“I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic.”

21 Jul

Thank you to the inspiring Alice Paul for so succinctly summing up the importance of individual, distinct pieces in the formation of a social movement. A mosaic, indeed.

[Authors note 1: To fully understand the content of this post, I highly recommend that you read this article. This essay, too. If not, and you just want to read the excerpts I directly respond to, that’s cool.]

To Rebecca Traister: When I saw “Clumsy Young Feminists” web headline, I began reading your article with my own prejudices. And then you start with an “I wanted to, but…” statement? [Author’s note 2: Rebecca, I know you didn’t approve that web headline (you just keep digging yourselves deeper, NY Times), but goddammit, I am not a clumsy young feminist.]

I wanted to love SlutWalks…
But at a moment when questions of sex and power, blame and credibility, and gender and justice are so ubiquitous and so urgent, I have mostly felt irritation that stripping down to skivvies and calling ourselves sluts is passing for keen retort.

Alright, I thought to myself. It’s her opinion and she’s entitled. Hear her out.

So I continued reading, hoping beyond hope that I could either (A) agree with you or (B) agree to disagree with you. Anything but (C) feel rejected, judged, and unfairly categorized due solely to my age. Oh, god, anything but C.

You were unsure and had reservations about your own reactions. I can respect that. The conclusion is great. I think it captures the importance of Slutwalks and other grassroots efforts in organizing social movements:

Fighting for power is a complicated, messy process, especially for complicated, messy human beings. Often, the best we can hope for is that our efforts draw a spotlight.

Which, I guess, is enough to make SlutWalkers of us all.

I thought the ending was possibly redeeming. And then, there it was. After a few re-readings of “Ladies, We Have a Problem”, I still felt (you guessed it) rejected, judged, and unfairly categorized.

Scantily clad marching seems weirdly blind to the race, class and body-image issues that usually (rightly) obsess young feminists and seems inhospitable to scads of women who, for various reasons, might not feel it logical or comfortable to express their revulsion at victim-blaming by donning bustiers. So while the mission of SlutWalks is crucial, the package is confusing and leaves young feminists open to the very kinds of attacks they are battling.

I would totally agree with this point if it were mandated that participants engage in “scantily clad marching.” Check out this photo gallery from Slutwalk Toronto. Or this one from Asheville, NC. Clearly, all of the participants are dressed provocatively. (In case you didn’t click through, please note my use of heavy sarcasm.) I’m not discounting the race, class, and body-image issues you mention; I’m simply showing that Slutwalk participants can wear whatever they please because it’s not the clothes and appearance that matter, it’s the message (which is, in fact, the message).

Nowhere on SlutWalk’s “Why?” page do the organizers encourage participants to dress in “hotpants.” In fact, they encourage all communities of people that are willing to get involved to come and speak out against rape culture. I plan to attend SlutwalkDC and I haven’t seen any tweets or FB posts from their page that tell me that I should wear a bustier. I think that the openness and sense of inclusion is just what the feminist movement needs.

And then…

That lack of precision and self-protection leapt out in another recent example of a woman grappling with issues of sexual power.

McClelland’s strategy, like that of SlutWalks, was to regain sexual power through a controlled embrace of the dynamic that had initially rendered her, and women around her, vulnerable. But the story read as if McClelland was so jumpy about writing it that she did so with eyes closed and face scrunched up, rushing to get the words out before she lost her nerve.

Seriously, read Mac McClelland’s essay. She describes how her experiences as a human rights journalist lead to a PTSD diagnosis and severe anxiety. Her detailed account of the violent sex that forced her to confront her fear and the trauma was heartbreaking and unnerving. But what do you expect? Have you ever written about something deeply personal, painful to recall, and difficult to describe because the memories are so inextricably linked to the pain that you fear the emotions you’re feeling? To articulate that and post it for public consumption is terrifying, yet empowering at the same time. Sometimes you have to face your fears and talk about them to help yourself heal. We all deal with pain, fear, and discrimination in different ways. Who are any of us to criticize Mac or anyone else for their honesty and bravery in admitting the very frailty and desire for connection that makes us human?

After referring to Anita Hill’s testimony that she was sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas, you write:

Thanks in part to her, we were, by now, supposed to be braver and more skilled at calling out injustice, at exposing or reversing sexual-power imbalances. But 20 summers later, we’re marching in hot pants.

If fancy words and bravery and logic won battles, I wouldn’t be fighting to keep John-Fucking-Boehner and his goddamn, anti-choice cronies out of my uterus. I wouldn’t have to write multiple posts calling out the NY Times for their handling of women’s issues and perpetuation of rape culture. So while I appreciate the idea that our words should be our strongest weapon, sometimes you have to get the world’s attention before they’ll listen to what you have to say.

And how dare anyone claim or insinuate that the women and men marching, chanting, and participating in these incredible, widespread grassroots movements are anything less than brave and skilled and successful at exposing imbalances. They have the courage of their convictions, regardless of whether they’re wearing hotpants, a bra and undies, or sweatpants. They are taking to the streets and shouting out against the injustices that countless people face every fucking day.

We’re supposed to be braver? What do you want from us?

If I wrote for a high-profile publication and a headline such as “Crotchety old feminists” or “Feminists that came before me: Thanks for nothing” appeared, can you imagine the backlash I would face? I imagine that I would be told (rightfully so) to respect the women and men that came before me that carried the torch and have carried the movement this far. So PLEASE have respect for the young women and men that are taking to the streets and to the blogosphere and anywhere else our voices can be heard. Pass the torch. Don’t discount us; we may not have the published work or the vast amounts of experience that you have, but let us take chances. Let us get our hands dirty. You don’t know us; you have no idea what we’ve been through. We’re all facing our own uphill battles everyday, young and old alike. Mentor us, but let us learn. Let us do. We’re not begging for your respect; we are demanding it. The same respect that we show you in reading your articles, listening to your talks, admiring and benefiting from your accomplishments. We know we wouldn’t be where we are today without those that have come before us, but know that we sure as hell won’t go anywhere tomorrow if you don’t trust us.

This post brought to you by Dawn who respects and admires all feminists, regardless of age.

7 Responses to ““I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic.””

  1. Sam July 21, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Dawn, I’ve already harassed you with my opinions regarding SlutWalks and communications problems vis-a-vis the Unconvinced Convinceables.

    I actually want to respond, however, to a corollary but pertinent issue, which is you’re sign-off: “Dawn who respects and admires all feminists, regardless of age.”

    I know that here, “all feminists” might be inextricable from “regardless of age.” However, pursuant to the referenced conversation about the Unconvinced Convinceables, here’s the question:

    If I care deeply about the overarching mission of gender equity, and I feel strongly that the way a given person has chosen to act on their beliefs or their self-understanding as a “feminist” undermines that overarching mission, should I, must I, can I respect that person in that context?

    Perhaps I won’t choose to proactively disrespect them, but have they prima facie earned my respect? Just because a person calls himself or herself a feminist or acts in a way that is in accordance with his or her perception of feminism, must I consider them part of this mosaic? Is there room on the mosaic for Bachmanns and Palins and other self-proclaimed feminists whose actions and choices are contrary to my perception of a gender equitable endgame?

    If I’m told that I must respect a person, an event, an act that is proclaimed by one or many people as feminist, are my own feminist beliefs being trod upon? Can there truly be a feminism without a collective endgame and a collective momentum toward it?

    I don’t have answers to all these questions, which I assure you, are not all rhetorical. However, I find certain things troubling about trying to erect too big a tent. Ultimately, there remains these three questions: “Must we stand for something? And if so, is it enough to simply stand for that belief, or must we act toward it? And if so, must we not reject acts that fail to be oriented toward that belief in a meaningful way?”

    • Sam July 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

      Please excuse the typo in the second paragraph. I blush.

    • Dawn July 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

      Sam, I totally see what you’re saying and some of your questions are certainly concerns that I struggle with frequently. As far as my sign-off goes, I suppose I was more focused on the generational issues than the question of feminist-identification.

      Honestly, it really does bother me when individuals who I feel stand against some basic tenets of feminism refer to themselves as “feminist.” But at the same time, I’m torn. I think that self-identification is hugely important, but that’s not to say it will stop anyone from forming their own opinions on what that person is or isn’t. We all judge and categorize other people, perhaps to give ourselves some semblance of order and sense of control?

      Regardless, I feel confident in saying that I respect an individual’s right to identify however they please. It takes courage to stand for something and own up to one’s beliefs and convictions.

      I know there are flaws in my statements and arguments and thoughts, but I’d call myself an idealist. Someone else might call me naive. But that’s the beauty of it, right? Life goes on and we’re both comfortable with our ideas of who I am.

      • Sam July 21, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

        Haha. I TOLERATE a person being an individual and to identify how they please — I think if they want respect, though, that’s earned by their identity being respect-worthy.

        For example, I tolerate Sarah Palin thinking she’s a feminist. It’s the old “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it.” But I won’t respect her until she does something worthy of it. Respect is not a participation trophy!

  2. Dawn July 21, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    My concern about respect in this case has less to do with identity. I certainly can’t speak for all young feminists, but as I stated in my post, I respect and admire my feminist predecessors who have carried the movement to where it is today. It’s a shame, in my eyes, that this respect is not a 2-way street. Methods may vary, but let us get our hands dirty.

  3. Teddi July 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    Hi, just wanted to say that I stumbled across your blog and I absolutely LOVE it! 🙂 I will be back!
    -a feminist blogger friend


  1. Are we smarter than SlutWalk? « mislabeled - August 12, 2011

    […] tomorrow’s SlutWalk, it seems appropriate for some second thoughts on all the hullabaloo. As Dawn so passionately put it earlier this […]

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