Shifting privilege and stopping tanning

As I child, I was acutely aware of the colour of my skin.  I was the only non-white pupil at my school, and although I was only darker by a couple of shades, it was enough for children and adults alike to ask me where I was from or to make comments about my colour.

Growing older and moving into a more mixed area, my awareness of my difference became less acute, but solidified into part of my body-image: I was less beautiful because I was darker.  I began bleaching my facial hair and using make-up to slightly lighten certain areas of skin.  In the summers, I was super-careful about the sun, always wearing factor 60 and staying in the shade.  I even carried an umbrella as a parasol on my walks to and from school.

It was only last year that I realised what bullshit this was, and how I had internalised white beauty norms.  So for the first time I thought, fuck it, brown is beautiful, I’m going to revel in the sun.  Last summer and this summer I have been sitting out in the sun without sun-cream or parasol, enjoying its warmth and rays, and its darkening effect on my skin.

And then couple of days ago, I read about UKBA workers racially profiling, harassing and arresting commuters in London.  And I decided to stop tanning.

I am extremely privileged to have had few experiences of overt racism.  As the current government makes this country more racist, this privilege could be decreasing.  I’m very lucky that if a UKBA worker stopped me, I would probably be carrying ID that confirmed my right to live in this country, and even if I wasn’t, my RP accent would probably convince them to leave me alone.  (I wish I could say that I’d have the confidence to walk away, as is everybody’s legal right, but I’m not sure I would).

My current assessment is that, for me, no amount of brown-pride-self-love would make up for the stress of being stopped by the UKBA.  (And if they’re not afraid of showing overt racism, various police forces probably aren’t far behind). Privilege is not an insult, it is a gift.  It is not something inherent to you, something you’re born with and cannot change: as attitudes and practices change, so does your privilege.  Up or down.  So today is the day I started using sun-cream again.

To make me and any readers feel a bit better, here’s a video of the SBS protest, and a link to the Black Feminists’ petition.

 

Housekeeping

Apologies for not posting anything for the past couple of months – I’ve been struggling with depression.  Boring, I know!  Maybe at some point I’ll have lots of deep thoughts about white patriarchy and mental health, and turn it to the good, but for now I’m focussing on getting out of bed and not alienating too many people.

So I might post something other than this soon, or I might not.  Let’s see!

Links: things to read and do

First the good news: a major (and fantastic) radical feminist blogger nails her colours to the mast regarding the fact that transsexual women are sisters in our shared struggle.  In her usual inimitable style:

Forget it! Gender is not to be trifled with. It is the most deadly serious social construct ever invented. The gender-binary police state doesn’t accept, no way no how, that gender can be fluid. Before granting a sexception, they require that a person literally be in emotional crisis, and demonstrate an irrevocable commitment to the Establishment by subjecting herself to the medical industry for barbaric surgical procedures. And when I say barbaric I’m not jokin’ around. Do you realize that vaginoplasty essentially takes a peen and turns it inside-out? I mean, I’m hardly one to cry out “oh dear what about the peen?!” at every turn, but Jesus in a jetpack, that’s gotta smart.

In the comments she spells out her views:

Women-only zones are vital to feminist revolution. This may seem to contradict what I just wrote about free-wheelin’ genderosity, but in the context of feminist discourse the definition of “woman” I like to use is “person whose female-identification results in measurably curtailed personal sovereignty.” Male-identified persons, on the other hand, accrue privilege that impedes women’s liberation such that their “unique male perspective” is a detriment to feminist discourse.

Oh yes.  Hooray for Twisty.

Now for the bad news: (warning for institutional violence against women) in case you haven’t heard, two women died in horrific circumstances this month.  Firstly, Jackie Nanyonjo.  She was deported to Uganda because, despite evidence from her partner, the UKBA didn’t believe that she was a lesbian.  She died, not due to violence when she arrived, but from the ‘security’ guards hired by the UKBA to control her on the plane.  More details here.

The second incident of violence against women was against Lucy Meadows. The Daily Male bullied and outed her in the national press; she has now taken her life.  The largest petition is here, and there is a vigil tonight outside the newspaper’s headquarters (Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, Kensington, London W8 5TT) at 6.30.

One Billion Rising is probably better than nothing

Please only read this if you are a woman committed to women’s liberation.  If you link or share it, please include that request.

Natalie Gyte, at the fabulous Women’s Resource Centre, has beautifully explained some of the problems with the content and tone of Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising ‘campaign’: it covers up the real causes of male violence, it hurts women by implying that we can (and should) ‘rise above’ violence and its consequences, and it is part of a much wider colonialist pattern of white saviour complex.  Go read her piece, it is excellent, and the points she makes are more important than these ones.   I  just want to add a reason about why the very form of One Billion Rising is colonialist.

Most obviously, Ensler’s project takes its name from the Million Women March, and perhaps also from Million Women Rise. What’s that? You haven’t heard of either of those events? Could it be that’s because neither of them have a hugely successful and well-known white person pushing their carefully-crafted brand across the world?

“The Million Woman March was a protest march organized on October 25, 1997, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded and formulated by Phile Chionesu, a grassroots activist, human rights advocate, and Black Nationalist/Freedom Fighter. After several months of underground organizing, Dr Phile’, as she is lovingly called, asked Asia Coney to join her and she became the third National Co-Chair. The march was envisioned and intended to help bring social, political, and economic development and power throughout the Black communities of the United States, as well as to bring hope, empowerment, unity and sisterhood to women, men and children of African descent globally regardless of nationality, religion, economic status, etc.

Speakers at the event included Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela; Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Sista Souljah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Attallah and Illyasah Shabazz (daughters of Malcolm X), Dr. Dorothy Height, and a message was read from Assata Shakur from her exile home of Cuba. The Million Woman March, (MWM) as it is known, was the largest gathering in the world of any women anywhere. It has been considered a “social phenomenon” due to its unconventional and unique way of organizing and has influenced several mass gatherings by demonstrating a grassroots approach that had not been employed before. The Million Woman March was the launching pad for the development of the first global movement for women and girls of African descent throughout the Diaspora.

Estimates of attendance vary widely… Police sources gave numbers varying from 300,000 to 1 million.[2] Organizers estimated an attendance of 2.1 million.”

Yes: a genuinely grassroots movement of, by and for Black women.

Million Women Rise, meanwhile, is a UK-based, grassroots, self-funding, women-only march against male violence, led by Black and other BME women.  You’re going to have to take my word for it; they are so grassroots they don’t even have a wikipedia page.

So Ensler took Black women’s work, and turned it into a very successful, professional* brand (in addition to her very successful V-Day and Vagina Monologues brands) which she has exported all over the world.  It has also carried her name everywhere with it.

Even if Ensler came up with the name entirely independently (which seems unlikely, since she was politically active at the time) and forgot to research similar names, she is still working off the backs of BME women’s work.  (And other women’s work).  OBR has been spread around the world by existing feminist organisations doing actually effective feminist work (rape crisis centres, refuges, consciousness raising groups, activist groups of all stripes).  OBR gives these women and their groups a chance to use a slick and patriarchy friendly (look! We’re not prudes, we’re dancing!) brand, to raise some media attention and hopefully some funds.  But once the OBR ripples fade away, they’ll be back to the actual work.

To paraphrase one tweeter: I too feel blessed to be part of a global movement to end violence against women and girls.  We work under various banners: feminism, womanism, radical feminism, women’s liberation, the women’s movement – all of which make excellent hashtags.  We don’t need #1billionrising or, indeed, #danceyoassoff.

I feel bad hating on a women’s initiative, I really do.  I don’t like criticising other feminists in front of men and other non-feminists, hence the request at the top.  Generally speaking, I’d prefer that there was bad feminism happening to no feminism: for instance, I know that Ensler’s play, for all its problems**, has helped fund various bits of vital feminism. But sisters (especially my white western sisters): we must do better than this.

 

* I have some vague thoughts about how the OBR video reveals some of the problems with the project: its use of sensationalised explicit violence (without trigger warnings), its victim-blaming (all they have to do is stand up), its slickness (how much money?), and its portrayals of BME women (subjected to the ‘worst’ kinds of violence).  Feel free to write that up more coherently, if you can bear to watch it.

** Most notably: (from here, warnings for descriptions of rape/abuse and rape apologism)

Another very painful contradiction I noticed in the show was the treatment of rape and consent.  The two most prominent examples of this are, “Because He Liked To Look At It,” and, “The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could.”  Both are portrayed as positive, healing experiences, but both stories lack explicit, enthusiastic consent.  ”Coochi Snorcher,” involves underage drinking and what amounts to statutory rape; I’d hardly call that a healing experience.  Even if the legal drinking age is an arbitrary number, the younger woman’s intoxication mixed with the older woman’s “insistence and thoroughness,” means explicit consent was almost assuredly not given.  I think it’s worth noting that the monologue originally called this, “a good rape.”  What more needs to be said?

“Look At It,” was just as bad; during the woman’s sexual encounter with “Bob,” she clearly states both, “no,” and, “stop,” as he undresses her.  Those words should have been a HUGE stop sign for Bob.  Even if the woman in this monologue learned a positive lesson from the experience, the encounter should be called what it was: rape.  (Side note: it was also really troubling when Bob said he wanted to, “see her,” in reference to her vagina.  It’s not that he wanted to see a part of her, or even an important part of her.  He wanted to see her.  This reduction of a woman to her genitals is squick-inducing at best (and millimeters away from transphobic at its worst)).

When freedom comes

In films, freedom comes instinctively and obviously. You can spot it a mile off. After years (or 90 minutes) of struggle against obvious and extreme suffering and injustice, there’s great swelling dramatic music, arms held aloft, and immediate feelings of release and relief. The weather usually joins in too, with pouring cleansing rain, or a sunrise. Then there’s time for a few shots of the happily-ever-after, sometimes tinged with sadness at the losses accrued, then credits roll.

I’ve never experienced freedom like that. When I’ve felt certain forms of freedom, or seen it in other women, it’s come in some strange and subtle shapes. Often, for me, that moment of freedom has felt almost like giving up. When I’ve realised I can’t go on with something any more, freedom has felt like hopelessness. Some of the best decisions in my life I’ve made out of a sense of despair. When I’ve decided to stop pouring my energy into something, because I have finally despaired of seeing any benefit to it.

Sometimes freedom has really hurt. Sometimes when freedom has come it feels like a betrayal, like something that has diminished my power.

Decisions that lead to freedom can be the very hardest to make. They can feel like you’re destroying something, or hurting yourself, or someone else. These kinds of decisions, which would be so perfect in films with crashing dramatic music, have for me often been followed by crushing regrets.

Freedom can also come with smaller, incremental decisions. These have sometimes felt like finding my feet, slowly growing in confidence. Other times they have passed almost unnoticed, happening as I slowly let something go, or put my energy elsewhere.

Whatever freedom has felt like as it arrives, it’s always taken time for me to fully notice or express its full scope. It’s grown slowly, sometimes from very bitter seeds, and taken time and effort to flourish and strengthen. Maybe one day I’ll experienced the coming of freedom like they do in films, but I’ll know that it’s only the beginning of the story.

Rape is a race issue

[This article contains mentions of rape and sexual abuse, racism, and failure to deal with sexual violence.]

Remember the Rochdale sexual abuse case? Remember the racism in how white people reported it and commented on it? Remember the valiant efforts of some white feminists to say that race was not the issue here, but gender and class were, alongside the systematic disbelief and retraumatisation of all survivors?

Unfortunately, reality goes to show that rape is a race issue. I hope to write about this at more length at some point, but right now there’s a case in the media at the moment which shows this very well, all by itself.

Jimmy Savile would never have got away with it if he wasn’t white. And he probably wouldn’t have been nearly so successful in his career, and therefore would have had access to far fewer girls and young women.

Racial profiling (whether it’s done by the police, shop staff, or anyone else) necessarily involves two sides: being more likely to suspect/report/arrest people who aren’t white (and especially Black people), and therefore simultaneously being less likely to suspect white people.

This is even more prevalent when it comes to rape and sexual abuse. False rape accusations have been used as an important tool in shoring up white supremacy, especially in the US. But more pervasively beyond that, white patriarchy spends an awful lot of effort making it clear that rape is something that only certain marginalised men do. That those ‘other’ men – ‘psychos’, weirdos, queer men, and particularly, black and brown men – are who we need to worry about. In some ways, white working class men are also subject to this, although to a much lesser extent: one of the few images of sexual harassment that is allowed to be mentioned in public discourse is page-3-inspired builders coarsely commenting on passing women.

The necessary flipside to this is that privileged men – white men, mentally healthy men, respectable men – are put under the radar. Clean-cut desk-workers would never wolf-whistle a woman. It’s not white men who traffic women and girls. Oh, but he’s such a pillar of the community. But gang-rape is black gang problem. And even when white abusers are detected, are less likely to be dealt with properly: a black man abusing a white girl is much more likely to be seen as a real threat, whereas as minimising responses are more likely to be believed if the offender is white. Think of the effect of these allegations on his career. It must have been a miscommunication. He’s just old-fashioned, he’s doesn’t know those comments aren’t politically correct.  It was probably harmless. He’s just very friendly, that’s all.

Which makes it clear who these myths benefit. Men like Jimmy Savile – the personable, successful, respectable rapists, whose whiteness and other privileges helped them get away with it.

What being a radical feminist means to me – intro

[Firstly, an anti-warning for any women who might be finding the title alienating: being a radical feminist means, for me, owning, exploring and doing what I can to mitigate my light-skinned privilege, class privilege, the privilege which comes from never having been disabled, and my cis privilege.  Among many other things.]

This series of posts, ‘What being a radical feminism means to me’, will be very personal musings on radical feminism in my life.  How moving more and more towards radical feminism has changed the way I think, speak and live.  It won’t be an attempt to define or redefine radical feminism, but rather describe how it works in my life.  These are some of my ideas for things I’m going to write about (I’ve no idea how much these may change as I write, so they’re not promises!)

Not judging women
Seeing power in everything
Not telling women what to do
Siding with women
Call things sexist etc. when they are
Refusing to hate women
Thinking in terms of the most powerless women and girls
Prioritising fighting rape, abuse and murder
Doing my best to set my own (feminist) house in order
Being more forgiving with myself
Solidarity with other feminists
Trying to dismantle my privilege and power over other women
Thinking about the effects of men in my life
Looking at the wood as well as the trees
Not assuming my foremothers were stupid
Getting radical about everything else
Trusting my body and feelings

So, my writing ambitions are high!  Not sure how frequently I’ll post, since life has got a little complicated recently.  Hopefully chopping this up into these bite-sized chunks will make it easier.