Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sorry Jill, It's Not That Simple

Jill wrote a piece on Feministe that has quickly become quite a conversation starter. It all began with a post over at Shameless magazine pointing out that the feminist blogosphere has largely ignored Jessica Yee's book, FEMINISM FOR REAL.  In the interest of full disclosure, there has not been a post about Yee's book on Womanist Musings.  I received my copy in the mail last week, after Dan beat me out with a request for a review copy.  Long before this controversy commenced,  Dan and I discussed doing a review on Womanist Musings, and plan to publish one as soon as he receives his copy of the book. On the issue of erasure Jill had the following to say:

But I don’t think “calling out” the “big feminist blogs,” or casting feminist blogs as Capital “F” Feminism, is a particularly effective way to convey those beliefs (and I honestly think it’s a little laughable that Feministe is somehow Capital-F Feminist Establishment when, really, it’s one person’s hobby. But we’ll put that aside for now). If the goal is to get more people to read Feminism FOR REAL, or to write about it, or to want to engage with feminism as an idea, then this is a remarkably ineffective way to do that. 

The internet is a big place, and even those of us who run “Capital F Feminism” feminist blogs don’t actually have the ability to read the entire thing. Putting things on your blog and on Twitter is great, but that isn’t a guarantee that the folks you want to target will actually see it, if those folks are outside of your regular readership. When I read Diandra’s post, I searched my inbox for any emails or information about the book. I found one press release from the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives that I apparently received on Feb. 14th, of which I have no recollection. The email says that pre-orders for the book have started. As far as I can tell, I didn’t get any other information about it. I receive at minimum two emails every day urging me to buy a particular book that a publicist wants to hawk to Feministe readers; I receive somewhere in the universe of 100-200 emails every day urging me to write about something or cover this topic or promote a product or or or or. I have a heavily-used “delete” key.


(snip)

At the very least, recognize the difference between affirmative bad acts on the part of people who should be on your side — Naomi Wolf-style victim-blaming, etc — and sins of omission from people who probably do support the same or similar goals as you, but for some reason aren’t covering the issues in the same way. 

None of which, again, is to say that you should just turn your head if an important topic isn’t being addressed, or if something isn’t being addressed adequately, or if someone fucks up. It is to say that we should all keep the end goal in mind, and communicate accordingly. And none of this is about the Shameless post in particular — it’s about the entirety of this corner of the internet, and how we treat each other, and how there’s this weird sense that we’re all in competition for the Best Feminist prize and that we win by cutting each other down and calling each other out and denouncing anyone who gets more attention than we do. 
I am going to say that I agree with Jill when she talks about how difficult it is to run a blog.  I personally dedicate the majority of my day to writing pieces for WM as well as editing comments.  There is no doubt in my mind that running a large space or in the case of WM a medium space in the social justice blogosphere takes a lot of time and energy.  People are always demanding something from you and holding you to a standard that they would not dream of holding a mainstream space to.  In large part this is done because they know that in these leftist spheres that their concerns will at least be heard and considered.

In many cases the level of expectation regarding coverage can be unreasonable.  I know that when I didn't publish a piece about the murder of Dr. Tiller I was attacked, even though the issue was far from being ignored on both the internet and the mainstream press.  There are only so many hours in a day and not matter how well meaning a blogger is, they cannot cover everything.  To some degree we all write for a specific audience but we all have to make decisions about what stories we are going to dedicate our time to. 

Where Jill and I part ways is in the lack of responsibility that she seems so comfortable with.  When Jessica Valenti put out her last book, Feministe had no problem featuring it prominently.  I know that there are long established ties between Feministing and Feministe, but that does not excuse the complete erasure of the work of a WOC, when it amounts to the perpetuation of White privilege.  Sometime what we chose to write about comes down to whether or not an issue is getting enough mainstream attention and sometimes we ignore specific items because it promotes our privilege.  I think that if Jill were being honest when she wrote her piece for Feministe she would have admitted that the latter is quite likely.

Like any other feminist blog, Feministe has had its share of race fails.  Sometimes these fails have come from the contributors/editors themselves, and at other times they have come in the comment section.  Though there are WOC currently writing for Feministe, it is still largely viewed as a White feminist blog and this because of the racism that continues to be a mainstay on that blog. Latoya Peterson from Racialicious commented on Jill's post saying:
It is really interesting that critique came from Shameless – a few years ago, Thea Lim and Jessica Yee came to Racialicious because they had a lot of problems with the environment there w/r/t race and feminism.
The call-out itself may not have been in good faith, but the point is absolutely valid.  Why did the feminist blogosphere refuse to promote a book edited by a WOC, about feminism, when it has taken the time to repeatedly promote books written by White women?  I don't think that race can be ignored, and to do so would be to dismiss the amount of racism that occurs daily in the feminist blogosphere.  It would be nice to be able to say that it was because the book was getting tons of coverage Feministe didn't feel it was necessary to promote it, but that would be false.  As I said that while I understand how time consuming it is to run a blog, what we chose to avoid says as much about us as what we chose to publish.  To be honest, even when I like a White feminist, I am no longer in the business of giving them the benefit of the doubt.  Feminism has failed and will continue to fail when it comes to marginalized women.  When I think about the time the major F(eminist) blogs spend to discussing the lack of women being published and then see them ignore a WOC feminist, I can only surmise that racial privilege is at work.  Until the day comes when Jessica Valenti puts out another book waste of environmental resources, and it gets ignored because mainstream feminists are too busy, I see no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Those are my thoughts on the issue but I would be remiss if I didn't share Jessica Yee's thoughts on the issue with you.  Please check out what she had to say on Racialicious.