When You’re a White Woman

This morning I woke up to an empty apartment and thought to myself, “Now what?” A mere 24 hours prior I had been among the hundreds packed to anxiety-level-capacity on Bart, umbrellas and posters tucked close to make room for the thousands more ready to brave the rain and gruesome reality of this nation’s backward ass politics during the Oakland Women’s March. For a few hours, I put aside any annoyance toward trivial matters — the drooling baby resting on my left boob rather than his mother’s; the flailing marcher who kept whacking me with her giant paper maché vulva — and reveled in the beauty that is being surrounded by countless kickass honeys. Yesterday I had a purpose, a plan. I was moving forward, pun damn well intended.

But today was different. Today I rolled around in my pajamas wondering what the hell to do with the residual gravity — the pride in my city, the disgust in my country. The confusion of vehemently feeling both. I thought of all the bodies pressed together just one day ago and wondered if they too were spreadeagle under their sheets, uncertain what civil protest should look like if you’re home alone without anything to Instagram. I admit that without a spelled out way to channel my grief, I let it rest. Made some eggs. Painted my nails. “The usual.” Giving my mind a break wasn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. But in the past few months, I’ve found this complacency at the result of aimlessness to be pretty damn routine in white feminism. The whole, “I’m not sure what to do, so… *does nothing*” thing. That, “As long as I’m not the one being directly racist/sexist/transphobic/xenophobic/etcetc, I’m doing OK,” mentality.

To these kinds of feminists: I see you. You’re more common than you’d think. Though you have good intentions, you get easily sidetracked when traversing controversial waters alone. You get sucked into arguments on comment threads and take strangers’ insults personally because you aren’t used to having your character attacked. You quickly become frustrated — why aren’t they taking you seriously? All you want is to spread love. Understanding. Equality. You’re promoting all the right warm fuzzies and choosing your words so carefully and taking time out of what could have been a pleasant evening to fight what feels like someone else’s fight, but now they’re calling you names? Telling you to “get over it,” to “check your privilege.” Run down you pull out your bra from within your heavy social justice warrior armor, pour yourself some wine, and turn on the Gilmore Girls revival seeking the familiarity of actors who walk and talk and look like you.

You’re turning more frequently these days. Away from the news, the internet. Away from antagonistic conversations with family members and coworkers. How are you meant to bring change if you’re exhausted from being constantly berated with terrible things? Turn instead to friends with similar mindsets, other white women feeling apprehensive about their baby steps into activism, the ones who laugh nervously when someone asks if they’re “woke.” You build each other up beautifully, reassure one another you’re good people even if you don’t participate in every Facebook rally you’re invited to or join in when you hear protestors chanting “Black Lives Matter.” You’re wearing the clever vag shirts you made and, after all, you do click “Going” on those events even if you don’t actually attend — that’s a start, right? The echoes of innocent placating within your bubble lull you into a peaceful sleep, rest assured you’ve done your part for humanity because Gal Pal #1 thinks you’re really keen.

And I bet you are really keen. A kind, looking-to-do-better individual. I know you don’t skip around pickpocketing from the elderly or calling people fags or drawing swastikas in permanent marker on the foreheads of kindergartners. I know you are genuinely concerned for the fate of our country and are doing your best to fumble your way through this newfangled publicly-giving-a-shit thing. We’ve all got unprecedented compassion flowing out of our hoo-has and aren’t quite sure how we like the taste of words like “ally” or “intersectionality” rolling around in our mouths without washing them down with a fifths worth of qualifiers. You aren’t sure where you stand in all the chaos, how to use your voice without drowning out another’s, and that makes you uneasy. I get it.

But something needs to be made very clear. This fight is not centered around you. You don’t get to give yourself a smack on the ass for being a decent human. When you bring up statistics on females in the workplace, and another feminist brings up even more staggering numbers about black or Hispanic women, she is not saying you do not have the right to equal pay. If a support group is advertised as explicitly for women of color, that group is not saying your mental health is not important. These disparities exist because despite our shared understanding about the need for reproductive rights, despite our same fears about sexual assault, and despite our united struggle to combat societal definitions on what it means to be “feminine” — white women have continually benefitted from the perseverance of white supremacy. We don’t get to ignore this just because it makes us uncomfortable.

There are a lot of white women calling for unity and claiming discussions of race are only further dividing us. This is essentially the equivalent of a white woman standing on top of a ladder with a hammer (both of which she inherited from her daddy), inches away from tappin’ that glass, screaming into a megaphone at those down below to “catch the fuck up.” It is the same reason anyone with common sense will go up in arms if you claim “All Lives Matter.” If you want to truly empower other women, to work toward protecting our livelihoods from dipshits like Trump, you need to recognize we are not all coming from the same place in our struggle. A propensity for empathy when shit is clearly hitting the fan can’t erase decades of the apathy when “your people” weren’t being threatened.

You can’t control the actions of your ancestors, but you can control the healing process. Does this mean you deserve to be disrespected or stripped of your humanity as some sort of collateral damage? No. Does it mean you shouldn’t be participating at all in an effort to leave space for the marginalized? Not exactly. It means you need to show up, and you need to listen. You need to get into the habit of consistently checking in with yourself and asking if what you’re doing is coming from a place of openness and community, or if it’s just another quick-fix solution to your pent up guilt. It means your activism doesn’t get to disappear once you alone have reached a comfortable resting place.

If conversations about sexism are making you feel alienated because you think your pain is being belittled by the pain of another woman, I encourage you to take a step back and try to think of one valid reason why suffering should ever be made into a competition. I want you to get comfortable with the idea that building each other up is going to take a lot of breaking down your own character. There are going to be days when you don’t know what to do, when fightin’ the good fight seems too daunting, and on those days I need you to remember why you started in the first place. Remember you marched alongside thousands of diverse, proactive, badass bitches, and at the end you asked yourself, “Now what?” not because you needed another “good deed,” but because you wanted to keep our world moving forward.

Remember, ladies: there are no gold stars for not being (or not having) a dick. There’s just a lot more progress.

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