Liberation Feminism… *sigh*

So, Jess H. at Feministe has the best blog post, feminist or otherwise, that I’ve read all year. It’s long and personal, it’s got some feminist theory and some Marxist theory and some blogosphere reflections. In other words, there’s a ton there, but it’s worth reading every word.

I’ll be honest, it’s left me not only with about a million thoughts running through my head, but also more than a little heartsick. I’m not really sure where to start on this post, so I’ll just let it flow, and maybe responding to this one post will become a little series before I’ve said all I want to say…

After establishing her background with reading radical feminism and her belief that liberation cannot be complete until all dominant systems of oppression, including capitalism, have been broken down, Jess pleads to better understand how someone can be feminist and not agree with those points:

And what is that pro-capitalist, individualist notion of feminism aiming for? More Carly Fiorinas and Madeline Albrights? More women participating in — profiting from — the endgame rush to climate chaos fueled by global capitalism?

Again, I get stuck: So many people have already made this critique. Is it that it’s not being circulated, heard, widely enough? Is it that the people defending a pro-capitalist feminism have heard those critiques and simply disagree? But if it’s that, why are they not even substantively engaging with, responding to, addressing those arguments?

I have shared so much of Jess’ sentiment about this. The mainstream feminist bawling about Clinton’s defeat in the primary, as if getting a rich white woman elected from an already elite position to an even more elite position were the greatest feminist challenge our world faced, was so upsetting to me for the past 6 or 7 months. Seeing such narrow understandings of feminism and liberation was one of the more discouraging things I’ve encountered since my feminist awakening a few years ago…even more so than blatantly anti-feminist nonsense.

Even reading Jess’ articulation of that frustration brought back that same old hurt, but then reading the first comment on the thread was almost more than I could take. Commenter DavidSpade says:

Are women in other political-social systems, like communism or fascism, better off than in capitalist societies?

Capitalism has tremendous power to push gender equity forward. When an industry generally underpays a class of workers competing firms will enter the market, offer the underpaid workers more, snatch up a lot of skilled workers, and be able to keep their prices lower than the competition. Over time, and with low enough market barriers for new firms, discriminating firms will be weeded out.

Sure capitalism has it’s dark side, but the solution is to fix capitalism, not to discard the entire system. You can’t blame all of sexism, racism, and classism on capitalism. Is American and modern European colonialism that much different from the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Mongol hordes, Timur the Lame, the Japanese Empire, or the Azteks?

Here is Jess writing a post about how frustrating it is that a liberationist feminism is a minority among blogosphere feminisms, and how tired she gets of having the same conversations over and over without ever advancing to the critical questions we need to be asking, and then we have the greatest display of ignorance and well, a contentment with the status quo, imaginable.

And here we go again? Will this just be another thread in which we talk about the fact that there is a major cultural bigotry and ignorance in the assumption that women in capitalist systems are better off than women in other parts of the world? That free-market ideology that pretends capitalism will solve social inequality is based on the false assumption that there is ALWAYS profit to be had in equal treatment? That this ideology is exactly that, an ideology, and not a fact. Do we once again have to reiterate why modern colonialism is a modern phenomena brought on by modern capitalism, and this is true no matter how bad empires in pre-modern eras may have been? Is this where we have to explain to more reform-minded feminists that just because we’re arguing a just economy is vital to a just society does not mean we’re arguing capitalism created sexism and racism, just that economic oppression cannot be disentangled from any other oppression?

Well, I don’t know about Jess, but I’m over this conversation. As Jess makes clear, it’s not like this ideal for liberationist feminism is new, or original, something she just thought up, and she’s thoughtful and patient enough to even name authors, texts, and even to write out quotes to show this rich line of feminist thought:

None of what I wrote up there is some unique insight of mine. It’s all stuff I’ve learned –- from experience, from observation, and, very significantly, from the work of feminist activists/artists/thinkers/scholars/writers who have gone before me. Over generations and across borders, feminists of color and a few allies have developed a language and way of thinking about how systems of power are interconnected. For instance:

In 1986, the Combahee River Collective wrote, “We are…trying…to address a whole range of oppressions … If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

bell hooks’ insistent, decades-long use of the phrase ”white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

2003’s Feminism Without Borders, in which Chandra Talpade Mohanty wrote: “I firmly believe an antiracist feminist framework, anchored in decolonization and committed to an anticapitalist critique, is necessary.” (Do check out the entire book if you haven’t already, but quickly, see how she connects anticapitalist feminism to a resistance to U.S.-centric feminism: “a protocapitalist or ‘free market’ feminism is symptomatic of the ‘americanization’ of definitions of feminism’.)

And quite recently, Sudy introduced many of us to the concept of kyriarchy.

Those are just a few examples. I could not have written any of what I wrote in the first section of this post without having encountered the profound work of everyone quoted above as well as Andrea Smith, Angela Davis, Vandana Shiva, Patricia Hill Collins, and so, so many others.

It is not because I believe gender oppression underlies or trumps other forms of oppression that I work within the context of feminism. It is not because, as someone the world reads as a “woman” within a binary and patriarchal gender system, “women’s” issues are the issues that are closest to my heart and experience that I work within the context of feminism.

It is because Audre Lorde, the Combahee River Collective, bell hooks, Cherie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, INCITE!, and so many others did this work, built this language, nurtured this vision of challenging all forms of unjust power within the context of feminism that I work within the context of feminism. They and so many others have, in their different ways, created a flexible and shifting and many-sided framework — and a beautifully complex legacy — of multi-issue work toward liberation. They have offered visions of liberation that do not ask any of us to leave any pieces of ourselves behind to participate in building something new, visions that will not uncritically support one piece of the scaffolding of oppressive power while trying to take apart another. The Combahee River Collective, again:

“Our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

The legacy is out there. Why does it seem so often in the feminist blogosphere, that this legacy never existed, that we’re at ground zero with feminist thought. Is this part of the backlash? That feminists themselves neglect the work that has been done for us already? Like Jess, I’m sort of at a loss…and it’s so discouraging…


The politics of tourism and travel

Because summer time is the time of travel and all of its economic and national and identity contexts, I thought it was a great time to highlight a couple great posts that reflect on the complicated questions that attach themselves to these nuances.

First, check out this open thread on first-world traveling to third-world nations at Feministe, in which guest blogger Anna asks and attempts to answer the following questions:

What do you perceive are the ramifications of that type of tourism? (Broad question, I know.)

If you have participated in that kind of tourism, how did those potential ramifications affect the choices that you made as a tourist? What choices have you made to be a more “responsible” tourist?

Do believe there is such a thing as feminist tourism, and, if so, what does that look like?

And, finally, how do the politics of a country affect your desire/willingness to participate in that country’s tourism? What about their human rights record?

Then read Guest Contributor Margari Aziza Hill at Racialicious on traveling as a black woman and how foreign travel can change your perceptions and understandings of race and racism:

Further, Europeans and Americans can assume you are just part of the landscape. You’re that native that needs to move out their way as. One time I was traveling with my friend from Bahia. We look very similar and people often assumed we were Moroccan, maybe from somewhere in the South. On our way from Casa Blanca to Fes, we found some British people were sitting in our seats. So, we were looking at our tickets and them. Mariah said, “Umm, these are our seats.” I was trying to speak to them in my clear American diction. The young couple just looked at us blankly and the crusty old man blurted out, “Doo Youu Sbeakk Frrrench?!”

I said, “No, I speak English!”

What really pissed me off was that he didn’t hear us because we were brown. He assumed that our non-British accent meant that we weren’t fluent speakers. Our brown skin rendered our language incomprehensible, as well as our rights to the first class seats that we purchased with our hard earned money.

Critical Feminist Fashion Question:

Do you still get the indie cred if the feminist you’re wearing on your shirt is a second waver?

Systemic, economic explanations of human behavior? BORING!

Courtney Martin at Feministing has this really troubling post about being contacted by a morning news program about a story on a social networking site for women looking for sugar daddies (ick, reminds me of this post). After telling the producer what she’d say about some of the social and economic factors that often lead women to seek financial support in men, instead of simply calling these women trash, as the producer wanted, Courtney heard nothing back from them. That just wasn’t good TV. They wanted something a little more… “feisty.”

This is not entirely unexpected, but so bothersome when you hear about how calculated TV news is in a real instance. News media must make money. Sensationalism brings in the viewers and the money. Blaming individuals and framing a debate as a cat fight is sensational. Legitimate, boring explanations that have to do with money and social inequality…meh, we’ll pass. This really is so frustrating.

With stakes like these in the mainstream media, it’s hard to imagine real social change being instigated in these traditional forums…This is part of the reason I’m so grateful for alternative media (like Democracy Now! just as an example), and especially for the existence of blogs. I know we always question just what kind of impact or influence blogs have, but just think where we’d be without them. Though the audiences for blogs are self-selected and certainly more limited than the audience that would be watching the morning news show Courtney was asked to speak on, the very fact that we can turn to Feministing to hear about this instance and to hear the very arguments Courtney wanted to share on TV is a huge step forward. It’s progress, and I think an essential part of the path to positive social change.

Shameless self-promotion: Me at Skirt!

I have a piece in Skirt! Magazine this month on what it means to be a feminist daughter to your mother:

Growing up, I’d never heard my mother identify as a feminist, and her social and political beliefs had been different than my own in many ways. Usually I would try to bridge this gap by forcing my mother to read endless amounts of feminist literature, with the hope that she’d better understand my positions, and maybe, begin to share them. Luckily my mother, God love her, has actually met almost all of my literary demands thus far. But some mother-daughter feminist problems haven’t been simple enough to resolve with a visit to the library, mostly because sometimes being a child to someone conflicts with being a feminist supporter.

Check it out!

Dora the Explorer and the global economy

Check out this wonderfully enlightening piece from Bitch Magazine about the socioeconomic realities of U.S. consumer relationships with Latina labor, in contrast to the unreality American parents love about the hit children’s cartoon Dora the Explorer. Here’s just a sample:

Throughout her adventures, Dora enjoys an unusual geographic mobility, crossing landscapes but never distinct borders, always returning home rather than staying somewhere new. Her animated domain is devoid of references to social class, labor, or a currency-based economy.

But in reality, Dora is less a global citizen than a global commodity, a marketing dream of multicultural merchandise that simultaneously appeals to Anglo and Latino parents and children. Ultimately, Dora is the product of a global television market and serves the transnational capital interests of Viacom, which owns Nickelodeon, and Mattel, whose subsidiary Fisher-Price makes Dora toys that are sold worldwide. As the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood documents, the Dora franchise has earned over $3.6 billion dollars in retail sales since debuting in 2000.

Dora’s starring role in the lucrative global television market stands in sharp contrast to the role real Latinas have played in a more literal form of television production, in which maquiladora trumps exploradora. First created in the 1960s, maquiladoras are foreign-owned Mexican factories in which imported raw materials and components are assembled into products that are exported for sale. Women constitute about 80 percent of the maquiladora workforce; according to Maquilapolis, a documentary by Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre, women are recruited because factory owners consider them docile low-wage laborers.

Ah, I just love hard-hitting, pop cultural criticism.

SATC: Of men and money and self…

Spoiler alert:

Last night I saw Sex and the City: The Movie, because after the longest job interview of my life, and because I’ve been anticipating this movie for a year or more, I couldn’t bear to wait any longer, even with those qualms I hinted at here. All in all, it was pretty much what I expected from a 2 1/2 hour big screen rendition of that predictable but charming little series — everything I liked and hated about the series but with the hated stuff magnified and more drawn out.

With this mixture of emotions, I found myself wondering: “Is all –” hahaha no, no, I kid. I won’t write this post like a Carrie Bradshaw column…

Dana Stevens at Slate wrote a review I agree with almost entirely. Here’s a highlight:

No real-life relationship, Carrie and her cohorts reluctantly concede, can live up to the impossible expectations our culture places on romantic love. But luxury commodities? Those are more than capable of fulfilling every fantasy. The right Louis Vuitton bag—hell, any Louis Vuitton bag—can change your life.

Now, there is a plot thread in the movie naysayers will point to as an exception to this part of Stevens’ argument. Carrie’s desire for a big and fabulous wedding at least contributes to ruining her first attempt at marrying Big. This could be read as a tsk tsk against pomp and circumstance and materialism. But it’s a little ironic if big spending Big is the character who is put off by money. It’s more like he can’t handle cliched romantic settings and commitment, rather than anything he has against a little glam.

And when a romantic partner fails them (like Big fails Carrie in epic fashion), the girls can take solace in the one constant in their lives: No, that’s not in their own selves or even necessarily in each other (Samantha, for example, is going it alone in California for a large portion of the movie). It’s in things. Fancy things. Really, really fancy things.

Getting Samantha a $60,000 ring is the only kind thing Smith does for Samantha in the entire movie. One of two romantic gestures Big makes during the movie is agreeing to buy Carrie an apartment she thought was outside their price range. Fashion Week makes Carrie feel like herself again. (What is this “self” she speaks of then? A gaggle of labels and lights?) Buying a Louis Vuitton bag for Louise is her final grand gesture to her servant/savior. Why is all the stuff about stuff so problematic?

While the ensemble is praised (and rightfully so) for normalizing discussion of female sexuality and highlighting the beauty that can be female camaraderie, and these are feminist aspects of the series, I maintain that these characters are some of the weakest women on television. They rise and fall with men, and while Carrie had the chance to prove she could be strong and happy with or without Big in this movie, but that she simply prefers having such a companion, all she proved is that she can fill the void left by a man by spending money and surrounding herself in some glamor, i.e. decorating her apartment, hiring a Personal Assistant/Rent-a-Friend, going to Fashion Week.

I won’t deny that her close group of girlfriends is a huge part of her life and helps to determine her happiness, but where, in all this mash-up of men, money, and mates, is Carrie’s independence or self-reliance? Where’s the actual person beneath the designer clothes and apart from all these friends and lovers?

And I shudder to ask: In this fictional world where money is the vehicle for the vast majority of women’s happiness outside of upper-class marital bliss, how do less privileged women keep themselves from slitting their wrists? — I guess they just have to keep their spirits up with rental designer bags and hope they get lucky enough to be a P.A. to someone like Carrie Bradshaw some day…

A round-up of good SATC reviews and reflections:

Dana Stevens at Slate

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon

Sex writers reflect on the impact of SATC

Manohla Dargis at NYTimes

Karina Longworth at Spout, gives the top 5 reasons to explain why you might “semi-rationally” hate the movie:

And Ed Gonzales at Slant Magazine on the racism of the relationship between Jennifer Hudson’s character and Sarah Jessica Parker’s, and the materialism of the film: