Betty (brown_betty) wrote,

Dear White Feminists

Hey, way to be a feminist! I am distressingly relieved to find that you support and are working for gender equality. It's not the sort of thing one can assume, although I really wish it was.

However, your Aunt Betty would like to pass on a hint-- a piece of advice: beware analogy.

"But, Aunt Betty!" you are saying. "How can we communicate without using analogy? It is the fruity yogurt desert in which we coat the bitter pills of Advanced Concepts to make them easier to swallow!" Analogies are helpful, when you take something everyone has experienced and use it to help people understand something they haven't experienced: "the shock of realizing he was evaluating me as a sexual conquest was like finding a piece of lego with my instep."

However, for some reason, white feminists seem to find it irresistible draw analogies between racism and sexism. Trust your Aunt Betty, who has been down this primrose path. Don't do this. I know it seems like a good idea, since, naturally, everyone agrees that racism is bad, and both are oppression. However, let me present to you a typical example:

I use Stross as an example because I don't know him at all, and his is the most recent example I've come across, not because this is a particularly egregious example. The other day, Charlie Stross linked to a an article by karenhealey, and declared himself prepared to make sure all of his fiction in the future met the Bechdel test. I was so smitten that I truly wished I liked his books, and am quite willing to give them another try. However, in the course of this post, he included the phrase: "If movies and TV objectified people of colour the way they do women, the only reasonable conclusion one could draw would be that a concerted propaganda campaign was under way to return us to the unquestioned institutional racism of the 1950s."

For the record, movies and TV unquestionably do objectify people of colour in the exact way they objectify women, since roughly half of all people of colour are women.

I do not accuse him of racism. But in that one sentence he manages to imply that A) racism is less of a problem than sexism because B) reasonable people everywhere recognize racism (but not sexism) and C) work to eliminate it. This in the very post where he introduces the Bechdel Test as a useful way to judge the gender representation in a work. For those not familiar with it, in order to pass the Bechdel test, a work needs to have 1) more than one named woman, who 2) talk to each other, about 3) something other than a man.

Think. What is the last work you remember that had more than one character of colour talking to each other about something other than the (white) protagonist? You can probably think of examples that would pass, but I imagine you can think of far more that will fail. Many media properties have only one non-white character, who plays a subsidiary role, and may even get killed off in the first season. I would guess far fewer properties would pass this test than Bechdel's.

I imagine Stross chose to use the racism analogy not because he thinks racism is acceptable, but because he finds it deeply unacceptable and wanted to associate that with sexism as well. However unintentionally, he ended up conveying that he doesn't think about race very much, when he does, he considers it of lesser importance, and it is primarily important as a yardstick against which other causes can be measured and found greater. Probably not what he intended at all, however, he is a writer, and I judge his words.

"But Aunt Betty!" you are saying, "my analogy is well thought out! It is brilliant! It illuminates many things and shows--" And then I interrupt you. Listen to your Aunt Betty. Don't do it. Unless you have personally experienced both, you cannot compare them. (Oh, and in my dialect the phrase 'reverse racism' means 'please ban_set me', so don't even go there.) Racism is the lived experience of real people, not an abstract 'ultimate evil' to be invoked to provoke horror in the audience. People who have been injured by racism do not deserve to have their experience used to prop up your cause.

Fighting sexism doesn't require you to step on the faces of people fighting racism. Sexism is bad. Racism is bad. Don't give either ammunition.


(The theme of this IBARW is intersectionality, and I am trying to put together a post on this difficult topic, but this is what came out instead. I hope I can get the other out too.)

ETA: Dear anyone I ban, I am a white, cisgendered, middle class female. Please feel free to lower your opinion of those groups according to my behaviour.
Tags: race: ibarw
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