Tuesday, May 24, 2005

When Race, Class and Gender Violently Intersect

CNN reports this morning that a group has released a study in S. Africa saying that one woman is killed by her spouse or intimate partner every 6 hours, and less than 40% of those homicides are followed by a conviction. The reasons, according to the article, are complex, but there is evidence to suggest that the abnormally high rates of female homicide may have much to do with the recently ended apartheid in the region as well as general discontent and disempowerment of black men because of economic and social factors leading to increased spousal abuse. The study also suggests that all those identity politics that has so stratified American politics is just that -- an unnecessary stratification. Why was it so shocking, for example, for many of my friends to hear that I am not only an Asian American activist but a feminist, as well? As an Asian American woman, my identity is not just individually my race, my gender, or my class -- it is all three of these things combined. And yet, this country rarely recognizes my multiple identities as a cohesive whole: perhaps we would do well to address identity as more than the misleading binary of majority/minority-ness that we currently foster and do more work trying to find inroads amongst different identities.


Blogger James said...

Why do you friends have a hard time with your feminism? Because most of your friends do not understand nor respect feminism.

But aside from that, the real problem is that average apolitical people despise complexity. No identity exists in a vacuum, yet most Americans try desperately to force minorites into stratified bubbles in order to shrink-wrap their political and economic concerns into easily ignored separate and non-interlocking components.

It's all an elaborate passive-aggressive control mechanism.

So the next time one of your friends ignores your feminism, smack 'em upside the head. Seriously. People don't ignore violence, when they are the victim.

5/24/2005 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous shelly said...

James, you make a very good point that its easy to force people into one single identity. It happens all the time and its unfortunate. I agree with you that it can be used to marginalize or "blow off" entire groups of people with diverse beliefs, and its not fair.

However, I have two comments to make regarding this topic. A) I think its unfair to say that "most americans try desperately to force minorities into stratified bubbles." Some americans, yes. A lot of americans, sure. But, MOST? I don't think that's necessarily accurate. Of course it is sad that there are alot of people that do this, but I think saying "most" americans borders on the behavior you are trying to admonish.

B) I think it is also important to point out that it is not only minorities that are subject to being socially, culturally, and politically pigeon-holed.

I hope that didn't come off too bitchy... its been a long day. :) You're right though, its pretty fucked up that EVERYONE can't just embrace and celebrate complexity.

5/24/2005 03:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you were willing to write a post about your experiences of your own race, gender, and class, I think that would be well worth reading. You seem to write a fair bit about yourself as Asian, but not as much about the other aspects of your identity.

I have noticed, reading this blog, that you tend to hedge on feminism - for example, you repeatedly insist that you are not a man-hater or a female supremacist. Honestly, it made me sad that you find that necessary, because I don't think that anyone who actually bothered to learn about feminism, as opposed to relying on anti-feminist stereotypes of what feminism is, would make the mistake of equating feminism with hatred or subordination of men.

5/24/2005 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...


i appreciate that you've taken the time to read my blog and that you're interested in my other "identities". However, what I don't understand is why you feel I must explicitly cite my thoughts in relation to an identity for a reader to acknowledge the correlation. am i not talking about my experiences as a woman when I discuss my outlook on women in the battlefield? is it not interesting to hear about credit card woes from someone who can afford a credit card for the first time? do you need me to cite my nationality (canadian) for my rant on border security to become an identity issue?

i find this attitude to be an example of the very stratification that I'm talking about -- no offense intended. I blog about many issues -- and while APIA identity has been explicitly in the forefront -- I'm personally celebrating Asian American Heritage Month and so far I am one of three or so political/current events that I've found that has given our history and heritage decent coverage over the last few days.

But overall, I feel I do share my genderized, social, and class identities as well as my racial identity with every post. my various identities don't turn on and off at will, they influence my opinion on every single issue and experience in my day-to-day life.

To require someone to identify which identity they're embodying at any given moment with any given thought would buy into the idea that I could only be one identity at any given time.

nonetheless, i do appreciate your p.o.v., and it was certainly food for thought. i hope you continue to read and post, and maybe i will be able to find the opportunity to explicitly discuss more social, class, religious identity etc in this blog in the future.

5/24/2005 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

Shit, Jenn!

You got served!

5/24/2005 08:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Winnie said...

Do you think it's really possible to recognize all of someone's identities? I tend to think the most you can hope for is to find common cause that intersects with part of an identity. Because identity means different things to different people. My feminism may be different from your feminism. My Christianity, I know, is diffferent from the Christian coalition but I still consider it part of my identity.

5/24/2005 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Hey Shelly! No, you're fine. Not bitchy at all. :)

But, to address your concerns, I think that you're much more optimistic than I concerning general American marginalization of citizen diversity.

Most Americans despise identity complexity; they consider any Black person to be nothing more than a one-trick pony who responds only to challenges to his or her Blackness, forsaking all other personal identities of gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, etc. The very idea that these personal political identities can interrelate and intersect in different ways for different people in usually enough to shut most people's minds off.

It's not unfair to call that out. Minorities commit this very travesty within their own political groups, explaining the historical subjugation of feminist association within the African American community even though Black feminists provided the major organization, manpower, and theory behind every major pro-Black political movement in American history, especially the Civil Rights Movement. The majority class just pioneered this dynamic to institutional levels.

Americans marginalize because Americans disrespect difference. Our nation has always endured as a multiracial, multicultural society characterized by majority group domination of minority rights. The majority never respects identity complexity, because their subjugation of various racial, ethnic, and behavioral minorities can not persist if the subjects were ever respected as total, complex humans, instead of useless typecasts.

5/24/2005 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Hey Anonymous. Good to hear your comments.

Too bad they are utterly misinformed. Feminism has always endured as a political ideology woefully mischaracterized by its antagonists because feminism emerged (in the American social movement context) as the ironic complaints of privileged, lazy, upper-class White women, too bored by meaningless post-Victorian lives of wealthy emptiness to raise their own children, wash their own clothes, clean their own houses and cook their own food. The very people who forsook their own human worth, as expressed by personal labor, suddenly began shouting at the American political rooftops about their so-called oppression.

True, their lives were utterly controlled by the men that provided for them. Still, What does the minority feminist who pushes the White feminist's child in a stroller at noon each day through the local park, who cleans the White feminist's laundry and dusts her furniture, who prepares dinner for the White feminist's family - all for minimum wage - say about the White feminist's 'feminism'? Nothing.

Feminism is about work. In this respect Anonymous, I do not agree that 'hedges on feminism' in any sense. No one has been served William; the truth is that identity multiplicity exists, and the rhetorical attempt by some readers to pigeonhole writers into promoting monaural minority status ignores the observable truth that how one relates to the various political identities they exhibit is their business, and that no one should try to force identifications on anyone.

Anonymous, when Eldridge Cleaver attacked James Baldwin's identity multiplicity in his homophobic and misogynist Soul on Ice, he committed this very problem - trying to define another person's political identities for them, and decrying them as somehow not-(insert identity here) when they don't relate to they political ideology in question to your benefit. I caution you Anonymous, to refrain from such identity imperialism. The best music is in stereo.

5/24/2005 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

winnie said,

"Do you think it's really possible to recognize all of someone's identities? I tend to think the most you can hope for is to find common cause that intersects with part of an identity. Because identity means different things to different people. My feminism may be different from your feminism. My Christianity, I know, is diffferent from the Christian coalition but I still consider it part of my identity."

Well, I think there's a difference between 'recognizing' someone's differing identities and 'understanding' or 'accepting', even, someone's differing identities. I think the problem is that people don't see you as having different identities if you don't fit into the standard, "approved" definitions. Your feminism and my feminism differ, but that doesn't make either of us less "feminist" because we both identify ourselves that way.

But with the binary perspective of the mainstream, if you don't fit into one identity, your membership within that identity is questioned -- I'm not a white liberal woman, so immediately, my feminism is suspect. And also, if I fit strongly into one identity, my membership is also suspect, as if you can only be one kind of minority at a time.

Basically, in a long-winded way, I'm agreeing with you. I don't think an end to stratified minority communities will lead to a homogenization of those identities, there just needs to be a better understanding that being a part of an identity doesn't mean the person has to fit the definition but that the definition has to fit the person.

5/25/2005 09:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, I've read bell hooks, so I'm familiar with your argument. I will not get into its accuracy or lack thereof because it has precisely nothing to do with my argument. My argument is that in identifying oneself as a feminist, one does not need to pander to anti-feminists by saying one is a feminist "in the equal gender rights way, not the 'die, man-creature, die' way."

Jenn, I did not say you need to explicitly cite your own experiences in order for readers to acknowledge the correlation, just that it would be interesting if you did.

5/25/2005 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

anonymous, i think i disagree with one main point in your previous post which lead to this discussion:

"I don't think that anyone who actually bothered to learn about feminism, as opposed to relying on anti-feminist stereotypes of what feminism is, would make the mistake of equating feminism with hatred or subordination of men."

Sure, the anti-men perspective of feminism is inaccurate, but it's not uneducated or unlearned. Part of feminism's history includes strongly anti-male or female supremacist sentiment, and I don't think it's pandering to anti-feminists to acknowledge that fact and to explicitly counter popular perception of the feminist movement with my own identity within the community.

I'm not sure how sweeping the fact that there are some parts of feminism that are radical female-supremacy under the rug is any better than the anti-feminists that would seek to characterize all feminists as such. Isn't it still a bunch of people trying to define for a bunch of other people what their feminism is to them?

As far as the explicitly/interesting thing, I only wonder what you're looking for -- your original comment suggested that I don't represent my other identities as much as my APIA identity. As if my blog is currently uninteresting because I don't give my class or religious identities enough face-time... I feel it's strange, more than anything else, because, for me, my identities don't turn off.

5/25/2005 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

Anonymous, thanks again for responding.

Now, while I can't speak to bell hooks on this subject, I do believe that my assertions on recent social movement White feminism apply to your argument, as it if nothing else defines various shades of feminism the general public must contend with. I believe that some extreme radical feminism can be defined in a "die, man creature, die" way. You're probably more familiar with the literature than I, but I believe that the real problem (with feminism and other anti-oppression ideologies) is that the general public, unfamiliar with any tenets of the ideology in question, respond toward the most radical and extreme elements of the ideology to define all of it.

It's the nature of social movement politics. Malcolm X's elevation to the uppermost echelon of 1960's Civil Rights Movement virtue (then and now, even though Malcolm X never joined the movement in any non-rhetorical way) provides further example of this.

But just because the radical elements are mischaracterized by social movement opponents, doesn't mean that those radical elements do not exist. Much of this is in the eye of the beholder, but there are feminist theorists who view all heterosexual copulation as rape, and who pioneered media theory through complex assertions of on-screen male revelry in female lack of phallus. Man-hating feminists exist just like White-hating Black Nationalists exist. Differentiating oneself from those radical elements (knowing that the misinformed will typecast first and ask questions never) appears sensible to me.

5/25/2005 10:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would suggest you read radical feminist writers before presuming to tell people what they say. I would also suggest that pre-emptively telling people you do not hate men, and shying away from "feminist" in favour of "gender equalist," contributes to the myth that feminists, on the whole, want to hurt men.

And further to my last comment: frankly, Jenn, class bias is so patently obvious in all your posts that nobody needs to be told you grew up with class privilege. So you're right, you don't have to identify it in your posts. I was just wondering if you were aware of the extent to which it appears to influence your opinions.

5/25/2005 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

anonymous, i don't think there's any need to get vicious. i don't think anyone is asserting that all feminists are man-hating... but you seem to be asserting that there is no such thing.

are you honestly going to say that every feminist since the dawn of time has been a gender equalist and has advocated gender equality for both men and women, regardless of where the eventual benefit may fall? are you honestly going to say that there has been no feminist theorist who has proposed that women are, in some cases, superior to men?

"frankly, Jenn, class bias is so patently obvious in all your posts that nobody needs to be told you grew up with class privilege. So you're right, you don't have to identify it in your posts. I was just wondering if you were aware of the extent to which it appears to influence your opinions."

yes, i did grow up with class and economic privilege, and i don't shy away from that fact -- it is part of who i am, and i'm not trying to win the 'most oppressed' merit badge. i'm not sure what you're trying to prove with this non sequitor though.

5/25/2005 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger James said...


Laura Mulvey's 1973 essay Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema uses psychoanalysis to politically define and publicly critique the American film industry's historical misogyny, whereby "an idea of woman stands as linchpin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies." (Mulvey,1973) Woman, for Mulvey, is defined by her castration alone, and all visual pleasure men derive from on-screen patriarchy emerges from their identification with male protagonist power, exemplified by the presence of male genatalia.

Why do I bring this up? Because even though I agree with Mulvey’s perspectives in her essay, I recognize that for most of the American moviegoing public, Mulvey"s political appropriation of Freud is the very definition of radical, man-hating feminist. In essence, she asserts that whenever a man watches a 007 flick, the man is cheering for Bond not as a practical, martial hero, or a no-nonsense morally upright soldier for God and country. Rather, Mulvey's perspectives devolve Bond into a Viagra-popping, midlife crisis-plagued British Boy Scout with too much money and too much testosterone, in more need of regular therapy than revolutionary terrorists because he so despises women's natural curse of the bleeding wound that he must staunch their suffering with his penis, thereby saving the world through public explosions and private ejaculations. The average American male finds radical any deconstruction of the general alpha-male entertainment archetype, especially one that turns James Bond over to Dr. Phil for identity reprogramming.

I have in no way mischaracterized radical feminism.

5/25/2005 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

And on that weak class attack: all things being equal Anonymous, the average around the way girl holding down jobs as a diner waitress or a factory worker or a bus driver with children to feed and rent to pay and creditors to duck does not have the time to wax philosophical on radical feminist writing on a random blog at 11:19 am on a Wednesday morning. The simple fact that you challenged my understanding of radical feminism speaks to your knowledge of radical feminist writing, which speaks to levels of formal education that immediately promote you into class brackets far above the general American proletariat, student loan deferments notwithstanding.

Class privilege is nothing to apologize for; how dare you attack another's background when you have yet to deal with the questions presented you on radical feminism? If you are privileged enough to have read bell hooks in detail, you are too rich to demean another person's class status. Karl Marx, you are not.

People living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. They get cut.

5/25/2005 01:24:00 PM  

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