Talking about privilege is a tough thing, guys. It’s hard not to be angry at the folks who have it if you don’t, and it’s hard to understand those who don’t have it if you do. There’s a gap in lived experience that causes a gulf in communication, and it can be really difficult to even realize either the gap or the gulf even exists.
So when I see folks that are genuinely making an effort to understand an experience outside their own, I personally prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt. If there’s someone who is genuinely trying to be a good ally, I personally feel it’s important to recognize that and support it. I fully believe that it is not the responsibility of the oppressed to educate their oppressors… but can we make a distinction between oppressors, and those who are simply part of the oppressive class?
For instance, there’s this article on why the queer community doesn’t need Macklemore’s validation. And, y’know, if this was the only socio-politically conscious song the group did, I might be inclined to agree. But to me, “Same Love” isn’t patronizing. It’s not a political statement, necessarily. It’s certainly not a gimmick. The songs that I’ve heard by Macklemore (and, to be fair, I’ve only heard a few) simply point to a piece of our culture and go, “What’s that? Why is it like that?”
In “Thrift Shop,” he points out that our own drive for status fuels this ridiculous consumer economy that inflates the prices of average goods beyond the point of reason – yo, that’s $50 for a T-shirt – and the culture of excess and waste it creates. In “White Privilege” he examines the fact that hip-hop culture has been appropriated by people who have never experienced the struggles that birthed the movement, and wrestles with the question of whether or not he can, in good conscience, participate in it. And in “Same Love” he points out that we are all human, and we all deserve the same respect, dignity, and legal standing.
Queers, this song wasn’t written to us. About us, yes – for us, sure. But we’re not the intended audience here. Macklemore is talking to the folks out there who have never had to think about what it means to be called “faggot” in any real sense of the word. He’s talking to the people who don’t see queer people as real people. He’s talking to the people who live in comfortable ignorance, unaware of the implications of their intellectual laziness. He’s challenging them to think about the people they pass judgment on, the human element behind the political decisions. He is using his voice to amplify the message that others have put forth. Are we really doing so well on our own in the fight for equal rights that we don’t need celebrities and people in positions of power to stand beside us?
Maybe it’s all in how you read it. The author states,
“…Ben’s gay (mis)identification is constructed as the source of his own preconceived notions—his stereotypical views—about what constitutes gayness: an aptitude for art (“‘cause I could draw”), a genetic predisposition (“my uncle was”), and a precocious anality (“I kept my room straight”). Just as his mama corrects him and draws attention to the stereotypes animating the proclivities that might lead him astray to being gay, he is corralled back to fulfill his destiny of becoming a straight-but-not-narrow male ally for people like his gay uncle who are targets of the religious right’s scrutiny and hypocrisy”
Ok, sure. If you’re assuming that this Ben is just a character (Macklemore’s actual name is Ben Haggerty), then I could see where this looks like an oversimplification of the equal-rights struggle through the lens of heteronormativity. But if you instead take it as one man telling a story that is actually true, and did actually happen, then it takes on a different meaning.
My interpretation of the above verses is “When I was young, I thought I was gay because these things were true of me, and also of gay people. It took my mom to remind me that I was forgetting the crucial piece: who I was attracted to.” I don’t see it as “a white dude who phobically disavows his own fleeting homosexual identification as just another instance of “buying into stereotypes”’… I see it as someone saying, “Hey, I’ve questioned my sexuality a time or two. Turns out I’m straight. But it shouldn’t matter if I am or not. It shouldn’t matter if anyone is or not.”
“Turns out I’m straight” is not a homophobic statement. Just because you’ve questioned your sexuality doesn’t mean you’re gay. Hell, just because you’ve slept with someone of the same sex doesn’t mean you’re gay. Sexuality is a continuum, a spectrum, and there are a myriad ways of expressing it. It changes from person to person, day to day, minute to minute. And it seems a bit gauche to look so disdainfully and distrustfully at a hand extended in friendship and solidarity, just because there happens to be a straight white dude behind it. (Some of my best friends are straight white dudes.)
At the end of the day, the equal rights campaign is not about marriage. Putting marriage on a pedestal as the be-all end-all of human relationships and experience is deeply problematic, and adding queers to the mix won’t change that. But recognizing that love is love, no matter who it’s between, is vital to the progress of free society. So at the end of the day, the equal rights campaign is about recognition. It’s about lifting the taboo. It’s about realizing that, yes, it is all the same love.
And a certificate on paper
Isn’t gonna solve it all
But it’s a damn good place to start.
So right now I work the customer service line for an online retailer. I like my job most of the time. Most of the customers I talk to are pretty nice. But the other day I took what was probably the worst call I’ve ever had.
This woman called in wanting to return some clothes that didn’t fit. They were too small because she’d gained weight, you see. And that would have been fine, returns are a thing we do, no problem. Except…
This poor woman was in tears. She was brokenhearted that the outfit was too small. She was convinced that it was because she had gained weight, and not that (as I pointed out) that designer likely runs small. She kept saying things like, “I’m so disgusting, I’m such a monster, I’m so fat, I’m so ugly…”
I’m not going to say “She wasn’t even that big.” Only because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what size she was. It would be the same story whether she was a 2 or a 2X. This woman was in tears over clothing that didn’t fit because she’d bought so completely into the belief that there is a right size to be, and she wasn’t it. I could hear her sobbing as she hung up the phone, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to help her.
This shouldn’t be normal. No one should ever feel like a monster because her clothes don’t fit. No one should ever feel so bad about their size that a too-tight shirt makes them feel worthless.
So Penny’s request for the day, guys? Value yourself as you are. Even if it’s just for a day. Spend a day shutting down the voice that lists your flaws, that tells you you’re ugly and worthless, that makes you feel gross and ashamed. Spend just one day focusing on the amazing parts of yourself. Remind yourself that you are, indeed, amazing.
Maybe we can’t always fight this horrible culture that tries to devalue us and force us to confirm to unrealistic ideals. Maybe those damaging messages about what a woman “should” look like aren’t going to go away, now or possibly ever.
But we don’t have to listen. Please, just spend a day not listening.
My brilliant friend Caitlyn posted this on her blog last week. It essentially posits the question, “Would more people be open to feminism if we simply called it something else?”
And I think… maybe? But is that really a good thing? Or more to the point, does that really mean we should call it something else?
Maybe this is a tinfoil-hat moment for me, but I think the hesitance to identify with feminism as a movement is an indicator of oppression. Think about it. Much in the way that a Muslim fears to identify as such in our society, for fear of being lumped in with terrorists and extremists by the average ignorant ass, so too do women fear identifying as feminists to avoid being lumped in with “a bunch of angry, unshaven man-haters.” I can almost hear the patriarchy going, “But you’re cool, right? You’re not one of those angry women, right? You’re not, like, one of those feminists who has a stick up her ass about rape jokes, are you?”
Why is it a bad thing for a woman to be angry? For that matter, why is it a bad thing for a woman to be unshaven? Or to have a stick up her ass, provided it’s her stick and she wants it there? Feminism, among many other things, is about a person’s right to not conform to stereotypes and expectations. And yet that nonconformity is used against us somehow, as proof of the invalidity of our stance. An angry, unshaven woman simply cannot be taken seriously.
So women who want to be taken seriously distance themselves from that image. And if the word “feminist” conjures up that image, then she’s not a feminist. Oh, no. That would wreck her credibility.
This is bullshit. Not because there are “I’m not a feminist – but” women out there; they are entitled to their choices, and frankly I can fully understand why they wouldn’t want to identify as a feminist if, for instance, it means she won’t be taken seriously in a professional setting or that she’ll catch hell from her male friends. The bullshit part is that there’s even a possibility she won’t be taken seriously, or that she’ll catch hell from her friends.
I mean, really. A majority of the population believes that there is an all-powerful man in the sky who personally created the universe and can’t wait to invite us to his really awesome party once we die; but it’s the folks who believe women and men should be treated equally that get the side-eye. Seriously?
As the article points out, we are “bending to the societal pressure that feminism is gauche.” Why? Why is feminism gauche? Why does it make so many people so uncomfortable? Is it because the word “feminist” conjures up images of angry, unshaven women, waving picket signs and shouting slogans? Is it because a feminist woman, by definition, will almost certainly not conform to your expectations of her? Is it maybe because a feminist woman breaks the rules, and we’ve been told that’s bad?
All this doesn’t even take into account the problems with being a feminist man. Is it really any wonder that society sees a feminist man as weak, effeminate, somehow lesser than his fellow man? Take a good look at the systematic way patriarchal society oppresses women, and tell me it’s a coincidence that those who speak out for the rights of women also get oppressed, laughed at, degraded, dismissed, made fun of. It’s all part of a system designed to keep the oppressed under the heel of the oppressor.
Right now, I am reading what I’ve just written and thinking to myself, “I sound like a loony conspiracy theorist nutbag.” And I think that’s part of the problem.
It’s like gaslighting, on a widespread societal scale. We’ve been conditioned not to trust ourselves; conditioned to question our anger, to mistrust our emotions. We abuse ourselves to save our abusers the trouble. We tiptoe around those in power, afraid to upset the status quo; afraid of the backlash bound to come our way if we stand up for ourselves. And when others point out how fucked up the situation is, we defend it. Oh, it’s not that bad, we say. Society’s just having a bad day.
Or century, maybe.
No, I don’t think we need to change the label. I think it’s more important than ever that we stick with feminism. I think it’s more important than ever that we stand up, have our say, make our voices heard – in the name of feminism. The more we fear to be connected with it, the more power we give to those who wish this whole feminism thing would just blow over. The more we hesitate to join ranks, the more power we give to those who believe women should “know their place.” Maybe they won’t take us seriously now… but if we don’t fight for equality, they won’t take us seriously ever.