Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We've all got our own stuff

Again on Colorlines (I'm really happy to have discovered that site), Thoi Lu discusses black male feminism:
In light of the recent 11-year-old Latina who was reportedly gang raped by 18 black men in Cleveland and news of Chris Brown’s continuing meltdowns, Texas, a few black male writers have stepped up to the plate to explicitly discuss their journey toward becoming feminists. 
Byron Hurt of The Root wrote last last week on “Why I am a Male Feminist,” which prompted G.D. of PostBourgie to also write candidly about the topic two days later. 
Hurt admitted that observing the way his father would invoke fear in his mother during arguments by virtue of his greater size influenced his own relationships with women. He fell into feminism accidentally; Hurt interviewed for a position with the Mentors in Violence Prevention Project, not knowing that it was designed to use the status of athletes to make gender violence socially unacceptable. 
After hearing how women protected themselves from sexual assault and rape, his conception of feminism radically changed:
Like most guys, I had bought into the stereotype that all feminists were white, lesbian, unattractive male bashers who hated all men… Not only does feminism give woman a voice, but it also clears the way for men to free themselves from the stranglehold of traditional masculinity. When we hurt the women in our lives, we hurt ourselves, and we hurt our community, too.
While Hurt’s father’s presence was inescapable, G.D. wrote, “mine was imperceptible.” He had an absent father figure and was raised by “black women who were fantastically smarter and more competent than I was."  
G.D. internalized how his mother always cautioned his twin sister to be responsible while in public, in a way he didn’t have to. Also, during a college summer, one of his female friends woke up in an empty dorm room in a bare bed and had to file a police report and get a rape kit, which was another situation he couldn’t fathom living through. At the least, however, he admits to his own ignorance:
I am routinely very, very dumb about this shit as a heterosexual dude — with all the tunnel vision and privilege that attends that location. The relationship those realities have to my blackness is a muddled one; sometimes they’re independent, sometimes they act in concert. But if growing up black and poor and male provided an unlikely bridge to anti-sexist thinking, so has feminism complicated the way I think about blackness and class.
Feminism as an ideology has a reputation for being a privilege of white women. They have been the ones who have generally been wealthier and more educated, the ones with the time and money to go off to university and take Women's Studies courses and sit around discussing the patriarchy and learning to appreciate the value of a vagina. Black women were too busy working. They didn't have time to do the kind of navel-gazing white women did in the 60's (and still today) about the feminine mystique and the legitimacy of working outside the home, because they were already doing it. The issues they faced weren't quite the same. So black women felt that their struggles were not being properly represented by a movement that purported to speak on behalf of Womankind. If in actuality it's all about the interests of upper class white women, then we might as well just say so, but hopefully none of us actually want that to be the case. If we mean that, then being a feminist should be about representing the concerns of all women. If there is a single woman of any sort anywhere in the world who is being mistreated and her choices in life denied, we should all be feminists for her...shouldn't we?

There are multiple dimensions to distribution of power in life, and it's not surprising that one minority group should view one or more other minorities groups with oppressive eyes very similar to the ones with which they themselves are viewed. Hence, you get rich minorities looking down on the poor, white minorities looking down on minorities of different races, male minorities looking down on females, straight minorities looking down on non-straights, cisgender minorities looking down on transgenders, and various religious minorities looking down on each other and on non-believers. I'm sure there are more examples, but that's a good representative sampling. I can see how if you're anything but a white straight rich cisgender male, it would be easy to pick one or more minority groups to look down on order to get some sense of superiority. It's not shocking at all that there are white feminist racists and homophobes, and blacks who are passionately concerned with racial equality but are themselves homophobic and/or misogynistic. Having your own struggle doesn't automatically flip on some kind of empathy switch for other people's struggles, as nice as that would be.

I don't think I need to imply that men should speak for women in order to say that it's an absolute pleasure to see/hear of them speaking up on our behalf. Often we're not there to speak up for ourselves, and it has never made sense to me to think that it's okay to make sexist/racist/homophobic/etc. comments just because someone who represents the group you're talking about isn't present. This post from from A Division By Zer0 makes the point that there are some men out there who think that rape is okay, provided you don't call it "rape." It's sort of like murder, in that "murder" is the name for killing that is definitely wrong, and "rape" is the a name for a kind of sexual contact that is definitely wrong. But just as there are people who murder while considering it acceptable killing (for whatever reason), there are people who rape or would be willing to rape while considering it plain ol' sex. The argument goes that by trivializing rape around such people, you are confirming in their minds that it is in fact trivial--giving them the impression that it's normal to think the way they do, that there's nothing wrong with it. The same is true of casual sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia. If the victims of these prejudices are the only ones to ever speak up in reaction to them, they will never be eliminated. That's why we need feminist men, along with straight LGBT rights advocates, white racial equality advocates, and wealthy people who not only give to charity but don't think of the poor as stupid, helpless, or otherwise inherently lesser.  

I realize how very kumbaya this sounds, but we all have to stand up for all of us. There's just no other way.

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