Solidarity is for White Women of a Certain Class

shatter glass

I am not going to pretend that I paid any kind of attention to Hugo Schwyzer or that I knew who he was until he, in not so many tweets, said he was into feminism because it got him laid. Which, by default, makes him like the academic version of Jay and Silent Bob hanging outside of an abortion clinic in hopes of meeting some sluts. While the fictional characters are harmless stoners and lovably offensive, Schwyzer is anything but. He lied about his credentials as a gender studies academic, tried to murder an ex-girlfriend, slept with students and harassed women of color who dared call him on his bullshit while white feminists looked the other way and stroked his ego with paid writing gigs and exposure in xoJane, Jezebel and the Atlantic.

Schwyzer had a very public Twitter meltdown last week where he rationalized his horrid non-feminist record via a mental illness mea culpa that became a global trend when Mikki Kendall dropped the mic with the hashtag: #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen. Women of color responded in mass with poignant tweets about the ways in which they have been overlooked and marginalized by white feminists.

Agreed.

And if I could add one thing: solidarity is for white women of a certain class.

I am a white woman without the pedigree of the white women feminists we’re talking about. I was a teen mother, I do not have an advanced degree, I was the first to graduate college in my family, I am not married but co-habitate with my partner of twelve years, and I have been desperately poor for far too long with my women’s studies and English literature degree. In the years after college, I cleaned the homes of well-off “Lean In” women and  rolled my eyes at more feminist whineoirs that were light on the feminism and heavy on the bitching and complaining that motherhood and academia came with garbage duty, laundry and husbands who don’t get it.

When the blog Feministing started, I was the same age as Jessica Valenti with a toddler at my feet, an Internet connection and a pile of coursework for a bachelor’s degree. We may both be white, but we are from very different worlds. While she was on the Daily Show and in the pages of the Nation, I was hustling to get the electricity turned back on and schlepping my words in local print. This year my writing will be featured in the same anthology as Valenti.

What’s clear is that I have often felt marginalized and that I have had to work harder and be more persistent just to break even — but my race is a privilege and, in that way, I am grouped with women far more well-off than I will ever be.

That fact is what it is.

What’s also true is that I have always identified more with women of color than I have with white women of a certain class. The Feminine Mystique did not represent the women who run through my mitochondria: my grandmother worked for more than 40 years as a waitress at the aptly titled “Shack” while her mother, my great-grandmother nicknamed Cuckoo (not because she was insane, but more so because of her clocks), did the unthinkable in the 1930’s and divorced her first husband while continuing to work in order to support her three children. It was my grandmother who raised her siblings while her mother was off providing.

Tillie Olsen and her Silences still live within feminism. It was she who pointed out that working class and poor women often reside outside the center of feminism because there are simply not enough hours in the day to be a poor woman with a story and to have it heard.

Heard stories, unfortunately, can all too frequently be a thing of the privileged speaking for women who have no business doing the lip-flapping or keystroking. As I told a friend recently who tried to settle my nerves about my abysmal bank account and how I thought it may be affecting my daughter’s life: “No, you do not know what this is like.”

As a white woman, I do not know the first thing about being a woman of color. I do not. But I too have often gone looking in print and online for someone that looks like me for solidarity and I have rarely, if ever, found her, unless it’s with a wink and a nod to food stamps or poor women having babies.

And that is far too Republican for my taste.

White feminists have done a piss poor job of taking women of color seriously and it’s time for the old guard v. 4.0 to dial their branding down from 11, re-think tearing the New York Times a new one over bylines and Style section relegation to realize they’ve been drinking the exclusion Kool Aid too.

You know, Audre never said the master didn’t build a glass house with those tools.

Image Source: Sarah G via Flickr.

  • “..working class and poor women often reside outside the center of feminism because there are simply not enough hours in the day to be a poor woman with a story and to have it heard.”

    I agree, and I wish I could have a hand in changing that. Oddly enough, I am a working single mother who works in a restaurant called the Shack, not kidding. I struggle through every single day to get to work and make enough money to pay some (but never all) of the bills on time.

    I feel like people like us, low-income youngish moms, don’t have a voice in the world or even much in the blogosphere nowadays. I’m going to keep coming back here and joining the conversations. Thanks for posting this Liz.

  • This is an interesting point, Liz. Unfortunately, there is no class system for Black women in the feminist arena. Poor Black women, rich Black women, your voice has less power than any White woman in any class. Here’s an example, Black feminist bloggers / journalists have been writing about the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag all week. But who gets top media coverage? The voices of the White feminists who joined in. In fact, Jezebel had to make an edit to their initial article because they didn’t even include the ORIGINATOR of the hashtag! (http://jezebel.com/our-favorite-solidarityisforwhitewomen-tweets-1125272401) Food stamps are never accepted until a white woman “confesses” that she uses them, and shares her experience of being treated differently. Only then do folks start to get it. Then it’s all {{hugs, sister!}}. I guess I’m just a little over White feminists trying to compare their experiences with that of Black women, period. But, I guess it’s not a story until a White woman can relate.

    • Dana

      It’s like a hierarchy of who will be listened to, with white guys at the top–Schwyzer for feminist issues until recently, and Tim Wise for the race angle. And white women right behind them.

      We lower-class white women may feel lower than middle- and upper-class white women, and we are, but because of our white skin we are lumped in with them more often than not, and receive societal privileges accordingly.

      At the same time, it’s still our job to call out racism in our ranks, *since* we are taken more seriously and other whites will be more likely to listen to us than to you. Unfortunately. 🙁

  • STANDING OVATION for Brandi! Yes. EXACTLY!

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