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 of issues formally 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 micro-aggressions 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 of Color who spoke out against its logics as a structure that does not engage with our distinct gendered violent realities. Moreover, false assumptions concluded that racialized Canadian women live in a society that recognizes Women’s rights (in contrast to their assumption that gendered violence are only applicable to third world countries) and in fact Women of Color who brought up the statistical analysis that counteracts this myth were claimed to be contributing to victimhood mentalities that aim to attack white men, and engage with misandry.
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 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 a nation of peoples framed as barbaric, disconfigured, and impure, opposed to White women who birthed a nation of peoples seen as civilized, biologically superior, and valourized with status, thus, racialization is a dialectic process as 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 new terms such as (trans)misogynoir — violence directed towards Black women where race, gender or sexual orientation play a pivotal role in structural inequalities and bias. As a result, these new terms 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 they can enforce their own mechanism of liberation movements that are stratified by our diverse 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, sexuality, and gender, as it relates to violence. The issue arises when we are met with white-lash; an obstacle that which conducts the dominant white body politics conceptualization of who and what qualifies to be recognizable as a gendered right and feminist issue over others. Moreover, this has asserted that as Women of Color our structural inequalities do not fit within that framework of wester theories of woman’s gendered rights dogma, 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 hierarchal 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 fold of the legitimized, and limited definitions of violence. In other words, the feminist mission to counteract such violence does not actively incorporate the lived experiences of racialized women into the folds of our imagination, thus resulting in a hierarchical power that is naturalized and communicated through a narrow, white-dominating framework, or understanding of 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 we make. 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 hetero-patriarchal anxieties serve to silence Women of Color who critique the lacklustre 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 regard to 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.