Social Justice

White Women: Come Get Your People

It’s no secret that white women fucked up this election. Not to say they don’t fuck up regularly, but 2016 was an especially disturbing case, with 53% of white women voting for an egomaniacal cheeto who’s now busy maligning a civil rights hero because governing is overrated.

Today, though, the New York Times published an article about said women. And I do mean white women when I say that, because those highlighted were all white women. Probably because 81% of non-white women voted for Clinton.

She wasn’t perfect, of course. She wasn’t a flaming orange human dumpster fire, either.

But I digress.

The contents of the article are not surprising. We’d heard these justifications long before a single ballot had been cast. Intense distrust of Clinton. A willingness to overlook racism and sexism because of the deranged traffic cone’s supposed business prowess. Actual agreement with racist drivel. And before the New York Times even thought about writing this piece, we learned there were even women who voted for this man-baby because they liked his daughter.

None of these arguments are ok. And on the first read of the article, I thought my head was going to explode.

 

“If I turned down every candidate who objectified women, I’d vote for no one.”

He didn’t just objectify women. He bragged about sexually assaulting them.

 

“Do I think Trump’s trying to send women back to the kitchen? No, his daughter is a great example.”

You do realize he said he’d want to have sex with her if she wasn’t his daughter, right?

 

“Hold on, you don’t know me. Doesn’t that make you a racist by calling me a racist when you don’t know me?”

You keep using this word “racist.” I do not think it means what you think it means.

 

“He says what everyone’s thinking and is afraid to say. That doesn’t make anyone bigoted.”

Actually, denigrating entire portions of the population based on race, gender, and religion makes you precisely that.

 

“He wants to bring America back to what it was before. I don’t think it’s taking us back to women have no rights or slavery days.”

Um, that’s exactly what it was before. One could argue we haven’t come that far, actually.

 

“Obama was out for himself. I think it was more about him being a celebrity than a president.”

YOU VOTED FOR A REALITY TV STAR.

 

“And it’s like Hillary has the right to talk about Trump when she stayed with a guy who was in the White House and took advantage of a young intern? Why would you stay with him?”

You are quite literally blaming a woman for a man’s misdeeds while simultaneously voting for a sex offender. I cannot.

 

“I looked at that more as bravado, his audience needed that to get the applause.”

So, you’re super concerned that she might have lied but voted for a man that you know to be lying?

 

“You don’t pay more money out than you have.”

He is literally BILLIONS of dollars in debt.

 

“He’s not getting large amounts from donors based on what you’ll do for me later.”

You are correct on that point. He just traded appointments for campaign support. Wait a minute…

 

“I felt like once you got past the bluster, he really was interested in helping everyone.”

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” – Maya Angelou

 

The whole article was stomach turning and enraging. But there were two quotes that really bothered me.

“Trump’s not a perfect man, by any means. He kind of reminds me of my ex-husband. I think he’s a really good man, deep down.”

“You get through the bad and you focus on the good.”

At first, I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me. And then I remembered a TED Talk I’d seen from Leslie Morgan Steiner. In it she explained:

I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man, and I was the only person on earth who could help [him] face his demons.

ALARM BELLS GOING OFF EVERYWHERE.

In so many of the testimonials you read from women who voted for Trump, you’ll find justifications which make little sense, forgiveness of the unforgivable, discriminatory perspectives expressed as lessons from the men in their lives. The same sort of rhetoric you hear from victims of domestic abuse, whether it’s acknowledged as abuse or not. In many cases where the individual is being abused but is in denial, they internalize feelings that they’re unworthy of support or security, and defensively posture when it’s implied their experiences constitute abuse.

Do I think that means that the 53% of white women who voted for Trump were all victims of domestic abuse? Absolutely not. Do I think their words, vote, or perspectives are somehow justifiable? Nope. No get out of jail free card here. That’s not what I’m trying to say.

What I’m trying to say is that in a world where misogyny and institutional racism are a thing, at least some white women are bound to make decisions that run counter to their self-interests. Think about it. On the one hand, they perpetually encounter misogyny. On the other hand, they benefit from their white privilege.

Put in a different context: A woman in an abusive relationship is subjected to physical, emotional, and psychological torment. But damn, the good moments are good, right?

(Whoa, whoa, whoa, you might say. Women of color got it right, though. This is no excuse.

Yeah, they did. And if you ever wanted more proof that women of color are strong as hell and utter badasses (there’s already so much out there), here ya go. They experience both racial and gender discrimination on the regular, but faced with a spray-on tan obsessed bully, they said fuck no. There’s a reason they’re the most fearless leaders on the frontlines of any fight against oppression you could imagine.)

Yeah, it’s no excuse. Again, this analogy is not about absolving white women of their crimes against humanity in the voting booth. And dear god, it is not my intent to shame victims of abuse who stay with their abusers.

It is, however, another way of considering the impacts of white privilege. It is individuals of color who suffer most, but white women, in particular, are doing themselves no favors when they squeeze their eyes shut and put their fingers in their ears. They’re not helping themselves by nodding along with ideologies that advance a white supremacist agenda and shrugging off misogyny. But that’s what they’re doing.

Like Steiner once did, they don’t see themselves as battered or abused. They take the hits and believe, in their heart of hearts, that they’re loved because a different attribute of themselves is put on a pedestal.

Steiner got out of her abusive relationship when she finally accepted that her husband’s behavior was abusive. To this end, maybe the key to getting white women to recognize the toxicity of today’s conservative politics is to get them to understand the impact of misogyny. If they can understand one form of oppression, it gets harder to ignore other forms of oppression.

In fairness, that’s not always the case. White feminism is a thing (I know I’ve fucked up on this note on occasion), and that shit needs to get burnt to the ground. But understanding the necessity of feminism and what it means can be a starting point in terms of understanding intersectionality. When it comes to the female Trump voter, we’re going to have a hard time starting the conversation at white privilege because acknowledging that leaves them with zilch.

As Steiner points out, leaving an abusive relationship is scary. Why? Because it can be dangerous. Statistics indicate that women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after they leave an abusive partner than they were at any point in their relationship.

I’m not saying white women leaving conservatism and acknowledging the oppression in the world around them are 70 times more likely to be killed than those who stay with their backwards political partner. But as women in general have left the Republican party, what’s happened? A surge in extremist laws attacking reproductive rights. An uptick in the shaming and blaming of survivors of sexual assault. Boiling outrage over “P.C.” culture. I could go on. And all of these developments, frankly, put women’s lives at risk.

But there’s power in numbers. A strong support network makes all the difference for someone trying to leave an abusive relationship, right? The sooner white women figure that out, the better. There is a massive support group comprised of women who have turned their backs on the oppressive rhetoric and policies of the GOP. And just as leaving an abusive relationship can help someone grow to their full potential, white women turning their back on misogyny can grow to better understand the intersectional nature of oppression, and join in the good fight.

I fully acknowledge that the fact that they need to be handled with kid gloves to stop being assholes is fucked up. To that end, it’s important that the folks doing that work — moving these women towards the right conclusions — has got to be done by white folks. Asking people of color, and especially women of color, to take on that emotional labor is unacceptable and the height of privilege. They’ve been fighting. It is us who need to step up to the plate.

So white women who give a shit: this is your call. Come get your people.

We Did It For The Likes

“She got caught up in the likes,” he said.

We all know that sentiment in some capacity or another: the ego boost of a well received profile picture, the righteousness of an applauded political sentiment, the satisfaction derived from giggles surrounding a clever meme.

But that’s not how Marina Lonina got her social high back in February. No, she got that buzz from broadcasting the rape of her friend on the social platform Periscope. As the New York Times reports:

The teenager, Marina Lonina, 18, faces a spate of charges as severe as those facing the accused attacker, Raymond Gates, 29. Both have been charged with kidnapping, rape, sexual battery and pandering sexual matter involving a minor.

[…]

On the evening of Feb. 27, all three were gathered at a residence in Columbus where Mr. Gates pinned the 17-year-old down and raped her as Ms. Lonina used Periscope, an app owned by Twitter, to live-stream the attack, the authorities said.

A friend of Ms. Lonina’s in another state saw the video and contacted the authorities.

Both defendants pleaded not guilty on Friday.

The defense is arguing that Marina is just as much a victim as her friend. She’s only 18 years old, after all. He was ten years their senior, after all. He had plied them with vodka, after all. And as she told the police, she was simply trying to preserve evidence.

Bullshit.

Was Marina herself being exploited by an older man? Arguably yes. But was she an innocent bystander as her boyfriend raped someone she called a friend? Not remotely.

You don’t live stream an assault to stop it. You have a phone that’s capable of live streaming in your possession? Good. Then you’re probably also in possession of a phone capable of calling 911 or texting someone in search of immediate help. You don’t broadcast the assault to an audience in no position to intervene. It took the actions of someone in another state for the authorities to become involved. That the police were eventually contacted doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter to the young girl being raped at that moment. It didn’t stop a thing.

Is the recording now being used as evidence against the assailant? Yes. And in a world where rapists are rarely convicted, that’s a potential silver lining here. But if you have a phone that’s capable of live streaming, you also have a phone that’s capable of collecting such evidence without broadcasting it for public consumption. It is, believe it or not, entirely possible to record something without sharing it with the world. To be fair, her SD card could have been full from all the nude photos she’d snapped of her vulnerable friend the night before. Was that about evidence, too?

Marina wasn’t trying to stop the rape. She wasn’t trying to collect evidence. She did it for the likes.

There is no denying that social media has become a force to be reckoned with over the past decade, shrinking the world through connection and information dissemination. It can educate and inspire and entertain. It can provide support and solace. When used by a collective, it has the power to do a lot of good, as evidenced by associated movements like #BlackLivesMatter.

But in the never ending quest for attention, it can also be a dangerous drug. Marina is just one very obvious cautionary tale.

Too often, we become obsessed with projecting the “right” image, losing ourselves in the process, losing sight of our self-worth along the way. We do it for the likes.

So frequently, we bypass meaningful conversation on important topics, leaning on one liners and gifs and emoji, losing an opportunity for understanding, losing hope that things can improve. We do it for the likes.

More and more, we collectively shrug at the offensive and ignorant and vile, clicking hide and unfollow instead of calling it out, losing our shot at making the world a better place, losing our chance to do our part. We just can’t sacrifice those likes.

I get it. I’m guilty of it too. It’s a one-click affirmation world. We’re just living in it. And we’re not like Marina, so it’s all good. Right?

But listen: even if you believe Marina was trying to stop the assault, even if you applaud her attempt to gather proof of the attack for an eventual prosecution, you cannot ignore the power of the almighty like in this story. You cannot look past the views and the hearts and the chats that frame this crime. So even if you’re uninterested in discussing Marina’s culpability, let’s talk for a minute about our own, because maybe, just maybe, we’ve been doing it for the likes for so long that we’re missing the forest for the trees.

Face facts. A young woman’s assault was turned into a social experience with an eager audience. A video of a young girl begging the man on top of her to stop and crying out in pain still might not be enough to convict her rapist. It’s an ugly reality, an ugly world. But none of this should surprise you.

After all, it’s a world where our fond memories of a television character outweigh the voices of dozens of women.

It’s a world where our admiration of an athlete’s performance has us dismissing the pain they inflicted.

It’s a world where our love of a man’s musical contributions has us propping up conspiracy theories so we don’t have to face the suffering they’ve created.

It’s a world where our religious institutions are fighting legal reform that would offer justice to traumatized victims because they know it will hurt the Church.

It’s a world where our partisan priorities have given way to a leading presidential candidate who can openly degrade women and still soar in the polls.

It’s a world where our cultural icons advance the idea that young women should be taught to assume their attire, their bodies, and their existence is to blame for the criminal behavior of helpless men.

It’s a world where our media uses sex and rape interchangeably while discussing allegations of assault.

It’s a world where any attempt to discuss these problems, to really expose the depth and breadth of rape culture in our society, is met with derision and laments of political correctness run amok.

Though the headlines might be fresh, none of this is really new. It is, however, made more dangerous by the connective power of modern technology and how we use it. In this sense, Marina was inevitable: the product of a digital era desperate for validation and comfortable with the normalization of sexual violence.

It’s our world. We created it. We live in it. We consume and deflect and accept and tolerate and laugh and promote and share and retweet and reblog and like and like and like and then act surprised when Marina is more interested in entertaining a perverse audience than the safety of her friend.

She did it for the likes. But from where I’m sitting, there’s not much likable about the world in which she did.

The Feminist Fail

This one’s for the women.

When I was growing up, for a silly while there, I refused to call myself a feminist. I didn’t know any better at the time. Living in a super conservative community, the only thing my history classes had taught me about feminism was bra burning, and as a teen who developed early, I needed my bras, thank you very much. (I wish I was kidding.)

Then I got to college. It didn’t take long for my views on the f-word to change. OF COURSE I was a feminist. YES to pay equality. YES to reproductive rights. YES to bodily autonomy. FUCK YOU rape culture. I was a loud, proud, in your face feminist determined to raise my daughter as such.

When I left college and began writing in earnest, though, that badge of honor grew heavier and more cumbersome. The bright and shiny feminism that had so inspired me now seemed strikingly white, painfully straight, and more than a little out of touch with the times. I was uncomfortable watching women with skin like mine telling women of color to pipe down and get in line. I remember my horror when learning about Sangers’ eugenics and the “lavender menace.”

I tried to quell my misgivings with self-assurances that it was all just a part of “growing pains” for the movement, but in the past several months, I’ve grown more uncomfortable still. The pace of that growth in an era where technology gives us the ability to connect and learn from each other in an unprecedented manner seems exceedingly slow.

I’ve watched TSwift and Miley spouting the feminist version of #AllLivesMatter as women of color in the industry lamented racial disparity. I’ve watched Meryl Streep don a shirt proclaiming, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave,” before she today shrugged off film festival diversity laments by saying, “We’re all Africans.” I’ve watched people complain about Jenner receiving attention that should be reserved for “real women.” I’ve watched women of color criticizing Sanders lambasted by men and women supporting him for advancing the “politics of division.” I’ve watched Gloria Steinem tell me that I’m only supporting Sanders for the boys. I’ve watched Madeline Albright tell me there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support Clinton while the candidate herself laughed. I’ve watched feminist friends who I respect echo the same damn things with condescension that sounds a whole lot like, “GET OFF MY LAWN” while younger voices ignore entirely the historic moment we face in today’s political climate.

And you know what I think? I think there’s a special place in hell for this kind of tone deaf feminism: this feminism that says the experiences of women are homogeneous, this feminism that thinks the movement needs a singular voice, this feminism that tells people saying otherwise to shut up and sit down.

I am all for empowering women. I am there for the ongoing battles and the battles we’ve yet to wage. But we’re going to lose the war if we keep trying to corral people onto this path that ignores the battles going on to our left and right, because that strategy leaves a lot of people behind.

You may not see color, but the economy sure does. Unemployment rates for white women in the last quarter of 2015 may have been at 4%, but it was 6.7% for Hispanic and Latina women, and 8% for Black women. White women may make $0.78 to a white man’s dollar, but Black women make $0.68 on the dollar, and Hispanic and Latina women bring in only $0.54 on the dollar. And these figures can vary dramatically by region, state, and city.

And violence against women of color is not just structural. It’s estimated that 17.7% of white women will be victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives, but the numbers are worse for women of color. Approximately 40% of Black women report encountering coercive sexual activity by the age of 18, and it is estimated that for every Black woman who reports a rape, there are 15 that do not. Anti-immigrant vitriol can frequently discourage Hispanic and Latina women from reporting, regardless of immigration status. But migrant workers know all too well the dangers they face, with more than half a million women calling the fields they work “fields of panties” due to the prevalence of unchecked sexual assault.

And there are other issues that are distinctly important for women of color that white women may not give a lot of thought to in the end. Black women are eight times more likely than their white counterparts to be incarcerated, while Hispanic and Latina women are four times more likely to face jail time. When women of limited means face the legal system, they overwhelming lose.

It’s not just about color, though; sexuality and gender identity can play a significant role in risk factors, too. Half of bisexual women and more than 64% of transwomen will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  It’s estimated that at least 20% of homeless youth are members of the LGBT community, and 41% of transwomen will attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

Let’s not forget age, either. Young women today identify as feminist in record levels. They may not have experienced the battles faced by their foremothers on the ground level, or the days before Roe v. Wade, or a world without women in politics, but they face a new set of demons. They’re the ones punching up in the face of widespread digital harassment. They’re the ones born into an economy ruined by those that came before them, a climate exacerbating the gender gap in the workforce. And their voices, in today’s political climate, are chastised for not directly aligning with women in leadership on all issues, the assumption beneath it all being that they’re not smart enough/informed enough to know what’s what. Silly little girls.

That doesn’t mean that older women don’t have unique struggles. They know, perhaps better than most, exactly what’s on the line today because it’s what they sacrificed so much for in their younger days, and are frustrated when young women remain apathetic. They’ve been hit hard by the economic downturn, as well, with wiped out retirement savings pushing them back into a workforce that doesn’t know what to do with them. Their ballooning healthcare costs are nearly incomprehensible to many younger women with relatively more robust health. The bottom line: age matters no matter which side of the spectrum you’re on.

And how about a shout out to the often dismissed women with disabilities? These are women who are statistically far more likely than other women to be assaulted, unemployed, and discriminated against, but you won’t hear much about them in feminist cannon. From forced sterilization to police violence against those with mental illness to feminist events that consistently fail to accommodate those with special needs, women with disabilities are left out in the cold at every single turn. They’re footnotes. It’s repulsive.

The point of this very surface level collection of differences is to highlight that every woman’s experience in life is unique. It’s going to be influenced by their race, their income, their sexuality, their gender identity, their location, and more. Those experiences are important, and the stories they tell should inform that fight instead of being pushed to the side if we want changes that actually make a difference. Those experiences are going to foster unique perspectives that shed light in the gaps that pepper our own. Those experiences make women as a collective so much stronger.

To argue that a feminism that does not recognize these differences and raise up the distinctive voices who can speak to them is somehow representative of the women it purports to support is breathtaking in its idiocy. When the movement and its figureheads say we only need to hear from someone that looks like them, loves like them, lives like them, they make it clear that this is not about fighting for women; it’s about fighting for women like them. It’s a demonstration of a willingness to sacrifice the women not like them to advance themselves.

So stop telling women they’re distracting from the cause when they voice an experience that deviates from the central narrative. Stop telling women they’re traitors when they dare to criticize the mainstream feminist culture. Stop telling women that the only way they can be supportive of women is if they support your woman. Stop telling women the battle they’re fighting doesn’t matter.

Just stop. Listen. It’s the only way the war gets won.