To privileged folks I know (in this post, white dudes) who get pissy when someone tells them that their privilege gets in the way of their statements’ validity…
Someone telling you that your opinion on something (for example, feminism) is not really valued in the discussion because you are a white dude is not them shutting you down or devaluing you because you are a white dude. It’s indicating to you that you possess the privilege and the power to step in and out of that conversation. You can only remain an objective observer because your privilege allows you to be so.
It’s not that your opinion is never valued (for fuck’s sake, every “valued” opinion in most mainstream socio-political discourse is that of a white guy) or that you can’t be a helpful ally—but the reality is that your understanding of the matters will remain limited because those issues do not truly affect you.
I can read all the bell hooks essays that I want, but as a white woman, I will never know how it is to be a black woman. Therefore, my opinions and input into conversations on racial issues should be acknowledged only as secondary to the discourse. This isn’t “reverse discrimination,” a personal attack, or even mean-spirited. It’s really easy to read it as those things. And I will admit that it can feel disappointing, frustrating, or disheartening until you apply better analysis. But it’s not based in hatred or prejudice.
It’s called shutting up and listening to folks whose words are based on more than just theory.
Totally agree. It’s like, that’s how privilege functions, so that you are able to live your life unaware of certain oppressions. Some things you will not be able to comment on/understand because you don’t have to experience those oppressions and systemically, you also benefit from them. And it’s just plain annoying when cis dudes get all “know it all” about those things (in the case of sexism, for example) and subsequently get pissed off when other folks tell them to stop taking up space in the discussion, or that they can’t speak to certain things because they’re a dude, because it’s like, everyone fucking listens to you on everything else. It’s your own goddamn sense of entitlement that makes you feel like you should be able to speak to everything and if you’re really down with anti-sexism, you’ll check that shit.
“femme is genderqueer. because it’s gender, queered. it’s femininity without the passivity. it’s holding on to the parts of femininity that we love (and that is different for each femme) and mashing it up with all sorts of things that are considered unfeminine, like being assertive, or loud. divas are genderqueer. they are femme. they are all the performance of femininity minus the docility.”—
When I was in fourth grade, I was sitting with my cello, waiting for my orchestra concert to begin. The cello was on the floor, but I was seated in my section in a long dress with my knees spread wide, and my elbows on my thighs. My mom - in the audience - gestured to me for five minutes to sit “properly,” and when I didn’t follow her instructions, she came up and reprimanded me for sitting “like a boy.”
When I was a senior in high school, I gave one of my good friend’s a copy of my senior portrait. Rather than thanking me and saying I looked cute/pretty/whatever, she looked at it for a while until she asked, “Why are you posing like a guy?” In the photo, I was sitting on steps, but my legs weren’t crossed … you know, how people normally sit on steps.
When I was in graduate school, I was walking to dinner with some colleagues. I was in front of the group with a male friend, walking as I normally do - rather quickly and in a straight line. A guy moving toward us had to step out of the way for me, and my male friend said to me, “Wow, you just barrel right through, don’t you?” I replied, “Yeah? Why shouldn’t people get out of the way for me?”
The way women use space and move through space is constantly policed. We are told to fold up, cross our legs, defer space to others, be as small and insignificant as possible, and interfere with the movement and space of others as little as possible. I see it on public transit, where women shrink into their seats. I see it in classrooms, where women don’t spread their stuff beyond the width of their chair. I see it in magazines, where women are photographed differently from men. I see it everywhere.
A good number of these “presence” norms are embedded into gendered constructions of etiquette, and they get internalized; so much of the policing women experience is actually self-policing. It isrude for a woman to cross her ankle over her knee, or stand with her legs shoulder-width apart, or to expect others to move around her. A woman can get all of the other bits of a feminine gender performance right, but if that woman doesn’t use space in the proper manner, she will be met with resistance and condemnation - her own or someone else’s. But where she has gone wrong will be noticed, and she will be told. Even if she is not corrected outright, her behavior will be the subject of comment (as was the case with my male colleague above). She will be made to feel continually anxious about her presence in space. She will shrink and fold until she nearly disappears.
Men can be expansive, and command as much space as they like. They can sit with knees splayed wide and arms draped over several seats, their crap strewn six feet in either direction, creating a massive bubble of space that is theirs. They can walk down the street, and assume the straight line in front of them is theirs, as far as they desire to go. Men take up space - even technically unoccupied space - and no one questions them.
Women’s space is always borrowed. Even women’s bodies don’t really create a bubble that is all their own. If a woman has enough room to sit or to stand, that is deemed to be enough for her. She isn’t supposed to claim anything beyond her physical, bodily allotment, and even that is policed if she is “too tall” or “too fat.” If she does, she’ll be made to feel it.
“Nobody, whether it’s your current mate or some dreamed-of partner in the future, has any obligation to deliver your happiness on a platter — nor could they even if they wanted to. Real love comes not from trying to solve our neediness by depending on another, but by developing our own inner richness and maturity. Then we have so much love to give that we naturally draw lovers towards us.”—
“The world is not full of Attractive People and Unattractive People. It’s full of people who are attractive to some and not to others. I hear from trolls all the time who complain that they don’t want to be “forced” to find nasty, ugly fat women attractive–which utterly baffles me, since the last thing I want to do is encourage fat-hating dicks to date fat women. You don’t find fat people attractive? Fabulous. Don’t date them. I will find a way to pick myself up and move on without your love. But to assume your lack of sexual interest in fat chicks must be universal–or that the mere existence of self-confident fat people having healthy relationships somehow “forces” you to find fat attractive–is the height of fucking narcissism.”—
As a dusty third worldling, one of the things I learnt first was to see if there were other dusty people in the room whenever I go to any transnational feminist conferences. Something else I also learnt is to not expect ‘solidarity’ from anyone unless expressly proven otherwise — and these views are a result of the way people view me and my body in notIndia, what people assume of me in most internet spaces and fandoms. My friend and I compiled this list comprising of a few of the most repetitive and inane stereotypes that we’ve encountered of Third World Women. By no means is this list exhaustive, feel free to add your experiences in the comments — and tread carefully, the list is full of racial slurs and epithets.
2. Not all Third World Women live in lands that are in a state of constant war. We exist in cities, between towns and villages — many in the West. There is no fixity of geo-political location, we don’t need to be in the Third World to be marginalised.
3. Not all of us live in tin shacks or mud houses, like every other group we too are scattered across classes and communities across the planet.
4. In popular culture and media, if Third World Women characters don’t wear shiny and bright colours, reality will not crack I assure you.
5. Hospitals exist in the third world too. So not all Third World Women need to squat in bushes to give birth.
6. Third World Women aren’t all ‘irresponsible mothers’ or ‘birthing cows’ because they have children at [x] age instead of the more socially ‘forward’ and ‘acceptable’ [y] age. I can vouch that the world will not come to an end if you don’t see Third World Women as ‘bad people’ for ‘not knowing better’ and ‘not having careers’.
8. We are capable of doing more than care-taking children, cleaning houses and sewing immaculate quilts. We exist in all fields of work, equating every Third World Woman as a sweatshop worker is not necessary.
9. There is no situation where phrases like ‘exotic princess’ can be considered a compliment, even more so if this ‘compliment’ is based solely on skin hue.
10. We’re not always natural cooks or nurturing ‘goddesses’. We can do said jobs if need be, doesn’t mean we’re ‘more’ adept at menial jobs than anyone else.
11. We’re not ‘eager’ to dispense dusty wisdom and folktales on demand — especially about breastfeeding or childbirth. Take a close look at the Not All Third World Women Are ‘Women’ bit here.
12. No, we cannot be ‘purchased’ outright — definitely not if the sole ‘value’ that decides the ‘purchase’ are our hues.
13. When we say ‘no’ we mean ‘NO’ too. So saying ‘we can’t decipher your tongues’ is not an excuse.
14. Third World Women aren’t always looking to ‘entice’ White Men. Shocking, I know!
15. We’re more than just ‘enticing eyes’, or ‘gorgeous hair’ — we’re people and not body parts.
16. Most of us don’t have names like ‘Kali’, ‘Sarasvati’, [Insert Name Of Exotic Goddess], generally because we know the magnitude behind adopting such names and the cultural significance they carry.
17. If Third World Women have voice parts in popular media, the world will not turn upside down. Especially not if the said voice parts don’t involve being in the hotel industry.
18. Representation of Third World Women that doesn’t posit the hijab synonymous to oppression will not mess with Global Time.
19. We don’t like to be compared to food — ‘exotic’ or not.
20. When we’re involved with White people — sexually and otherwise — saying, “You’re a beautiful hue of Brown” isn’t helping anyone get laid.
21. Not all Third World Women roam shoe-less. (Sidenote: how come we can be shoe-less, but can afford to buy dresses? Curious minds want to know).
22. We’re not ‘sexually unrestrained’ — our cultures do not ‘encourage’ “godless unions and perpetual orgies”.
23. Not all of us have British accents, we don’t speak in archaic prose when addressed. And we do speak even when no one addresses us — apparently this is very shocking for people.
24. In the rare instance we do have voice-parts in popular media, and we’re speaking out against the dominant culture, our hair is ‘natural’ and ‘loose’ and ‘wild’.
25. In other rare instances where we do get screen time and space in popular media, we’re freedom fighters, UN refugees, sometimes nurses to Big Important White doctors, almost never as fully developed characters.
26. We’re not ‘natural hard-workers’. Back-breaking straining physical labour isn’t ‘easy’ for us either.
27. As Third World Women, we’re not ‘in tune’ with our ‘natural femininity’. Subservience isn’t coded into our genes.
28. Third World Women are queer too! And still people! Who knew?
29. Contrary to popular opinion, I have on good authority that not all Third World Women despise sex. And we need consensual sex as much as everyone else — even the supposed ‘desperate hookers’ from Pan Asia — and yes, they’re all in one monolithic identity like the rest of us.
30. Some of us speak multiple languages, some don’t. Some have the privilege of speaking in our native tongues and not get shamed for it, some don’t. Don’t expect ALL Third World Women to start ‘shrieking hysterically’ in ‘devilish tongues’ over canned soup.
P.S. Thank you Roshan for your help and company while writing this.
“A 16-year-old boy has been charged with murder after a Chicago police officer fatally shot his 15-year-old friend Wednesday on the South Side. Brandon Ross and his friend Tatioun Williams allegedly robbed a man at gunpoint in the 7000 block of South Cregier Avenue Wednesday evening, and were confronted by police officers a short time later, the Chicago Tribune reports. When the officers told the teens to stop, Williams, who was holding the gun, allegedly turned in the officer’s direction, Fox Chicago reports. Fearing for her life, the officer shot the 15-year-old, killing him. “They could have taken him to jail, they could have done anything but taken his life,” Williams’ mother told the Tribune Thursday. Under state law, police can charge someone with murder when an accomplice is killed during the commission of a crime. Even though Ross didn’t pull the trigger, he was charged as an adult with murder and armed robbery. He was ordered held on $900,000 bail Friday.”—
our father who art in a penthouse sits in his 37th floor suite and swivels to gaze down at the city he made me in he allows me to stand and solicit graffiti until he needs the land I stand on I in my darkened threshold am pawing through my pockets the receipts, the bus schedules the matchbook phone numbers the urgent napkin poems all of which laundering has rendered pulpy and strange loose change and a key ask me go ahead, ask me if I care I got the answer here I wrote it down somewhere I just gotta find it
somebody and their spray paint got too close somebody came on too heavy now look at me made ugly by the drooling letters I was better off alone ain’t that the way it is they don’t know the first thing but you don’t know that until they take the first swing my fingers are red and swollen from the cold I’m getting bold in my old age so go ahead, try the door it doesn’t matter anymore I know the weakhearted are strongwilled and we are being kept alive until we’re killed he’s up there the ice is clinking in his glass I don’t ask I just empty my pockets and wait it’s not fate it’s just circumstance I don’t fool myself with romance I just live phone number to phone number dusting them against my thighs in the warmth of my pockets which whisper history incessantly asking me where were you
I lower my eyes wishing I could cry more and care less, yes it’s true, I was trying to love someone again, I was caught caring, bearing weight
but I love this city, this state this country is too large and whoever’s in charge up there had better take the elevator down and put more than change in our cup or else we are coming up