Sometimes you’ve got to wonder what people are thinking when they decide to “help” someone else out. Elsewhere in the feminist blogsophere this week and last a conversation of sorts has been going on that centers around what a “feminist blogging community” can and should look like. (Literally hundreds of blog posts are kicking around on the subject, I’d recommend starting here.) That particular conversation is not something we are planning to weigh in on, FYI, because we are new and also because we doubt anyone is breathlessly awaiting our views on the matter.
But it’s gotten me thinking about why and when any of us are good allies to each other, across race/class or even across feminisms.
To take this into another context: Over in Ireland, a controversy has recently erupted over the use of burlesque dancers at a rape crisis center fundraiser. Specifically, a lot of people are asking whether it sends the right message to sell women as sex objects in service of an organization sorely needed because too much of society already thinks of women as sex objects. As sarah.of.a.lesser.god often says, Oy.
Now, whenever I talk about burlesque I tend to get into trouble with women who fear that I’m looking to steal their pasties and lipstick and force them to live a life of unshaved drudgery cranking out feminist pamphlets by mimeograph and distributing them on the quad. Which, well, that would be nice, if they were willing to consider for one second that in this current state of affairs, feminism might not be so concerned about the Right to Wear Fishnets, but I digress. My concern is more that this sort of defense, from the director of the rape crisis center, is gaining increasing currency:
We don’t exist to promote prudishness, I believe women are entitled to be sexual beings and feel comfortable in their sexuality.
Our femininity is not something we should be ashamed of.
Such a great choice I’ve got in this post-feminist age, readers. Either I swing my sadly inadequate tits onstage and cheer others who do so, or I’m a prude. And also ashamed of my femininity, whateverthefuck that is. Excellent.
I know that I’m supposed to be happy, as a feminist, every time a rape crisis center like this gets an infusion of cash, because such boons are not easily granted in a world where men are beginning to feel “discriminated against” because women tend to be very hard-line about rape being a shitty, shitty thing. (We’re such hypocrites, you see, because we don’t get up in arms about murder, according to these (male) critics.) I know that I’m supposed to rah rah for the sisterhood, and I know I’m supposed to say something like, “Well, at least men’s money is being put to good use by helping women.” I know that I am not supposed to criticize publicly, that I am supposed to consider all help to be good help, and that I should know that the revolution will be incremental.
But how can I cheer for my fake-eyelashed allies when they say I’m a prude because I don’t join them onstage? How can I feel they’ve liberated women by reifying the same old things we’re supposed to do to attract sexual attention? Are these people interested in women, per se, or are they interested in lucrative entertainment careers and exciting fun sex lives? I suspect it’s the latter, but the more I say, the less anyone is listening, it seems to me lately.
And thus, recently, I’ve just been keeping my mouth shut because I am going through a period of boring myself with my own pedantry. Furthermore, I should know by now what I’m getting into when I suggest these women are less than 2000% in line with my own view of how we will get to the revolution. I know with absolute certainty that every time I try to suggest to these women that their self-empowerment is, after all, just self-empowerment, these women will come back at me and bitch that all I’m doing is bringing them down, refusing to “support” them, whatever that means, making them choose their way out of feminism because we harpies are so fucking vicious, and that I sound like the religious right.
Of course, my silence makes me an ally to no one except myself. It is a self-preservation measure. It keeps me from having to engage with people and come to terms with them in a way that we all feel might further feminism. It is a lazy impulse I need to get out of.
But I am tired of having collaboration mean capitulation to these people, particularly where and when I suspect their object is not at all ending the patriarchy, but simply rearranging its terms so that (some) women can (sometimes) benefit from it. I know it’s judgment, but I guess if I insist that some things (like the exploitation of women) are indeed, wrong, I cannot vault myself out of judgment just because it is a dirty word these days.
And that means, I guess, that someday, somewhere, we are going to have to admit that certain kinds of alliances, with certain kinds of people, may just be impossible. I am fully ready to be humble, to admit when I am wrong, to accept that some things I write and say and do may make me into an asshole, that my good intentions cannot always govern the way people are allowed to interpret me. But are they? And if they aren’t, how is it in any way productive to engage them?