I’m 40 years old. I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember, which is a pretty long time. The notion that women can’t speak out without being considered unmanageable, angry bitches is something I expect from the world-at-large. But other feminists? Women who call themselves feminists? No.
Michelle Golberg wrote a piece for The Nation today titled, Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars with the subtitle, Empowered by social media, feminists are calling one another out for ideological offenses. Is it good for the movement? And whose movement is it? I don’t think her intention was to totally miss the point. But she did.
She starts her long piece with an anecdote about Kimberlé Crenshaw, the UCLA law professor who coined the word intersectionality, “the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination.” Specifically, how the failure to “consider the intersection of racism and sexism in the lives of women of color” left a gap in civil rights law.
She cited a failed lawsuit by a group of black women against General Motors; the court ruled that while race discrimination and sex discrimination are both causes of action, “a combination of both” is not. Another of Crenshaw’s articles described a women’s shelter balking at accepting a Latina victim of domestic violence because she wasn’t proficient in English and thus couldn’t participate in mandated group therapy sessions.
“My own efforts to create a voice and a perspective on these failures haven’t really been about chastisement, or a certain set of assumptions about what the articulation that I’m critiquing should have been, or what the failure of it represents in the person,” Crenshaw says, “but rather a collective effort to build a feminism that does more of the work that it claims to do.”
Golberg uses the basis of intersectionality, to launch a hypothesis about women, feminism, race and how women respond to one another: “Online, however, intersectionality is overwhelmingly about chastisement and rooting out individual sin.”
Now, if you are talking about Twitter – I guess this argument can be perceived as right – sort of. Unless you are addressing an institution, Twitter is a one-on-one conversation, for all the world to see. We respond to things we don’t agree with all the time. I know I do it. It’s the manner in which the author seems to be sensitive to the “tone” of black women that makes me uncomfortable here.
As a feminist, I’m constantly hearing the stereotypical jabs that are thrown my way if I disagree with something perceived as inherently male or sexist. Don’t expect a feminist to agree with you. Of course she’s angry – she’s a feminist! She probably doesn’t have a man, that’s why she’s so miserable. The assumptions that are made about me go on and on. I’ll point out here – overwhelmingly from men.
Now, are we as feminists actually turning around and doing this to other feminists because they’re black? Yes. That is what is happening, as evidenced by the next quote Goldberg chooses to illustrate her point:
An insight into the way marginalized people are punished for their anger has turned into an imperative “that you can never question the efficacy of anger, especially when voiced by a person from a marginalized background.”
You can never question the efficacy of anger? Sure you can. You just don’t like being called out on your bullshit. Why don’t you just say – I can’t understand where this anger comes from. I’ve never been in your position. I need feminism, because I am a woman, but I take white entitlement for granted all the time. I literally refuse to see your side – because it makes me feel like a shitty human. And I can’t feel like a shitty human, because I am a FEMINIST. And I am EDUCATED. Don’t point out that you have it harder than I do in every way. Just don’t. Why are you so angry?
Goldberg didn’t say all the problematic things in her piece – she made other people do it, through carefully selected quotes:
“I actually think there’s a subset of black women who really do get off on white women being prostrate,” Cooper says. “It’s about feeling disempowered and always feeling at the mercy of white authority, and wanting to feel like for once the things you’re saying are being given credibility and authority. And to have white folks do that is powerful, particularly in a world where white women often deploy power against black women in ways that are really problematic.”
This whole piece is problematic – and I haven’t even addressed her unfair treatment of Mikki Kendall – avid fighter for women’s rights – who she basically reduced to a scorned black feminist, who refuses to let go of abuses she’s suffered on the Internet. She ends the piece basically blaming Kendall for making the Internet unsafe for white feminists. I’m ad-libbing here – but it’s really that ridiculous. She quotes Kendall as appropriately declaring,
“Self-care comes into this. Sometimes you have to close the Internet.”
To which Goldberg responds, “Few people are doing that, but they are disengaging from online feminism.”
Please don’t speak for white feminists ever again. You’re making us all look like assholes.
(photo: Getty Images)