Monday, June 15, 2009

Knowledge, and who has it

There's something I've noticed in the feminist community.

I've noticed it with various place, various people, and I feel that if I name names and events, people will focus on that event instead of on what I'm trying to address.

There are a lot of feminist issues out there. There are even more womanist issues. There are points and counterpoints and milestones and setbacks. There are heroes, icons, villians, bloggers, movers, shakers, and trolls. And there is no way for any person to have even the basic knowledge of all of these issues, or to know the best way to address it. Not. Possible.

Partially, that ignorance is built on privelege. The privelege of being white, or cisgender, or make or middle class. But part of it is based on reality.

I feel that most of the feminist bloggers I read do their very best to read up on the issues, be knowledgible about what they post, respectful of the people they're posting about, and open to improvement and criticism. And that is just about all you can ask from someone, in reality.

I see, over and over again, female bloggers trying to support or bring attention to an issue, only to get nasty, exasperated backlash from those most intimately involved in that issue. I see female bloggers turning around and bringing that same attitude to male bloggers. I see them turning it on each other.

There's a continuum with a fine line in it. There's one end, where someone is just reeking with self-satisfaction and privilege, opening a hand to help out these poor folks that don't know enough to come in out of the rain, and since they're so weak and stupid, they should let mama blogger talk for them, and God forbid they dare to say a word about what she says.

And then there's the other end, where a blogger does just about everything they can to educate themselves, demand a respect for the issue, defers to the those most intimately involved, and is STILL castigated for not doing it right, usually with the double whammy of, "YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE ME" followed by "A ROCK WOULD BE ABLE TO SEE HOW OBVIOUS YOUR FUCKUP IS." You can't have it both ways. Either your understanding of the world and experiences in it is self-evident, or it is not.

I've done this to people. A specific example I can think of is poverty--so many talking heads talking about the children of teenage mothers, and never actually talking to the child of a teenage mother. I remember talking to someone once about his support of Ronald Reagan and the social policies enacted during his presidency. I lost my mind. "Do you have any idea what it feels like to be so poor, you can't afford jelly? Do have any idea how close we lived to the wire, how it feels to know that your baby daughter needs surgery and so do you, and there's no help, and you hope to god that you can make the bills? DO YOU?!"

And the person said no. And I replied, "WELL, MAYBE YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT THAT."

Now, how the fuck was he supposed to know that? If he'd said yes, I would have called him a damn liar. If he says no, I'm going to yell at him for being ignorant. The only way he could have avoided being bitched out by me is to have gone through exactly the same life events, or to have put hours and hours into research on rural poverty in the United States in the late 1980s, especially as affecting single mothers, as well as the kind of cutbacks that university programs were undergoing and the pay wage for those who are employed as caretakers in assisted living facilities.

In other words, there's no way he could possibly have known all that. So why did I get angry for him not knowing that? What did I really expect? Do I really think that every person in the US should have this kind of knowledge? I'd sure like it. But it isn't possible, it isn't feasible, and it isn't even reasonable. I have to educate people. Everyone I meet who talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to educate. And that's a SMALL task. I can't even begin to imagine how it would be to undertake educating people about a basic facet of my identity, or trying to assert my humanity and dignity.

It must be tiring. It must be frustrating and exhausting and dehumanizing to have to say the same damn thing over and over to people that you really thought knew better. But the process of education is a never-ending one. And if, for once, your education does not fall on deaf ears, then please speak. They're doing the very, very best they can. Don't be grateful to them. But at least acknowledge that meeting you halfway does not constitute a personally failure on their part. And wishing that they were already on your side does not constitute a failure on yours, either.