faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Dear Slutwalk Chicago,

I am writing to ask that you remove my blog, Faithful Image, from the list of allies currently available at your web site. Though I did request information from you regarding opportunities to volunteer and help spread the word via my blog, I have never expressed a desire to be an “ally”. The more I learn about both SlutWalk Chicago and the SlutWalk movement that flows from Toronto, the more I have concerns about both. In all likelihood I would have requested removal sooner, but it was only recently that I learned that you had added my blog to your list. This is the sort of matter I ordinarily like to handle in private, but because you have without my consent implicated that I have aligned my mission “with the mission of SlutWalk Chicago”, I feel the need to make my objections public.

As you say on your web site, SlutWalk Chicago’s mission statement is “adapted from Slutwalk Toronto’s satellite guidelines”. Even outside of any context these guidelines raise some red flags. One is that though men are mentioned three times, apparently to make sure men do not feel excluded, many people who face multiple oppressions are not mentioned at all. As a trans woman, I find the lack of any mention of trans status to be significant. There are at least four reasons why actions aimed at ending sexual violence in North America should explicitly include trans people:
  1. Trans people are at higher risk of sexual assault than our cis counterparts.
  2. The popularity of the stereotypes of the transsexual prostitute and the stealthy deceiver play into the slut-shaming of trans women and transfeminine people.
  3. It was only within the past five years that a serial rapist–killer in North America was targeting sex workers of color who were trans women.
  4. The feminist movement has a history of saying that through our feminine presentation trans women and transfeminine people invite rape; accusing us of the rape of cis women simply because we express ourselves as women; and excluding us from social justice movements by violent means or, short of that, calls for our violent deaths.
If it seems that I am reading too much into SlutWalk Toronto’s silence, I think we only need to look at its recent response to Aura Blogando to see that it has not paid adequate attention to the concerns of people who are the targets of multiple opressions. Aura is the woman who wrote the critique “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy”. Though I feel the post is worth a read, I believe it would be a detour to defend it. The point I want to make here is that whatever the accuracy of Aura’s piece, I find little to commend and much to deplore in SlutWalk Toronto’s response. This response began with “SlutWalk is NOT all white and not white supremacy at its finest”, a piece that reaks of white privilege and a sense of entitlement. Rather than attempt to improve on greatness I will refer you to the response found in Struggling to Be Heard. Because I initially sought to participate in SlutWalk Chicago without raising critical questions about its inclusion of women of color and other people who are targets of oppressions that I benefit from, I cannot claim to hold any moral high ground. However, I do not believe that this sort of negligence is something I should strive for, and now that the SlutWalk Toronto’s reactionary stance is manifest, I have no desire to be a part of an action led by people who desire to follow its guidelines.

I believe there is another matter we need to consider: Even if SlutWalk Chicago renamed itself and distanced itself from SlutWalk Toronto, would the voices of people who face multiple oppressions be heard? I do not have enough information to give a justified answer to this question, but I can speak to my own experience. When you gave the call for committee “leaders”, I told you that I could not lead, but I volunteered to sit on one of the committees. I never heard any response to this. If a leader was chosen for the committee I volunteered to be on, I was neither given an opportunity to cast a vote nor so much as told who was chosen. If SlutWalk Chicago or any of its committees has ever held a meeting where trans people can express our concerns, I was never invited, and my voice has never been heard. This is not for a lack of time or resources; I have received several announcements from SlutWalk Chicago, always telling me what I can do to help the walk. If SlutWalk Chicago’s aim is “to engage” me “in dialogue”, the onus for insuring this dialogue occurs has rested entirely on my shoulders. So while I do not claim to have absolute certainty, I am not confident that SlutWalk Chicago, as it is currently organized, leaves enough room at the table for women of color, trans women, and other people who face multiple oppressions.

I believe most people who get things wrong have good intentions, and this belief has not been challenged by recent events. I believe most people involved in SlutWalk Chicago, including its leaders, are acting out of a desire to confront sexual violence and sexism, and I can only hope more people will come to share your concern. I also have another hope, which is that anti-sexist activists in Chicago and elsewhere will ask people who face multiple oppressions what we are already doing to confront sexism before creating yet another institution that includes us only as an afterthought.

Veronika Boundless
faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
While preparing to revise a piece I wrote entitled Five Things White Activists Should Never Say, I read people’s comments on the original version, including criticism. (The revision, Version 2.1, is now available at zinelibrary.info. Some of the comments I read can be found at People of Color Organize!.) A number of people, mostly people of color, gave thoughtful criticism that was crucial to helping me fill in some of my blind spots. There were also a number of white people who attacked the idea that white privilege exists. There can be no white privilege, they said, because there are rich people of color. Because Five Things is a short piece that was never intended to be an exposition on the fundamentals of anti-oppression, I did not respond to this criticism in my revised version. However, I will give a response here: Privilege is relative. As people who do anti-oppression work often put it now, there are intersections of identities, and people live at these intersections. The criticism fails, because you are privileged as a white person and you are oppressed as a working class person are not mutually exclusive claims.

It is not only those activists who fetishize class who have failed to account for intersectionality. Feminists have been guilty of this as well. Second-wave radical feminists believe that women’s bodies, as they conceive of them, have preeminence over all else, and vestiges of this belief can still be found among third-wave feminists. As an aside, there is an enormous failure here that should be obvious but which for some reason seldom gets mentioned: If feminism is, as bell hooks put it in Feminism is for Everybody, “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression,” then it is wrong to make women the exclusive focus. Feminists must never forget that two-spirit people, intersex people, genderqueer people, and other people outside the gender binary suffer some of the most painful and violent expressions of sexism. Returning to the main topic, the problem with ignoring other forms of oppression, as Audre Lorde famously pointed out, is that discourse on the people who are oppressed in regards to gender ends up being centered on those who are the most privileged in other respects. Though second-wave radical feminists do not say it—indeed they may not even realize it—the abstracted womanhood of their discourse is a white womanhood (and for that matter a middle class womanhood, but I will save that for another time).

Let’s take a moment to look at some specific problems with this. If we ignore race, we cannot address the injustice found in the way that women of color are held to a beauty standard that demands that they straighten their hair, lighten their skin, or lose weight. (Though there are white women who experience pressure to do the same, there is a significant difference of degree.) If we ignore race, we cannot explain why it was a woman of color who not all that long ago was told she had to leave the lobby of a Hampton Inn. If we ignore race, we cannot adequately account for the murder rate of transfeminine people of color. In short if we ignore race, we ignore people, most of whom are are themselves the targets of sexist exploitation.

There is a flip side to failing to take intersectionality seriously. This is manifest when second-wave radical feminists and those influenced by them subsume oppressed identities under women’s identity. The accompanying idea is that in some way all women are the primary stakeholders when it comes to the matters of sex work, trans status, and rape. Because acknowledging that sex workers face an oppression distinct from sexism amounts to making a concession to intersectionality, second wavers must construe sex work as a manifestation of the sexist system that harms all women, casting women who do sex work as dupes contributing to sexist exploitation. Second wavers are similarly unable to offer a rationale for how oppression against trans women is oppression against all women, and so perversely invert the oppression, arguing that trans women are men who appropriate cis women’s bodies and in doing so commit rape (I could not make this stuff up). Finally, to focus on rape survivors would be to throw a monkey wrench into the project of rooting all victimization in cis women’s bodies—after all, not all survivors are cis women—so second wavers talk about statistical likelihood of being or becoming a rape victim to redirect attention to cis women. (To be sure, women are more likely to be raped than men. The problem here apart from the marginalization of trans women is that women who are not survivors cannot truthfully claim to be stakeholders in discourse on rape in the same way that survivors are.) When people ignore intersectionality, they end up twisting reality to maintain the appearance that they are the focus of all anti-oppression work.

And who suffers the most from this flip side of intersectionality denial?

  • When feminists make women who do sex work out to be dupes, it is women who take the blame for the oppression of sex workers. Indeed there was a time when some feminists curried favor with legislators in the US and convinced them to make laws that were tougher on sex work; the result was that more women were thrown into prison, while pimps and johns carried on as usual.

  • When feminists make trans women the targets of ridiculous slander, it is women who suffer discrimination. Consider that the Michigan Womyn’s music festival remains one of the largest institutions that tells women they are unwelcome because they are women.

  • When feminists make rape survivors a footnote in a narrative about people who are likely to rape and people who are likely to be raped, they exclude a number of people, including folks outside the gender binary, men, trans women, and women who are raped by women. One consequence of this is that often when activists decide it is time to discuss rape, they segregate their collective into two focus groups, one for those who are likely to rape and one for those who are likely to be raped, and invariably put trans women into the former group, even though trans women are statistically more likely than cis women to be raped.
To summarize, when feminists deny intersectionality, they either erase people who suffer sexist oppression or co-opt the oppressions they suffer apart from sexism. Either way it is the people who are oppressed under patriarchy who are the most alienated. Just as white workers have time and time again played into the hands of employers who use racism to divide and conquer the working class, feminists have all too often aligned themselves with patriarchy in its war on the most oppressed women. Feminists must acknowledge intersectionality, because if we do not, we will contribute to sexism.

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faithfulimage: A photograph of a button displaying a symbol of queer women—namely, an inverted black triangle. (Default)
Veronika Boundless

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