and circs thinking that women have equality with men so the fight is over or that feminism doesn't have anything to offer them. In the past there was as much of a "backlash" against women's liberation, simply because that backlash is in actual fact the thing we are fighting, the structural social conditions that prevail have many fans that benefit from the status quo and now we have many women that benefit from keeping things just the way thery are. Gains made by one group of women is at the expense of the vast majority of other women when looked at globally.

I think the other problem we have is the obsession with "culture" deconstruction, post modernism and all that nonsense grin has a lot to answer for. Are we barking at the moon. It seems that some are calling for the sort of state intervention that in previous generations would have never been considered. To me, liberal feminism with its obsession with gaining equality under the state and through law combined with a more radical element that demands censorship is papering over the cracks not addressing the issues.

I'm not sure if this is part of the issue or not, but New York Radical women (later redstockings) came about in 1967 as a response to a few socialist women who felt that men on the left were not listening to their concerns. This gave birth to RF. Now it seems to me that it was both wrong that the left wing men devalued their concerns but equally wrong that women stopped short of making them listen. It is symptomatic of what follows because we now have a situation where we are all sitting in different rooms only sharing experiences with people that are very strictly very much like us. I don't need to have someone validate my experience by having that experience themselves anymore than I need someone to assume the position of speaking for me. What is needed is listening, accepting, questioning and facilitation. Why can't a movement have a range of people with various experiences who have shared goals? <ever the optimist>

FreyaSnow Sat 24-Aug-13 00:00:30

Mini, I don't know the answer to that, but I think it's a very good explanation of what the question we all need to ask ourselves is.

garlicagain Sat 24-Aug-13 01:43:30

Ooh, look, this came up on my Facebook tonight! Synchronicity grin

Black woman tells how her white SIL shamed a racist.

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