White feminists, patriarchy, and solidarity: the dangling carrot
Or “How to (maybe) keep yourself from being raped, beaten, forced into poverty, and/or publicly shamed by your friends and family”
The White Pants Girls. That’s what we used to call them. We never called them “the white girls,” ironically, but yes, they were all white. Though I have to admit I don’t really know. Any of them could have had all sorts of genetics coursing through their veins. But that didn’t matter to us.
What mattered to us was the confounding fact that these girls could somehow get through an entire day of high school in a pair of virgin-bride-white cotton pants.
Every morning they stepped out of brand-new air-conditioned sedans and tastefully bumper-stickered green Subarus that had been promised to them when they drove off to college somewhere, next year or the year after. And every morning they were pristine. Every nail, every strand of hair perfectly aligned. Matching clothes, socks, earrings, purses and backpacks full of cheerleader costumes and diet pills.
The White Pants Girls never had bad panty-lines or muffin tops. Their pants looked sleek, smooth. They never had blood spots on the back or grass marks on the knees. Sometimes they’d even wear those pants to PE class, hopping gracefully back and forth on the volleyball court then dashing off to class looking like they’d stepped out of Teen Magazine.
Me, the new girl (always the new girl — we moved every year or so) who sat at the front of class and rode a rusty BMX bike to school, tended to ruin anything white before lunch.
I wanted to hate the White Pants Girls, but to be honest, I was in awe of them. I imagined them going to get pedicures with their mothers, Barbie pink toenails and new sandals to show them off. I imagined being able to apply to colleges with my straight-A transcript, and being confident that I would have the financial and emotional resources to actually go.
I imagined those girls felt safe, cared for, nurtured by their families. I imagined they felt loved.
There were White Pants Girls at every school, and they didn’t even see me in the halls. I was invisible to them. Also in every school was a group of dark-clad brooders who skipped PE class and found things to smoke. I ran with them, and we had great fun mocking the White Pants Girls. Though we never would have said anything to their faces, because these were the same girls who could make your life hell if you crossed them.
The White Pants Girls were also the Mean Girls, in every single one of the seventeen schools I attended before dropping out. They were the most privileged girls in school, and the cruelest.
Is the recent lash-out against white feminists’ flaccid response to the events in Charlottesville (and the rise in fascism in the USA,) rooted in a shared desire to FINALLY have revenge on the White Pants Girls?
Is cake-munching-brilliant-gorgeous-super-rich-white-pants-wearing-cishet-Hollywood-enabler-Tina-Fucking-Fey triggering our long held desire to just slap one of those condescending, clueless privileged bitches, right in front of the whole school?
Or are we just enabling more shaming, vilification, and violence against women?
Because yes, these issues are important, but why are women suddenly the scapegoat? Again?
Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves WHY those White Pants Girls were mean, and what did they actually have to endure in order to accomplish the near-impossible feat of keeping those pants clean all day. It’s not just a metaphor, and neither is revolution.
How do you keep your clothes white? By not having to work in the dirt. By never breaking a sweat. By having gallons of bleach and access to laundry facilities. In short: massive amounts of privilege.
Privileged people wear white. A lot of it. Is it a flag to their people? Is it a spit in the face to the masses? No, I don’t think so. I think those white pants represent their naivety, their utter obliviousness to the fact that, no matter how hot the June day, billions of us cannot imagine spending hundreds of dollars on a pair of white linen pants we would ruin in an hour.
But that’s not my point here.
My point is this:
If a girl/woman/person refuses to conform her behaviors, ideals, desires and passions to fit into a world where white things stay white, then her daily, physical safety is the first privilege removed.
The further she pushes, the more strongly she asserts her right to live as she pleases, the more she risks violence against her. This starts with the threat of corporal punishment by her parents and continues throughout her life.
But if she obeys, if she says all the right things and eats the right amount and chooses just the right thing to wear, then she is rewarded with a home, a family, and the illusion of physical safety.
Only, it’s a hoax.
Plenty of those White Pants Girls end up in awful marriages, abused, addicted to drugs, and worse. I see a bunch of those women on Facebook now, and it turns out that all of the privilege and compliance didn’t really lead them into a good life. In some cases, yes. But not all. Not even most.
Meanwhile, I’d like to think that we black-pants folk have traveled, farmed, brewed beer, and said NO to abuse of all kinds. At least as much as we can, from within a system that still, and always, threatens violence and/or death to anyone who steps too far out of line.
But the truth is, there is tons of violence against women in the permaculture/sustainability/activist/occupy/antifa/liberal Leftie community. Tons of it. Way. Too. Much.
You Want Statistics?
According to the World Health Organization, Global estimates indicate that 1 in 3 women worldwide experience either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Violence against women accounts for more deaths annually than terrorism, yet terrorism is in the news daily and violence against women? Not so much. I bet you don’t even really want me to keep talking about it right now.
There is a lot of opportunity for this conversation to go in a million directions. And that’s what Tina has accomplished, regardless of whether people took her literally or saw the satire. Yes, millions of us were already talking about racism, sexism, oppression, colonization. But now we’re talking about what role does silence and complicity play in all of that? How do we enable?
Not just white women. You. Me. All of us.
These conversations will do more harm than good if they result in the dehumanization of any women, for any reason.
Until we can acknowledge that a war on women exists, and has throughout documented history, then we have no business pretending to know anything about “revolution.”
What even is feminism these days? So many differing perspectives, it’s horribly confusing to me, a middle-aged lifelong devotee of feminism and all things liberated. I imagine it’s completely daunting to a young person trying to figure out where to place their alliances.
My twenty-year-old niece is proud to call herself a feminist. She asks me about stuff. But I don’t know what to tell her. One conversation went like this:
Her: So, White Feminism is evil, right?
Me: Ok. Um. No but a lot of white-presenting ladies seem to focus on issues that feminists-of-color don’t think are important.
Her: Are Radical Feminists transphobic?
Me: That’s a huge debate in the feminist community. The Radfems don’t see themselves as transphobic, but they don’t want transfolk to invade their women-only spaces, so that creates controversy.
Her: What’s Liberal Feminism? Is that the same as White Feminism?
Me: Um, kinda.
Her: So, Intersectional Feminists are the best kind?
Me: Well, maybe. Except that Intersectional Feminists tend to promote the shunning of other women, and some people think that goes against what feminism is “supposed” to be all about.
Her: Oh. Maybe I’m not a feminist then? I just want to control my own body and my own life.
Me: You’re a feminist. Don’t worry about it!
Often, it feels like something else is afoot. It feels like, everywhere I look, even the feminists are turning on each other! I thought the whole foundation of feminism was solidarity. And choice. Sovereignty. Yet here we are, attacking each other and pretending that the Big Problem has anything to do with Women.
My friend Eve posted this comment on FB:
“Dear white women friends, and especially those of you in yoga pants, please remember that whether you sacrifice your life standing against Nazis or follow the guidance of SPLC and abstain from counter-protesting you are doing it wrong and will be blamed accordingly. As a culture we must stand strong in our tradition that all forms of stress in society be met by blaming women. Because vaginas.”
In her book “Of Woman Born” Adrienne Rich explains that in our patriarchal world, “To hold power over others means that the powerful one is permitted a kind of shortcut through the complexity of human personality….Colonialism exists by virtue of this shortcut….and it is precisely this shortcut that we must disavow at all costs.”
What is this colonialist “shortcut”?
In her article, “White Women, Racism, and the Mother Wound,” Bethany Webster defines it as “not having to engage with the inner world of others, not having to identify with them, not having to imagine their experiences, and not having to feel empathy or compassion with their struggles.”
This is what Tina Fey was trying to demonstrate with her Let’s Just Eat Cake skit. Yes, white women are generally clueless as hell. And that’s exactly what Tina was mimicking. Even the grossness with which she ate the thing was all part of the joke.
“Disgusting! I can’t even watch her!” Yes, exactly.
Just like we stand around all day every day and “watch” atrocities occur. To women. To others as well, of course. But mostly, to women.
I get it that the satire was perhaps too close to home and so it went over a lot of people’s heads. And I get it that Trump has destroyed the ceiling for satire with his absurd presidency.
But it’s discouraging to see so many “woke” people attacking white women as the Big Problem when quite obviously the problem IS and has always been, MEN being violent. Not that the white ladies don’t need to get a clue. They do, but they are as much a victim of the patriarchy as anyone else, brainwashed since birth to conform or risk death on the daily.
Consider the fact that, for 500 years, white/European women were literally executed for doing so much as resisting or disagreeing with a man for any reason. Generation after generation of mothers taught their daughter to STFU, so they could simply stay alive.
Directing hate towards women who are simply trying to exist within a culture that offers them only three options (maiden, mother, whore, if you will) is a pretty narrow way to look a the big picture. They may be cowards, but they are not the enemy.
These patterns of colonialism, racism, and all forms of systemic oppression are inextricably linked to violence against women and, as long as we continue, as individuals and as a culture, to prioritize conversations about almost everything but.
Violence against women is a daily, enabled occurence in almost every neighborhood in the world, and until we can talk about it, then we’re not gonna get very far in our fight against white supremacy or anything else.
I am no White-Lady Apologist, trust me! But what I am saying here, is can we turn our ire toward the patriarchy that bred, molded, and manipulated them into being what they are, instead of this constant drama and vilification of our comrades for being less-than-perfect-Lefties?
The “Left” is gonna be the Left Behind, and soon, if we don’t get our shit together folks, and any successful movement at this point is going to take every kind of feminist, and a lot more, to succeed.
Heather Jo Flores is a spitfire Chicana ecofeminist author, artist, songstress, organic farmer, and creative mentor, focused on the intersection between art, accident, and your body. She wrote Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community. She lives in Spain. www.heatherjoflores.com