The last couple months at Carleton, from at an introspective standpoint, have been marked with many challenges that bubbled up to the surface of our collective consciousness issues invisibilized within the student body politic and of our society as a whole. For me, this has been tethered by the intense desire to clear the air on a few topical issues that have taken centre stage at Carleton.
The Women’s only Gym Hour program was designed to actively combat the rape culture that is imbued within a space that normalizes overt sexualization such as the unwarranted and unwanted stares, catcalling, or the omnipresent hyper-sexualizing of our bodies. All of these cases support a culture of violent microaggressions and the behaviours that allow snub male entitlement to take hold of our bodies.
The debates that have come about in opposition of this program have weaponized the narrative of feminism. Within the context of this debate, feminism was weaponized to attack the Women non-binary, or femme of Color who spoke out against its logics and falsehoods as a structure that does not engage with the distinct gendered oppressions that become tethered through mediums of our race, ethnicity, religious affiliation or that of our able bodied was, or womanhood projected onto our primary or secondary reproductive and sexualized organs.
Moreover, false assumptions that majority of white men concluded inferred that Canadian women live in a society that recognizes inherent women’s rights (in contrast to their assumption that gendered violence is a crisis only applicable to third world countries) and in fact Women of Color who brought to light the statistical critique that counteracts this myth of the patriarchy holding no true crime in juxtaposition to the saturated cases of sexual assault within the intersects of racialized spaces were all caught in the crossfire of being falsely accused of engaging in victimhood mentalities that aim to make (white) men inferior, and moreover engage with a culture of misandry.
Whenever conversations regarding sexism or misogyny arise, there is a swift denial that within western society, misogyny is deeply engrained in this nation’s history of settler neo-liberalism that continues the structures of colonization, and racism to occupy the sexualizing of the colonized or racialized body, and the elimination of multidimensional gendered identities that stratifies the institutional legitimizing of white male entitlement, which conveniently ignores the structural inequalities that intersectional Women of Color endure more often than that of White woman.
Don’t get me wrong, sexism exists for all woman, but it must be noted how it rears its ugly head as it remains invisible (in regard to how it presents its dominance over the diversity of womanhood) yet transparent as it presents itself within the economic and cultural privileges of certain groups over others.
Wherein feminist issues are brought up in conversation, intersectional Woman of Color who adopt a language of intersectionality and speak of the interlocking influences of race, sex, gender, able-bodidness and it’s relationality with violence is faced with an obstacle to which the dominant faction of the public’s conceptualization on what qualifies as a real feminist issue is prioritized over our voices and has asserted that our grievances do not fit within that framework, thus limiting our agency to carve a space from within that recognizes our uniquely different oppressions.
Moreover we see how our racial identities are conveniently abused as a vehicle in which not only is our racial and ethnic differences criminalized or barbarized, but also allows for the contextual extensions of masculinity legitimize its existence into everyday culture and engagement only when it is shaped and contorts within our lives as racialized women. In many ways it obstructs any challenges made against the living structure of the patriarchy to which the historical ramifications that whiteness and masculinity has over us is and mechanized to have entitlements over our autonomy in comparison to white woman.
For Women of Color to read over and over again about how our experiences with race, sexism or sexual violence are denied within feminist discourse contributes to a culture of invalidating erasure and serves to assume that either our grievances are solely meant to seek attention, that these are oppressions facilitated by our lack to assimilate and engage with systems of liberal justice, or that these issues arise at the fault of our own people’s ‘backwards’ culture, and not a generational symptom of gendered colonization which created pillars of patriarchy and gendered violence within our communities.
The confluence of race and gender interlocks in ways that shape every facet of our life, determining the choices we make. We are limited in our mobility within spaces of justice as we cannot opt in and out of the struggle; the struggle is an ongoing challenge in which the task is one of exploiting our physical and mental health by explaining how the intricacies of race, gender and sex interpret out lives, and knowing very well that those struggles, if recognized, will come with some form of consequences.
The question then arises, how do we move past this? In order to facilitate such a conversation, it must centre around highlighting how white hetero-patriarchal anxieties and co-opted white hetero-patriarchal anxieties serves to silence Woman of Color who critique the lack of acknowledging the intersectionality of misogyny, gender and race based violence has in the inheritance and preservation of male white privileges and their right to dictate what aspect of our oppression is tolerable enough to latch onto and “support” without toppling over their privileges and power.
The violence of racialization as poignantly captured in Frantz Fanon’s (1967) work explains how racialized violence was directly linked to colonization and manifested in the corporeality of the body. Skin colour creates a heightened significance of criminalized repository discourse concerning difference –- a discourse that is highly damaging to the psyche and development of the racialized other. For instance, historically, the Black woman’s body is constructed as inferior because we birthed children that were framed as barbaric, misconfigured, and impure, opposed to White women who birthed a nation of peoples seen as civilized, biologically superior, and valorized with status, thus, racialization is a dialectic process. It rests on the centrality of sex, gender, and Whiteness and its normativity and invisibility.
The rhetoric-reality gap of feminism presents itself as an ideology that seeks to equalize the social, political and legal standing of all men and woman, but in reality, legitimizes its existence within a system of race-based gendered hierarchies.
Mainstream feminism has always been a project that has so often failed to recognize or include the experiences of racialized Women of Color who intersect with a diverse spectrum of gendered, and sexual identities, so much so that those experiences have tethered themselves to realities such as, trans-misogynoir; violence directed towards Black women where race, gender or sexual orientation play a pivotal role in structural inequalities and bias within Black spaces. As a result, these experiences, classified as third wave feminism, seek to create safe spaces for the ‘minority’ body who generally receive the breadcrumbs of mainstream practices of feminism, to which allows power to enforce their own mechanism of liberation movements that stratifies their distinct experiences.
Wherein feminist issues are brought up in conversation, Women of Color must always infuse the language of intersectionality and speak of the interlocking influences of race, sex, gender, and violence. The issues arise when we are met with the white-lash of obstacles that which conduct the public’s conceptualization of what qualifies as an appropriate gendered right and feminist issue. Moreover, this has asserted that our grievances do not fit within that framework, thus limiting our agency to carve a space from within that recognizes our uniquely different gendered oppressions.
When these topical issues regarding gendered violence or misogyny arise, there is a lack of recognition that the legacy of misogyny and counter-revolutionary movements such as feminism within a western society are deeply engrained in our country’s history of racism, colonization, and the hierarchical legitimizing of whiteness as it seeks to control the behaviours and actions of minority bodies.
Notable colonial feminist scholars such as Sunera Thobani and Sherene Razack have repeatedly pointed out the history of Canada as a colonizing and colonized country. These colonial mentalities existed through gendered violence wherein Indigenous women had strong kinships and ties to the land, but were framed from the European male colonist perspective as savage, barbaric, and animalistic beings. If they could colonize the female body they could colonize the land.
All of this has shaped the historical formation of our common sense modernity of gendered norms, and values and consequently shaped the way in which the state continues to stratify certain groups through the mechanism of colonization in the interest of maintaining hierarchical structures of power and privilege.
The common sense logic of grouped (in)equality in relation to gendered violence is an effective way by which particular groups are kept in place, and to which those who are subject to gendered racial violence are taken out of the mainstream and isolated within limiting, essentialized and infantilized constructions of “violence”. In other words, the feminist mission to counteract “violence” does not actively incorporate the lived experiences of racialized women into the folds of their imagination, thus resulting in a hierarchical power that is naturalised and communicated through a narrow, white-dominating framework of understanding gendered inequalities and gendered violence.
The confluence of race and gender interlocks in ways that shape every facet of our life, and ceaselessly determines the choices and trajectory of our lives. We are limited in our mobility within spaces of justice because we cannot opt in and out of the struggle. The struggle is an ongoing challenge in which the task is one of exploiting our physical and mental health by explaining the intricacies of race, gender and sexuality as it interprets our lives. In order to progressively move away from this, those who benefit from our oppressions must step away from their logics of justice as bearing witness and adopt a language of intersectionality so that these cycles of violence can be stopped.
The economics of gendered violence are communicated through branded and rhetoric reality gaps of supposed inclusion for all women under this framework of social justice, but as it stands deploys a monolithic and binary common sense stock of knowledge that fails to highlight how white dominance and white heteropatriarchal anxieties serve to silence Women of Color who critique the lackluster acknowledgment of the intersectionality of gender and race based violence. Male dominance over our bodies continues the legacy of whiteness as the dictator to which decides what aspect of our oppression is tolerable enough to latch onto and “support” without toppling over their structure of dominance over us.
John Gabriel (1998) argues;
“The power of whiteness lies in a set of discursive techniques, including exnomination, that is the power not to be named; naturalization, through which whiteness establishes itself as the norm by defining ‘others’ and not itself; and universalization, where whiteness alone can make sense of a problem and its understanding becomes the understanding.”
Whiteness becomes the tool by which other racialized groups and their gendered and sexualized identities are compared to and defined by the norm to which the foundation of that difference asserts a trait of barbarism and resulting in naturalizing such a ‘fact’ in the language of pseudo-science regarding gender and sex.
Feminism has harkened the marginalized oppression that white women endure as the same experience that all women endure. Consequently, this has given rise to a new dimension for “non-conforming” women of colour to have their structural inequalities invisibilized because of the historical residue of our oppressions having always been in proximity to white cis-hetero male patriarchy, and moreover de-politicized because our racialized gendered identity is an obstacle to white patriarchal futurity.
In the case of the debates going on at Carleton, the Women’s Gym Program exposes the rhetoric reality gap of the binary common sense knowledge of feminism as structured to combat gendered violence for all women but does not give racialized Women of Color a right to politicize our inequalities, and become the obstructionist obstacle that divests from and deconstructs the structural and dominant white hetero-patriarchy that has built this society.