Stop, Look and Listen

Well.  Happy Monday, readers.  I know  posting has been erratic lately.  Aisling and I are both pretty busy and as a result, we’re posting as and when posts come in, and writing when and if we can.  It’s working for us right now.  I’m sure we’ll be back to a better schedule soon, and we’re grateful to you for sticking around.

And oh do we have a post for you today.  You know when you get a post from Katie it’s going to be a belter.  This one is no exception.   It’s uncomfortable reading, because it forces you to realise you  are luckier, and probably more ignorant, than you think.  And it’s empowering too – understanding this and acting on it will make us better feminists, better people, more understanding of each other.

Sometimes, when I’m reading the news, I come across an article so unbearably sad, or so at odds with what I believe, or a point of view that makes me so uncomfortable, that I can’t read on.  What Katie is saying is  read on.  Read on.  Understand what makes you uncomfortable, and change it.

Over to you, KL: 

This post has been a long time coming out of my head, it’s taken almost as long to write as it took me to grow a human, although admittedly the latter process might have slowed down the writing bit. It’s been incredibly difficult to process my thoughts on this and getting my them down on screen is even harder.

For many months I’ve been following the arguments and debates on Twitter and on blogs and online forums about intersectionality in feminism. For ages I’ve been processing things I’ve read, from all different perspectives. This is my conclusion: I want no part of a feminism that isn’t for all women. That’s it, for me. I want all people to be equal, not just for women to be equal with men but true equality, for everyone. I’m going to settle for nothing less. To do this, I think I need to change how I think.

Through my reading, I became aware that a lot of the battles I see and fight are white-centric. This is at least partly because I am white, but also because mainstream feminism is very white-orientated. Now I can’t not be white, but to really work towards true equality I need to understand and accept that my whiteness skews my perception of things. I view the whole world through a white, straight, middle-class filter. And we live in a world where being white, straight and middle class makes me incredibly privileged. The world is geared towards me. Being a woman may limit me in many ways, but I am also enabled in many many more. I am lucky, indescribably so. It’s important that I recognise that privilege because not everyone is so lucky, and if I believe in true equality, I need to listen to the voices of others, and not focus only on my own injustices. This is hard, because my instinctive reaction is to think that the fact that I am held back or prejudiced against in any way at all is unfair and must end. And that is true. But my injustice isn’t the only injustice. It’s very challenging, when immersed in a feminist dialogue that paints me as the underprivileged group, to accept that not all lived experiences would place me in the same position.

The only answer I can think of is to listen and learn. There’s an excellent piece of writing on how white people should react to being told they’re being racist. Just as we would want someone to listen to us and not dismiss our concerns out of a sense of defensive injustice if we told them they were being sexist, so should we in our turn suck it up and listen if we’re told we’re being racist. Be humble. Consider what you said and did. Listen. And try to change.

And just as we might get tired of explaining why someone was being sexist, the same is true again. We must take time to educate ourselves. It isn’t enough to say that your racism was accidental, inadvertent, or unintended. Good intentions don’t stop you making mistakes and it’s not okay to use your good intentions as a defensive barrier that stop you listening: “I was trying not to be racist so give me a break” won’t cut it. Accept that you were trying but you failed this time. Take the hit. Learn for next time. Listen.

 

Women of colour face more oppression than white women, but it goes beyond that. They’re facing issues that white women know nothing about. And shouldn’t presume to know about either. Just like it is frustrating to have a bloke ‘mansplain’ feminism to me, I can only presume it is as annoying for me to ‘whitesplain’ black feminism. So I shouldn’t try. I should shut up. And listen.

I think listening is rare, these days. I mean true, genuine listening, not just pausing long enough to let someone have their say but taking on board what they actually say, reading and learning and absorbing the viewpoints of others. Silencing our own thoughts to give space to theirs. We need to listen, all of us, to each other, but most importantly those of us with privilege need to listen to those without it. Throughout this I’ve used race as an example but it goes far beyond that. As well as being white I am able bodied and heterosexual. Middle class. There are so many voices that are silenced, the best first step anyone with privilege can take is listen. Don’t stop fighting your own battles, but don’t let them close you off to the battles of others.

True listening isn’t about taking on someone else’s battle for them, it’s about acknowledging their voice, and stepping back to let it be heard.  So I’ve decided to do this. And it’s been so enlightening. I’ve learnt so much now just by seeking out other online voices, and taking them on board, even when they’re uncomfortable for me. I hope it is making me a better feminist, and a better person, but there is undoubtedly still so much more for me to learn, and listen to. If this has made anyone want to listen and learn more, I can recommend starting with @writersofcolour and @renireni on Twitter. From there, more voices will start to make themselves known. I think we owe it to ourselves to be true to the concept of feminism, genuine equality.

Categories: Life Experience
6 interesting thoughts on this

6 Comments

  1. Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    This is ace. I saw that cartoon on Twitter a little while ago and it presents the issue so brilliantly. As does your post Katie – thank you for writing and sharing it. x

  2. deltafoxtrotcharlie
    Posted September 8, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    THIS! So much this.

    I want to talk about this A LOT more but have stupid work.

    Will re-visit later :)

  3. Posted September 8, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    This is maybe off topic a little but I am half way through reading americanah which is a fantastic book about a Nigerian woman living in America which looks a lot at race and America’s issues with it. I’m finding it so interesting and enjoyable and it’s making me think about stuff I’ve never really needed to consider. Would highly recommend xox

  4. Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    There’s a great blogpost somewhere (which I will try and find when I’m not on the tube) written by a straight, white man comparing his privilege to playing a computer game on the lowest difficulty setting. He still has to face the same obstacles and the same challenges but it’s just the game he is facing. He then uses te analogy that gender, race, sexuality etc are like playing that same game but on different difficulty settings. It’s a great way to make you stop and think and ‘check your privelege’ – and it also shows people that you’re not trivialising their battles by talking about your own, you just only know your own experience of playing that game. I use it a lot as an analogy now.

  5. Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the link: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/

    Also, I think this is precisely why feminism is so important in all it’s guises. Yes one persons biggest battle might be about something that is seen as trivial when compared to something like FGM but it takes many small victories to win a war. Every step towards a more equal society is a step well taken.

    • Anon
      Posted September 11, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Fantastic analogy Amy! Thanks for brining it up-I shall definitely use it from now on too. It’s incredibly fair as it acknowledges how hard some people have things, whilst not trivializing another person’s difficulties.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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