On Using Feminism for “Little Things” and Getting Over It

A couple of thoughts on the discussion still raging on here:

1) Feminism seeks to address all manner of issues, big and small. That Tart, or anyone else, could utilize the tenets of the movement in every aspect of her life does not undermine the history of the feminist movement, but instead does it a great honor. Feminism was never meant to be restricted to suffrage and equal pay, held in reserve like a finite quantity that could run out if it's used for "the little things." Feminism is a renewable resource.

2) Encouraging women to “get over it” because a single incident (or t-shirt, or slur) seems like “no big deal” in and of itself is predicated on the erroneous assumption that each of these things happens in a void. They don’t.

The other night, Mr. Shakes and I caught the last 5 minutes of Wheel of Fortune, and Vanna and Pat Sajak were doing this little riff:

Vanna: Do you think women have midlife crises?

Pat: How could you tell?

Vanna pretends to get all outraged, laughs, and punches Pat in the arm.

Pat mugs for the camera. “See?”

Ho fucking ho ho.

As I was sitting there glaring at the TV, Mr. Shakes turned to look at me for my reaction. I said to him, "You don't even understand what it's like to have to see and hear shit like that your entire fucking life."

He said, very solemnly and compassionately, "I'm starting to."

It’s never just “one thing.” You don’t think women should get annoyed about “one thing,” but how about ten zillion of them?

Unless you’re the target of institutionalized sexism, or homophobia, or racism, you will not understand, without a concerted effort, what it’s like to experience that kind of thing day after day after day, nor how it all accumulates and creates an inextricable context for every other damn irritation that follows thereafter. Not having to understand it is what privilege is all about—being ignorant of the patterns and continuity of sexism et. al. It’s why, for example, on the first day I reported George Allen’s “macaca” moment, there were Shakers who were giving him the benefit of the doubt, but as more and more reports of Allen’s race problems emerged, the reality that he is a racist became undeniable. Multiple incidents of a similar expression form a new picture.

In the same way, those who are not targets of sexism must recognize that they don’t have the same perspective on it via repetitive experience that targets of sexism do. It takes a conscious effort to understand the flipside of the coin, not to mention a willingness to challenge your own assumptions and occasionally look like you might not know everything. Bless Pam and Waveflux and innumerable friends of color over the years who have patiently suffered my questions that begin with “I’m sorry to do the whole ‘solicit-your-opinion-because-you're-[black]’ thing by asking you this, but…” My perspective is different than theirs; I only have access to their perspective by asking. It’s not that when Waveflux, for example, gives me his opinion, I take that as “This is how black people think about this issue,” but I am able to take the impressions of a person whose experience is different than mine into consideration. He graciously loans me his eyes to look at something from an angle I could never find on my own. I only see the world through my eyes, which is, in the end, exceptionally limiting given the breadth of human experience.

I wouldn’t presume to tell a gay man to “get over” something he found homophobic, or a Latina woman to “get over” something she found racist, if I didn’t see the “big deal.” And the reason I wouldn’t is because they are more knowledgeable than I, by virtue of who they are, about homophobia and racism. It’s the height of egocentrism to believe that you have a better understanding of any form of oppression than those who are oppressed by it. The view from inside is very different indeed.

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