My experience of feminism has basically been my experience of Christianity–I am in complete agreement with what I identify as the core values, but cannot seem to get along with other followers. As feminism imagines, I want to believe in a world in which all women lift up other women, but my own experience with most white women (not unlike my experience with many Christians) has been that the gulf separating our realities is too vast for me to bridge alone.
I’m thinking back to that time I befriended a white, punk rock chick. In the short time I knew her, I sat with her while she cried about two difference breakups. In public. I considered her a friend until she told me the story about how “all the Asians stole all the boys” when her high school merged with another nearby school. Even if I could have manifested the words out of my shock to respond to such problematic nonsense, it was not on me to tell her how racist she was being. It’s not my responsibility to kindly educate those around me on the way that tropes of the dragon lady/lotus blossom have real world ramifications for the health and well-being of young women. Nor is it my job to explain how assigning allure and perceived popularity through no fault of the objectified person’s own but rather by the fact that she simply exists in the same world as cultural representations of hypersexualization linked with subservience help maintain and recreate an environment of exploitative, cultural tourism.
Or, I could recall the time the female head of the Honors Department called on me in a seminar and asked me alone (the only female student of color) if I had read the article I chose to report on. And how when I called her out on it in her office, she dismissed me by saying that a male student in her earlier seminar hadn’t done his reading. When I pressed the issue, she told me she was sorry if that’s the way I’d taken it and then proceeded to tell me how I was not using the seminar adequately.
And of course, most recently, the white, self-identified liberal co-worker who asked me if I felt powerless after she barraged me with a series of defensive and aggressive statements that she tried to disguise as a conversation on politics. As if that was within her right. As if she already knew me.
There are more stories, because there are always more stories. My identity is multi-faceted in a way that seems to make it easy for me to lift up other women, but makes it difficult to relate to and trust the other self-identified feminists I meet. All of the women mentioned above either identified as feminist or made their careers on the back of the Women’s Rights Movement. I yearn to be more involved in the movement that has meant so much to me, but find it difficult to work up the energy to feed something I have to constantly assert a space in which is supposed to be empowering.
So, take this for what it is: me, putting out a call for shared experiences, for people who are interested in dialogue, for suggestions on how to make the vision of all women lifting up all women happen.