This freshman in my Feminist Theory class asked me to explain to her how the girl from Duke who was “outed” as a porn star can say that’s empowering. I didn’t really understand why she was asking me when there was a classroom full of equally capable (and much more patient) feminists between us but I gave her my personal answer and then at the end of it I said “I think what’s most important is to respect her and her choices and not impose our assumptions onto her with regards to what we may think about her or her chosen profession” and this girl responded, in earnest, saying “I’m trying really hard not to but I don’t understand how someone who does that can say she’s empowering herself.” Thanks for not listening to a single thing I just said sweetheart.
This girl has said something in every single class meeting that has rubbed me the wrong way and I think a lot of it has to do with her naivete and ignorance. I don’t want to dissuade her from pursuing WGS and identifying herself as a feminist because there is room for a lot of voices in the same conversation but at the same time I just want to shake her. I’ve never spoken to her on the topic directly, but I suspect she identifies as a “feminist but.”
This problem spread throughout the rest of the class as the conversation shifted to trans issues. I greatly admire and respect Janet Mock and had the pleasure of hearing her speak at Rutgers about a year ago. I know that when I was first learning about LGBTQIA and feminist issues in a comprehensive, non-mainstream fashion a lot of what was being told to me went way over my head and I am sure I said some naive and ignorant bullshit that I would be ashamed to hear come out of my mouth today, however I was immensely annoyed that so much of the conversation around Janet Mock (Piers Morgan’s pathetic attempts at interviewing her) seemed so fixated on how attractive she was as a woman, and how you would “never know” she was trans, which of course subtly reinforces the idea that she is somehow less of a woman, or less genuine as a woman. You wouldn’t be able to tell she really was born a boy (which goes completely against Janet Mock’s biggest gripe about the Morgan interview! She was born a baby and assigned “boy” at birth but Morgan identified her as being born a boy, despite her attempts to correct him.)
I realize as a cis woman I am coming from a particular position of privilege in this conversation so for the most part I sit on my hands and am very careful about participating in these conversations. I did speak up at my discomfort with the way the conversation was going, but it didn’t seem to matter in the end because as soon as the clip of the interview ended, all the (mostly women) in the room could talk about were her boobs and her teeth, which I doubt was what Mock wanted the audience to take away from the interview.
Today was just generally problematic.