“Middle-Class White Women” & Not Getting It

7 Jan

(I know this post is quite long, but please do stay tuned for the end in which I make amusing conclusions! And hand out free candy!)

There’s a peculiar trend in my women’s studies class discussions this week. Primarily, it’s massive hypocrisy and double-speak among other students and even one of my professors. I suspect this has always occurred, but I’m just noticing it now due to my increased radicalization these days.

In a 300-level women’s studies course, we had a little refresher on what each ‘wave’ of feminism primarily worked against/for/etc. Notably, this was also the only class in which the ‘wave’ model has not been criticized, which I immediately found odd. Then came the real wackiness.

Question to class: “And what is the current, third wave of feminism about?”

I took notes on what students said so I could handily recall it all for you right now.

One woman who is notorious for her sex-pozzie, liberal feminist double-speak in other classes we’ve both taken: “Well, it’s about, like, more about individuality. Like, the individual woman, and what she does. . . and her individuality.” (Not an exact quote, but frighteningly close.)

Another woman who has shown in another class that she doesn’t seem to know what she’ll say until she’s saying it: “So, you know, like a woman can strip or whatever and it can be like a way for her to get by and make money. . . and get to the top.” (A more exact quote.)

While I understand that my fellow students, particularly these two, aren’t likely reading radical feminist books and blogs everyday like yours truly. . . have we not all been getting the same women’s studies curriculum for the last few years? While I may not have been as radical in the past, I have been anti-pornstitution and equipped with a highly-sensitive bullshit detector for quite a while. I don’t know where they are getting this from. As anti-radical-feminism as certain assigned readings have been in other classes, these kinds of mindless “feminist” talking points did not come from anything our instructors have said, nor the vast majority of what we have read. Are they all just repeating what Jezebel and Feministing have to say? (Hey, I’ve been there too.)

The professor for this class, well. . . I had high expectations. Then she got on that sisterhood/solidarity-shattering notion of “there’s no universal experience of all women”. Strangely, she then — right after saying that — said that the exceptions would be the threat of sexual violence “which is pretty universal” in women’s lives, and that women have diminished social and political power.

Excuse me?

Sure, the 25+ percent of women who have been raped by men may not have been raped in the exact same way, and the other 75 percent hasn’t been kept in absolute fear in the exact same way, but isn’t that a BIG DAMN COMMONALITY in general?

“Diminished social and political power” seems like shorthand for “women are an oppressed class”. . . that also sounds pretty universal and wide-reaching as it affects women’s lives, yeah?

The word “oppression” wasn’t spoken once by anyone, even in the discussion (for the newbies and non-majors) about “how women are disadvantaged”. There was one reference, by the instructor, of women as a “group” so I’ll give her a half point for that.

Otherwise? It was downhill from there. We got on the topic of difference between second-wave feminists and third-wave feminists. You can probably tell what’s coming. Someone mentioned Dworkin, said how feminists have been at odds about porn/prostitution, but less so now, and then the instructor said something kind of dismissive in an “Oh, that silly Andrea Dworkin – how quaint” kind of way.

The professor then added that some feminists’ interests can be at odds with the interests of other feminists, and — get this — “they can sometimes oppress one another”. NO. NO THEY CAN’T. Women are incapable of oppressing other women as women. To oppress you need both privilege and power. Women do not have structural power or privilege as women, so that ain’t happening.

Finally, the most hilaritragic claim about feminist “differences” was repeated by five students, all of whom were white women sitting in a university classroom. They all said that second-wave feminism was more focused on the needs of “middle-class white women” whereas third-wave feminism is not.

I’ll be right back. . . I need to fix a drink.

Ok. *deep breath* I’m sorry, fellow white lady students, but have you looked at your skin color lately? Or your privilege that lets you sit in this room and say all this? And going on about how feminism these days approves of things like porn, prostitution, and stripping. . .  do you know who is in prostitution? Do you think the majority of them — worldwide or in the U.S. — look like you or have your economic background? Do you think your brand of feminism helps a poor, non-white 14-year-old girl in prostitution, or do you think that your “it’s her choice” bullshit only serves to prop up her pimp?

White, (presumably) middle-class young women claiming that their feminism is just so different from that old lady feminism that focused on white, middle-class women. . . are you kidding me?

But then things actually got better. In another women’s studies course on gender and colonialism, the professor (who is not white) did not mess around with wishy-washy definitions or let this “choice” rhetoric pass for actual feminism.

We started the class with clear definitions of things like racism, colonialism, and violence. Then our professor asked us to define feminism, say what it is “about”.

Then came the broken record. “Choice, gender equality” *skip* “choice, gender equality” . . . but scant mentions of women at all. If I wasn’t so anxiety-ridden and not sure which feminism definition she was seeking, I would have said what I had written down: “the elimination of (white, hetero,) male supremacy; the abolishment of gender”.

To the woman spouting, “It’s about choice,” our professor did a fabulous omg-you’re-being-serious face. Seriously. . . “choice” doesn’t stop men from raping women, “choice” doesn’t end male supremacy. And I’m sure the instructor was wondering how choice has anything to do with colonized women.

Later, I snickered about one student (the first one quoted) getting a total comeuppance. She said — somewhat relevantly — how, at a club, she used a nongendered bathroom “and it was really cool”. Full stop. Again, awesome professor looked quizzically at her and asked, “‘Cool’? In what way was it ‘cool’? What do you mean by that?” I’m such a radfem geek. . . in my head I was like OH YEAH, hells YES she finally got called out.

So, things are looking up for that class. We’re talking about “structural” things, not interpersonal “women oppressing other women” crap. . . you know: feminism.

Conclusions:

– Third-wave, “choice” feminism leads to dangerously high levels of illogical thought, diminished capacity for political syllogism.

– Prior and current experience indicates that my women’s studies professors who are white tend to have a myopic view of what women’s liberation looks like while my non-white women’s studies professors diligently hammer home the point that systems of oppression – OMG! – actually exist.

– It is going to be a long, stressful term dealing with anti-radicals. My alcohol usage is likely to increase by 15%.

– My class discussion experiences this term might cause me to say something “inflammatory” during my graduation speech later this year, which may or may not include me shouting sarcastically about “choosing my choice”, then dropping the mic and flouncing off. Look forward to the Youtube video captured on someone’s cell phone titled “chick studies harpy loses her shit”.

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14 Responses to ““Middle-Class White Women” & Not Getting It”

  1. Boner Killer January 7, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    I find with wmst courses, you always have one uber privileged woman who goes off on tangents about individual “choice” and so forth. As if feminism is about me me me me and no one else! This is the problem. Like you, these people have caused me to become far more radical and woman-as-a-class driven, if that makes sense. I’m sick of this pissing around with myths of “angency” and “orgasms solving all of our problems” rhetoric, it gets us no where, fast.

    • lishra January 7, 2011 at 11:23 am #

      The woman who is in both of these classes actually has an “I ❤ CONSENSUAL SEX" button on her backpack. Jeez… we GET it.

      And "yes x100" to everything you said. I just got a comment from a dude (on this post) who was all "but that's what you bitches want… choice… how dare you deny women choice" and then goes on to make a anti-gay, anti-rape-victim statement that shall not be published.

      Oh, trolls. Oh, comment trash can.

    • Aileen Wuornos January 7, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

      That sounds like every single WW in my Womyn’s Studies classes! They all sounded like that, even the one who was old enough to be a part of the second wave (she didn’t like it, because they were too “angry” i mean WHAT THE FUCK?!)

      “I ❤ CONSENSUAL SEX" button on her backpack. Jeez… we GET it.

      More like I ❤ PIV reinforcement of male domination. Goddess, she sounds just like this womon I went to high school with, who started out a womon, ended up a woman. If you catch my drift – became uber male identified.

  2. Linda Radfem January 7, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    Hey thanks for this post. I’ve experienced it myself and it can be very alienating to find yourself sitting in one of these class rooms with people who theoretically are supposed to be on the same page as we are. The ignorance around feminism is astounding and enabled by as you say, white middle class women, including professors.

    • lishra January 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

      Thanks for commenting, Linda. I’m glad you liked the post, though it’s unfortunate that we both have experienced this type of thing.

  3. Traitorfish January 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    I hate to nit-pick, but are you entirely sure about this point?:

    “Women are incapable of oppressing other women as women. To oppress you need both privilege and power.”

    It seems to assume that male privilege is the only system of oppression in which gender plays a role, which seems to ignore the ability of gender normative women to invoke that particular privilege over other women, and the resulting intersections which that produces, e.g. straight women claiming that lesbians are not “real” women, thin women claiming that fat women are in some way immoral, middle-class women claiming that lower-class women are “sluts”, etc. In each of these cases, women are able to oppress other women to a very significant extent *as* women, which would seem to suggest that, while these women are certainly involved in the perpetuation of a misogynistic system, men aren’t uniquely responsible for all gender-based oppression.

    • lishra January 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

      Thanks for your comment. The excerpt you pointed to is something I’d like to discuss more in a post of its own at some point (as it was not the main topic I was addressing here), but I’ll address it now in the bit of time I’ve got.

      I’m not saying that intersections of race, ability, economic class, sexuality, and so forth don’t position women above others — they certainly do. What I’m saying is that those women are placed in those oppressor/privileged classes along with men of that same group, and that women as a class of their own do not hold the structural power to enforce such oppression (oppressing other women on the axis of gender or sex). The enactment of gendered oppression *alone* by a woman towards another woman cannot exist. In the cases in which a woman harms another woman through misogynistic means, it is due to internalized oppression which has led her to buy into certain stereotypes or what have you.

      While men are not the only ones responsible for misogyny, when women do participate in it, it is not through a system that they have created, are responsible for, or control the rules to. White women, middle/upper-class women, able-bodied/minded women, straight women, etc are in positions of power over women of color, poor women, disabled women, lesbian and bisexual women, etc not solely because of gender or sex. While gender plays a role in, well, everything and therefore all of these class distinctions, it is not the sole aspect by which a woman is oppressed. So, like you pointed to, it’s because of intersections… and those intersections involve privileged classes which happen to include women in them.

      As an example from my post… when I say how rhetoric from particular strands of liberal feminism serves to prop up pimps, I’m not saying that those women are oppressing women and girls in prostitution *as women*. Those feminists are doing harm because of their inability to see how their arguments are racist and classist since, in action, their proposals will necessarily lead to non-white and/or poor girls and women continuing to be exploited by men who want to buy access to female bodies.

      As you can see, this is a discussion of its own, which is why I’d like to talk about it more specifically in a future post. Hopefully I clarified some of what I meant by that statement though.

  4. Aileen Wuornos January 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    I find it helps if I show up some what high, or not at all.
    I’ve learned more about feminism online through blogging than I did in my womyns studies class.

  5. Rainbow Riot January 7, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    I’d like to find something wrong with your post just for the sake of argument, but no dice. It’s spot on. I, too, have found that Third Wave “choice” feminism occludes some kind of logic capacitor in the brain of its proponents. Also, it is very classist and racist. It is infuriating to me that middle class white women usually don’t understand that not only are their precious “choices” meaningless to most other women on earth, but also are harmful because of the short-sightedness and defensive ignorance/apathy usually involved. (Like when a middle class white woman decides she is going to strip/do burlesque for fun/profit/to express herself, but will savagely defend her belief that other women must do it out of choice just like her. My personal favorite is people like that who know that women are forced into sex work by poverty, but still defend their “right” to do whatever they want, because “So what? They’re just using what they have. They should be able to use their bodies to make money.” ) But of course if we talk about class and the failures of individualism, we must be commie scum. I say, long live commie scum, because no amount of choosing to be materialistic and dismissive of racial inequality will make patriarchy go away.

    • lishra January 17, 2011 at 6:23 am #

      “I say, long live commie scum, because no amount of choosing to be materialistic and dismissive of racial inequality will make patriarchy go away.”

      Repeated for truth. Also, LOL “logic capacitor”.

  6. m Andrea January 13, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    Great post, great blog! Nothing to add, just wanted to say hi. So… Hi!!

    • lishra January 17, 2011 at 6:20 am #

      Thank you! Hi =)

  7. rmott62 January 15, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    The whole detached “it is a choice” when speaking of women and girls inside the sex trade – always pisses me off, whilst at the same time I think it comes across as it must be choice coz then all the nasty side will go away.

    I find that is a non-acceptance that the vast of women and girls inside the sex trade of all backgrounds are made sub-humans.
    The sex trade target all women and girls – but of course focusing it most hate and violence on women and girls that it would considered to throwaways – be that different cultures or ethic groups, be that girls of all backgrounds who are runaways, be that girls in care, be that women and girls newly arrived in the city or country. But the sex trade will not just target the vulnerable, it will increase it reach by targeting students and getting into the media that women and girls consume – thus making it have the veneer of an acceptable lifestyle – this often aimed at middle-class white girls and women.
    So all choice is manufactured by the sex trade.

    I get angry – for many the women who on and on and on about choice would never do prostitution, but think it ok for women who are them to be sacrificed so they can prostitution is empowering.

    When they hear exited women speaking out about the violence of prostitution – they make we were unsuitable for the work.

    I hope all women and girls of all backgrounds are unsuitable for prostitution – for it just sexual, mental and physical torture.

    • lishra January 17, 2011 at 6:27 am #

      “I get angry – for many the women who on and on and on about choice would never do prostitution, but think it ok for women who are them to be sacrificed so they can prostitution is empowering.”

      I always want to ask these pro-prostitution women in my classes, “Sounds great. So why aren’t you out there doing it?” They’re so quick to say that it’s a ‘right’ that all women should have, say how the money is great, etc, but they sure as hell aren’t the ones actually doing it.

      By the way, your newest post is wonderful.

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