Kaitlin Ugolik is a brooklyn-based journalist who writes and edits stories about the law, health, finance, technology and the media.

Solidarity is for white women

I have been an "activist-minded" person for as long as I can remember. When I was in elementary school, I wrote a letter to my principal asking why we didn't have recycling bins. And soon after, guess what, we got recycling bins! That type of thing made me realize that I didn't just have to complain about things I thought were wrong; I could help fix them.

One of the issues closest to me, for various reasons - some obvious and some not - has become women's rights and gender equality. Meaning you get the same rights and access whether you identify as male, female or something in between.

In the last couple of years, things have gotten more and more ridiculous in Congress, with senators and representatives making idiotic claims like "the body has a way of shutting that whole thing down" and not letting you get pregnant from rape, and state governments making abortion all but illegal (TX and my home state NC to name a couple of the worst offenders).

Then there are the things that have always been there - slut shaming (love you Ty), criticism/questioning the abilities of women in power, hating women so much that some people are willing to threaten to kill them if they suggest that historic women should maybe be revered in some way.

One of the things I tend to rant about the most, though, is cat-calling. Or street harassment, as I like to call it (and you should too, in my opinion).

The last time I did this on Facebook, a female friend argued that it's silly to call it street harassment, and I should just ignore it, because really who cares? I tried to explain to her why I care (see this post if you are interested) and I guess she ended up talking to her fiance about it, because he friended me apparently for the express purpose of writing me a novel of a comment about how I was wrong and I need to just learn to take a compliment.

I'm not even going to go into all of the thoughts that went through my head or the conversation that followed, except to point out one thing that is relevant to the point of this post (I'm getting there, I promise!) This guy's main argument seemed to be "we're not all bad!"

This is what we call "nice guy syndrome." It's when you bring up (in a non-accusatory way) the way that women are sometimes treated by men in front of a nice guy, and instead of listening to what you're saying or trying to understand it, he has to make sure immediately and unequivocally that you understand that HE is not bad. Not ALL men are like that. Totally derailing the point you were trying to make and making it all about him and his insecurities. It's frustrating and counterproductive.

And I realized yesterday that I do it too. To people of color.

Not necessarily in the same outspoken way, but still, I do it. It took a bit of effort to admit that, but I'm not embarrassed by it and I want to write about it because I think a lot of white women - white feminists included - do this and don't even realize it. It's a product of the inherent privilege that comes with being born white. That's a really, really hard thing to swallow. But for me at least, once I swallowed my pride and indignation and really thought about it, I realized it was true.

A friend posted this on Facebook yesterday.

At first, I had the same reaction to seeing this that I did to hearing about the whole #solidarityisforwhitewomen thing that happened earlier this summer: Ugh. 

"Jeez, I apparently am not 'feministing' properly." I get really tired of people telling me I'm "activisting" wrong, not trying hard enough, etc.

Then, I made excuses: "Sometimes I can't tell if something is racist, because if I think it is, maybe I am being racist for thinking it is racist...And as a white woman, I am afraid that if I speak out about things like this, that will be seen as appropriation, or as insensitive in some other way because I obviously don't understand what women of color go through."

Then I realized...I was being a "nice guy." I was doing the same thing I get mad at men for doing when they shut down feminist arguments by saying that "not all of us are bad." Choosing to protect myself and remain ignorant of the actual issue, because it was uncomfortable.

It's hard to be told you are misunderstanding something, or making something bad worse. But once you get over that pride hump and stop making it about yourself for a minute, you can learn lot. At least I did. (And of course it helps when the person trying to teach you is willing to be patient and explain things the way this author does).

If we want to stand up for all women, we have to recognize that our experience is not universal; feminism for women of color has a different history, different connotations, and we need to stop being afraid or unwilling to recognize this.

Solidarity does not have to be for white women.

 

What everyone can learn from the Grantland "Dr. V" controversy

What's really important.