After over a year at both FWD/Forward and Feministe, and now the end of FWD/Forward, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which writers in the feminist blogosphere are sorted into groups, are monolithised. I’ve been thinking about this in terms of how the writers of those two blogs have been coded in particular.
For some reason unknown to me, people will insist on speaking of “the women of FWD” or “the ladies or FWD”. We are quite explicitly not all women, and even if we were, the assumption is a bit much. I have some problems with the conflation of “woman” and “feminist;” I think a gendered politics that makes many kinds of gendering fade into the background is a poor one. It also makes me uncomfortable from the perspective of this being a centring of a very Western construct of gender. Coming from a culture where oppositional binary pairings aren’t as much of a thing, it’s a fair bit strange to me. But, to get back to the insistence on misgendering we at FWD/Forward, it actually makes me boiling, boiling angry. The other fun thing is that people like to make assumptions that they know what all our disabilities are, or that no one from the blog has a particular disability, or that one particular person on the blog is the only one with a particular disability. Not even all of the writers know all of each others’ disabilities. Our lives and identities are not up for observers’ scrutiny, for the love of sweet pancakes.
At Feministe, it’s been a real struggle to get my identity as non-white recognised because readers will insist on speaking of Feministe as “one of the big white blogs”. If you’re more invested in a big monolith to shake your head at than anything else, that’s fine, but don’t go erasing and marginalising non-white people because you can’t be bothered to acknowledge our existence or ridiculously hard work. There is a real difference between pointing out the site as one that has a lot of white perspectives, or has reached a level of prominence in part because of its racial make-up in a way other blogs have not, and calling it plain old white. The other bizarre thing is the way I’ll write something not about America and a reader might insist that I am talking about America or that I’m American or something like that. I do not know why it is so shocking to learn people have Internet access in countries other than the United States.
Anyway, being subject to, or seeing other people being subject to, all this has gotten me thinking. Why is there this investment on the part of people who are supposedly doing social justice in presenting other people who are doing social justice in such narrow ways? The whole point is that we are different from each other and have different needs. We cannot accurately be assumed to be one thing.
Coding a group of people in a particular way is not a “safe bet” just because that coding is going to be predominantly true. Again, the point of social justice is that those who are left out by those notions of predominant identity or circumstance – whether those notions are true or not – are brought back into the fold. And over and over again, I just see the replication of those same dynamics we are trying to overcome.
It’s not just a matter of silly mistakes that don’t really count. It is actively hurtful to me to be counted out in my own spaces, where I am assured who I am will be respected, where the point is to work towards a global respect for who people are.
If you’re concerned about the narrowness of representation in social justice movements, it behooves you to work to expand those representations. But also? It’s going to keep being that way until you acknowledge the people who are already there. I can’t be represented, you can’t be represented, if there is an investment in our not being acknowledged as doing the work we are doing.