Unfeminist First

It takes a tremendous amount of courage for a marginalised person to say something is X-ist. To talk about the structure that kicks them to the ground and walks on them. & a person who stands up does not derive any grotesque pleasure from the callout: it’s neither enjoyable, nor entertaining. They rightfully fear retribution.

This is even more the case when the person walking on you has a feminist card.

This is nothing new: there is bullying in social justice. I’ve experienced quite a bit of it myself, & so have people I’m close to.

Every time I speak, someone twists my voice.

Every time my voice is strangled, I must bear the brunt of their denial. Though we are all working for the same ideal so I must bear my burden in patience, no? That in itself is victim-blaming.

This is only going to happen again, and again, and again, and again. & again.

Every “bugger off” I have snapped in frustration is not without reason: the amount of time we spend fighting “allies” is ridiculous. It is exhausting. It results in worse cultural paranoia.

The various kyriarchal structures are not something to be debated. They are established fact. They need to be engaged with critically & worked through without privileged guilt because marginalised people don’t need you giving yourself kudos for doing what a decent human being should have been doing in the first place.

There is that constant pressure of “needing to take sides” when there are no real sides. Because you know what? It’s a continuum. Everyone screws up. It’s how you deal with being wrong. & people with feminist cards hate being wrong. It’s somehow worse than the apocalypse itself. Yes, some people are more guilty than others, but all are responsible.

Watching your friends/supporters harass someone who somehow summoned the courage for a callout without saying anything to prevent them from doing so? No excuses.

Continuing to speak over the heads of a marginalised group without acknowledging or apologising for your own fail in the past? No excuses.

Watching people in a FEMINIST SPACE show their pantslessness and say nothing despite engagement from others calling it out? No excuses.

Branding people who have legitimate concerns with the harassment and epic fail as splintering the movement and demanding solidarity from them? No excuses.

Using the marginalised as a convenient Other to point out the ~lack of attention~ “your” issues are receiving? No excuses.

Invoking “policing” as a tactic to discredit the voice speaking against you,when the police have been the foremost instrument of violence against minority groups? No excuses.

If this is not done in a critical manner, it is only a stronger signal for people to squander their privilege yet again. & then we’re back to square one with the kyriarchy. The onus of fighting for ourselves does not fall on us, because it was on our very backs that these structures were built.

Does the responsibility of engaging the same people who are oppressing us fall with us who have been silenced? Must we put up with the fauxrationalisations? Because they aren’t rationalisations, they are nothing but ‘splaining. They demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding in how kyriarchy functions as various intersecting systems crushing people beneath it.

Because these so-called rationalisations are in essence derails. They only make minorities more afraid of speaking up.

They devalue and dehumanise, and in doing so pave the way for more dehumanisation, more oppression.

They are exactly what makes so-called feminists into convenient tools of the kyriarchy, thus becoming the very monsters they purport to fight against.

They’re the same. Tired. Old. Shit.

I speak here knowing that my voice will once again be twisted.

But I am an optimist.

So quit it.

Quit the harassment, quit the self-centering, quit the dislocation of our voices.

If your cause was so progressive, if your ideal is so noble, you would not step on us to get there.

No regards,
Thursday
Weekday Blues.

[This post was written for Bitch Magazine’s Feminist Carnival. Incidents that involved me personally are all publicly viewable at The Sadness Of Pencils. Others are available upon request.]

IM IN UR MOVEMENT.

I suppose it is more than a little surprising, that in my journey from being a wee little ‘un learning teh feminism when I was twelve, to reaching college age this year or next, that I can still call myself a feminist. Given the way it’s trodden down some of the folks real close to me. Especially given that – given the strength with which I’m told I don’t belong.

My click moment into feminism came when I was fresh out of primary school, an eager literature student starting to realise that media was verymuch about hetero/cis/sexual white men. And feminism was simple. It took a little shaking up of my good Catholic mind, but that’s okay, it needed that.

I still agree with the basics of feminism. Bodily autonomy. Representation in the public sphere. Equal consideration on equal terms. I’m not giving that up, not ever.

Then, when I was fourteen-ish, I settled on a queer identity (the word I used then was bisexual, but I don’t use it any more, for verycomplicatedreasons), and, well, that’s what intersectional feminism was for, wasn’t it?

The thing about intersectionality is that it still frames a certain model as its default. Feminism has become more welcoming to queer women than it used to be – I’ve seen that happen over the last few years – but there’s little hope of belonging if you live outside the West, if you’re coloured, if you’re postcolonial, if you’re genderqueer, if you’re disabled. I’ve seen complaints that feminism is supposed to be about ‘women’s rights’, so none of these aspects of identity should be agitated for by the feminist movement. That disappoints me.

Because – aren’t I a woman as well? Heaven forfend that I should be counted so, if I don’t fall into a certain mould of the model feminist!

Who are you to tell me that?

In the past, before I even started writing under this name, I’d see how little interest the big feminist blogs took in Southeast Asia – or even in Asia – unless it was sweeping generalisations about an entire region, aggregated as those-brown-people or those-beige-people or those-yellow-people. Or, basically, those-people, which means not-us.

I’ve been told that cultural appropriation is merely ‘borrowing’ or ‘paying homage’. I’ve been told to leave my postcolonial sensibilities outside the discourse when white/Western feminists step in to discuss issues that affect women elsewhere in the world. (‘It’s for your own good!’ is the prevailing undercurrent.) My disabilities are erased, are not taken into consideration. When I speak up on these, I divide the movement.

And so, my disillusionment.

The feminist movement is fragmented; but it is not these multiple identities that I carry which are to blame. The problem is the refusal to accommodate diversity, to respect all lived experiences under the umbrella of feminism.

So. So I still call myself a feminist, still.

Part of it is a lack of another label. Thursday’s fiddled with ‘equalist’, or ‘humanist’, but I refuse to use those words, myself, because those words have histories too. They’ve been used to silence feminism, to dismiss its role in society. And that’s the one kind of opposition to feminism that I can’t get behind – the opposition born out of patriarchy and a privilege-laden notion that feminism is an irrelevant irruption of hysteria. That’s the only critique of feminism I’ve ever met that’s turned my stomach so. (And if I can stand with you, mainstream feminism… why can’t you stand with me?)

Part of it is optimism, too. I like to think I can change things. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here, would I? Despite the threats and the microaggressions and the days when I’m hopelessly out of spoons, I still think that I’m part of something – that there are others like me – that could turn this wretched broken system around.

But as a concession, I realised I couldn’t call myself a mainstream feminist any more. I need to add labels now. And we’ve talked about adding labels – all those explanations that differentiating between ‘women’ and ‘trans women’, between ‘people’ and ‘queer people’, between ‘folks’ and ‘folks of colour’ – merely reinforce what the default is. Well, to hell with that! Because I know what the default is, and my compatriots, we know that too. What I’m trying to do is to remind mainstream feminism of how the default has been constructed.

Radical feminism is a term that leaves a dirty aftertaste, because it’s been used, historically and now, to mean a certain brand of feminism that resorts to binary essentialism and the exclusion of trans women and genderqueer people. But I couldn’t find another term, either. I’m radical because I’m on the fringes. I’m on the fringes because of what you’ve made the default, the mainstream.

Until I can find a better term, then – until I can wrest back that idea of being part of the mainstream – I’ve to resort to adding qualifiers. I’m an intersectional feminist, a postcolonial feminist, a radical feminist. Queer and coloured and Southeast Asian and disabled, all of those things. That kind of feminist lah. Those worlds are part of me, are within me.

And/But I’m not too ready to relinquish the word feminist, because IM IN UR MOVEMENT, BEIN MAHSELF, forevers.

Margaret We.,
Weekday Blues

[This post was written for Bitch Magazine’s Feminist Carnival.]

The rest is not silence but belongs to me.

Someone once said I could never truly be invisible.

I offer my lived experience as proof I can never be truly visible. At least, not in my lifetime. My revolution is a long way from now.

Because while we are supposedly taking down the master’s house, the master is laughing at us.

Bugger the master. I’m building my own house.

*

I am wary of groups. Groups mean labels. Yes, St. Thomas says if we have words for things it helps us deal with what they are. But groups — consciously or unconsciously — create and Us and a Them. There is rarely anything comfortable about having an identity built on such a base, for your comfort is someone else’s marginalisation.

& I have always been a Them.

I do not have the luxury of relying on a community to take care of my needs, to affirm my value as a member, because they continuously erase me, despite claiming to be in my interests. I feel as though there are bits and pieces of me that exist in some strange limbo that detach at will whenever I am with others, so that I am never whole. So excuse me for not conforming, because I don’t buy your assimilation bullshit.

I am everyone’s Them. & I will always be an Other.

*

We didn’t intend to.

Speaking as a Muslim, intent does matter. Especially when you intend to sin. But could you imagine walking into a shop, knocking over a vase, and then getting out of it by claiming you didn’t intend to? Of course not. You pay for the vase and leave quickly.

The difference is that human beings aren’t vases.

*

Words have power. I bear their weight, and the weight of my own truth. Because silence is hardly useful, or innocent.

Silence is not consent.

Voice is justice tearing through the nerve cells, reaching for one more dawn. & Voice is a terrible, beautiful thing. But even as it is claimed, it can be taken away, or coerced. Eroded, bit by bit.

Silence kills voice.

Silence is not consent.

The same people who tell you that you are cowardly to hide behind words are the ones whose worlds shatter when you speak. For criticism is nothing — nothing — compared to the unbearable weight of the system upon our shoulders, and the trials a voice goes through to be heard cannot, and should not, ever be trivialised.

*

I do not claim to represent a community. I speak for myself because no-one will speak for me. I do not believe in “solidarity” as-is, for I have experienced for myself the insidious nature of this very top-down relationship. I am not in solidarity with people who demand that I let go of my baggage, for if their ideal was so noble, they would not erase us.

& I do not believe that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, because with friends like these, I don’t need enemies.

*

Must we react? What are we reacting to? Can we never do things for ourselves, of our own volition, to explore the chasms inside ourselves that we have to cross, & cannot cross alone?

*

I struggle to know the worth of me and mine even if it has been trampled, glossed over, erased, and obscured in old books, in single sentences that leap at me on pages. I’m not interested in telling you how your world was built on the backs of me and mine. But every time you say I am angry, every time you shove your Oh So Privileged Voice in my face and expect me to be silent, to be complicit, my voice will be thunder and typhoon spilling from my lips. The clouds swelling in the sky over your head will make you tremble. I will shout until I have no voice left, and even then, even if you have crushed me until I am a speck of dust to the eyes of you and yours, you will still hear me roar.

*

I once wrote that kyriarchy had much in common with fruits. I never saw myself in that analogy, because being me is like being trapped in a small room where everyone is throwing things and they don’t ~mean to~ but the bulk of it hits you. Maybe an orange, being eaten while the others ignore it.

So I will try to be a durian. I don’t expect it to be easy, or less tiring. Weighed against what others suffer, what others have paid and are paying — their blood, their freedom, their lives — mine seem insignificant. Dusty skin does an excellent job of hiding the scars, and words never leave scars, do they?

But a price — no matter how small or how large — would have been exacted from me anyway.

For daring to exist.

What I would remind you is that durians grow on trees. With several others, that may grow at different speeds and from different heights, but all of them will eventually ripen. & break free.

I am not alone.

There are more of us than you think.

An Open Letter to Writers

Dear Writer,

The most important thing for you to consider is your audience, correct?

This is also the most problematic.

Kyriarchy means the “audience” you think of is less universal than you think. In fact, I’d go straight out to call utter bullshit on the idea that any character, or any story, really, is ~universal~ because the mosiac of human experience directly contradicts any notion of complete universality. It’s when you try to impose a default, to say that this is the human experience captured in literature, when the bloody idea of it becomes nothing more than a bad joke. It’s like parading a cat in front of your family and saying this is the universal representation of all animals. I still see this perpetrated by many, many others like you who decline representation because it’s pandering to ~special interest groups~.

Isn’t that just the thing, though? The imaginary audience. What you need to realise is that stories about the most privileged group are everywhere. Seriously. There are hundreds of thousands of millions of stories out there for them. You get AWARDS for just writing about this specific class of people and nobody else. You get even more awards for writing for the privileged gaze!

But guess what! The majority of the world isn’t in that demographic. The majority of the world is sick of having to read the same characters over and over and over. They will support you. They are the ones paying for you. They are the ones who will spend hours kneeling on the floors of bookstores and petitioning libraries looking for your work. They care, because you cared enough to write about them, about telling them their stories existed, their stories mattered. I’m willing to bet they don’t really bother with your style, because it’s your content they care about, that spoke to them, that ignited their imaginations as readers. The spark that says I am a human being damnit, I matter!

And to do this, you need to approach the issue humbly. Be willing to learn. Be willing to question what you have been told, be willing to understand you will make mistakes, and that if you do, it is your responsibility accept them gracefully and move on. Try again. Do better. Because, by now, you should have realised the point of my letter. And that is that writing for a privileged audience doesn’t change anything. They don’t care: they will toss your work aside. There’s thousands of other books about them. But we, we are the ones who will pick them up, dust the cover, read the blurb and think, this might just be worth my while. We, the ones who don’t get to see ourselves humanised, the majority of us, when are you going to admit you need us, huh?

A Handy Guide to Appreciation of a Marginalised Culture

Tired of being boring ol’ white? Want to add a bit of spice to your life & get hippie street cred in the same bargain? Look no farther! Thursday’s written this simple & unadulterated guide to appreciating a marginalised culture. We guarantee we’ll make an imperialist douchefuck out of you before you can say ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’, or your money back!

So, here we go.

1. Choose your target.
First of all, all white people have the right to another person’s culture, especially you! Fashion, art, & fiction have always borrowed from other sources, but don’t worry, there’s plenty to go around! Poke around in the storage closet & remember to pick one that truly speaks to you. Or you don’t even need to pick only one, you may change every other week or so to keep your friends interested.

2. Dive in.
Got your new culture? Excellent, you can start promoting cultural exchange right away! Start a blog to show everyone how much you love your new culture. Complain that not enough literature is being translated from their language to yours. Make a new exotic friend! Wear their clothes. Use their greetings. Eat their food. Jabber in their language — oh you don’t need our help to butcher those phonemes, surely! Change your name to a nice native-sounding one, & if it’s the name of a god in their pantheon, it’s perfect for you!

& if you feel extra-kind, pop over to their country and get a fresh ~perspective~. Take pictures of random stuff without asking permission. Mention (loudly, & several times) how it’s such a shame they’ve remained as they are when their history & culture was so glorious. Remember to look shocked when they speak English, or better yet, point & laugh. (Bonus points if you’re in China, you get to use ‘ching chong’.) And if you feel very ambitious, why not get a tattoo of a phrase in their language? Or several? Don’t worry if it’s complete gibberish. No one cares.

3. Mix & Match!
If you get bored, you could always mix & match! Bellydancing to bhangra music! Sioux headdresses with hanboks! Dhotis with Maasai weapons! Why stop there? Be creative!

4. Dodging the PC PoliceTM.
By now your enthusiasm would have attracted unwanted attention. Their attention. How do you know who these people are? Well, they’re always looking for something to be offended about, & that makes them as subtle as a monkey on crack. They’ll use the keywords: ‘inaccurate’, ‘racism’, ‘cultural appropriation’, & ‘white privilege’. & if you’re really lucky, you’ll also get: ‘povertyporn’. & if that’s not a clue, there’ll probably be hordes of them, too, sending you angry messages.
So, here’s what you do: say they have no right to tell everybody what to think! Hmph! Nobody would know about ~diversity if they had their way. Then, call in your friend from step 2! They know your reasons: you’re promoting cultural exchange ~respectfully~, & white culture totally doesn’t speak to you. Disassociation happens to everyone!
Next: you‘re not offended by your actions, so it doesn’t matter.
& lastly: don’t they have better things to do, like, solve poverty & stuff?

5. Haters Gonna Hate.
You’ve still got people left from step 4? That’s all right; keep on doing what you were & they will eventually give up & go away. If you see any of your haters refusing to engage with you and/or saying they’re out of spoons, CONGRATULATIONS! YOU WIN!

& if you have any questions or concerns on how much of an impact you’ll make using our Handy Guide, you may contact us at 555-GO-FUCK-YOURSELF.

at least we can blame Kipling

Dear reader, we here at Weekday Blues always intimate to you that words mean things & it’s important to question their context.

If you ever need a perfect example of how cultural appropriation is the epitome of racism, this tumblog is relevant: http://colonelhathi.tumblr.com (trigger warning for horrifically offensive content)

Formerly known as ‘Fuck Yeah Exoticism’, I first engaged with this person when ze reblogged the Malayalam alphabet on tumblr. I pointed out that exoticism was a racist word. . Ze changed ze’s profile to say, ‘Don’t call me a racist unless you know what that means.’ & then this happened. & at the moment, it is ‘Exoticism is a wonderful word’. Alas.

Remember folks, Actual People(TM) think & write these things. & here is your brain bleach, the exit is on your left.

eta: I left this open letter:

There is no such thing as ‘just words’. When looking at language & saying it is ‘just words’, is like saying the economy is ‘just trade’. So much of the contextualisation & recontextualisation of space comes from the connotations of words, and it is context that gives words the potency that they possess & words are never without context. Nothing is ever ‘just words’. They have baggage, context, & lasting power. When we fail to examine them, their monstrous power swallows & shapes us, for we internalise these messages. Oh, I understand words. I am the one who bears their weight.

As for the rest of it, I have said this before, & I shall say it again. & repeat it. Your terra incognita? Is my home.

It is one thing to like a culture. It is another to respect it.

This goes much deeper than just simple appropriation, though. This is the concept that chromatic cultures are to be shared, delighted in, & marketed for everyone as a little bit of spice. This is why you can dip your feet into the waters that nourish me. There is no promotion of equality between us, because we were never equals & are not equals at this present moment: you will never emphasise my humanity, you will only continue to strip me and mine of our personhood & say it is in the glorious name of ‘exchange’, or better yet, ‘diversity’. This is racism. This is Otherising. This is flattening of a vast spectrum of experiences.

It is not your place to say you don’t find yourself offensive when you deliberately exercise white privilege by engaging in such actions. It is like focusing sunlight through a magnifying glass and frying ants as they march past, and saying the ant feels no pain.

It is one thing to appreciate a culture. It is a different matter entirely to fetishize, misunderstand, and reduce a rich, living heritage to tired caricatures for your personal consumption. We do not exist to please you. We do not exist so you can discover your inner dusty peep. & we certainly do not exist to increase your hippie street cred. If you truly had an interest in us, you would not be paying lip service to stereotypes. You would not even be writing a blog dedicated to — once more — showing us to be polite, hospitable, deeply spiritual, and vegetarian. Perhaps you think even our tigers have internalised this message, hm?

In another time & place, your actions would have gone unnoticed, even lauded.

Perhaps in another time & place, the rest would have been silence.

Today, it is not. Today, I have a voice. You do not respect my culture & for this I pity you. You will never engage me; you will never understand: to you my heritage is a poor imitation, a hilarious distorted image in a funhouse mirror. & You will never be able to claim it as ‘yours’, because you will never perceive me and mine beyond our inscrutable smiles, our strange letters, our too-tight clothes, our dusty skin, our forked tongues.

sticks & stones & words & bombs

I would first encourage the dear reader to take a quick peek at the Ableist Word Profile at FWD/Forward: it is relevant.

This post will be discussing harmful language & trigger warnings apply accordingly.

under the jump