With Trump’s election, there seems to be more fingers pointed in blame than actual votes. Many point the finger at white women, with only 43% voting for Hillary Clinton, a candidate mocked as so white and privileged she could only get votes from other privileged white women. Meanwhile, Clinton secured an overwhelming 94% of votes from black women.
Exit poll data shows consistent voting difference in three intersecting areas: gender, race and income/education. Mix in the racialised difference in votes from white-dominant American heartland to racially diverse cities, and these three elements form Trump’s trinity to power.
The wide disparity in votes from white and black women voters is interpreted as yet another sign of white women ruining for everyone. White women’s racism made them embrace Trump and leave women of colour to the xenophobic alt-right domestic terrorist wolves.
But can we blame white women for the election?
It’s a tempting proposition – blaming women is a popular past time with fans all around the world.
White women are particularly annoying; we drown out intersectional discussion and believe feminism could be successful if we just placed a few more women on boards, leaned in and found more opportunities for empowerment instead of structural change. Plus, it’s easier to yell at a white woman than it is at patriarchy, which would be telling if anyone indulged in self-reflection.
Undoubtedly, white women benefit from a culture of racism that ensures they’re stopped less by police, are less likely to be imprisoned, will earn more than black women and other women of colour, access housing and services with greater ease and appropriate black culture. In our quest to ignore and erase race from white discussion, white women are consistently intentionally and unintentionally racist.
So can we blame white women for the election too? Not entirely.
The white woman vote didn’t just recently convert to Republicans in a fit of racist pique: they’ve always preferred Republicans, even if they’re Donald Trump. Over the past four elections, voting data consistently shows white women vote for the Republican candidate.
The Democrats have a problem with every election – they require extraordinary vote surges to win. Over the last four elections, Republicans can sit on 58-60 million votes and win. To beat this holding pattern, Democrats have to truly leap over the Republican standard to win popular and Electoral College votes (Obama managed 65-69 million, Clinton was neck and neck with Trump at 59 million).
Mix the Republican holding pattern with white women consistently voting for them and consecutive drops in voter turnout, and suddenly the role of white women changes. The question isn’t why did more white women vote for Trump – it’s why didn’t they change their vote to Clinton?
For all their talk of empowerment, women have tacitly absorbed the message they are not as competent as men. Known as internalised sexism, women often cling to sexist reinforcements – they are unworthy of senior appointments and reject women in political or media roles unless they are presented in a non-threatening way (friendly and hyper-feminised, no angry women here, please). One study found that women show signs of internal sexism 11.29 times in 10 minutes of conversation [PDF].
It’s almost touchingly naive to think Clinton ever had a shot at the presidency when Australia’s fractious political history. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard faced a similarly split vote, gaining power after careful negotiation with minor parties. Her administration gained buckets of vitriol – a feat for Australia – and women denounced her dexterity to be both a “reverse sexist” that “let women down” – and those women made their anger known in disapproval ratings .
But Americans shouldn’t be surprised women vote against themselves. A Washington Post survey into American feminism found 58% of women would not vote for a politician based on their support of women’s rights. The same survey asked “which of the following do you think is a bigger factor keeping women from achieving full equality with men?”, only to discover that while 44% said sexist discrimination was to blame, another 44% maintained it was because of “the choices women make themselves”. A sizable 39% of women don’t consider themselves feminist at all.
It is highly probable that white women betrayed women of color with their vote – but that vote was always a betrayal – of color, of economics and of their gender and independence.
The big question is whether white women will mobilise themselves to become a true political force, one that votes for intersectional equality. Hopefully that change occurs before people wonder why all women are expected to act as janitors for male misbehavior.
[This was a commissioned piece for a news publication last week that closed commissioned content an hour before it was supposed to publish. I hate wasted words.]
This is a really important point.
The aggressive anti-selfie schtick is really seen on image sharing sites like Imgur where guys will post sexualised photos of women all day long but the minute a woman posts one that isn’t related to a story and she’s an “attention whore”. Both sets have posted the photo(s) for the same reason – sexual gratification – but the minute they suspect a woman may get some pleasure or benefit, all hell breaks loose.
Part of this is because the posters are most likely still focusing on women through the male gaze – inanimate objects who only come to life to service men in some way or another. But there is power in that. Men get to choose when and where and in what capacity women come to life. Men demand women stick to that for male pleasure and benefit only.
The old “tits or get the fuck out” adage is a corrective – not that the men only view women for their sexual pleasure, but to remind them that men decide how women are presented. It’s a barked demand of power – we decide when you will come to life and any intellectual or sexual evidence you’re an independent actual person. The demand of “tits or get the fuck out” tells them to shut up and submit.
Any deviation from this – women posting photos of themselves for themselves – is pathologised as a new mania, a neurosis showing decaying morals.
This is often seen in people criticising women’s selfies. Over on Twitter, one account finds a man saying “women who post topless selfies are nothing but sluts” (etc) and includes a topless or sexualised selfie of the dismissive author. It’s simple for how easily it highlights the hypocrisy and emptiness of the moral pathologising.
The true concern is in technology becoming not only an equaliser but exposing what has lain in plain sight: women exist.
Not only do women exist but they take photos. Perhaps for themselves, for pride or happiness or a need for attention (a good portion of why we express ourselves on social media). Astoundingly, women feel and desire pleasure. To deny this from our politics and lives is to, again, deny women.
And when women remind you they exist and dare to do so with few apologies, it disrupts the power men have often assumed and pressed.
And when women present themselves for sexualisation without men involved, that independence can be uncomfortable for men. Because when an actual woman presents herself, she’s reminding them that she not only exercising choice in publishing a photo of herself, she will probably exercise the same choice in what man she will want (if she does at all).
Sometimes I think the greatest threat with women’s selfies isn’t that they remind men that women exist; it reminds them the women might not want them.
* Realise that debating ideas isn’t the same as debating your personal worthiness. Not everyone has to agree with you, or like you.
I’ve spent five years discussing feminism and parenting. I’ve had my work not read or considered less important because people didn’t think it was relevant to them or because it seems ‘soft’ in comparison to so many other issues – despite reading feminist literature on almost any other topic. I was told by other writers to never write about parenting because I would not be taken seriously.
When editors discovered they could make a buck (and possibly even believe in) feminism, the churn began and eventually wanted to cover feminism and parenting. Places like EB had to fight to maintain the original stream of feminist parenting articles they had been publishing for a long time.
EB were fucking brave to publish anything on feminism given their community’s often overwhelming rejection of feminism. These are people juggling work and home, or just enjoying being at home, and wondering why the hell people are pointing at their lives as an example of wasted potential. Feminists have not been nice to mothers and I have long maintained this has been a combination of elitism, classism and ageism. (Here’s a goddamn piece of mine Fairfax republished back in 2012)
So, to hear that Anne Summers is still denigrating women doing work at home – looking after children, finding pride in the ability to cook – is a really thorny one. Yes, there is a valid argument that women have hobbies (cooking), men have professions (chef). Yes, it may even be a rationalisation for some in their suburban oppression.
But here’s the thing: you can’t claim to want to help women when you denigrate their way of life and activities, when you judge them for having children. You can immediately mock the choices of women if they enjoy something as simple as cooking (seriously? You have no idea how you can fuck the system as when you’re poor and manage to feed your kid on $30 weekly budget).
There are HUGE issues when it comes to families and how women can parent with autonomy and safety, free from professional, personal and economic penalty. To reduce their lives to line about baking trivialises this, something Summers would know given her tireless work with DV. It’s just an aside, sure, but how many other asides would feminists let slide from anyone else, especially in today’s call out culture.
You cannot ignore mothers. You cannot think the sum total of motherhood is a bump and kids under the age of 5, who say cute things. Want to know a gigantic group of women? Mothers. Want to know who is at the coalface of so many sexist threats? Mothers.
But don’t think you can start speaking for mothers either. The amount of times I’ve had people tell me they understand mothering because they have a nephew or neighbours or were once a child themselves, the amount of times I realise you’re just talking over another woman without discovering what her life is like, her identity or her experience. We are not a new topic for thinkpieces, we are not an identity you can ignore until you become one yourself (oh Valenti) and, we are not a group you can ignore the identity politics maxim to listen to/read up/stop speaking over.
There is no cognitive dissonance in rocking out with equal fury to death metal, “Welcome to the Black Parade” or S Club 7’s magnum opus, “S Club Party”.
Flirt with everyone.
Enthusiastic consent can be the sexiest thing imaginable.
So is pashing all your friends and lovers at every social occasion, work event, stuck lift or fuck it, pash in the supermarket snack aisle because there’s a bucket of chocolate on sale. Ya gotta celebrate that shit.
Write as you speak. Let long, laconic sentences curl around your readers. Make them feel like they’re in love with someone they’ve never met.
Don’t be afraid to give up your article’s message in the title, like Kat’s manifesto on cis-het male sexuality “so your dick isn’t perpetually hard”.
Now everyone loves you, push those boundaries. Be genial and respectful, but challenge them to realise the shit they really don’t want to give up.
Accept that pretty much everything is problematic and you can call it out and still enjoy them, albeit warily. Like when you call out the things you love most – like Orange Is the New Black and Buffy. You will look at your friend Amy like the idiot she is when she mentions her irrational dislike of Tara because you know the power of wallflowers. Now chide her playfully. She’ll eventually accept you were right (well…).
You can maintain a friendship by texting each other links to menulog even though you’re less than 10 metres apart.
Sensitivity is the most beautiful accessory of all. Listen to people – when they love you, when they praise you, when they criticise what you have done (but not who you are) and when they say you’ve hurt them.
Accept and revel in all the love you get but reject the canonising praise.
Talk to your friends about that love and sex with clarity and respect.
Every moment is an opportunity to learn about sex. Like your erotic fan fiction about Captain Planet getting it on with Voldemort and taking a moment to explain to the audience good anal sex etiquette.
Find the delicate balance of empathy with not putting up with a single. ounce. of. shit.
One can never have too many piercings.
Or tattoos. Of all the tattoos you get, make space for your personal mantra. Like “Defiance Feminism Empathy” because Kat knows those are the three things that will change the world.
See those new people at the event who look nervous but are most likely cool? Go up and welcome them like an old friend you’ve wanted to catch up with for years.
Always have a giggle in your voice before you joke about something.
Have the world’s dorkiest fucking laugh that splutters and husks at high concept jokes to cringeworthy puns.
It’s ok to lay in bed and wonder when a feminist death metal band will emerge. It’s even better to plan one of your own while watching Metalocalypse in bed, rolling perfect cigarettes and intermittently yelling “THIS IS DILDOS”.
Hug. Hug like you mean it. Hug like you want to give every cell in the body all your love. Team it with a little moan just to make that hug travel further and take up residence in your soul. Let people marvel at the strength of a tiny, slight woman who can hug you like a bear that’s ready for arms day.
There is never a bad time to dance. Do it right now. Have you ever listened to S Club 7?
Snoring together on the couches as you pass out from beers, pizza and binge viewing is an act of bonding that cannot be replaced.
Be that person who is filled with love for their friends. Make sure they always know, even if you have to resort to poetry.
Avoid bitching about people as much as possible unless they’ve really done you wrong and fucking jump into it.
Know that friendship is a mixture of give and take. Like listening and helping, or trading one exquisitely rolled cigarette for one exquisitely made cup of tea. Become the embodiment of generosity and respectful need in all that you do.
If the sun is out, part of the social contract demands you grab a six pack and drink them in a park. Ok, maybe it’s more than a six pack.
The only point of social media is to post pics of babes, Harry Potter references and request people to deliver valium to you at work. Or ask them to meet you in the park for a beer, hey.
You can be the most beautiful woman in the room and still look into the camera with the face of an unsure kid on her first day of school. But it’s ok, because you know vulnerability is nothing to feel vulnerable about.
Honesty and reflection are radical acts – combine them both and they’ll become your superpower.
Be open about sex and realise it’s equal parts sacred, profane and inutterably stupid.
Even the bad times can be good. Did you know it’s possible to have an amazing night in the Emergency Department at St Vincents? Here’s how you do it – crack your head open like you’re Harry Fucking Potter if he went through an alt-lit-emo phase, tell your friend Amy you won’t go to hospital but eventually agree after a cup of tea and chocolate while you slowly make the apartment look like Carrie’s prom. Then sit in the Emergency waiting room for four hours where together you unlock the highly contested prize of most annoying people in the room by continually laughing, making jokes, updating Facebook with a series of viscerally goofy selfies, watch tv and agree Ben Whishaw is a “generic-brand Cumberbatch”. Eventually once the doctor patches you up, you can skip down the street at 4am with a head full of giggles and start singing “take me out tonight”, reaching to devious glee of the chorus, jumping up and down and pointing at the 24 hours Maccas that “there is a light that never goes out” because it’s the last thing vegan Morrissey would want. Then eat burgers as you wait for your beloved.
For those of you who love Kat, the next few weeks will be hard. She would have been 26 soon. She would have written at least 20 essays we could have read and learnt from. She would have shared 372 hugs with you. Double that for beer. Triple it for exquisitely rolled cigarettes.
I don’t want to give you sadness. You need happiness for the time ahead. Let Kat spark up from those sad, tear-sodden embers. When you think of her, think of it a hug hello. Hug those memories for then you keep her alive. Then Kat lives.
Because there is a night that never goes out.
This piece was performed at “Amazing Babes” for the Emerging Writers Festival. Kat was present and spoke at the first Amazing Babes. Here is her speech.
Kath Kenny has written an op-ed for Fairfax about the “first person industrial complex”, which she suggests should be retitled the “first person traumatic complex”, bemoaning that first person pieces are essentially calculated grabs for attention in a world that fundamentally misunderstands the feminist mantra “the personal is political”.
Despite a kernel of rhetorical promise, Kenny’s piece fundamentally misunderstands the nature of first person writing, all while sacrificing a bunch of women in her prayer for better writing and feminism. It’s not the first time we’ve watched a professional Cassandra enter the competitive feminist arena, nor will it be the last, but we’ve seen the cycles so often it’s less novel than an editor might think.
Feminism developed consciousness raising as a means for women to explore how they were oppressed in their lives through story telling. Not only did the storyteller derive meaning from this monologue, but so did the other participants who could find a different perspective, representation and affinity.
Men have done it since time immemorial – Herodotus’ Histories could well be retitled “crazy tales I heard in bars” and ancient Rome and Greece were drowning in apologias or confessions (as the first person tract was originally known). Feminism simply politicised what was the artistic and commercial norm for men and called it consciousness raising.
So why do women have to justify the same right as men to share their stories? The first English language autobiographies were written by women like the Book of Margery Kempe, even if she didn’t get the same attention as Augustine or Rousseau. Perhaps we interpret men as telling large stories of accomplishment, while women’s stories are considered small and domestic, insignificant in their contribution to public thought.
Which – again – underscores how incredibly important consciousness raising was and remains a feminist act. No matter how “small” the life or the trauma, there is power in sharing the story to give critical mass to representation and to the issues involved. It also recognises transformation is possible: from trauma to story, for storyteller and audience.
Take sexual assault as an example, given Kenny thoughtlessly linked to philosopher Na’ama Carlin’s memoir in Meanjin. Carlin’s piece examines the notion of victimhood from a religious, philosophical and, yes how dare she, personal viewpoint. This is a relatively common technique in some philosophical essays designed to give easy non-theoretical access to readers. Damon Young shows a similar style with his work (most notably with the Art of Reading) but is not tarred with the same brush.
Gina Rushton, an experienced journalist covering breaking news for Buzzfeed, had her Meanjin essay on the balance of mental illness and suicide reduced by Kenny to a calculated attention grab about eating disorders. That’s Kenny’s interpretation, a woman calling for better writing but not better reading comprehension.
Sophia Hewson’s video installation “Are You Ok, Bob?” about rape is classified by Kenny as a “canny marketing strategy” and “an artwork that speaks of a culture where performing terrible stories has practically become the default speaking mode for young women in the public eye”. We may have to wait some time for Kenny to catch up on art history showing Hewson as part of an incredibly long history of female performance artists using brutal imagery and performances to question society’s brutality and inaction (read her artist declaration via the above link for more).
Kenny opines “We’ve created an attention economy that tells people, particularly young and female people, that the most interesting and valuable thing about you is the worst thing that has ever happened to you”. There’s a kernel in there, but again, the point is missed with nothing to show except collateral damage.
The attention economy Kenny so fears isn’t telling women their only marketable asset is their trauma, it’s telling them it has a credible place. If economics works on supply and demand, the attention economy for trauma is meeting the market because there is so much trauma that goes unreported.
Kenny argues that, in her bid to get “first person traumatic complex” happening (not unlike fetch), we are baring too much in a calculated effort to be seen. What Kenny fails to realise is that writers don’t want to be seen, they want trauma to be seen for what it is: something that can occur in grand sweeping empires to the four walls of our homes.
Trauma such as sexual assault, which has incredibly erratic coverage in the media and where victims are either hidden (as per Carlin’s piece) or presented as downcast (Hewson). Trauma such as mental illness coverage where access to fiercely intelligent representation is denied and the sufferers either silenced or presented as victims (Rushton or Nakkiah Lui’s recent piece). Trauma such as silencing discussion around disability and sexuality (like Jax Jacki Brown over at Daily Life).
Brown’s first person piece spoke more of her actions than feelings, which at first glance might validate Kenny’s belief that “the difference between Steinem’s feminism and the kind of feminism now played out in the media and cultural industries is that where once telling a tragic personal story was just a starting point to building a movement, now it has become the whole point and the way to build a personal brand”.
But it’s a hollow argument that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
There is no single trajectory with feminist acts – there are multiple, which was why the second and third wave had so many different techniques. Consciousness raising was one. Legislative lobbying was another. Charitable works, building support services and jumping into academia are others. The list goes on but the main point is this – if you think there is only one entry point to feminist activism and one path to follow, you’re reducing women to a herd following a path you’ve denied them forming for themselves.
The feminist theory of intersectionality demands representation, amply shown by these writers who span race, sexuality, ability and activism. They aren’t building a brand – they’re demanding representation for their life experiences and activism.
It’s worthwhile revisiting intersectionality and expanding the definition. Intersectionality posits that intersections of identity oppression (race, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.) can heighten the oppression one person experiences. Therefore, the oppression and trauma one woman feels isn’t the same as another. That’s why we share stories – so we can understand how it impacts others.
First person stories not only tie into feminist consciousness raising and its promise of personal enlightenment, it also creates access to representation (if properly managed by editors) and gives readers a broader understanding of lived experience outside their own daily lives – thus putting intersectional awareness into action. First person stories are crucial to this greater and diverse understanding, tying into what is known as the “identifiable victim effect” – by reading the experiences of others, they can empathise and understand the experience more intimately. Reporting doesn’t always work, we need stories.
First person stories aren’t gilded, and there are plenty of bad examples that can be found to buttress a sagging argument. There are clumsy or cynical writers in every genre within literature and journalism just as there are clumsy or cynical editors who commission and publish these pieces. But Kenny did not link to those.
In light of this, it’s more instructive to look at what Kenny does in her op-ed rather than what she says. The attention economy is actually the op-ed economy, a world where ill-informed views are hastily cobbled together with facile research and understanding but presented as concrete theories. One might even argue this can be seen in Kenny’s piece, which castigates others for their alleged superficiality, while refusing to admit the same.
Like all writing genres, there is potential for greatness, for expertise and resonance. Potential to move forward in both artistic expression and activism.
This isn’t it.
Edited to add an update: Kath Kenny spoke briefly on Twitter about the piece, most notably that “#relaxitsjustanoped”, that op ed doesn’t allow for nuance and that the reaction is part of the generational divide. So far, so facile.
More notably is that the references to Gina Rushton and Na’ama Carlin have been removed from the article. There was no note to identify this correction, which is a standard practice in journalism.
This panicked reaction, however, does not elevate her argument at all and simply shows that Kenny doesn’t understand either Opinion Editorial or First Person pieces.
If you’d like a more “nuanced” look at the first person op-ed economy, here’s a piece I did for Overland: the Bustle Hustle (thanks to Sonia Nair for reminding me I wrote the damn thing).