On Gatekeeping and White Savior-ing

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“Suffer the little minorities to come unto me for approval and rescue.”

My passions (and vendettas) have led me to lend my talents and testimony to many local organizations fighting injustice. All social justice groups are flawed in some ways – we are only humans trying to help other imperfect humans. However, some orgs and non-profits with the goal of helping targeted minorities are inexplicably headed up, even in 2018, by white, cis, straight, able-bodied, neurotypical men.

Most of them start out with noble intentions. They have a transformative college class, an indirect experience, or read Chomsky and/or Zinn, and then the rage kicks in. Rage that doesn’t necessarily belong to them and they can’t ever fully understand. Unfortunately, when white men with no ax to grind get het up about injustice they assume the way to help is for them to be in charge of activist groups and efforts. And don’t think for a second that non-intersectional white women are immune to this impulse either.

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At a time in my life before I was diagnosed with an invisible disability, I really wanted to help lift up the downtrodden because I felt my privilege put me in a unique position to do so. I went to school to become an “inner city” high school teacher, but in the teacher education program at college I found myself uncomfortable with how we were taught about economic and racial inequality. The tone was condescending and we were given assignments wherein we went out into predominantly black neighborhoods to study them like they were specimens or a different species altogether. From all the shade I saw the few black teaching students throw at our old white male professor, I could tell they disapproved as well.

It’s fine to utilize privilege if you are a luckier member of the same demographic, but cross-demographic advocacy, while vital, can be problematic.  At some point I realized all high school kids are evil monsters and the black community doesn’t want or need my help. I dropped out of the teaching program with one semester to go and finished up my useless English degree.

Now I’m involved in criminal justice reform, not because I feel guilty about what people of color deal with, but because I’m an especially lucky member of another demographic  also targeted by police and the system. I’m appalled at what black & brown people experience, but I can never truly know enough about their perspective to loudly insert myself into their campaigns for change – and the idea that a white person(s) would take charge of their activist space is disgusting, but it happens. A lot.

But because I’m an autistic woman, I’ve directly experienced police brutality and entrapment in various broken institutions. However, I’ve still had to convince the far less oppressed people in charge of activist efforts that I’m worthy of speaking and taking up space when it comes to these issues. Some of these “interviews” have been darkly hostile. For instance, not many white guys invested in helping black people are aware of disability issues and a few have been bigoted towards me – an intersectional feminist covered in police brutality scars.

Truly, there are no completely safe spaces yet. Say a social justice bro corners you in an inappropriate manner and shows you the kind of guy he really is when the other do-gooders aren’t watching: lots of women and minorities won’t say anything about it to other members for fear of thwarting the cause or being accused of doing so. Especially if that ableist white man is threatened, territorial, and totally in charge of the space.

Every time I join a new organization I go through this heartbreaking process of “winning over” the white male (or normal female) leader. It’s not like these are paid positions and most orgs purport to be accepting of all people willing to help – so why am I having to fight so hard? Why do I feel oppressed in places where everyone in the room has read Chomsky and Zinn? (BTW, Chomsky is also on the spectrum bros.) Speaking the social justice gospel isn’t the same as embodying it. Open-mindedness doesn’t stop at one or two new realizations – it means continual self-examination for missed blind spots.

So to the well-meaning minimally-oppressed out there: Thank you for your time, talents, and work, but the minute you begin setting requirements for participation and excluding those with a greater stake in the cause, you are falling back into the ideological mire you brag about having escaped.

Perhaps you’ll heed a message from a fellow white guy, so . . .

ht9L9Ps

 

 

Review: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

In recognition of the Super Sunday victories of Hillary and Donald Dumpf, I finally read Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. The title is but one of the essays in this collection of musings about the status of women as we stand today – all around the world as well as in America. But it was this one that got my dander up the most because she addresses the basic nature of the “war of the sexes.” We tend to compartmentalize different women’s issues into separate institutions and causes. Domestic violence, all manner of rape and harassment, as well as reproductive freedom should be addressed as stemming from the root issues we don’t hear about: credibility and agency.

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Not ad agency.

 Credibility is the crazy idea that a woman’s word should be taken as legitimate before it is run through a barrage of doubtful questions. Solnit writes that she once had a dinner with a boyfriend’s father. He told of an incident in his neighborhood (in Oak Ridge, TN apparently) when a neighbor’s wife ran into the street naked one night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. He was merely bemused. Mrs. Solnit asked how he knew her husband wasn’t trying to kill her and he explained that they were simply respectable people. So, to him, the more credible possibility was that the woman was crazy.

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Don’t google “crazy woman meme”

If you or anyone you know has been sexually assaulted or harassed on the job, most of the battle towards justice is getting authorities to believe you. Even your first brave outcry is met with questions about the nature of your relationship with the offender and whether you have a boyfriend or husband. Apparently cops think women are prone to crying rape after a consensual encounter so their partners won’t get mad if they find out.

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Seems convoluted.

“Credibility is a basic

survival tool.”

-R.  Solnit

 

But on a less extreme level, “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they are talking about. Some men.” Every time I am in a discussion with men about a man subject – such as policy, religion, or science fiction/fact – I have a creeping feeling that most are biding time before they can speak again and they have gone to whatever white noise space in their giant heads they go to when a woman opines. That is, after I have yelled them down enough to listen to me. Frequently they don’t care for my sass.

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This witch doth know her shit. Devilry!

My least favorite man-phrase is “Okay. Hmmm. I’ll buy that.” As if I am possibly selling some sort of snake oil instead of describing a lucid idea – or the truth as I know it. As Solnit succinctly writes, ” . . . I objected to the behavior of a man only to be told that the incidents hadn’t happened at all like I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest – in a nutshell, female.” Add strident, shrill, and harping to that list whenever we have a complaint. Any complaint. (Whereas “to hold forth” is a very masculine action verb.)  She calls this an “invitation to silence.”

The best way to maintain the silence of women is by destroying their rights as sovereign beings. Agency is the notion that women own themselves, body and mind, and have the means to be heard and advocate for themselves. We should have enough power in society to be able to change things for ourselves. Right now we do not.

A fabulous documentary with a lot of super kick-ass ladies like Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Cho, Gina Davis, et al. is Miss Representation.  It exposes how mainstream media contribute to the massive under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. We are 51% of the population and 17% of our lawmakers. (And the laid back not-quite-half of SCOTUS).

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I can’t do everything for you!

When you understand what having agency means, a lot of touchy issues become a little more clear. Take abortion and reproductive rights. The touchiest. No matter what choice a woman does or does not make about becoming a mother, an unwanted pregnancy is fucking terrifying. If you will be bearing the brunt of the expense and insanity a new human brings with it into the world, knowing what we all do about the state of employment and benefits for single women, you are staring down a problem that will cause heartbreak no matter what happens.

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Hang in there! I’m making a point!

That’s the reality. We are never going to “solve” abortion. All women need to understand that if you limit another woman’s agency in one arena of society you erode it on every level. Even though anti-choice activists fervently believe they are saving a pregnant woman (or child) from their own bad decisions and future regret,  they are still stealing her ability to control the course of the life that belongs to her. I am a woman of faith (a Christian faith *gasp*) and firmly believe that free will is ordained by God.

Is it not?

The laws they advocate for strip our rights as a whole. No man will ever have an abortion or a baby. Of all the issues that women should control in the legislative body, this is the only that is exclusive to us. But men and the misguided women who work with them are robbing women I know of health care services in all respects.

Alright. Enough of that.

Here I will mention a recent silencing. The women (and men) who were targets of the #Gamergate harassment campaign are being silenced through raw fear for their lives. The threat of violence is frequently as limiting and life destroying as violence itself. That these sorts of coordinated attacks are never as aggressively investigated and prosecuted as other actions which directly harm a person, is either a massively stupid interpretation of what free speech means or we’ve still got a really long way to go, baby.  (#Gamergate is still officially referred to as a “controversy” by the way).

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Here’s an example of the shit scared guys say.

Again, any sensible woman would understand the seriousness of using the vast influence of inconnectivity to destroy a person’s safety, livelihood, and participation in a chosen field. But we are not, for the most part, the gender who decides what laws are needed to keep us safe and healthy.

It seems to make no sense. It does not compute.

“One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences.”

-Anita Sarkeesian,

of the Feminist Frequency

 

But I have digressed. Rebecca Solnit’s essay collection is an amazing introduction for anyone (especially an ally) who is wondering why feminism is now necessary and won’t stop growing anytime soon.

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She’s pretending to be an intellectual. How charming!