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On learning in intersectional feminism as a privileged woman

This post is adapted from a post I wrote for a specific feminist facebook group. 

So this is a post I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s coming out of my own experience of having grown up as a very privileged woman, who bought into a very media-pushed, capitalist, patriarchy-lite version of feminism that was essentially the feminism of the second-wavers, and over the last 8 or so years doing a massive amount of learning around how flawed and damaging and still oppressive a view of the world that is; if you are making your way to the top of the pile but stepping on other women to do it, women’s oppression isn’t ended even though your job title might be CEO of all the world.

The word learning doesn’t necessarily sound immediately difficult to lots of us I’d imagine; it certainly didn’t always carry those connotations to me. I learned in school very easily and quickly; I performed well, I garnered plaudits and praise. The kind of learning that I’m talking about now though isn’t that kind of easily, painlessly (for me) absorbed knowledge transfer; this kind of learning is difficult, often painful, and frequently inducing of defensive behaviour (for me). It’s learning that involves facing your own privilege and acknowledging when and where there are others with more lived experience of other oppressions than you and who have considerably more of a right to speak on some topics and lead feminist thought on some issues than you; as someone who was very used to the feminism I was familiar with being White Feminism™ the concept of not being capable of speaking with authority on matters affecting women as a class, as a broader group, was a difficult and yes, painful, one to process and absorb. I frequently embarrassed myself in feminist discussions around this. My toes are curling up with cringe thinking of some of the defensive, hypercritical and unhelpful ways I responded (mostly, thankfully, online and anonymously, back in the days of discussion forums) to others who were sharing their opinions and theories backed up and borne out of their own lived experiences of their own oppressions.

It’s learning that has been of, and I mean this literally, priceless worth to me though. Those discussions in which those women and people used up their valuable time and labour in explaining to me and others the way in which the world operates on more than one oppressive axis, and why my white, middle-class view of the world is not a comprehensive or indeed accurate one, taught me more than anything I ever learned in college. I genuinely value this learning more than I value my degrees; it was harder come by for me, which is again my privilege talking – but I’m putting this out there because I know there will be those of you now who are where I was then on my journey.

I’d like to share some of my thoughts and the things I have learned though on what in my experiences from both sides of the fence, how the least painful for all involved, way to explore someone else’s reality and opinions born of their lived experience, without trivialising, dismissing, or walking over their real and valid emotions and hurt. This is really not meant to be preachy. I’m sorry if it comes across to anyone like that. It’s meant to offer help.

  1. When someone expresses an opinion that contradicts my view of the world in a way that challenges my acceptance of the status quo (by which I mean the capitalist and patriarchal hegemony we all live under), particularly if it elicits a very defensive response in me, I do my utmost to take the time to sit with that feeling for a while until its immediacy passes. This might take a few minutes; it might take a few days. It might take longer.
  2. If the person talking is oppressed in a way that I am not, I take the time to think on what they’ve said and process it inside my head until I have absorbed it as truth; their truth. If there are aspects of their opinions I can look for further reading on via Google I do that. I only read feminist-slanted reading on it.
  3. If I would still like to be enlightened on some of how they have come to the stance they have, and if I think that it would not hurt them to be asked, and if they have not expressly said they haven’t got the spoons to do the emotional labour of teaching me, I try to ask in as minimally demanding a way as possible if they could possibly explain a small bit of where they’re coming from on this.
  4. I do my utmost to accept however they respond in good faith and with good manners. A vital part of this is to accept what they respond with as fundamental truth and assume that all of their interactions with me are meant as well as that person can possibly mean it at that moment.
  5. I thank the person for their time and energy.

There are certainly times I am sure people reading this will have seen me NOT behaving in this way online in conflicts; those times are when I’ve been hurt myself by people insensitively treading on me in ways I’ve been oppressed and damaged. Those times though have really helped me to find empathy for others I see responding with anger and hurt when questioned or queried.

Most of all I do my best to approach women/trans people with, at a minimum, respect. If I can manage it, I approach them with loving kindness.

I am posting this in the hopes that it may help someone who is where I was a few years ago; not to set myself up as some kind of expert in conflict resolution in feminist circles, because that I most certainly am not. I am posting to try to share what I have been given from others.

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About Sinéad Redmond

Angry feminist, pro-choice & maternity rights activist, software engineer. Mother of a beautiful little girl. Enjoys ruining feminism for everyone.

One response »

  1. Pingback: On learning in intersectional feminism as a privileged woman – Irishwomenblog

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