Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why is a straight, cisgender, white male writing about feminism and social justice?

A fair number of people have probably read the title and thought, like I did initially, that someone who is essentially a WASP (sans Protestantism) has no authority to speak on feminism and social justice. In some respects, I still agree. There is a clear difference between myself and members of marginalized groups that extends beyond the privilege that I've been granted by virtue of being born as I was. The issue is in understanding the issues that members of marginalized groups face on a daily basis. Conversations with friends, acquaintances, and peers have included anecdotes like:

“When I was shopping for clothes today, the sales assistant used incorrect gendered pronouns. After I politely corrected him, he continued to use the incorrect pronouns.”

“I was walking down Main Street towards my apartment when a car slowed down behind me. The passenger yelled out the window, ‘Hey baby, where you going? I’ll give you a ride you’ll never forget.’”

“On the bus today, two people were talking about the pop quiz they had today. They characterized it as ‘Super gay.’”

“Someone told me they thought I looked pretty 'for a dark skinned girl.'”

“My parents told me that dating women was just a phase.”

“Even though my roommate knows that I’m polyamorous, she still makes semi-veiled comments that imply that I’m a slut for having relationships with multiple consenting partners.”

“My buddy told me that, when he called me a fag, he wasn't using it as a slur against gay people. He was using it the way it’s used on Reddit.”

“I have to work twice as hard and do twice as well in all of my science classes to be taken seriously because I’m not a man.”

Whenever I hear one of these things, my response is almost always the same. It more or less takes the form, “I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I ‘understand’ (emphasis mine) what you’re going through.” And what I mean by that is simple. I could read ever book on feminism, social justice, LGBTQ2I, polyamory, classism, and racism and never truly understand what is felt by members of marginalized groups outside of a theoretical or clinical sense. I understand words and phrases such as rape culture, patriarchy, slut shaming, gender policing, hetero-normative, and gender-normative in the sense that I know their definition and the negative side effects that they have on society/the individual. By and large, I’ll never experience the effects of marginalization first hand*.

For some time now, I've wanted to start a blog on specifically feminism and social justice. Every time I've gotten to the point where I've begun formulating my first post, I've run through some form of the above dialogue in my head and concluded that it’s not appropriate for me to broach these subjects outside of my work as an ally in the public sphere. I've convinced myself that putting a pen to paper should be reserved, in the strictest sense, to those that are members of marginalized classes. And I've walked away from this blog many times. However, for every single time I've walked away, someone that I've talked to has in some way caused me to rethink it.

I finally changed my mind due to conversations with various people from marginalized groups. I was told time and time again that even the small things I was doing as an ally for various marginalized groups were good because, “people listen to straight, white, cisgender males.” During these conversations, if I broached the topic of perhaps starting a blog about feminism and social justice, I was met with mostly encouragement. My intent, at this point, is merely to extend my work as an ally to online forum that is more permanent.

So here’s the first post. What I’d call a justification for its existence. I’d like to thank the people who did encourage me for motivating me to finally start. I suspect I’ll learn as much and more in writing these posts than I can likely offer to the people reading them. Also, since I am a member of pretty much every privilege class imaginable, it’s quite possible and even likely, that I’ll make an occasional mistake. I encourage people to correct me, where appropriate. I promise to take the criticisms and corrections graciously and with many thanks on my part.

*I’d like, in a future post, to actually address how some of the ideas I mentioned (specifically the patriarchy and gender policing) explicitly impact straight, cisgender males in negative ways. This does not make straight, cisgender males marginalized; rather, it merely speaks to why they should have a vested interest in breaking down the social norms that prop up these ideas.