Internalizing it all

Although I have “officially” completed this portfolio assignment, I wanted to revisit it to discuss Wednesday. 

Rewind to the previous Wednesday, where my planning-an-ism-group focusing on transphobia and gender performance/presentation decided that we would challenge ourselves and our classmates and professor to pick “something that is integral to their/our gender identity” and alter it in some way over the course of the next week.  The members of my group gave the option to complete this activity at Columbia, on the next class day, and agreed that we would do this ourselves, so that if someone else decided to, they would not be the only one.

I decided that for this activity, I would not “do” my hair-brush, product, style, etc, and just put it under a hat.  Additionally I decided that I would not wear makeup, heels, jewelry, or accessories of any kind. 

Fast-forward to two days ago.  I had been nervous all week. 

I put on my jeans, T-shirt, and hat as planned and nothing else.  Finding I was ready twenty minutes early, ate some ice cream for breakfast (my version of a pep talk).  Walking to the subway, I felt like a little boy.  I watched as men on the corner who usually call to me said “Hello gorgeouuussss” to the woman in front of me and looked right through me.  As some middle-aged women in my interviews described feeling as they aged, I was invisible.

Feeling not desirable, sexy, beautiful, or even cute, affected me in almost every interaction I had that day.  It shook my self-confidence, it changed the way I walk and assert myself in conversations.  I had conceived the activity to challenge what it might feel like to not be able to present as the gender we identified as, as the gender we ARE.  But the activity turned itself on me, as these things often do.  It became an exercise in misogyny, the male gaze, and internalized misogyny.  I could not wait to go home to change and wear heels and flowers in my hair the next day.  Even my size had become traitorous: as a skinny woman, I was perceived as attractive, the “right size.”  Without my other feminine accessories and form-fitting clothes, I felt young-not like a man, but like a boy- and asexual. 

Was I still myself?  Somewhere beneath my “undone” face and hair and baggy clothes, of course I was myself.  But I didn’t feel it.  The world has spent the past 27 years teaching me that the BEST me, the most desirable, presentable, acceptable, RESpectable, successful version of myself, takes an hour to “become” each morning and otherwise, I was doing it wrong. 

I don’t want to end this blog by condemning myself or other women and taking the onus off of men and patriarchy for putting this male gaze, this rape culture, this blatant and more covert misogyny upon us.  It is NOT our job to shake this but we may be the only ones willing to begin interrupting it.  Even just a thought: perhaps I don’t shave my legs twice a week.  Perhaps I let my hair frizz.  Part of this is difficult for me because it intersects hugely with my OCD: ‘put-together’ means a different thing to me and moisturizing, accessorizing, perfect hair, perfect face, perfect matching underwear and bra: these give me peace of mind on multiple levels, they are part of a checklist.

Or MAYBE, maybe, I look at each piece of it and try to find out what feels good to me: the essential me.  Maybe I have internalized, breathed in, so much misogyny, so much genuine hatred and non-acceptance of who women really are that this will be a never-ending process.  I’m okay with that. 

If I let my hair puff and swirl and put flowers in it, maybe I am more that original me than the girl with ironed hair OR the girl with all her hair beneath a cap.

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Femfuture?

4/17/13

Reported without permission from : 

http://diasporahypertext.com/2013/04/12/femfuture-history-loving-each-other-harder/

The “#FemFuture: Online Revolution” report was released this week. Organized by Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti, and funded in part by Barnard College, the report builds

“….on a 2012 convening where 21 writers, activists, and educators who work in the online feminist landscape came together to discuss their needs, desires, and hopes for the online feminist future. Here they provide a cogent explanation of the power of online organizing, the risks and challenges of the current state of the field, and some possible solutions for creating a more sustainable system.”

Critique of the report was immediate. Following the #FemFuture hashtag, bloggers, activists, educators, and organizers have taken the participants and the report to task for what appears to be U.S.-centric, mainstream, feminist elitism and historical erasure.

I have huge respect and love for a number of the #FemFuture participants. I’ve followed several of them–Brittney Cooper, Ileana Jiménez, Shelby Knox, Andrea Plaid, and Miriam Pérez–for some time and find their intervention online to be unique, refreshing, and necessary. I also find it fascinating that a group with so many perspectives on feminism and different levels of investment in what that word even means was able to gather for the purpose of crafting the report.  I applaud Barnard College for supporting it; academic institutions need to take a larger role in supporting, dare I say, sustaining the work that is happening on the ground and online. Educators have a significant part to play in encouraging and supporting feminist thought so I’m not surprised to see so many involved.

I read the report and I appreciate the work that went into it but I wonder about mistakes that may have been made and ways we can move the conversation into a real #FemFuture. I find myself facing the report with, as Charlene Carruthers tweeted, “mixed feelings and mixed loyalties.”

My thoughts are varied but I’ll share a few here. I hope you’ll read it in full but if you need to jump around (or jump ahead and come back), you can follow the anchors: History and the Newness of Things, Uncompensated Labor x Unrequited Love, We Are All in This…Together?, Who Pays for (Online) Feminisms, and Dear Academic Feminists: A Coda on Privilege.

In case it isn’t clear, when I speak of “black feminists” I am using the term in its broadest, gender-neutral, inclusive of all sexualities, diasporic conception. For me, it is a term that describes more than individuals; it describes a set of practices and living in the world.

I also use the term “radical woman of color” as defined in This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moragá and Gloria Anzaldua, to include non-white radical thinkers and activists in the United States and globally (some prefer the term “Global South” others “Third World”). “Radical woman of color” has been critiqued for the limits it places on gender expression and ways it may elide differences of nation, ethnicity, and race. I, too, am uncomfortable with the way the term circumscribes gender, but find the term useful as a coalition-builder. I also recognize many of the individuals I discuss (myself included) see themselves as radical wom-n of color. There is a longer discussion to be had here (terminology, movements, gender, new generations of rwoc) but for the purpose of this post, I use the acronym (rwoc) as a gender neutral alternative.

History and the Newness of Things
There is a dangerous ignorance in assuming #FemFuture is a first, a start, or new.

Communities built around the Allied Media Conference, the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association, Incite: Women of Color Against Violence, Critical Resistance, VivirLatino, Quirky Black Girls, Angry Black Woman, Black Feminism Lives!, BrokenBeautiful Press and Ubuntu (which used blogs to create energy, awareness and support for rape victims in the wake of the Duke lacrosse case), Hermana Resist, Guerrilla Mama Medicine, Latin@ Sexuality, New Model Minority, the WOC Survival Kit, and TransGriot have been agitating online for years now. Not to mention older, defunct spaces like the Culture Kitchen (although Liza Sabater is busily tweeting away) and the Radical Woman of Color Blogring, or others who stepped away from active blogging like Brownfemipower. African Diaspora, Ph.D. (created in 2008) and Diaspora Hypertext have been part of this conversation as well. Moya Bailey and Alexis Pauline Gumbs wrote about many of these black feminist and rwoc networks in 2010.  There are many others (please leave suggestions in the comments, I will add them to the bit.ly) because well before Tumblr and Twitter, there were still blogs, and long before there were blogs, there was LiveJournal. Feminism was online even then.

Barnard College itself has been site and witness to some of this activity.  In 2010, Scholar & Feminist Online published a special issue called Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert. Barnard also hosted a Polyphonics Feminisms Gallery featuring Moya Bailey, Larissa Sansour, Speak: Women of Color Media Collective, Nuala Cabral, Lina Bertucci, Fe Montes, Lisa Factora-Borchers, Jasmeen Patheja, Anida Yoeu Ali and Mary Jane Villamor. This institutional memory extends to the #FemFuture report itself, Storified in the moment by the Crunk Feminists Collective.

These groups and activists have never stopped speaking. And the praxis at the heart of this work is believing and acting, online and on the ground, in a feminism that is rooted in community and therefore community accountable, challenges all forms of violence and oppression, is global, and practices and pushes for transformative justice.

Visit the sites, contact the bloggers directly, explore the issues and the frameworks they have described as ‘feminist’ and their understanding of how digital technology is used to make change.  Several of the individuals and groups described above have been actively speaking back on Twitter using the #FemFuture hashtag. Listening to them is a lesson in and of itself.

Admittedly, the aforementioned are imperfect creations.  Transmisogyny continues to be a problem. Ableism in black feminist and rwoc circles still needs to be addressed (see corrective work by cripchick, Mia Mingus). English is the language most often used, limiting global impact (important exceptions are Liza Sabater and Hue Global). But there is nothing new about bloggers attempting to create digital media and activate online networks to challenge interlocking oppressions while agitating on the ground for social change.

There is also nothing new about attempts to build coalitions with majority white feminist organizations and blog spaces. The problem is not that this hasn’t happened, the problem is how horribly it has failed in the past. Kristin Rawls, writing at Global Comment, describes some of the more recent moments–the lackluster response to Quvenzhané Wallis’ being slurred by the Onion, discomfort with supporting sex workers rights. Another example is mainstream feminism’s hot-and-cold support for artists like Rihanna, and what that might say about support for victims of domestic violence. And this post builds on a long history of written, blogged critique of moments like #FemFuture, as well as mainstream feminisms’ selective amnesia, internalized racism and elitism.

Black feminists and rwoc bloggers have historically been open to working in community with mainstream organizations and in majority white feminist spaces online but the vitrol and attack they have had to endure limits the success of these border-crossings. Some of the #FemFuture participants represent online spaces that have a less than stellar history with black feminst and rwoc blogging (Feministe, Feministing).  These are wounds that have never healed and cannot be healed unless this past is acknowledged, reconciled and dressed. Time and again the communal memory of radical bloggers has been pushed to the margins or glossed over instead of centered in the story of the revolt.

In 2012, when Barnard hosted the #FemFuture convening, a dense twitter conversation ensued and ambivalence about coalition-building across race was pervasive:

The #FemFuture report appears promising on the surface. It states “multiplicity is not only okay, but healthy and inevitable.” There are foundational radical bloggers, networks, and movements mentioned in the report–Viva la Feminista, #BeTheHelp, Janet Mock’s #girlslikeus, National Black Justice Coalition, #BlackTransProud, the QueerBlackFeminist blog, as well as Racialicious and the Crunk Feminist Collective.

At the same time, moments of discomfort emerge. The refrain “feminist blogs are the consciousness-raising groups of our generation” is provided without attribution (the quote is from Samhita Mukhopadhyay) even as the premise is a strategic jumping off point (see pages 3, 6, 8, 24, and 26). This seems emblematic of the larger problem with the gathering and mission of the project. In other words, the base of knowledge appears to be generated and propelled by black feminist and rwoc online activity; the citation, attribution, and support of this work appears to be missing; and those who stand to benefit most from the visibility and exposure the report appear to be digital feminism’s elite, women who already have professional capital, publications, and institutional funding. It may be that the report was meant to be a communal, co-authored venture, but if so, this isn’t stated clearly. If only because of this history, it should be.

Since these concerns were raised in tweets before the report was published, in a robust conversation occurring online in tandem with the gathering, it is unclear why they make no appearance outside of key sections (see Part II, “Creating Space for Radical Learning”). Did the writers of the #FemFuture report chose smooth, clean narrative (and the silencing that attends the same) over incorporating the critique levied ten months ago? And as a digital humanist invested in theorizing social media, I wonder what it says about the potential of the “back channel” to speak back to power? As digital feminists, shouldn’t this too be an issue we are concerned with, something we integrate into our online and offline engagement?

Black feminist and rwoc bloggers are quite clear about the dispossession and dismissal they have experienced in their encounters with mainstream online feminism. That history is at the heart of much of the critique. lllegal Plum Pudding discusses several omissions in the report here. A #FemFuture Response Tumblr was created within days of #FemFuture going live. Lisa Factora-Borchers, Jessica Luther, and TF Charlton respond in Bitch Magazine. Jessica Luther published a Storify of her live-tweet read of the report and asked several questions around who might have been in the room, the format, and process leading up to the report.

#FemFuture would have done better to address these outright.  One of the key frameworks of the report is the “collective.” If so, why not acknowledge this history? How is it possible to move forward when it appears these feuds are being ignored? The report does little to address how “multiplicity” operates along power lines and therefore is both horizontal and vertical.

Perhaps a level of transparency should have been built into the report. How did the meeting come to be convened?  Was a general call for participants circulated? How were participants chosen–by availability, by skill, by field of expertise and interest? By race? By class? Was Skype made available to those who could not attend or participate? What kind of effort was made to build a reasonably equitable balance of people and interests–funding, targeted asks, etc. Who claims ownership over the knowledge created in the room and if it is communal, which communities are the participants/organizers/funders accountable to? Is there a plan to disrupt any power & privilege in the room–or created by its very existence?

These are some of the questions black feminist and rwoc bloggers, mainstream feminist bloggers, and academic bloggers divide over. There is no hopscotching over these conflicts into a #FemFuture or we will find the future includes only certain feminists and a certain kind of feminism. It is necessary to address them, especially in a context where a small group of people purport to speak for the whole.

Uncompensated Labor x Unrequited Love
I found the Crunk Feminist Collective‘s narrative in the report especially satisfying. The report’s affirmation of issues of community-building, storytelling, knowledge creation, poetry, and intimacy as necessary for building loving relationships that will sustain any movement appeared to come right out of CFC praxis. And I wonder whether providing this framework of analysis in the name of the “collective” is uncompensated labor as important as the work of “constantly educating people with white privielge about racial justice issues” (as described by Andrea Plaid in the document).

In other words, loving is labor. Delicious labor, but labor nonetheless. How can we better appreciate ways love-work ties into dense histories of uncompensated labor and unrequired love within communities of color, and is linked to the same moments that birthed (mainstream) feminism (anti-slavery, civil rights movement, etc)? How can we imagine this link as a symbiosis and not a binary?

Consciousness-raising is also rightly cited as one of the ways online networks and digital media make an impact. But unacknowledged intellectual production is another deep well of uncompensated labor causing burnout and fatigue, a fact acknowledged, perhaps without meaning to, in the report itself—

“Another striking development in online organizing today is the role of citizen-produced media in online activist work. On feminist blogs, for example, writers post commentary about the day’s news with a feminist lens, highlighting and amplifying social justice work that is off the mainstream media’s radar, and often linking this analysis to action that readers can take. This widespread, collective effort creates the necessary consciousness and a broad range of content that organizations like Hollaback!, Color of Change, Move On, UltraViolet, and the Applied Research Center draw on as they share articles, connect with others, sign petitions and pledges, and use online tools to mobilize on-the-ground action. Users can then be instantly contacted to request action in the future.” (emphasis mine)

Differentiating the labor of creating “citizen-produced media” from the labor of organizing online and on the ground (re)creates unnecessary fault lines, privileges certain kinds of organizing over others, certain kinds of knowledge over others, and further gnarls issues of compensation, attribution, citation, and recognition that are the heart of black feminist and rwoc critique of the report (Full disclosure: Having just engaged some of these issues on an online project I’m part of, I’m viscerally aware of how damaging this kind of silencing can be).

These missteps by the writers mean critics miss the condemnation of feminist organizations as “hierarchical, insular, monocultural structure” that is also part of the report. Instead, comments like this…

“Online feminism has the power to mobilize people–young, old, and everyone in between–to take politicla action at unprecedented scale at unprecedented speeds. So far this power has mostly been exercised in ad-hoc, reactive (as opposed to proactive), and unsustainable ways, but even so, it has had remarkable effects.” (emphasis mine)

… highlight the uncompensated work black feminist and rwoc bloggers have done to build online feminisim into what it is today while diminishing the impact this work has had on the communities these groups represent. This perspective hints at the presence or black feminist and rwoc online but devalue it as “reactive,” in a disorienting back and forth.

Black feminist and rwoc bloggers struggle against erasure and silence, and for inclusion online, which saps their energy, taking time away from meetings, coalition-building, and making media. These battles become moments of trauma that are then rehashed online without permission, attribution, or consent. They encourage black feminists and rwoc to write under pseudonyms and alter egos, if only to protect themselves from further retribution from the people and institutions they critique. This uncompensated labor is at play as you read this post; it includes the labor of those who I solicited for feedback and the intellectual production of those commenting on the hashtag, or discussing it in back channels around the (English-speaking?) world.

This labor will go into creating a #FemFuture that appears more inclusive and holistic regardless of whether it is acknowledged because there are so many speaking out. But without extending invitations to enter the room, without proper acknowledgement, how to return this labor and love? And who, then, is #FemFuture for? What is #FemFuture’s feminism that I walk away unsatisfied and wondering if the people I love most–my grandmother, my mother, sisters, my future daughters, my lovers, and sons–will ever be included?

The fatigue that accompanies these questions is the sort of fatigue unique to the most vulnerable, least funded, least institutionally supported activists operating online.

We Are All In This….Together?
There is something disingenuous about calling the report, “#FemFuture: Online Revolution” while asking critics to focus only the reports discussion of sustainability, funding, and corporate backing.

So let it be plain here–this is not a history of ‘online feminism.’ In response to critiques, nearly all of the participants have been careful to note #FemFuture is not a comprehensive primer on the history of feminist activism online.

That said, this illustrates one of the structural flaws of the report–a desire to use and coin a blanket term like “online feminism” in the name of collective action. A misrepresentation of an heterogeneous internet space teeming with polyphonic & polyrhythmic feminisms, “online feminisms” attempts to assimilate too many perspectives into one type.

Why do so? Why “collect” as opposed to ally? Coalitions, alliances, links forged–this may be the best we can hope to achieve because attempts to create grand, master narratives of any movement always require we leave someone behind. Even then, no coalition is power-neutral and nodes of power should be acknowledged. Feminism is messy, bumpy, and often uncomfortable. Why this investment in glossing over the differences? Why package and dumb it down and for whom? Black feminist and rwoc bloggers already know there is nothing easy about what we do. Perhaps this is why there is such an ambivalent investment in espousing an industrial model whose purpose is to consume us, swallow us whole.

This power, at play in the space, conveners, and even among the participants, is precisely what allows the long history of black feminist and rwoc online activity to be erased. We are not all in this together. Some feminists are able to write the story down, tell it, and have it be seen as the gospel truth. Power and privilege are invisible and insidious and difficult to face, but only power and privilege explain why such a well-documented past (and thriving present!) is not explored. As a historian of slavery, I’m well familiar with what happens when certain stories are told and others are dismissed. It was never the case slaves weren’t telling their own stories or philosophizing their own experiences. But it was always the case that the means through which they spoke–from the languages they used to the technology they chose–were seen as illegitimate.

Why not address this by creating a website, databank, wiki, or hyperlinked blogroll as an addendum to the report? The report is a narrative of “online feminism” in PDF format [EDIT 4-12-13 @12:02pm: Organizers have since added a Scribd version for easier mobile access]. Why not take advantage of the technology that is being discussed? Why leave unspoken and unnamed the thousands joining forums, networks, and blogs instead of creating a forum whereby those reading the report can explore those networks for themselves, maybe be exposed to issues they did not consider before?  Some of this is discussed in the recommendations but I was disappointed at what was not implemented around the report itself.  As Jessica Luther suggested on Twitter, why not, from the start, take advantage of  using Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook to broaden and continue the conversation? What about mobile technology, which is one of the primary ways youth of color in the U.S. (and I believe globally) connect online?

Not addressing these questions plays into concern over who #FemFuture’s audience is. Who is #FemFuture accountable to? Whose life is it saving? Why aren’t we asking these questions from implementation to execution? It is possible to do so. Groundbreaking conferences like Alien Bodies at Emory University or the Queerness of Hip Hop/Hip Hop of Queerness at Harvard implemented social media schemes with intention, drawing a brave community of participants into their knowledge network. The Allied Media Conference has done the same for years.

Because the report is supported by an academic institution with considerable resources, in a format legitimated by both the academy and policy-makers and written in English without accompanying translations, it holds the megaphone. The linear narrative, absorbing the voices of everyone in the room that day, mediates the dissonance of feminism(s) that were not in the room, who could not or were not asked to “show up:” youth, transgender and genderqueer activists, non-US writers and thinkers, disability activists, single mothers, undocumented, incarcerated, and more.

We are not all in this together but we could have spoken across the table to each other. So is it any wonder that critics (many of whom are women of color) express hurt and anger? It is the deep, acerbic pain of a movement ignored and exacerbated by knowing none of this is new.

And it begs an important question, one I’m still grappling with myself–what can be done to shift that balance of power?

Who Pays for (Online) Feminism?
Speak plain and the critique and conversation could move productively to “keeping the lights on”– a very, very real concern for all of us online whether we are proto-capitalists or grassroots funded.

Speak, perhaps, of “Sustainability, Marketing and Funding Feminism Online: A Primer.” A report with that title would still be critiqued for what some see as a capitalist, corporate, anti-feminist framework. But at least it would be clear this is the purpose of the report, allowing activists who are invested in a different kind of sustainability, community accountability, and in disrupting the media-industrial complex to respond with more accuracy.

Sustainability IS a huge issue and #FemFuture critique should not detract from that. But the black feminist and rwoc critique of #FemFuture suggests sustainability is about more than blogging. It is linked to communities inability to access all kinds of resources–from legal support, to health care, to welfare, to housing, to protection from police violence.

Black feminist and rwoc bloggers are burned out and fatigued because, for many of them, their everyday is a battle to survive the very issues they blog and organize around. Feminist work online suffers from “a psychology of deprivation.” But for black feminists and rwoc bloggers, these corporeal concerns add another dimension to the problem and require a several-tiered approach to institutional oppression. And I wonder whether the study’s focus on “third-party ad companies” and “inadequate attempts to bring in revenue” as reasons for burnout and fatigue misses these concerns. That is to say, these are reasons but there are others that may be more immediate.

To this, it is easy to suggest, “We need to start somewhere.” But black feminists have responded to that before and they are informed by lives that are disappearing, not just blogs that are disappearing.

Sustainability is absolutely a node to build a coalition on. The report makes an important structural point: “no women’s foundations have initiatives specifically dedicated to online feminist work.”  Certainly, part of the purpose of the report is to create new kinds of grants and back channels of funding for feminists online. Support models like crowdfunding and membership drives are outlined and already being used in different ways among black feminist and rwoc bloggers. Also discussed in the report are selfcare retreats, annual meetings (although how this would differ from meetings that already exist, like the AMC, I’m not sure), skillshares, and several suggestions geared towards helping either bloggers or organizations develop sustainable business models. It is a problem that #FemFuture does not differentiate between feminists online with unequal material access to application processes (paying for copies, mailing costs, fees, paper; computers; advice on building grant narratives; mentoring to discover where funding is). Many of the recommendations (Part III) seem pitched to address at least some of this. And providing material resources is only half the battle. Are funders ready to pay for the anti-racist, anti-misogynist challenge these projects present? Again, imagining coalition-building, one consideration might be for mainstream feminists to leverage their connections and resources against organizations to make space for the more marginalized feminist projects. This was not suggested in the report. And is the “collective” prepared for “action that affirmative?”

There is nothing sexy about poverty. No one, activist or otherwise, should be online advocating bloggers reject advice, education, or resources. There are excellent suggestions embedded in the fabric of the report and may be useful whether or not bloggers or organizations embrace capitalist modes of operation. But for all of those resources, the report is still two-tiered.

The concern with sustainability is the first-tier.

The climate around the report–its delivery online (including format, language, and lack of social media), the launch in New York, the #FemFuture hashtag, the memes, the infographics, and, yes, the history it claims even as the organizers and participants describe it as a start–all of these constitute a second-tier.  And this may be less defensible in the end.

Dear Academic Feminists: A Coda on Privilege
A letter I’ve been meaning to write, that deserves a longer conversation, was inspired by this moment but is not of this moment.

Let’s discuss how to love each other a little harder.

I am a historian. I could never speak of an interviewee without permission or discuss a historical intervention without giving proper attribution and citation. I could ruin my reputation by not acknowledging the labor that has gone into creating ideas, intellectual frameworks, fields of study, or disciplines.

This logic of scholarly interaction is still missing from “online feminism” (or however we wish to describe it). When we fail to ask permission, cite, or acknowledge movement-making on the ground and online, when we tell stories that aren’t ours without considering the trauma that comes from reiterating certain narratives of violence, we do harm to our ability to create coalitions across degrees of education, access, and other borders. The academics among us should know better. The self-described feminists among us should know best.

In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I took certain steps while writing this post to try to counter my own privilege. It was sent to several of the individuals described and I incorporated much of the feedback I received. I want to thank them for that “uncompensated labor” and give them my love. Lisa Factora-Borchers gave me especially challenging feedback and while I hope I did it justice, I think I will need to come back to it in future posts. I asked permission before using screenshots and block quotes (except quotes from the report) and that permission was received. I sent a version to the #FemFuture participant I’m especially close to and discussed with her the timing of publishing this post. And I still know I have not done enough to balance the privilege I have on one side with my commitment to black feminist and rwoc activism on the other.

I say all of this, because it is very important for those of us with the larger megaphones–English-speaking, U.S.-based, salaried, consensually mobile (as opposed to displaced through gentrification, detained, incarcerated, deported), cis-gendered women with multiple degrees to stop, listen, and reflect on ways our power and privilege impact our approach to transformative justice and equity. Even those of us who embody race, gender, or sexual difference, again, myself included, in this one instance, though it may not feel that way, we are the whites in the room.

If we don’t reflect, we defraud ourselves of useful coalition-building. We risk looking, sounding, and advocating feminist paradigms that may in fact be harmful to the very people we say we represent. We risk silencing or ignoring the most marginalized and least resourced in our communities. Just as we fight against being presumed incompetent in the academy, we should not presume the incompetence of those outside. Some of the most incisive critiques have been from activists who have spent a decade and longer on the front lines of online and on the ground movement-making. There is a history there that ought to be shared, pondered over, and digested. That critique should be heard, not labeled “hating,” “unkind,” or ungenerous:

This is not to say we should stand idly by while we are attacked! But there is attack and there is critique. And while no one deserves to be vilified, academic feminists should also remember that the level of privilege we operate from means the hand we use to slap others down is larger, flatter, and wet. Mainstream feminists should consider this as well. We should not be so invested in winning tenure or internet celebrity we are willing to sell our souls.

I’m not alone in hoping the next step in digital academic feminist evolution will mean discussing a praxis of engagement online that allows all of us, inside the academy and out, to be supported, support others, and create alliances. In other words, I join Maegan ‘la Mala’ Ortiz and others who hope we learn more from this about loving hard, loving harder.

Featured Image Credit: Folasade Adeoso | http://lovefola.com/theblog/

___________________________

Suggested Reading

Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert | S&F Online | Polyphonic Feminisms http://bit.ly/1230G9d

Moya Bailey and Alexis Pauline Gumbs | We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For | Ms. Magazine (Winter 2010)  (no link available)

BCRW hosts #femfuture conversation on online feminism | crunkfeminists | Storify http://bit.ly/10NbbL5

Jessica Luther | #femfuture Storify | http://bit.ly/ZhjGg1

US Centrism and inhabiting a non space in #femfuture | Red Light Politics http://bit.ly/10TdRW2

illegal plum pudding – i am absolutely *appalled* at the #FemFuture… http://bit.ly/ZHhCns

Online Feminism #Femfuture and the “Dirty” Money Problem | Fake Pretty http://bit.ly/10UJgdc

Why We Can’t Ignore Being Ignored or Accused of “Sniping” | Mamita Mala :One Bad Mami blog http://bit.ly/ZRd0eC

The #FemFuture Report Bundle | curated by @jmjohnsophd | http://bitly.com/bundles/o_5h4obm5uq7/i

narrative

4/4/13

Narrative for ISMS class

What ARE you?

they asked me again and again with my bushy eyebrows my 18 year old breasts on a 10 year old chest my flying away nest of hair as it stood

three inches from my head

until I was furious with my straight-haired mother who never owned a pair of tweezers or a cup size above B

“can I turn you over and mop my house?” they asked until my father offered to walk me to the busstop

each morning.

jewish is never the right answer, never the satisfying answer

 

I am not pretty to you like this

you do not know this type of beauty and you will not. Stop. Talking. Until I am not

pretty to me either

Until

what ARE you

 

Tell them you are tired of trying to make other people happy with labels that do not belong to you.

it is the small spaces, the cracks on the edges

that belong to me. 14 is not enough,

when I crawled beneath my bed and couldn’t breathe for hours or

seconds

is there a name for this dyingness

Is it okay as long as you’re quiet about it? As long as you feel ashamed?

Don’t pretend not to notice.

Make it a joke. Make it funny.

Make it not real.

I spend only 3 dollars a week on hand sanitizer because I know all the bargain brands

I know the bargains for everything

that makes you clean

I wish sometimes I could bathe in it

I think sometimes if you sliced me open I would bleed lysol

beneath the desks I sanitize five times each class but you will never say a thing

until three beers after finals and then you say, oh I wondered about that

 

there is no section of me until intersection I am

wide open and barely here

 

I call myself crazy before you can so when you think it

I can pretend not to notice

 

so why still do I want to show you the dark-spotted rashes

of my wrists

What IS that?

What ARE you?

why do I want to tell you about the summer I was sure

my mother was trying to kill me or my friend who’s bi-polar and every three months

like clockwork, drops her phone into a glass of wine because

she just. can’t. pick up.

 

I could love a woman, a non-man, a trans person, a non-man, a gender-neutral person, I could love someone else.

“Stop calling yourself queer, you date boys!”

“You, bi? You’re boy-crazy!”

Boy-crazy boy-crazy boys are easier

boys are so easy I know how to do boys how to do

boys

maybe if I can feel bad enough about being the white one in this thing I will not notice you are the one in this thing

whose dick is in my mouth how did you not notice

your dick was in my mouth

you are not sorry so I am not

sorry for saying it

 

24 is not enough, “should I say she or they? How can you not care?” I will say she because I knew her when she

or never she

I want to say the right thing.

What ARE you?

 

27 is not enough, “you no longer

meet this diagnosis”

no shit because you stuffed me full of pills

till I was choking

 

Is it okay as long as you’re quiet about it? As long as you feel ashamed?

only tell the truths you are sure about.

 

J: “It’s like I don’t have the right to feel a certain way about my own body because I’m loaning it out at the moment.”

4/9/13

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in? Emotional spaces? How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

I tend to feel unsafe in certain public spaces when I’m alone. I didn’t always feel this way, but it’s fairly recent that since I’ve been pregnant (currently in my 7th month), I tend to feel more vulnerable. This is especially true here in the south (living in SC – if you can believe it). I actually don’t feel that way as much when I’m visiting back in the Philly/Jersey area. I think it has more to do with the culture down here. It’s very conservative and women are more obviously objectified or ignored (one or the other).

Before I was pregnant, I worked as a waitress for over 16 years. I felt incredibly unsafe in the restaurant environment. A lot of it has to do with class, but it was mostly about being a woman that led me to feel this way. In fact, the more that I learned about power dynamics, oppression, and sexism, the worse I felt about my position as a server. I felt kind of like a whore because my income was based on whether people liked me or not (although it was really based on what kind of a tipper they were to begin with). Because restaurant owners only pay 2.13 per hour, it felt to me like I was nothing more than a charity case – even though I worked in some pretty high end places and learned how to provide excellent service. It’s just an internal feeling I always had.

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women? How do you think others perceive you physically? What elements contribute to these perceptions?

I used to perceive myself as attractive, but had some minor things that I would have changed about myself if I could have – although nothing too drastic. I tend to think that most humans feel that way. Before I got pregnant, I had gained 25 pounds fairly quickly and felt like I was inhabiting a different person’s body. Now that I’m pregnant and have gained another 25 pounds on top of that, I feel disgusted with my appearance. I get really annoyed when I express how I feel about myself and someone tries to talk me out of it. That seems a bit insensitive and unsupportive to me. It’s like I don’t have the right to feel a certain way about my own body because I’m loaning it out at the moment. I do, however, keep that in perspective – because I have made the commitment to have this child and therefore my personal feelings about how I look are sort of silly right now…since I know it’s only temporary. I feel a bit worried that I might be stuck this way, but I’m extremely motivated to get back into shape after he’s born.

I don’t really measure myself up to other women because I was raised by a crazy woman who always told me I was ugly and I learned how to ignore a lot of the opinions of other women. I really don’t know how other people, in general, perceive me – except from what they say directly. Pre-pregnancy, not many people would comment (besides sexual/romantic partners). Now that I’m carrying a baby, it feels like everyone (including strangers) feels like they have permission to comment on my body. A lady at the bank insisted that I must be having twins and was very quick to tell me how “huge” I am.

I find certain women incredibly attractive. I think I have a “type” that I’m specifically drawn to when it comes to sexual attraction. I have no idea where that comes from, but all I can say is that petite women with small boobs that have a certain style, certain features, and a certain personality really turn me on. Although I don’t really label my sexual orientation as anything, I’d have to say that on the KInsey scale I’m leaning a bit towards the middle, although I’m mostly hetero-identified.

Aside from sexually attractive women, there are plenty of other women I find physically attractive because I appreciate the diversity of beauty in general. I don’t really follow a lot of the typical standards of beauty because I’m not usually a fan of the barbie doll look. I think that understanding media literacy helps me to say, “fuck that.”

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman? Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

It does depend on where I am, who I’m with, and who else is around. Mostly I feel vulnerable though, unfortunately. I really don’t want to feel that way – especially being a feminist. I want to feel empowered and strong (which I’d like to think I’m still empowered and strong, despite vulnerability at times). It’s just that once my eyes had been opened to sexism, there was no going back. I learned that at a young age instinctively, but then I studied about these things as an adult and it only added more to what I was already feeling inside.
I’m happy that I’m a woman. I enjoy being a woman very much and I love women, but I don’t like feeling like I have to prove my intelligence or worth (outside of what my body may be worth) constantly.

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you? I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

For me, personally, it’s always been my woman-ness and my class placement in society. I suppose there’s also a mental health component that is very much a part of me. I grew up in an abusive and highly dysfunctional household. So much of who I have become is in response to being female, growing up blue collar, and being raised by a woman who has many serious pathological issues.
I think that I’m lucky to have had a rebellious spirit. My family looks down on women (which is one reason why they are SO happy that I’m having a boy – and that grosses me out to no end that they have this preference). And I ended up a feminist. My family doesn’t understand why I’m still in school, but I am working on a second master’s (and racking up student loans that would make a doctor have a heart attack). And, lastly, my mother’s pathologies continue to haunt me and affect me, but I have differentiated myself enough to understand that I will never be like her in those ways.

K: “it’s hard for me to think about misogyny without thinking about how damaged men are the ones who create damaging situations for women.”

4/8/13

 

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in? Emotional spaces? How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

i feel safe in my home. not only am i physically safe here, but i am emotionally very safe within my marriage.  one of my favorite things about my home and my marriage (which for many intents and purposes are the same space, one being the physical embodiment of the other) is that i feel completely accepted. i also feel (and this may sound odd), genderless. i’m just a person here and my husband and son are just people too. i can do stereotypically feminine things like bake cookies or stereotypically masculine things like re-tile the kitchen floor and it’s just what *i* do, it doesn’t have to stand for anything or mean anything to anyone beyond that there are cookies to eat and the floor looks awesome. not sure if that makes sense.

not having been any other sexual orientation or race. i’m not sure i can reflect on how those things would be different there. sometimes i think it would be even more awesome to be in a same-sex relationship because there are NO prescribed gender rules, but i’m sure there are other complications i can’t imagine.

i do think that our SES (more education level than income for us) helps because my husband and i both grew up in worlds where men have a wide range of identities to choose from, not just “be strong and build stuff” — because we come from very knowledge/education-based families. we also both had stay-at-home dads when we were very young (which was even less common in the 1970s than it is now) so being smart or great with the laundry is just as masculine (or feminine) as anything else for both of us. and so the freedom my husband has to feel like he’s still fully masculine even when he is not the breadwinner (as he is not right now), does not excel in athletics/manual work, or takes longer to do his hair in the morning 🙂 allows me the freedom to enact whatever feminine identity appeals to me. i don’t have to worry about hurting his feelings or making him feel somehow emasculated. i feel for boys/men who grow up without this freedom, and by extension the women who love them. it is not hard for me to see how hunting and other “manly” things take on so much meaning for working-class men who have been sold a version of “man” that hinges on strength, primarily through breadwinning…in this economy, those men have nothing but violent past-times to make them feel whole, and it f*cks things up for them and everyone else in their lives. it’s hard for me to think about misogyny without thinking about how damaged men are the ones who create damaging situations for women.

as for unsafeness, i’m not wild about parking garages at night.  🙂

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women? How do you think others perceive you physically? What elements contribute to these perceptions?

i have no idea how others perceive me physically (except my husband, who i can tell finds me attractive). i lived for our 4 years in nashville without a full-length mirror (not by accident, this coincided with pregnancy and my first 3 years as a mom) and it was extraordinarily freeing. we have one full-length mirror now but it’s in morgan’s room and i look in it exactly once per day (in the morning, to make sure i’m actually fully dressed, not always a given i’ll remember two socks, etc.) and i don’t miss it. i think being over 35 (!) and someone’s mother has allowed me to go back to the way i felt in childhood — i’m just a person in a body who has THINGS TO DO! so who has time to think about how it looks? i’m surrounded by women most of the day at work, and the things that stand out to me about my students is how young and skinny they are, how effortless their beauty is, particularly when they are in class, not all dolled up to go out, just wearing sweats and thinking about things.

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman? Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

i think my age (again) plays a role here. i can remember, in my 20s particularly, living in philadelphia, feeling the male gaze in public spaces very strongly. sometimes i enjoyed it and other times i did not. i went through a phase where i thought muslim women have it all figured out because they control who gets to perceive them sexually (by covering their hair). unfortunately, in my later years i’ve come to see that less as empowering and more as central to a rape culture — the hijab (as i understand it) is worn because of a belief that men can’t/shouldn’t have to control themselves when they can see women’s hair. and that’s messed up.

but back to now, i just feel busy most of the time, pre-occupied with things i have to do or ideas i’m grappling with. i almost never go out at night bc i’m busy being someone’s mother. i also don’t live in a city, don’t take public transit, hate to shop, and almost never go to bars anymore, so i don’t spend much time in so-called “public” spaces…i spend most of my “outside” time on the playground at my son’s school with almost exclusively other moms my age. sometimes i walk across campus but there i am constantly struck by how much i feel like i should be one of the college kids walking around, not someone who is old enough to be their mother!

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you? I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

as is captured in my responses above, i think, the intersection of woman-ness and age has been most interesting as i’ve gone from adolescence to adulthood to mommy-dom. sometimes i miss the feeling i used to have that men were paying attention to how i look, but most of the time i’m too caught up in the business of living to worry about it, and i think it’s freeing that i don’t care much about how i look at preschool dropoff in the morning (sweats and a hat? yes please!) because i’m not trying to impress anyone or get laid.  🙂  a friend once told me how excited she was to be turning 30 because no one expects you to look good after 30 so you can stop worrying about it. indeed. also, not sure if you ever watched “six feet under” but in one episode, kathy bates’s character convinces another character (also a woman in her late 50s/early 60s) to shoplift at a nice department store — she says “women our age are invisible, so we can get away with anything” — so true. my mom is that age (and single) and very bitter about it, but it doesn’t bother me now so i can’t imagine it will when i’m her age. i think my marital status has a lot to do with my gender-based perceptions w.r.t. myself.

10 Things to End Rape Culture

2/4/13

Reposted without permission from:

http://www.thenation.com/article/172643/ten-things-end-rape-culture#

Rape culture exists because we don’t believe it does.  From tacit acceptance of misogyny in everything from casual conversations with our peers to the media we consume, we accept the degradation of women and posit uncontrollable hyper-sexuality of men as the norm. But rape is endemic to our culture because there’s no widely accepted cultural definition of what it actually is.  As Nation contributor and co-editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes Jessica Valenti explains, “Rape is a standard result of a culture mired in misogyny, but for whatever reason—denial, self-preservation, sexism—Americans bend over backwards to make excuses for male violence.” But recent headline-grabbing instances of sexual assault, from Steubenville, Ohio, to Delhi, India, are prodding Americans to become self-aware about the role we play in propagating a culture that not only allows but justifies sexual violence against women. Activists Eesha PanditJaclyn Friedman, filmmaker Nuala Cabral and The Nation’s Valenti believe that we can end rape culture. They’ve suggested the following “Ten Things” to end our collective tolerance for violence against women and create an environment that empowers both men and women to change the status quo.

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1. Name the real problemsViolent masculinity and victim-blaming. These are the cornerstones of rape culture and they go hand in hand. When an instance of sexual assault makes the news and the first questions the media asks are about the victim’s sobriety, or clothes, or sexuality, we should all be prepared to pivot to ask, instead, what messages the perpetrators received over their lifetime about rape and about “being a man.” Here’s a tip: the right question is not, “What was she doing/wearing/saying when she was raped?” The right question is, “What made him think this is acceptable?” Sexual violence is a pervasive problem that cannot be solved by analyzing an individual situation. Learn 50 key facts about domestic violence. Here’s one: the likelihood that a woman will die a violent death increases 270% once a gun is present in the home Remember, a violent act is not a tragic event done by an individual or a group of crazies.  Violence functions in society as” a means of asserting and securing power.”

2. Re-examine and re-imagine masculinity: Once we name violent masculinity as a root cause of violence against women, we have to ask: Is masculinity inherently violent? How can you be a man/masculine without being violent?  Understand that rape is not a normal or natural masculine urge. Join organizations working to redefine masculinity and participate in the national conversations on the topic.

3. Get enthusiastic about enthusiastic consent. Rape culture relies on our collective inclination to blame the victim and find excuses for the rapist. Enthusiastic consent — the idea that we’re all responsible to make sure that our partners are actively into whatever’s going down between us sexually — takes a lot of those excuses away. Rather than looking for a “no,” make sure there’s an active “yes.” If you adopt enthusiastic consent yourself, and then teach it to those around you, it can soon become a community value. Then, if someone is raped, the question won’t be, well, what was she doing there, or did she really say no clearly enough? It will be: what did you do to make sure she was really into it? Check out this Tumblr page on enthusiastic consent.

4. Speak up for what you really really want. Because so much victim-blaming relies on outdated ideas about women and men’s sexuality, taking the time to figure out what you actually want from sex for yourself and learning how to speak up about it can be a revolutionary act, and inspire others to follow suit. Bonus: it will almost always improve your sex life, too! Jaclyn Friedman wrote a whole book on the topic.

5. Get media literate. Media, like everything else we consume, is a product; someone imagined, created and implemented it. Ask the right questions about who creates media that profits off the objectification of women, especially women of color.  Feed your mind and heart with media that portrays women as full human beings with the right to bodily autonomy. Go to FAAN Mail to learn how to “Talk Back” to media creators and browse their Facebook page for alternative artists. You’ll not only be healthier yourself, but you’ll be simultaneously calling into being a media ecosystem that will be healthier for everyone.

6.  Globalize your awareness of rape culture. Yes, different societies have particularities when it comes to gender based violence, but it is counterproductive to essentialize entire nations/cultures/races. Look to global strategies—like creating momentum for the US to ratify the global Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and participate in addressing the phenomenon of rape as a tool of war. Also, let’s reauthorize Violence Against Women Act before we cast aspersions on the misogyny of other cultures, shall we?

7. Know your history: For those of us who live here in the US, we must acknowledge and learn from the US’s long history of state sanctioned violence. Consider the genocide of Native and First Nations people, the ever-present legacy of slavery, the lackadaisical relationship we have with due process (i.e. Japanese internment, Guantanamo) and the gendered nature of all this. There are no quick links for this one: you’ll have to read some big books.

8. Take an intersectional approach. The numbers tell us most but not all of what we need to know. What the numbers can elide is the lived reality of women, LGBTQ people and others of us whose stories don’t make it to the headlines. Don’t forget that sex and gender are different and there are more genders than two. People who are gender-non-conforming, gender queer, trans and/or those who complicate the gender binary experience violence at disproportionate rates. Think about how a person’s income, race, sexuality, and citizenship and immigration status would impact their ability to use the criminal justice system as recourse, and come up with strategies that addressthose challenges. Move the most vulnerable from the margin to the center to develop effective solutions.

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9. Practice real politics. You may be crystal clear about your own rejection of rape culture, but when someone you know calls a woman a slut, approach him/her from a place of empathy. Try telling them that you know they probably meant no harm, but that you’re concerned that they may be doing some anyhow. And then explain why. And be patient: very few of us change our views in an instant. It may take time and repetition for it to start to sink in.

10. Lobby your community. Rape culture thrives in passive acceptance of female degradation, victim-blaming and hyper-masculinity in our communities, both physical and digital. Report abuse on Facebook. Lobby college administrators for more safe spaces to discuss sexual assault on campus. One in five women are assaulted during their college years, yet many colleges don’t have a competent system for reporting incidences and punishing perpetrators.  Go here to learn what to do about rape on your campus.

Two More Ways to Fight Rape Culture

Don’t laugh at rape. Most people aren’t rapists. But most rapists believe that everyone does it. What’s more, you can’t tell if you’re in the presence of a rapist. They don’t look any different from the rest of us, and may be perfectly good company. So while it might seem harmless to you to laugh at a joke that makes light of rape, your laughter could be telling an unknown rapist in your midst that you think rape is hilarious. And what’s worse: letting go of a laugh once in a while, or accidentally enabling a rapist? Your call.

Tell your story. Every political issue has a personal narrative that helps form connections to the issue and bolster support for present and future victims. Read Akiba Solomon’s account of the how she bridged the personal and the political in the struggle over reproductive justice. If your personal account is not ready for an audience, start by telling your story to yourself.

It is not enough to bring individual perpetrators of rape and sexual violence to justice.  Since the problem lies in a culture that is entertained by degrading acts and images of women, the solution is to look at the individual acts as a symptom of rape culture and solve it holistically.  We all have a part to play in allowing rape culture to exist—so, we can all do something to eradicate it.

Conceived by Walter Moseley and co-edited by Rae Gomes.