Monday, January 3, 2011

The Danger of a Single Narrative

Though we talk a lot about intersectionality on this blog, I have recently seen two examples in which this was completely forgotten in favour of the single narrative.  JuJube wrote a post in which she talked about the fact that she spoke in a form of slang that she believed would help to ingratiate herself with the Black community. This is clearly racist behaviour, and a Black male friend of hers informed her of this.  Instead of understanding the role that race played in his response to her choice of speech, many in the comment section chose to privilege gender and suggested that it was sexist of him to believe that he had to right to supposedly silence her.

Just before Christmas, I wrote a piece about how disability effected my ability to celebrate. I spoke about the pain that cooking for my family would cause me and asked people to think about how everyday actions are different for the disabled.  Many comments took the opportunity to point out that I would be doing the bulk of the labour and chastised my spouse for his inaction.  I was absolutely shocked, until I realized that once again all people saw was gender.  Suddenly, it was okay to ignore the various times I spoke about his terrible cooking or the fact that household duties are divided 70/30 in my home, with him doing 70% of the labour. 

One of the greatest issues with feminism in my mind is the idea that gender is the single greatest impediment to the lives of women.  Gender as the paramount site of oppression creates a single narrative that excludes things  like, race, disability, class, sexuality etc.,  It sets up a monolithic woman and assumes that all women have the same experience based in gender. Not only does this erase many of the isms, it is counter to the idea that women have fallacies and agency.  


We have a tendency to fixate on specific ideas without considering exactly how limiting it is. Life cannot be theorized, it must be lived. I chose to take on the burden of feeding my family for the holiday, but my agency was quickly erased when the opportunity arose to privilege the idea that gender oppression made me do it, instead of love.  It suddenly became easy to quickly attack my spouse as some sort of patriarchal overlord. I find it interesting that on a daily basis society expects me to be a super crip and rise above regardless of the cost, but when I chose to bear this burden from a place of individual power and love, it was unacceptable. JuJube was acknowledging her white privilege when she spoke about her choice of speech patterns but it was easier to see a binary male/female form of oppression than to examine the role that race played in their interactions.  Gender made people oblivious to power we both have as individuals and instead framed us as the eternal passive female victim.

You cannot claim to celebrate women, or even feel genuine concern for women's lives by ignoring our agency and power. Not only is this alienating, it sets up further divisions between women, while privileging the experiences of a small sector of society. True sisterhood is an impossibility and it is time that we finally acknowledge this. Accepting this does not mean we cannot form meaningful bonds and relationships, and in fact it will infuse interactions with a truth and respect that has heretofore been absent.

Womanist musings has always been about hard truths.  It is much easier to walk away from things that hurt and challenge us.  It is much easier to believe that if we ignore that which causes us to grow, that there is safety in the status quo.  The problem with this belief, is that it shackles us to oppression.  There can be no doubt that outside forces exert pressure to disenfranchise women, but we must take responsibility for the role we play in enabling this force.  When you seek to tell me what my life is and what my experiences mean, you shackle me and are no better than the patriarchal force you seek to eradicate. Empowering women means realizing that your narrative is just that, your narrative.