Monday, January 23, 2017

On Being a White Cis Woman at the #WomensMarch & Beyond

I keep thinking back to Jack's quote from Lost as I write this: But if we can't live together, we're going to die alone. 

Maybe dying alone is a dramatic outcome, since we're not stranded on an island and based on the attendance of about 3 million people at marches all around the world last Saturday, we are most certainly not alone. But it is true that we are stronger together, and in order to truly "be together," not in the physical sense of marching, but in the ideological sense that we're all standing up for one another, white women have a lot of work to do.

Consider these points:
  • 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump...the MAJORITY of white women. Why?
  • how many women of color did you see at a march wearing a pussy hat, if you attended?
  • what are transwomen supposed to think when participants at the marches are equating anatomy with womanhood?

If these things don't make you pause, then you're not doing the hard work yet. 

And consider this photo:
Photo credit: Angela Peoples @ms_peoples

When I saw this photo online, I made the mistake of reading the comments. Predictably, white women were defensive. I don't know the women in the photo, and for all I know, those white women are active transgender organizers in the Black Lives Matter movement. I have no idea...and the point isn't about those women personally. The point is that while we are donning pink knit hats and posting selfies of ourselves at the march on social media, women of color know that MOST white women voted for a candidate who has bragged about sexual assault, does not acknowledge #BLM, is already threatening women's health by defunding Planned Parenthood, and is threatening the rights of our LGBTQ community. 

White women, we're embarrassing ourselves and undermining our claims of feminism if we ignore that more of us than not support the patriarchy that continues to hold all of us back.

This weekend I also saw an online post from a white woman explaining why she wasn't attending the Women's March (not linking to it here. I don't want to be responsible for promoting it). It was a whole lot of march shaming, culminating in the assertion that we should stop whining about how bad it is in the U.S. and go help women in other countries who have it much worse than us. Not surprisingly, a bunch of white women posted and liked it on Facebook. And I thought, THIS is who we need to understand. White women who voted for Trump, who are shaming those of us who are fighting for equality, who are denying our lived experiences. Just as bad as the white liberal feminists who want credit for showing up but not doing the hard work are the white women who deny that the hard work even needs to be done. 

So for my white cis sisters who attended the march, waving their signs and wearing their pussy hats, here's some work for us to get started on this week. It's not going to be comfortable. As our sisters of color and trans sisters can tell you, it is not easy. But if we are to live together, to work together, to make change together, then we need to be prepared for the fight. This work is going to require more than poster-making or hat-knitting skills. It requires us to examine our innermost biases and beliefs, open ourselves to the experiences of others that are different than our own lived experiences, and then fight to change their experiences even when fighting for them means challenging our own privilege. THAT is the work. 

And for any of the white women who voted for Trump, or who spoke out against those of us who attended the Women's March this weekend, I invite you to do the work, too. We really are all in this together, and it all starts by listening to each other. ALL of each other, not just those who look and think and vote like you.

Let's get started. 

Ask yourself these questions:
  • What would you do if you were harassed at work based on your gender, race, or religion? Would you have the ability to quit your job, or easily find another one? What if you had worked hard your entire career and landed your dream job, only to be harassed at work? What would your options be?
  • What would you do if you were the only breadwinner in your home? How would that change your answer or options to the scenario above?
  • What if you or your child or your partner had a pre-existing medical condition and would lose health insurance and wouldn't be eligible under a new plan if you changed jobs? 
  • How many transgender folks are in your family? Friend circle? Community? Do you know the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity? Do you know what agender, or bigender, or gender fluid mean? Do you know the laws in your state that protect or discriminate against transgender folks?
  • Do you personally know folks who are Muslim? Undocumented? LGBTQ? How many of these folks are in your family, your friend circle, your community? If none, how could you meet them or hear their stories? 
  • Have you ever avoided going to the doctor for routine care because you couldn't afford it? Do you know folks who have? Do you know people for whom free or affordable clinics like Planned Parenthood are their primary source of medical care? What services would you use if you suddenly lost your health care coverage?
  •  Do you have a safety net for health care coverage once you retire if there is no Medicaid or Medicare? What will your options be?
  • Have you ever been prescribed birth control pills for something other than birth control? What other options would you have if you could no longer afford birth control?
  • What would you do if the schools in your local district had such poor student outcomes that families who could afford it all pay to send their kids to private school? What if you couldn't afford private school for your children?
  • Do you have the option financially to stay home? What enables you to have that choice? If you are financially dependent on your partner, what would be the impact of them losing their job, losing their insurance, or simply being passed over for raises or promotions?
  • Have you ever noted in a conversation that you "have a black friend" or "work with a Muslim" etc., to prove you aren't racist?
  • Have you ever said in a conversation, "I'm not racist, but..."?
  • Have you ever said in a conversation, "I'm not racist."?
  • When considering Black Lives Matter, do you more closely identify with those who support, those who oppose, or police officers? If you don't most closely align with supporters, what would it feel like to change your perspective for a week? A month? A year? Could you view this movement through the experiences of a black woman? 
  • Consider how your experiences and opportunities would be different if you were black. Or Muslim. Or born to undocumented parents. Or born with male anatomy but feel very much like a woman. How would your life be different today? What challenges would you face that you don't have to think about today?


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