Wednesday, 17 December 2014

For Feminists Who Resort To Racism When Slut Shaming Is Not Enough

White Feminists, we need to have a chat about this unruly beast we call feminism, and the intersection of race and sexuality. I like to assume that you mean well, but you've been fucking up quite a bit in the last few months, and I think it's my duty as your presumptive sister-in-arms to do some minor course correcting for all our sakes.

Beyoncé has been Beyoncé-ing for over a year now and you're still questioning her feminist credentials because her praxis doesn't match yours. Nicki Minaj has been vocal about her feminism for years but you revoked her credentials because she made a video about her exquisitely crafted rear end and rapped about the men who want to fuck her. To me, all that debate sounded a lot like judgement of other women for the way they chose to express their sexuality. This really confuses me because I thought that sexual agency was a cornerstone of contemporary feminist thought. After all, a woman's body is her own, and what she chooses to do with it or how she chooses to exercise and experience her sexuality is up to her alone.

Except, apparently, if you're black.

I've spent the last few months reading piece after piece and comment after comment decrying Beyoncé and Nicki for catering to the male gaze with no acknowledgement that agency plays a significant role in how perforative sexuality becomes. I've read thinkpiece after thinkpiece about why these two women are detrimental to the feminist movement because they take pleasure in exploring and embracing their sexuality publicly. The main issue that keeps cropping is the male gaze. Supposedly, because Beyoncé and Nicki perform in ways that are traditionally sexy, they must be performing for the male gaze, and doing so is decidedly unfeminist.

Well here's where your lesson starts white ladies, because I'm about to drop a truth bomb: the fact that something appeals to the male gaze, does not mean that it exists for the male gaze. It's really as simple as that.

I know. Totally revolutionary right?

As I've said before, framing every instance of females sexuality from the perspective of the male gaze is not only extremely heteronormative, but it strips women of their sexual agency and ignores intersectional approaches to feminism. It completely negates the possibility that a woman can be sexual for her own enjoyment or pleasure. And while feminism is explicitly about dismantling the patriarchy and allowing women to be free of sexist expectations, making choices based on what does or doesn't appeal to patriarchal presumptions makes one literally beholden to that very system. If all your choices are direct responses to the patriarchy, you are still reactive to its whims, rather than proactive to your own desires.

Until we are truly post-racial, (so never...) the racial divide will always matter in feminism. This means that our feminisms will differ depending on our intersections, and that's okay. It is perfectly acceptable to acknowledge that different women have different needs. But the constant gatekeeping of mainstream feminism reveals the deeply entrenched racism within the movement. The face of my feminism isn't going to be the face of yours because we don't have the same concerns and therefore we're looking for different things in the women we look up to. Sexual liberation isn't going to look the same for you as it does for me because we're moving forward from different historical contexts. Embracing and acknowledging this fact rather than rejecting it is key to moving forward in solidarity.

And this is where my issue lies. Being able to safely express sexuality is important for black girls because it's something that was previously out of our control. Sexual agency was legally denied. That context does not exist for white women, and that can make it harder for you to understand how sexuality can be empowering. But just because something doesn't apply to you personally doesn't mean that it is worthless or deserving of derision or ridicule. Because of differences in race, class and sexuality, not everyone's feminist praxis looks the same.

White feminists ask "How do we know she's being sexual because she wants to?" I ask "Why would you assume that isn't the case?" Nicki Minaj's participation in the music industry doesn't lobotomize her or render her incapable of making her own decisions. She has shown time and time again that she is fully capable of directing and controlling her image, so why would you negate her agency now by insisting that she no longer has that power simply because her expressions of sexuality have become more explicit?

Friday, 5 December 2014

On #Reign, Rape And Sexual Assault As Plot Device

Trigger Warning: This post contains discussion of rape and sexual assault.

Let me start by saying that Reign is a great show. I started watching during the break between seasons one and two and haven't turned back since. In a lot of ways, Reign is typical CW fare: pretty people's pretty problems, but in others, it's a very progressive and feminist look (even if wildly historically inaccurate) at the life of one of history's most notorious and fascinating women.

One of the show's biggest strengths is that Reign deals quite openly with the struggles that women faced at the time; from their inability to own property to their inability to guide the very direction of their lives. The show expertly demonstrates how the show's female characters find ways to move through a world that refuses them power or autonomy. Because of this, I'm very surprised and disappointed that the show chose to have its title character violently raped as a way to advance the plot.

I am not as plugged into this show's online fandom as I am with other shows that I watch, so I was not aware that the details of this particular plot had leaked online a few months ago, and consequently did not see it coming. I will admit that even as it happened, I thought Mary might escape. After all, this would hardly be the first time that Mary has been under threat of rape in the show. Additionally, Reign had previously tackled rape (poorly) when Catherine de Medici, Mary's mother-in-law, admitted that she had been gang-raped as a child in a season one episode. A petition started back in October to persuade the showrunners not to go through with the storyline nicely sums up many of my issues with this episode:
Many of us have come to love this show for its portrayal of strong female characters and the unflinchingly feminine light it shines on the dynamics and pitfalls of power in a world that is dominated by men. Much of the series has focused on Mary's womanhood and how she has learned to utilize it, manipulate and weaponize it, even as the outside world has looked upon it as her greatest weakness. After persevering through so much adversity and triumphing over those who have fought so hard to silence her, to have her suffer through this violent assault sends the message that the world will only punish--crushingly and humiliatingly--those women who dare to assert their places within it. It is a message jarringly out of tune with everything we have come to admire about this series, and it has no place in a show geared toward young women who dream of a future in which they may rise without fear of retribution at the hands of men.

As with the HBO drama Game of Thrones the argument can certainly be made that the threat of rape is a historically accurate concern for women of the time. But Reign makes no pretense at accuracy and never has; this rape is a fictional concoction inserted into the story solely to create controversy and advance the plot. They cannot even hide behind the defense that they simply bungled the retelling of a true story.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Free The People. Fight The Power. Fuck The Police.

Darren Wilson will not be indicted.

I think we all knew that it was coming but it still feels like a slap in the face. For me, it's painful on so many different levels that it's honestly a little difficult to process.

It's so much more complicated that not getting justice for Big Mike. It's about realizing that there's little we can do short of setting the world on fire, to undo the systems that oppress black bodies every day. It's realizing that it isn't just Ferguson or Florida. It's the whole world. Anti-blackness is global and white fear will always be more valuable than black life.

The psychological effect of carrying that in your heart every day; of having to fight to see humanity where the world sees a threat? It takes a toll on your spirit. It eats at you. It lessens the person you're trying to be. And when you finally retaliate they tell you that you deserve your pain and the mental battle to hold fast to your dignity starts anew.

I don't know if I can keep doing this. I fear for my friends, for my brothers. I fear for the brilliant women who allow me to witness their lives online; giving of themselves in a show of solidarity for the men and women who look like us. And I don't want to live in fear. I don't want to read another story of a little black child barely out of infancy, lost to us forever because their skin made them loom larger and more terrifying than they were.

But I don't know what to do. I don't have any more tears to shed for this latest injustice. They've sucked me dry.

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