Privilege, feminism, race & intersectionality.


Some thoughts that need to tumble out of my head as spurred on by the comments made by Patricia Arquette after she won her Oscar, and then the subsequent reactions on twitter. Whenever the idea of intersecitonality and privilege comes up, I think of this analogy I long ago read or heard somewhere that so perfectly illustrates the issue:

Imagine a footrace with various people at the starting line, the gun goes off:
Out of the blocks first is the white man
…15 seconds late the white woman
…15 seconds later the black man
…15 seconds late the Hispanic man
…10 seconds later the black woman
…10 seconds later the Hispanic woman
You get the picture, also include LGTBQ individuals, various citizenship class etc.

As racers they are going full force, panting, running as fast they can.

As a straight, white woman I recognize I am disadvantaged relative to the white man, but in a place of advantage compared to the other groups. I’m hard working, putting in as much work but because of that time delay the odds are staggered. That 15 second delay between me and the white man could be wage discrimination, sexism. Think of the other gaps as racism, housing discrimination. It doesn’t matter how hard I work the RACE is rigged. I am still hardworking and smart and fast but the system has created a hierarchy in which I benefit quicker than those who start behind me.

It’s why I often say that people of color have to be TWICE as good at something to get the same validation that whites get in half the time.

White privilege allows you to drive down a highway in (for example) a BMW without cops assuming you are a drug dealer. White privilege allows you to visit Arizona without the sheriff assuming you are undocumented. These are just examples, how this shows up in your real life may be different.

So, recognizing that there is, indeed, privilege built into our society, I was then educated on the idea of the intersection of those groups. For instance, the words Arquette chose to use on stage right away were a little problematic because she stated “Think about all the women who have given birth!” OK…sure…but I immediately thought about my friend who couldn’t have children of her own and is an adoptive mom. Or another friend who is gay and (finally!) married, but she and her wife chose not to have children. Do those women not also deserve equal pay? So to me it was an odd choice of words for Arquette to use because right away they *excluded* a whole segment of the female population.

Then, once she went backstage, it got worse.

So the truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America right under the surface there are huge issues at play that really do affect women. It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.

(emphasis mine)

It starts off well enough with “all the women in America”.  Then there’s “all the men that love women” which…well, depends on the type of love you are talking about here but the default is usually romantic and so this excludes gay men….BUT…I get that it most likely means men, in general, who love women (such as their moms, sisters, friends etc).

But then it spirals downwards and gets harder to excuse…”all the day people”…. (some of whom are women) and “all the people of color” …(more women!) What happened in that isolation of those groups is that she implies that there are no impacted women who need equality in those two groups. No gay women, no people of color who are women. (and how about the black, lesbian for instance?!) So many variations of INTERSECTION with the gender she is trying to pull up and the other minority groups she is calling out to boost her cause.

Then she refers to how “we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” As if women were always allies to gays and people of color and that the fight for THEIR cause is OVER now? First of all, when women won the right to vote let’s be clear it was WHITE WOMEN only, (just one example of the history being missed) and there is NO WAY that you can declare the battles for equal rights for gays or people of color to be over!

And again, by singling out the other two groups, she is IMPLYING “white women”.

The better statement should have been to stop at  “So the truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America right under the surface there are huge issues at play that really do affect women.”

She just should not even have called out any other groups.

Now, I know there was no intent behind her words to erase the women in those groups as she did. I believe completely that she’s just never been told how that language comes across. I know that even 5 short years ago for instance, I probably would have made the same errors out of ignorance and my own privilege. But I’ve since been exposed to reasonable explanations from people of color and gay people and just folks more educated on the history of all these interactions. And now I see it. I read those words and immediately cringed and saw what was happening.

But, I was also NOT completely stubborn about clinging to my ignorance once I was taught.And that is where many white feminists have a problem. Attempts to draw their attention to another viewpoint, another way of thinking about things brings up this huge wall. They cannot, or do not, accept their position of privilege. Not only do they shut down their ability to learn, they go on the attack and accuse the people trying to educate them of tearing them down. Ah, it’s exhausting!

I’ve watch so many truly reasonable folks try to crack open those doorways in the minds of some self described progressives and it’s just mind boggling how threatened they feel.

I have no thrilling conclusion here – just a hope that as a few folks step back from the heat of the arguments over the coming days, that some of this slides through their closed minds. Man, just get the concept of that foot race analogy in your heads at least! We gotta start somewhere…and yeah, some of us get to start a little further ahead than others. We didn’t make up the rules of the game, but we can try to change them.

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