Lately I’ve been realizing that feminist discussions tend to go better in general when we all give each other the benefit of the doubt. Just look at that sex work discussion we have two days ago before about comment 125 (although I admit, I have NOT been getting laid enough lately), and you’ll see what I mean. I got a lot of emails about that post, largely from non-participants, saying they hadn’t seen such a hard discussion conducted in good faith before. We can have foundational, serious differences about issues in feminism and not rip each other to shreds, and when we don’t, moreover, we often learn some stuff.
Thus, although what I’m about to talk about may initially strike you as something you strongly disagree with, and about which you may feel some defensiveness, so please try to keep the other day’s spirit in mind.
If you read Feministing – and I do, because I find it an invaluable aggregator of feminist news even if I’m not in 100% agreement with all contributors at all times (hell, I’m not that here) – you may be aware that recently, there have been some disagreements between the Feministing writers, and more specifically, between Courtney Martin and some disability bloggers. I don’t think it’s necessary to get into the nitty gritty particularly – you can read a full backgrounder here – but suffice it to say that in general no one seems to have come out of the discussion feeling as though the issues (of Feministing’s inclusiveness towards the disabled) were properly resolved.
Courtney is currently up for something called the Washington Post’s Next Great American Pundit. Personally, I can think of no profession less attractive to me than that of “pundit” – imagine spending your life discussing feminism at Wolf Blitzer’s level of sophistication – but one can see what the appeal of such a prize is: a platform, through which Courtney can advocate for women and girls. And that’s showbiz. Fair enough.
Disability blogger abbyjean (and sometime Harpy reader, I think!) recently posted this about the nomination, and I think it is a point that really merits discussion:
i would NOT like courtney martin to have a washington post column, because she thinks about her issues in a way common to many mainstream internet feminists, which is through a lens of white middle-class college-educated women. frankly, i think there are sufficient representations of that kind of feminism in the mainstream media – valenti appears to be the nytimes’ new darling, with the coverage of her wedding and the recent interview with her in the times magazine – that elide or entirely erase issues of importance to women of color, trans women, women with disabilities, and other women who aren’t exactly like courtney and jessica.
when we have this discussion of whether “feminists” should engage with the mainstream media, we need to keep in mind that the women getting the book deals, getting the campus speaking tours, getting the nytimes interviews and WaPo column auditions, are usually representative of a single kind of feminism that not only fails to include but actively alienates wide swaths of women and feminists. it is, essentially, mainstream feminism engaging with the mainstream media, and feels wildly irrelevant if you’re in one of the groups not included in mainstream feminist discourse.
I don’t want to pick on Courtney, and I don’t think abbyjean particularly wants to, either. But I think abbyjean has a point – I don’t think Courtney is in bad faith by any means, but as I’ve said before, I do think she has a habit of “sidestepping a discussion about continued racism/classism/heterosexism in feminists answering to the dominant paradigmatic description (i.e. young, white, upper/middle-class).” And so I have to say, I kind of share abbyjean’s concern about overstating the importance of Courtney winning the contest.
It’s not like I don’t know why this sometimes happens. The media likes young, white, cisgendered ladies: just take a look at Hollywood. Moreover, the side effect of punditry, it seems to me, is that rhetoric (and economy of rhetoric) becomes far more important than careful, inclusive theorizing, and that’s just The Way Things Are. My concern, here, then, is systemic: I am concerned that the media continues to favour certain kinds of women over others, and I am concerned when I see other feminists sort of shrug their shoulders. I am not saying that compromise is not possible; what I am saying is that compromise, without acknowledging what you’re giving up, can look an awful lot like you don’t care.
The privileging of a certain kind of pundit-friendly feminism is a discussion people have been having in feminist circles for a long time, of course. Race/trans/LGBTQ feminisms are not particularly new – check out feminist tracts of the 70s and they’ll often look like the fights we have online. Abbyjean points to a good post at The Jaded Hippy, wherein writer whatsername contemplates why older feminists often tell us, “we were fighting about the same things 30 years ago!”:
At first I thought, “well, there’s always new people coming into the movement, they’re n00bs, they have to learn the ropes and they’re making mistakes because they’re n00bs and that’s what n00bs do”. *Dusts off hands* Done!But when I saw the quoted comment above today and that thought went through my head but another thought followed it: “But WHY DON’T the n00bs of today start off with more information? HASN’T all this good work been done and useful knowledge produced? WHY isn’t it sticking?”
[...]What are we saturated in, growing up? For the most part? The same old shit. That’s what. For as long as we (womanists, feminists, anti-racists, socialists, LGBTQ activists, dis/ability activists etc. etc.) have been doing this work, something is preventing our hard work from becoming part of the social fabric.