Saturday, 10 December 2011


Since entering the feminist blogosphere and (real-o-sphere), I've developed a privilege-checking mechanism that works most of the time. Dealing with ideas about power and oppression inevitably means placing yourself on the various scales of privilege that determine our lives (gender, class, ethnicity etc.). And once you do, there are times when you recognise that, instead of talking, it's time to listen. Perhaps also instances when you didn't notice it was one of those times (hence my privilege-checking working most of the time). 

I was a big fan of the Slutwalk protests (I explained why in this post). When someone mentioned that the marches might be alienating for black feminists, I couldn't conceive a reason why, and lamented that there was a lack of ethnic diversity in the walks. 

Then I read an article. Then another. The women writing about their alienation from the Slutwalk movement showed me how problematic reclaiming the word 'slut' was for black women, who have been historically seen as lascivious and hypersexual. As this open letter put it:

For us the trivialization of rape and the absence of justice are viciously intertwined with narratives of sexual surveillance, legal access and availability to our personhood. It is tied to institutionalized ideology about our bodies as sexualized objects of property, as spectacles of sexuality and deviant sexual desire. It is tied to notions about our clothed or unclothed bodies as unable to be raped whether on the auction block, in the fields or on living room television screens.

Reading this letter, it all clicked into place.

There are certain experiences I, as a white woman, will never share with a black woman. Sometimes, no matter how much I think I know about the female experience, or the feminist experience, there are times when I have to sit back, listen, and understand. As feminists, we must always recognise the various voices which make up our movement, and recognise our own individual privileges. Sometimes, our own individual ignorances. 

This is one of the most important lessons I've learnt so far, especially because it applies far beyond the feminist movement. I encountered someone recently who was utterly perplexed by a conversation over the terms 'black,' 'non-white' and 'person of colour.' Different contexts, and different individuals, inform the language people employ when it comes to their identities. "But," snorted this white man, "I wouldn't care if someone called me white, or caucasian. It simply isn't an issue for me!"

I don't need to point out the ignorance in this comment. But it reminded me that privilege is a concept not everyone is comfortable, or unblinkered, enough to recognise (and I wondered how many times I have missed my own privilege, and blundered without being called out on it). 

I want to be called out on it. There's nothing like a bit of embarrassment when it comes to changing your behaviour.

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