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.


My political identity – Part 2 – Blame it on the gays!

LGBT rainbow flag.

Image via Wikipedia

There was a confluence of events from ’98-’00 that resulted in my party switch. The first was the demonization of President Clinton. No, I had not voted for him either time, BUT, as I said before, I was not passionate about anyone or anything in politics so I had no fear/loathing/hatred for him. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the party I had supported for so long. Since I was registered as a Republican in those years, I was inundated with mailings from the GOP offices, and also from any group that supported Republicans. Those lovely 527 groups that didn’t need to maintain tons of professionalism or credibility seemed to send out pamphlets weekly about every possible nutty claim against the Clintons that was ever imagined. I cannot remember why one of them caught my eye so that I read it all the way through, but when I was done I remember feeling mentally dirty. At that point even though I knew him to be a liar about Monica Lewinsky, I started to feel protective of him. I felt he and his wife were being smeared & vilified in ways that went above and beyond any of their actual transgressions. This began the chipping away at my political mindset. Or, really, it started to CREATE it.

I started reading more in the newspaper and online about politics and I realized that as issues were being presented, my natural inclination was to fall to the left with the Democrats. In the course of reading more, I stumbled upon an article in the local paper about California Proposition 22. The law was designed to strictly define marriage in the California Civil Code restricting it to be between a man & a woman only. Again, not having paid terribly close attention to things until then, I honestly did not know that gays *couldn’t* be married in the traditional sense! Yeah, my head was FIRMLY in the sand, I know. The newspaper article featured a family of two moms with two daughters talking about why Prop 22 would hurt them. I knew the family. Their daughters went to pre-school with my youngest son. I had no idea they were going to be featured – we had not talked about it. In our community, and our circle of friends at the pre-school, their family blended in with no issues. That they had so bravely put themselves out publicly as the face of this issue was so eye opening to me. Then I read the Yes on 22 representative’s side. I looked online and read more from and about the supporters of Prop 22 – and the more I read, the dirtier I again felt. I took note of which party supported equality – and it wasn’t mine. Even though the Democrats also dragged their feet – and still do – on fully promoting marriage equality – at least they weren’t denigrating the people I knew. I could see that it would be Democrats who would most likely be supporting equality.  Polling showed that Prop 22 probably would pass which made me very angry, but as I studied up on the history of gay rights, I realized it was going to be a long haul. I knew, FINALLY, that it really MATTERED who was elected into statewide and national offices. I knew, instinctively, that I would always support progress & equality.

My impression of conservatism was getting worse and worse. They were communicating with anger, and fear, and using exclusionary language.  I saw that in their fierce determination to keep government small and (supposedly) out of their lives, they were willing to sacrifice the poor & minority interests. They would rather do away entirely with entitlement programs than assume the risk of some people taking advantage. Throw out the good in order to get rid of the bad. So many times I heard them rant on AM radio about people “sucking off my tax dollars!” but never once did they offer a solution. As someone who had benefited from a few government programs while I was pregnant with my first child and for the first couple of years after he was born – I was appalled. What was I supposed to do without that aid? We see the same thing now with the current push to remove all funding from Planned Parenthood. Doesn’t matter how many people are hurt by losing the 98% of services they provide, all that matters is eliminating the possibility of that 2% that they perceive as ‘bad”. They are arrogant, frequently have *never* been through serious financially challenging times, and seem to be completely unable to put themselves in anyone else’s shoes. Their empathy gene is severely underdeveloped. 🙂 What I feel from them is always a “I lived MY life like THIS and YOU should TOO and if you don’t, tough! It’s my way or the highway!”

I just couldn’t support that way of thinking anymore.

So in early 2000, I switched my party affiliation. And I have not looked back! The more I learn & observe, the more sure I am of where I stand.

I blame (and thank) the gays 🙂