Oh, the Internet cray these days. I can’t keep up. We got blogs censored over here; death threats over there, general freakout braiding it all together like a horrible Victorian mourning brooch made of human hair. And Feministing has outdone itself. Just as fat is the most concentrated form of energy in the body, so Feministing (although they sometimes do some excellent reporting) is often the most concentrated form of clueless pomo derp on the Internet.
Today, they’ve interviewed a trans guy performing in a play loosely based on the Tyler Clementi tragedy. It sounds good, and were I visiting Chicago, I’d go see it. BUT. Please shudder at the following excerpt:
AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
JJ: I think it’s a constant challenge – whatever identities we align ourselves with – to face our own privilege, and kindly, constructively call each other out when we don’t.
My aghast-ness springs from the following:
1. A constant challenge for who? Navel-gazing academics and performance artists? Who the fuck sits around talking about which “identities they align” themselves with? Early-20somethings, mental patients (cray!) and the unemployed, that’s who. I wish I had the time, money, leisure, and/or large academic grant sufficient to allow me to sit around and ruminate re: the “identities I align” with. Mostly, though, I go to work, which robs me of 8-10 daily hours of precious identity-aligning time.
2. “Face our own privilege.” I am all for examining what makes some lives easier/less-fraught than others but “privilege-checking” has become a quick, effective way of stopping productive disagreement; the silencer on the shut-down gun. We feel embarrassed and guilty when someone accuses us of being unaware of our privilege; as though we have hurt someone — it’s reminiscent of childhood, when our mothers scolded us for not appreciating how lucky we were compared to less-lucky kids. Women respond to this kind of chastisement because we don’t want to be jerks; we don’t want to hurt anyone. Because hey, we could be wrong, after all. We better apologize.
Privilege-checking, though, can become a useless and destructive exercise. From a recent piece at Left Foot Forward:
“At the heart of “privilege-checking” however is a kind of narcissism and desire to exercise guilt, which arouses a great many problems of itself. First of all “privilege-checking” assumes that we can only understand things we have direct experience of, as Tom Midlane recently put it. This just needlessly problematises solidarity and divides those who are fighting the good fight against societal injustice into blocks of oppressed and non-oppressed. The protest space is necessarily subjective, sure, but it is also a space for fighting the greater good in union.
Looking deep into one’s soul and seeking self-privilege is peculiarly individualistic and contrary to the spirit of protest.
Secondly, I suspect it only serves to underline a guilt which, stripped down, is ultimately hubristic. I’m reminded of how Pascal Bruckner defined guilt in his book on the subject, as a substitute for power for the middle class European individual in a post-empire age, or a way to appear to reverse the co-ordinates of power relations in society, when in fact the presence of guilt firmly keeps those relations in place.
In this sense guilt only divides people from the guilty (non-oppressed) to the non-guilty (oppressed).”
3. “Kindly, constructively call each other out.” Is it possible to laugh oneself into a hernia? How many actual times has your average liberal been successful in “kindly, constructively” calling another liberal out? How many actual times has it not devolved into a welter of unhappiness and misunderstanding; a comment thread swirling into the dark? Has anyone ever said “Thank you for calling me out on my privilege” without clenched teeth and/or a vicious little masochistic thrill of self-abnegation? Do privilege-checkers and callers-out have any idea how ridiculous the rest of the world finds this exercise? How much a form of non-action? How effective a distraction from the fact that about 400 people have REAL privilege and control most of the wealth in this country?
Also, figuring out one’s own precisely-calibrated levels of privilege is a Byzantine task, i.e., what if you’re perceived as “white,” but your parents are immigrants for whom English is a second language? What if you come from an upper-middle-class background and hold an advanced degree but earn less than $30,000 a year? What if you were once quite beautiful but, now that you’ve hit your mid-forties, no one really looks at you anymore? What if you make a ton of money but you live in a red state and can’t pass as a non-dyke? Do people need a briefing re: the intricacies of your personal privilege before they decide how seriously to take you? Like I said, NOT ENOUGH TIME. GET ME A FULLY-FUNDED FEDERAL GRANT.
4. The greatest challenge facing feminism today.” Speaking of the rest of the world, I’m thinking the greatest challenge lies there. I would like to make a list of challenges that in my opinion (and yours?) present a greater challenge to feminism — which is a political, not an individual, movement concerned with the well-being and fate of women as a class. Such as:
- female genital mutilation affecting millions of girls/women around the globe
- the sex-selective abortion of girl children
- the murder of girl children
- the forced marriage (selling) of girl children to older men
- sex trafficking/slavery
- honor killings
- rape as a weapon in relationships
- rape as a weapon of war
- women forced into survival sex (rape) as a direct consequence of war
- the possibility of rape wherever and whenever
- increasingly brutal, sadistic rape p0rn available for free online
- the murder of women by boyfriends or husbands (“domestic violence”)
- inaccessibility of education for females
- dearth of female political power
- the victimization of elderly women
- curtailed or nonexistent reproductive rights
- compulsory pregnancy
- preventable, yet unprevented, death in childbirth
- economic inequality: women do most of the work but own much less of the wealth
- poverty has a woman’s face, and a girl’s, and mostly they are faces of color
- prostitution, prostitution, prostitution