Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Lupita Nyong'o And Representations of Black Beauty

Lupita Nyong'o by Sharif Hamza

It's been quite some time since I posted anything fashion related! Well there's lots of places on the internet where you can go to read about all the reasons why Lupita Nyong'o is the new best thing to grace the face of this earth, but I really just wanted to take a second to talk about how amazing it is to see a dark skinned woman with natural hair be heralded as the newest fashion Goddess. 

If you've seen 12 Years A Slave, then you know that Lupita is an amazing actress and completely deserves the accolades that she's been receiving, but there's something to be said about her acceptance into the fashion world. For a lot of ladystars, being accepted into the fashion fold is the thing that really cements their place in Hollywood. Just look at Jennifer Lawrence. She is admittedly the opposite of poised, and yet her star has only continued to rise in the last two years; helped along by her Dior endorsement. 

But the dynamics are different here. JLaw already fits the Hollywood mould; propelling her to the top of the back didn't take much effort. Only time will tell if the current obsession with Lupita will translate into a lucrative career, or if it is simply lip-service to allow Hollywood to pat itself on the back for letting a black woman into its ranks.

Lupita is captivating on so many levels that I want with all my heart for her to have the career that she deserves. But I also want to hope that the fashion endorsements will continue to roll in; I want to believe that fashion will continue to herald her as the beauty she is and continue to bolster her visibility within the public consciousness. I want to hope that we will continue to have representations of beauty that centre on black women, and aren't tokens thrown to appease the masses (looking at you SNL).

For women like me, who so often have to beg to be represented in mainstream media, having Lupita be on the covers of magazines in all her glory feels like a coup, and I hope she continues her domination. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

About That Time I Pissed Off White Feminism

It's been about a week since I published my essay on my definition of "white feminism" and it's gotten a lot more traction than I expected. Generally, knowing that my writing is being seen by so many people is pretty cool; it means that my voice is being heard, and even if someone disagrees with me, they're discussing something that I thought was important to talk about in the first place. But there are drawbacks.

I'm very fucking a little annoyed that so many people seem to have gone out of their way to get defensive about the essay, but unfortunately I'm not surprised. I think, more than anything I'm irritated at this reaction because I tried very hard to be reasonable and clear in my assessment. I not only explicitly defined what I meant when I used the term, (and excluded those to whom it did not apply) but I also made sure to say that I was speaking only for myself, and describing the way that I used the term in feminist discourse as well as the way I had seen the term used.

And yet... I still have white women coming at me to comment that they feel "persecuted" by my words. That "white  feminists" necessarily means "all white feminists" when even semantically that doesn't add up. People obliviously missing the point and ignoring that I am trying to talk about the way in which feminists in the mainstream seek to shut down discourse intraracially between WoC by demanding that their attention instead be directed towards coddling their feelings and sense of self.

What is so frustrating is that so many feminists (who are white!) were able to read my essay and immediately understand my point. I got so many tweets, comments and emails telling me that they understood how the expression was being used, and understood why the expression was necessary. They recognized the essay for what it was: a call-out of the racism within the mainstream (read: largely white) feminist movement.

I literally do not understand how people can be dense enough to claim they are not the problem, while doing exactly what I've said people who are the problem, do. The irony is just deliciously terrible.

All of the polite requests to "please use different terminology because no one is going to understand that and I don't want to be lumped in with that group" still amount to demands that I reframe my narrative in way that makes you more comfortable. They are still privileging your feelings over my life. In other words, exactly what I said the problem was in the first place.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Claire Huxtable Preaches The Womanist Gospel

I just love this clip. There really isn't a ton I want to say other than to point out how amazing it is. People tend to mistakenly believe that feminism is all about women discarding men and doing away with them entirely, but it's not about that at all. It's about gaining parity with men, and being treated as equal contributors in society, with equal potential to have a hand in helping to move society forward.

Everything about the way Claire Huxtable completely dismantles Eldon for his regressive ideas about how feminism relates to "a woman's role" is delicious. For her to identify so succinctly why her being "independent" in the pop-culture sense does not mean that she does not rely on other people from time to time is amazing. In less than a minute, she demonstrates that within an equitable relationship, a feminist/womanist one if you will, it is about parity between the parties, not a simple reversal of traditional gender roles.

I wish there were more shows on television today with positive depictions of women of colour who have such a healthy understanding of both their potential, and their unique place in society as powerful, successful, intelligent women, who understand that equity in relationships do not at all conflict with feminist tenets.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Ode To Britta Perry: Straw Feminist Extraordinaire

Community is finally back from exile! I love this show and I'm glad the new season has finally started. So in honour of the return of the greatest show on television I want to take a moment to talk about everyone's favourite straw feminist, Britta Perry.

To be clear, I don't mean to make it seem as though I'm dismissing Britta as a character or her contribution to the canon of the show. I love Community and have been watching since the very beginning. Britta is a great character and so naturally, she has a lot of flaws.

According to TV Tropes, a straw feminist is:
"A character whose "feminism" is drawn only for the purposes of either proving the character wrong or ridiculing them. More likely to fight an imaginary male conspiracy rather than actually help disadvantaged women, often being an out-and-out man hater with exaggerated beliefs."
This isn't to say that Britta is bad or even problematic, or that you have to stop liking her. You don't; and I certainly don't intend to. 

The thing is, Britta is basically harmless. She's all bluster and very little substance when it comes to her feminism and activism, and I think that can be seen as a comment on the thoughtlessness of modern feminism. She's a straw feminist because her perspectives are often wrong, and transparently so. Her arguments are easy to refute because they're so ridiculous and outlandish. Like this episode where she says she can "excuse racism but not animal cruelty." No actual feminist would say that out loud (regardless of what they actually think....*ahem*) but Britta thinks nothing of it.

I don't think Britta is presented in a way that's meant to say "hur dur, stupid feminists!" I think she's presented in a way that allows her straw feminism to be a reflection of her rather than on the feminist movement as a whole, and that's one of the main reasons I think she's an excellent character despite being a terrible, terrible feminist. Like a lot of people, she's well intentioned, but ultimately clueless, and the other members of the group keep her in check as necessary. Britta is a written in a way that makes it clear that she has a lot of learning to do still, especially since by their actions, we see that most of the other members of the group are fairly feminist themselves. Britta uses her feminism as a shield against the world, rather than you know, actually espousing its principles and helping women who need it. But the show makes it clear that that's on her. At least that's always been clear to me.

So don't think I'm trying to say that because she's a straw feminist, you don't have to like her. I still like her. I love her actually. But she's still, very much a straw feminist.

Friday, 10 January 2014

This Is What I Mean When I Say "White Feminism"

Well this is a post I've been meaning to write for a while. 

Every single time women of colour talk about "white feminism" or "white feminists" within the context of discussions about the way that the mainstream feminist movement privileges whiteness, we deal with an onslaught of defensive white women insisting that they personally are not like that, and would you please say "some white women" and not make generalizations?

What those women fail to realize is that by making that request, they are exemplifying Mikki Kendall's #solidarityisforwhitewomen battle cry; by once again insisting that a conversation created to facilitate discussion about the issues of WoC, be centered around the feelings of white women.

Now, I understand the impulse to get defensive. It can be very off-putting to feel attacked for a transgression that you know yourself not to be guilty of. But in the context of social justice and movement building, if you're feeling attacked, it probably means you're having your privilege challenged, not that you are a bad person. As I always say, "If it doesn't apply to you, then it's not about you. If it's not about you, then don't take it personally." Being a good ally means recognizing that sometimes your input is not needed or wanted, and that it's incredibly inappropriate to demand that a marginalized group, (in this case, WoC within the feminist movement) restructure a conversation that is happening to serve their needs, in a way that is more "comfortable" for the very people they are mobilizing against. That is the very definition of flexing one's privilege. 

To that end, let's talk about the term "white feminism." I even had a fun little diagram* made to help explain myself. (H/T to PSF) But before I continue, I want to be very clear that everything in the next few paragraphs is my personal interpretation of this term, and is an explanation of the way that I personally use it. I cannot and do not speak for other women of colour on this issue. 

White lady tears

"White feminism" does not mean every white woman, everywhere, who happens to identify as feminist. It also doesn't mean that every "white feminist" identifies as white. I see "white feminism" as a specific set of single-issue, non-intersectional, superficial feminist practices. It is the feminism we understand as mainstream; the feminism obsessed with body hair, and high heels and makeup, and changing your married name. It is the feminism you probably first learned. "White feminism" is the feminism that doesn't understand western privilege, or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn't consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality. 

White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of colour. It is "one size-fits all" feminism, where middle class white women are the mould that others must fit.  It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always. 

When I talk about "white feminism," I'm talking about the feminism that misappropriates womanist thinkers like Audre Lorde to declare that keeping white women's racism in check is "bashing." I'm talking about the feminism that cheekily denounces "twitter feminism" as useless, without considering that twitter is the main medium through which less economically privileged women (usually women of colour) can put their feminism into practice and gain access to and engage with like-minded women. I'm talking about the feminism that publishes an article advocating for forced sterilization, completely disregarding the way in which forced sterilization was used as a tool of genocide against black and native women. I'm talking about the feminism that thought holding a writer's retreat at a former slave plantation was a swell idea. I'm talking about the feminism that throws women of colour under the bus in the quest for body diversity and acceptance. I'm talking about the feminism that thinks barging into a Maasai community and "breaking barriers" is feminist, disregarding the work that actual Maasai women are doing to help achieve equality on their own terms, and obliviously parading its class privilege along the way. I'm talking about the feminism that insists that "Muslim women need saving" and refuses to acknowledge that cultural differences mean different, culturally specific approaches to feminism and equality. I'm talking about the feminism that thinks not "leaning in" is the only thing standing between women and economic success. I'm talking about the feminism that defends The Onion when it calls a little black girl a "cunt". I'm talking about the feminism that celebrates Tina Fey, Lily Allen and Lena Dunham, but tears down Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Rihanna. I'm talking about the feminism that pats itself on the back, but doesn't apologize after supporting a known abuser of WoC feminists who confesses to his transgressions. I'm talking about the feminism that did all these things in the space of one year.

I'm talking about the feminism that disregards the fact that whiteness is a privilege that is not afforded to all women. 

As Thought Catalog's Chelsea Fagan succinctly puts it:
"I know that some of the feminists on this website have build their whole identity/self-worth/value around being The Biggest Victim, but get a fucking grip and recognize how good we have it in this world. Sometimes you are going to be slighted because you are a woman, but it will never be because you are a WHITE woman, and we just have to accept the fact that this is a slice of the Blame It On The Man Pie we do not get to take. UGH."
When I talk about "white feminists", I'm talking about the people who fall into the darkest portions of the venn diagram above, and only those people. If you know that as a feminist, your beliefs fall into the middle portion of those little coloured circles, then keep it to yourself. By insisting we explicitly redeem you personally whenever we talk about a system that disadvantages us, you place yourself firmly into white feminist territory. Every rule has exceptions, but we'd never get anywhere if we had to list every single one whenever the rule was brought up in conversation.

Think you're the exception? Show don't tell. You don't get a cookie for declaring yourself an ally. Yes, "white feminist" is a pejorative term, and I will continue to use it as such. But it's also a term that means a specific thing, and derailing the community building efforts of WoC in order to declare yourself "one of the good ones" in fact, makes you exactly the kind of person we're pushing against.

[*I am more than aware that this diagram does not accurately reflect every single theoretical possibility, and of its mathematically limitations. It is simply meant to be an easily understandable visual representation of my assertion that not every white woman is a "white feminist" and not every "white feminist" identifies as white. It's purpose is as a reference, not statistical fact.]

ETA: "What people don't seem to get is that "White Feminism" is feminism for white people, and never exclusively feminism by white people. It's more about who it benefits exclusively than who is perpetuating it exclusively. It's really not as much of an accusation as people are making it out to be, more like a word for the institution we're trying to separate ourselves from." -TheWhistlingFish

Monday, 6 January 2014

On Sexual Assault, Rape Culture, And Navigating "Not Rape"

This is a really strange post to start the year off with, but please, bear with me. I really struggled with whether or not to publish this. Even now, I'm not sure I'm making the right decision and I'm purposely publishing in the middle of the night in the hopes that by morning it will be buried under the weight of people's constantly updating social media feeds. But I've experience a confluence of events of sorts that has made this topic startlingly relevant in my life again, and even though I don't think I'm comfortable talking about this, I feel compelled to get the words down.

Last night I read a number of pieces on the topic of rape culture. On street harassment, the use of the word creepy to describe predatory men, and the "spidey-sense" that women have developed to detect them.

But before that, I had an old acquaintance (and intermittent hook-up) come over last week under the guise of "catching up", who then proceeded to flat out request a blow job. I turned him down.

"Was I sure I didn't even want to lick the tip? Not even a little?" he asked. I gave him a minor talking to about not being a call girl and joked that he couldn't afford me even if I were. Lightening the mood you see.

He asked my price.

I spent the rest of his visit visibly pissed; staunchly shrugging off his hugs and offers to massage me, hoping that he'd take the hint and leave. He did. And then I realized that this wasn't the first time he'd tried to coerce me into sexual activity.

But it was the first time I'd outright and unequivocally refused him.

And it was then I'd realized that even though I'd initially been upset with myself for "training him" to expect sex from me by hooking up with him sporadically in the past, it was he who had taught me to confuse his boundary pushing with flattery; his quick gropes and stolen kisses as compliments.