16/07/2012

When Idols Suck

Most people have their idols; heroic figures that inspire them to wake up every single morning and do something. I don't want to speak for anyone else, but people like Anne Frank, Jessica Mitford, and Sophie Scholl make me want to attempt to change the world in some way, to be a better human being. We hold these people on a pedestal of infallibility and loathe it when anybody says a terrible word about them ever - which is why it can be difficult to acknowledge when our idols kind of suck.

Recently I've become dismayed by the fact that people I used to admire or respect have said questionable things (and haven't apologised) and further dejected by the fact that several feminists have defended them unwaveringly and rejected the worthy criticisms. Something that I've become more acutely aware of is about feminism being a process of learning and unlearning; this doesn't end the moment you reach the point of How To Be A Woman where you jump on a chair and shout 'I AM A FEMINIST'. It's no good saying 'but I promise I'm not racist/sexist/cissexist/ableist' - we need to check our own privileges and claim responsibility when we fuck up.

The basic principle here is 'don't be an arsehole'. Just because I identify as a feminist doesn't mean that I'm infallible; it's necessary to acknowledge the privileges you have and if you fuck up on an issue that you're ignorant about, don't deny your ignorance or become defensive over being called out on your privilege. I'm sick of people giving total non-apology apologies like 'I was young and stupid' or 'I'm sorry but I'm not sorry' that tend to be used as some sort of Get Out of Jail Card; apologise, educate yourself, learn from your error, and do better next time.

Furthermore, you shouldn't talk over people on an issue. For instance, continuing on from the topic of my last post, don't claim that 'Islam is the most sexist religion ever and even though I am a western feminist with no experience or understanding of the faith, I know that ALL Muslim women are oppressed and need saving to become liberated like me'. That there is some white savior bullshit. I'm sure that Muslim women need you, a non-Muslim, to enlighten them how they should feel. The idea of actually asking Muslim women, i.e. those who have experienced what you're actually talking about, about what they think seems to be a remote concept to some people.

I'm further irritated by feminists claiming that any criticisms from within the movement are dividing us, when really, it's the fact that they're stifling the voices within the community that weaken it. When I first started identifying as a feminist, I naively thought 'feminism is for me, feminism is for everyone' but admittedly, there are times where I feel that there is not a place for me. Perhaps one day, feminism CAN be for everyone but right now, mainstream feminism seems so focused on the needs of white and western middle-class able-bodied cissexual heterosexual women.

I acknowledge my privileges and my ignorance as I'm trying to learn and retrain away from the prejudices that society has made inherent. Your idols, as excellent as they may be on one issue, have their own privileges but if they're not aware and responsible of them, then they're not helping. If feminism isn't an intersectional feminism that's safe for everyone, and your idols aren't the intersectional feminists that the world needs, then it's harming rather than helping. Feminism isn't fighting for "some" women - it needs to fight for all women.

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