Feminism, Hierarchy and Self-Aggrandizement

A few days ago, I posted on the recent attention drawn to the issue of the appropriation of WOC writing and thought by white feminist authors. I’ve been trying desperately to read most of what’s being posted on the subject, and I’ve commented a few times, but I ended up deleting that post because I saw reference to a request not to mention names or write about the individuals involved. At the point that I saw it, I didn’t have a lot of time at all to research the specifics of the request or to go back and fine-tune the post in order to conform to exactly what was being requested, so my attempt to respect that request came in the form of full deletion. That post included a whole bunch of links to other blogs that have written on the specifics of this incident, while this one is my attempt to get at some of the more general issues it raises. If you need some background on the specifics, belledame has some great links (follow them), Sylvia lays down some serious awesome in specific takedown form, and Black Amazon addresses the deeper core issues that are at stake here.

A lot of the following philosophical soliloquy is stuff I’ve been thinking about for a while, and that I’ve written about in bits and pieces before.

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Please Stop Trying to Explain My Brain

I’m inevitably hesitant to write critically about how frustrating I find it when atheists write about faith, religion or spirituality, because I feel like I risk sounding overly self-pitying and coming off as though I don’t recognize the privilege that nominal Christianity brings in North American society. I am, however, just going to hope that I’ve disclaimed enough to give me a cushion of respectability before I ask (rhetorically, of course):

Could Amanda Marcotte please stop explaining the way my mind works? “Trying to” is even too generous a term, because she is so damn certain that she has unlocked the key to why people choose the religious/spiritual practices that they do, despite the fact that she herself is an atheist who, as far as I know, has never (as an adult) believed in God. So when she says:

People choose their religions based on finding those religions reflecting their identities and values back at them.

I’ve already got my back up, even before getting to this:

See, the problem I have with religion is that it exploits the gray area in people’s thinking between metaphor and the thing that metaphor describes. For no doubt complex cognitive reasons, at various times every human being has moments of being too literal, though I have no doubt that some people have problems distinguishing between the literal and metaphorical more than others.

And I know that this kind of religion/faith exists, and that it’s more prominent in certain parts of the world than others. I also think there’s room for discussion on the point she’s trying to make about the intersection of faith and politics, but that conversation is going to be impossible as long as there remains the assumption that she understands exactly why I have the faith I do. Because, see, as soon as you do that, you start thinking you’re better than me, you have a handle on the big picture where I don’t, because I’m the only one of us who can’t get out of my religiously defined box in order to see how it is the “Other” thinks. Adding the phrase “for no doubt complex cognitive reasons” doesn’t make it any less condescending (and believe me, I don’t lack for understanding of cognitive linguistics, framing and semantics).

I get that Christianity is privileged in this part of the world, and I fully believe that for the most part, being in a position of less privilege gives you an ability to understand the experiences of the more-privileged group far more than vice versa (because those experiences are defined as the norm, they are shown to you constantly, you are trained to relate to those experiences), but it seems that atheism is decidedly an exception. This particular, highly personal approach to the world doesn’t give you special access to the cognitive processes and emotional motivations of those who don’t choose it.

Certain aspects of my faith are based on comfort and familiarity – the surface trappings, as it were – and one of the reasons I love the church I go to is that on some level, we share some political and personal values (though in many cases, we don’t, at all). I go because I feel the presence of God there, which is not some kind of narcissistic exercise in self-reflection as seems to be suggested in Amanda’s statement. And maybe there is some over-literalism in much of the religious practice of the world, but it seems to me that there is the exact same kind of insistence on certainty in that post itself.

I’m purposely not delving too deeply into the structures of my faith right now, because I don’t feel the need to justify my beliefs and spiritual practices to anyone at all, let alone to strangers on the internet. Suffice it to say, however, that I’d really like to speak for my own damn self about them if and when I choose to do so, and if an atheist (or a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or another Christian) would like to talk about them, said individual can bloody well ask me what it is I think, and I’ll pull out a frickin’ brain scan if they feel like getting real cognitive about it. Until then, to reiterate: please stop trying to explain my brain.

The Basic Questions

Helen G posted on The F-Word asking the fundamental question: What is feminism anyway, and why are you one? It was asked in context of whether or not it’s actually possible for there to be such a thing as trans*feminism, throwing out the idea that maybe, just maybe, there’s not enough common ground to work with (and naming that as an extremely depressing though. She says:

It’s entirely possible, I think…that my experiences as a trans woman, including my questions about my gender identity and expression and so on, are such personal things that maybe it really isn’t possible for me to do a Vulcan mind-meld with feminism. Transitioning is primarily about surviving, I believe, and sometimes that makes it difficult for me to raise my head and look for the bigger picture.

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Quick Linking: Posts that made me smile this morning

Sudy, from WAM a few days ago: The Truth About Feminism:

The truth is about feminism is the same truth about media: we trap ourselves when we soley focus on our individual liberation…Feminism is the question, the deepest question of all curiosities that rises and falls to the beat of the unanswered, “Are we free?

Philomela, taking as a point of origin the story of Mary Magdalene weeping and saying “They have taken away my lord, and I do not know where they have laid him”: Feminism and Christianity:

What did they do with the man who loved women, tax colectors, protitutes, the disabled, the poor? they westernised him, sanitised him turned him into a middle class, mysognistic conservative. I do not know where they have laid him, he will never be where they say he is.

It’s the same question.

Political Apologetics

We’ve now got our very own “caught on tape making insane homophobic slurs” political scandal up here in the Great White North. In this case, the offending comments in question were made in 1991, and have only now come to light because a video was left behind in the headquarters of Saskatchwan’s official opposition, into which the NDP have just recently moved. The speakers on the tape are all still involved in politics, and have in fact moved up in the world rather substantially.

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski has issued an apology for the statements – CBC has video as well as commentary. What interests me is that it seems the spin that most (or at least many) commenters are latching on to is “Haven’t you ever said something you regret? Let it go”. Within the first five comments there right now, I see:

There are 154 comments on tihs story as I type. I wonder how many there would be if everyone who had said something that they regret in the last 16 years removed there comment. At least a lot of people recognize that saying something stupid is something that happens to a lot of people.

and

i’m not sure why something said 16 yrs ago should reflect a persons position on ANYTHING today… lets be honest, we ALL evolve in our thinking and understanding on a variety of issues pretty much every day

So already (after two days) we’ve hit the tired narrative of “the poor, put upon straight white guy who you crazy left-wing nutjobs just won’t stop hounding“. I should note that while I have seen near-constant calls to give the poor guy the benefit of the doubt, to not let his precious career be ruined over something as trite as dividing the world into quality guys like him as against those disease-ridden f*gg*ts, I have seen absolutely no evaluation of his position or record on GLBT rights over the past 16 years used to back up this benefit of the doubt that we’re supposed to be giving him. Now, granted, I haven’t looked that hard, but it strikes me that before leaping to the conclusion that because it was 1991 and he had a bad moustache back then, he can’t possibly hold the same bad beliefs and we should therefore accept his remorse at face value, we should maybe get some facts to back up the claim that he’s cleaned up his brain to match his face and his (public) rhetoric.

Well, conveniently, Lukiwski’s been a federal MP since 2004, which means that he was sitting in parliament when Bill C-38, redefining marriage as “the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others” (ie. eliminating references to “one man and one woman”) was passed in 2005. And the “Campaign Life Coalition” has ever-so-kindly (if a little revealingly) published on their website in easily accessible fashion a breakdown of how each MP voted on that very relevant gay rights bill. And three short years ago, our friend Tom fell into the “nay” camp on that one, so either his evolution has been more recent, or we’re all just supposed to be glad he no longer makes dirty fingernail references. On camera.

Of course I’ve said and done things I regret. And sometimes I’ve apologized for them, though admittedly, sometimes only after being exposed or at risk of exposure anyway. Sometimes I didn’t even manage to do that for years afterwards. The thing about apology and forgiveness, though, as I’ve written about before, is for it to be sincere, it can’t really be coming from a place of expectation. If I’m apologizing just for the sake of keeping my job, scoring (or avoiding losing) political points, or even hanging on to my relationship, I don’t really mean the apology. If I’m apologizing with no evidence of actual change, if my apology really is just all about me, me, me on every level, then why the fuck should I be forgiven?

These “apologies” have become a standard part of the political script, and I know we all know they’re bullshit. I know that, in this script, now that we’ve already skipped to the part where we feel sorry for the put-upon victim of the PC gestapo, the next lines have something to do with dismissing those of us who are unsatisfied with this soliloquy with statements like “WHAT MORE DO YOU PEOPLE WANT???”

Well, for starters, an apology that’s an actual apology. Evidence of change. The merest *hint* that he’s more sorry for the actual words than regretful that he left that goddamn tape where those goddamn socialists might find it sixteen years later. And if I’m starting onto the really wishful thinking, how about people running my government who demonstrate serious support for anti-oppression work, human rights legislation and equality? A media that refuses to forget stuff like this from our elected officials until there’s real evidence that there’s reason to forgive? A general public who doesn’t buy into the standard party line handed to them by the mighty white boys who want to stay in power?

Oh, and a pony.

Martyr Complex: Activist Edition

My church has just started a series of sermons/lectures (because it’s really more of a teachy than preachy kind of place) on 1 Peter, subtitled “Being Christian in a hostile world”. The first sermon included a reference to the need to recognize that this is, in fact, a world hostile to Christianity and Christ – not in the “war on Christmas” sense, but in the sense that generosity, meekness and quiet self-sacrifice are often mocked in an economic structure that glorifies constant growth, self-aggrandizement and greed. Which is a fair point, but I realized that as soon as I heard the theme announced, I got my back up and started asking myself “Do I really think this world is hostile to Christianity?” and realized that I was thinking “Well, yes, but I probably don’t mean that the way most of these other people do” (what with that whole feminist thing I tend to do on the side).

Note, of course, that neither the preacher nor I meant that the world is hostile to nominal Christianity (because, in my opinion, that belief would be insane), but rather to what we perceive to be the truth in Christ’s statements and the practices that are at the heart of the message. Part of the preacher’s point, in the end, was that it is beneficial to recognize the ways that the world is hostile, in order to remain vigilant, challenge ourselves, hold ourselves at a distance from the non-Christ-like elements of this world. I came home later that afternoon and ended up listening to a Zen Buddhist podcast that I love, which included a very brief allusion to the need to recognize that, in fact, we are not living in such a hostile world, but rather in a world where everyone around us is searching and seeking just as much as we ourselves are. The point there was that we can find spiritual wholeness and possibly affect real change around us by adapting from the adversarial way of thinking to a cooperative one.

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Things That Are Not What They Seem

Last month, bill C-484, the “Unborn Victims of Crime” Act passed second reading in the House of Commons, mainly because those who want it passed are passionate about it, while few in parliament can muster up much beyond an apathetic grunt on the “con” side. In the midst of media analysis almost exclusively focused on the baby-eating feminist demon, the National Post has finally published (web-only, natch) a response from Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition (via bastardlogic and fern hill) calling them out on:

  • the semantic danger of using the term “unborn child” in a legal document to refer to a fetus as soon as a woman even suspects she may be pregnant, at the same time as claiming that this bill in no way confers personhood on that “fetus”
  • the claim that the majority of the Canadian population supports a bill such as this one having come from a study conducted by an anti-abortion lobby group using exceptionally biasing language designed to make you look like a baby-eating demon if you wouldn’t support it
  • the near-constant repetition of the message “this has nothing to do with abortion, you’re all crazy and don’t even want to protect a pregnant woman from murder because you hate babies/motherhood/housewives so much” from those who are paid to spin their opinions (media and politicians) while the supporters from among the general public say things like “Those who know and understand science support C-484, for the science is clear – from the moment of conception, the fetus is really and truly human life” (quoted by fern hill)

It makes me nauseous to listen to people far for this schtick.

On the second quick note of things that are totally not what they seem except when they are, lots of blogs have been linking to this NY Times magazine article on Abstinence Clubs all growed up and gone to college. If you read the whole thing, you’ll find that this young woman sees her abstinence as a feminist decision that she has made in order to reclaim control over her body and counter the cultural pressure to have her body owned by men and obtained via sex. And I would love to support that decision (and if she were my friend or I knew her for real, I would do exactly that) as well as her reasons, but it saddens me to see an intelligent young woman unable to get at that one glaring thread running through the whole tangled concept, which is that her decision is now being used to allow the public male population to claim ownership of her body via her virginity.

Towards the end of the article, it talks about a fairly civil debate between this young woman and a local campus sex blogger, which, to the chagrin of most, did not turn into a hair pulling battle between the virgin and the whore. Despite their best attempts, however, the discussion on the subject became about which of the two was more marriageable, and the conclusion drawn by a few and projected (by them) onto “most guys” was that a “girl like Janie” was the one you would rather take home to Mom. And Janie loses by winning, because the sanctioning of why she’s good enough, the stated purpose and goal of her life, and yes, the ownership of her body, has been asserted based on her sexual choices.

And I can’t quite help but think that on some level, she knows that, and she’s actually exploiting the same kind of “empowerful” rhetoric that attempts to frame “Girls Gone Wild” as a feminist decision. Because “virginity is extremely alluring” is one of the scariest statements of brainwashed Stepfordism that ever I have seen, and when the New York Times reporter uses it as the repeated, number one choice quote for your story, you have to start to suspect that maybe something is up. The banner ad claiming that virginity in the Ivy League is, among other things “sexy and fun” just makes my head explode.

But of course, it’s not about caving to pressure for male approval at all. It just maybe seems that way, because of all the male approval being tossed around in order to remind you that if you step outside of this extremely rigidly defined role, everything you think you are will crumble and nothing you’ve wanted for your life will come true. Way to take the power back.