We’re all in this together

One of the most frustrating things for me to explain as a feminist and queer rights advocate (and occassional opponent of racism, although as a white male geek I am pretty out of touch on this one, even if one of my family members is in a relationship with a Maori woman) is that injustice spills over from one category into another.

The most obvious starting point of how injustice defies simple categorisation is convergence: Consider a butch, fat, Maori lesbian. She doesn’t only suffer from racism, which is notable especially in the isolation from more peer groups with more emphasis on acadamic achievement and in the systematic discrimination in the enforcement of laws and regulations, but she also suffers multiplicative reinforcement of how different the brownness of her skin makes her. She has to deal with not just being a dyke, but being a fat dyke- stereotyped as unhealthy both physically and emotionally. Because she does not want to act like a stereotypical woman, she will often be isolated from the support of her fellow women in dissuading sexism, and because she’s a lesbian she is likely to lose support from her fellow Maori in solidarity against racism. And because she converges these concerns, her allies against any of her problems- gender roles, body shape, sexism, homophobia, or racism- will also be tarred with the brush of all of those problems.

This is a particular barrier against interracial couples, for instance, especially with Pakeha or white women in relationships with men from cultures that do not accept women’s liberation as a norm- leading to a sort of permanent tension in the relationship between racist undertones and sexist ones. That these kinds of couples succeed and deal with those tensions at all is a wonderful reminder of how small these issues can be when we just acknowledge them and resolve to listen to each other.

Convergence means not only that you experience two types of discrimination, but that those types of discrimination feed off each other and become more than adding up two parts of a whole: discrimination against black women keeps the usually challenged racism, whether invisible and systematic or overt and individualised, disguised under the convenient umbrella of sexism having “achieved its goals”, with the issues holding back women in income being excused as related to education, (despite women doing significantly better than men in formal education) a fair chance to sue for systematic pay discrimination dismissed as frivolous litigation. (women in the United States are currently regarded as having to file within 180 days of the first incidence of this systematic discrimination in order to be eligible to have their case heard)

There’s also what I call overflow. (I’ll admit that I haven’t seen any literature on this one yet. I’ve probably just not looked hard enough) This has created the image of radical, man-hating lesbian feminists that permeates the most brutal sexism. Because feminists support women who have been sorely emotionally traumatised by men and cannot accept them, they are conflated with man-haters. Because feminists have begun to listen to lesbian concerns, feminists are now suspected as being gay in disguise to hide their real agenda. Likewise, men who support feminism are viewed as closeted gays, transsexuals, as being too girly or “not manly enough”, because some male allies have come to the table this way.

Overflow is what makes discrimination against any group a problem for all groups- people who cannot acknowledge their own privilege start to view any significant engagement with the concerns of oppressed groups as wrong, and those of us who are privileged get obstructed by entrenched attitudes for trying to give up advantages we have no right to take for granted. Taking the case of male feminist allies in particular, being the one I’m familiar with, overflow doesn’t just get in the way of things you do to shed your own privilege.

It also involves in people challenging your manhood and conflating you, justified or not, with the groups you sympathise with- because men laugh about these type of things, we’re supposed to joke about clingy ex-girlfriends, and agree Helen Clark is some sort of robotic feminazi dictator machine, because it’s a matter of fact, not of perception- never mind that accepting the factuality of a label involves a certain amount of confirmation bias, because it takes a lot more mental flexibility to turn around labels- like slut, for instance- to apply equally to all groups. And even when this IS done, usually we qualify said labels differently. “Man-slut” is a great example- the qualification implies that men are an exception to the rules- much like calling a bussinessperson a “working woman”. Because apparently it’s unnatural for women to work, or workers to be women 😉

2 Responses

  1. Hi, I think you may be interested in the proposed closure of the Gender and Women’s Studies department and VUW. Details included below. Apologies if you’ve heard already.
    Amy van de Laar

    Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) is being threatened with closure at Victoria University with changes proposed by the University Council. These include

    -Limiting 300-level/honours classes to (a completely unrealistic) minimum of 16 students
    -Making GWS lecturers teach in Education, outside of their specialist fields
    -Potentially shifting GWS up to the Karori Campus

    To name a few

    These changes are being made with no consultation of students. First it was film, now it’s Gender and Women’s Studies. What next?

    Show the University that you will not tolerate being left out of the equation. Speak out against what’s happening at the PROTEST

    Wednesday, 28 May at 12pm in the Hunter Courtyard

    Bring banners, friends and pass this on to all of your relevant networks.

    For more detailed info read below…

    We shall be moved!

    The Gender and Womens Studies (GWS) programme, first established at Victoria University in 1974 has an international reputation and a proud history. It is a leader in teaching and research on issues relating to sexuality and gender that profoundly affect the lives of both men and women.

    The programme currently has two full time academic staff and one part time assistant lecturer. It has a particularly strong record of postgraduate enrollment and completion. Many graduates in GWS go on to postgraduate research degrees, including PhDs, several with national and international scholarships. Staff are currently supervising twelve PhDs, ten of which are PhDs in GWS. Other expressions of interest are currently under consideration.

    Doctoral graduates are usually mature students who fill leadership roles in such areas as human rights, women’s health, government policy, academia and politics.

    GWS is a dedicated specialist pro gramme earning in excess of 40 EFTS plus income from PBRF and PhD completions.

    The programmes location within the university has been contested at regular intervals since its inception 35 years ago. Currently GWS is located in the School of Education Studies (SEDS). This is a result of the research interests of its former programme director and it has functioned satisfactorily – if largely independently – in this setting. The programme draws students from undergraduate programmes throughout the university.

    With the dissolution of SEDS, under the current proposal for change at the College of Education, GWS risks being disestablished. The proposal could disestablish GWS by:

    * Requiring GWS academics to teach courses in Education despite the subject area being a minor part of our current teaching. Requiring GWS academics to teach outside their subject knowledge, let alone their research knowledge effectively divests them of their academic specialization – and discounts the disciplinary integrity of Education as well as GWS.

    * Setting a 16 student minimum for 300-level and BA Honours course enrolments in GWS despite the high percentage of GWS students progressing to complete research degrees. Under current numbers, this 16 student minimum would destroy the GWS major and BA Honours programme and cut off the supply of students to the thriving GWS postgraduate programme.

    Victoria University must:

    * Recognise that GWS is a discrete interdisciplinary academic subject.

    * Allow GWS 300-level and BA Honours courses to continue, without an unrealistic minimum number of students.

    * Recognise that if GWS is to remain in Education appropriate support is necessary in order to maintain and grow the GWS programme.

    * If suitable support is not possible within Education then GWS should be relocated amongst cognate disciplines that will maximize common research and teaching interests amongst students. In other NZ universities GWS is located with Sociology, Anthropology or with Development Studies.

    * Recognise the need for GWS to be in a discrete location on Kelburn Campus close to GWS resources such as the VUW Library and in order to maintain and build collegiality among undergraduate and postgraduate students.

  2. Hi Amy-

    as a previous Vic student, I had known about some of the cuts to select courses previously. I’m appalled to see it’s still happening and just as bad as previous cuts were in other departments.

    I’ll see if I can get out there tommorow in solidarity with you folks, but I do have some other things going on this week. It’s especially sad to see gender studies being treated by the University Council as a disposable subject that can be bullied around in a time when sexism is probably our most pressing social concern. Best of luck preventing this going ahead. 🙂

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