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Does it have to be a zero-sum game?

Contemporary Western feminism, as it is depicted in mass media (mainstream blogs, magazines, news, etc) has become the cult of the pursuit of personal achievement. However, to succeed in the current model, we necessarily need to partake in intra gender oppression. We succeed at another woman’s expense, even if we do not mean to, even if we do not wish to have any part in these forces at play. The more we grow as individual women, the more some of us are left behind. Successful gender equality, as French sociologist Francois Dubet defined it, becomes another tool of oppression.

As a white Western feminist of what used to be considered the middle class, this post by Flavia Dzodan really resonated with me:

http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/04/28/what-does-equality-mean-these-days/

I read a lot of feminist blogs, and I'm often struck by how the common assumptions in the Western feminist blogosphere do not mirror those espoused by my colleagues at the Global Fund for Women. I think Flavia gets at some core issues when she talks about the zero-sum game that we're all somehow roped into playing in the West: capitalism rules all, and capitalism assumes that if I win, somebody else has to lose. Usually, lots of somebodies.

The longer I've studied feminism and its intersections with racism and other oppressions, the more anti-capitalism I have become. Always suspicious of the consumer culture I grew up in and am a part of, I am increasingly aware of my culpability in keeping other women down. It's not just that if I buy a $100 sweater made by women working for $1 a day I am supporting a system that keeps women in poverty. It's also the fact that it's difficult, in the mainstream discourse, to even have a conversation about issues of oppression without the participants tearing one another down in order to prop themselves up. It's almost as though the "I win/you lose" way of thinking is encoded into our DNA! I imagine the evolutionary psychology types would espouse that notion, but I want to believe there's a better way.

Sometimes I fantasize that I will live to see my country's class distinctions destroyed in a revolution. I'm privileged enough to fear that, and angry enough to welcome it. But I know that the situation is far more complex than I can see with my North American eyes. I may want an end to capitalism -- or at least capitalist thinking! -- but I sure don't speak for everyone.

All I know is that seeing the inequities play out, whether in the offline world where women's lives and livelihoods are at stake, or online where we talk and YELL and struggle with our emotions, makes me feel impotent and sad. And that's the opposite of what feminism should be.

Edited to add: Feminism FOR REAL, by Indigenous feminist Jessica Yee, gets into a lot of what I'm talking about here, especially in its introduction. You can read more, and buy the book, here:
http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/ourschools-ourselves/feminism-real

Comments

michelekbaer's picture

Thanks Laura

Laura,

Sorry it took me so long to get to this! There's a lot of material here to consider. My current thoughts/questions include:

* I imagine a feminist world would be one in which our purpose was to build each other up, not tear each other down. I also recognize that feminists argue and have varying opinions on very "hot topics" such as rape (e.g. Naomi Wolf and Jaclyn Friedman's debate last year - http://www.democracynow.org/2010/12/20/naomi_wolf_vs_jaclyn_friedman_a). How do we debate/converse in a way that doesn't require one "winner", but still allows the conversation to move forward?

* I've seen in my life the benefits of competition. Through playing competitive soccer as a youth, I learned about team building, commitment, reaching my fullest potential, etc. While I was studying in Mali, I saw that the most successful models for youth engagement in Bamako often involve some sort of competition, whether in sports or the arts. Regarding the costs and benefits of competitive cultures, I'm curious to explore further how to sustain healthy forms of competition, while addressing its destructive properties as well.

- Michele

I like your thoughts. It's true that there can be value in competition as well as disagreement. The key, as you said, is to find a way that these can be healthy and beneficial for individuals and the movement as a whole. I've seen very few examples so I'd love to hear more.

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