Today I low key flipped out at spin class because I didn’t like how the instructor adjusted my seat. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in: I am so spoiled that I actually thought it was a problem that I experienced slight discomfort at my expensive fitness class that I can prioritize because I’m not busy trying to feed myself. It’s pretty hard to feel sympathy for me.
But stay with me. The reason I got angry was because I repeatedly told the instructor it was uncomfortable, it felt wrong for my body, and that I was a frequent spinner (not spinster…yet), and she ignored me, assuming that she knew better. I don’t take this particular incident personally, as the instructor is an expert in what she does and I am not; however, I can bet that many women will find the situation of being told we don’t know what’s best for us to be all too familiar.
The woman at the grocery store patronizingly explains that I need to put the kale on the scale for it to register, even though I worked at grocery stores for ten years and know this isn’t true; my manager tells me I need to speak more and confidently make snap decisions even though I’m an introvert and find these measures of efficacy to be biased and wrong; I must expend considerable energy to get people around me to trust me when I recount my experiences and then more energy to convince them that I can make my own decisions. I am not the executive assistant, the person in charge of cleaning the office kitchen, or the clerk at Canadian Tire, but thanks for asking! (There is nothing wrong with being any of these things; there is something wrong with constantly being mistaken for them.)
So yes, when I am questioned, I sometimes react in a knee-jerk fashion. This is wrong. I want to see the good in the intentions of others, but I know too much to take some interactions at face value and not see them as symptoms of a deeper, ugly problem with how women are perceived in our society.
I realize that I’m privileged, but I know that bullshit will fly at you no matter how privileged you are (see: Hillary Clinton). It often feels like every choice I make is wrong, that I cannot be trusted to know what’s best for myself, like people look at me and decide they know better, and also that I’m under much much more scrutiny than certain other members of our society. It sucks. It’s hard not to become intensely defensive. But as white women, we need to learn to distinguish between the bullshit that will come at you by virtue of being a woman, and legitimate mistakes we are making that harm groups with less privilege than us.
When Amy Schumer was called out for making that god-awful “Formation” tribute/parody/car crash – and in fact most of the time when Schumer is called out – her response is to double down, labelling her critics as divisive haters; I’m not going to lie: as a white woman, it embarrasses me. “All love and women inspiring each other” is a super passive aggressive response that attempts to put Schumer’s critics in the uncomfortable position of choosing between allegiance to their race or to their gender. To say nothing of the barf bag essay she chose to follow that gem up with.
(Side note: I’m beginning to think of passive aggressive tendencies as something white women are prone to; I definitely see it in myself. I chalk it up to the incessant messages we receive on being “nice.” How frustrating that a woman who has made her name from being outspoken still feels she needs to resort to this.)
We’ve seen this time and time again: Emma Watson’s kinda bullshit response to the backlash provoked by her weird comments on Beyonce’s self-titled visual album, Taylor Swift’s bullshit defence of her lying ass self, and, well, here’s a list because otherwise this could go on for a while.
I’m not saying that these ladies shouldn’t be allowed to make mistakes. I’ve been guilty of saying and doing similar things, and I still fuck up constantly. But I try to admit when I’m wrong, I educate myself to learn how to do better, then I look back at something I’ve written two or three years ago and say, “damn, this is problematic.” I grow. I expose myself to opinions that are uncomfortable and outside the realm of what I might encounter in my super privileged bubble of spin classes and nice dinners. That’s the bare minimum of what people are looking for from you, ladies.
And a funny thing happens when I begin to immerse myself in the work of examining my privilege: I start to focus less on the spin class micro-aggressions. I gain some perspective and empathy for people who don’t get a lot of that. I get less defensive and more interested in learning about what my privilege can do for other people. There should be no self-serving incentive for caring about others, but I think I know my audience here.
I’m no Iggy Azalea apologist: she has said and done extremely problematic and hurtful things, and I’m ecstatic that I no longer have to hear her music everywhere I go (seriously – WTF, world?!). I also kind of feel her on this. I know what this feels like, though usually when I’m in this situation I’m not imitating a southern accent and bemoaning the lack of representation of people like myself in rap music. OMG OMG I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE THAT HAPPENED. But I get that it gets reeeeal old to defend yourself and constantly prove you know stuff. It’s patronizing, even. So how do us white ladies know the difference between a criticism we should use to reflect and grow as people, and the standard bullshit that we get from mansplainers and haters? Ask yourselves some questions, maybe.
- Who is criticizing me?
If it’s Donald Trump, carry on. If it’s like a million black women, then maybe stop and reflect on what you’re doing.
- Am I harming a group that’s been historically denied privilege?
Again, if you’re harming the delicate flowers of the MGTOW brigade, carry on. If the group claiming to be harmed is black trans women, for instance, then maybe listen to what they have to say and trust them.
- How am I defending myself?
If your defence has to do with choosing what to do with your own body, then you’re probably not being a dick. If you’re finding you need to evoke women supporting each other/all lives matter/getting angry shuts down the conversation tropes to defend yourself, then there is a strong chance you are being a dick.
Don’t be dicks. Yes, lots of bullshit comes at us, but that should never justify us flinging it right back at people who already get way more of it than we do. Don’t be dicks.