Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Intersectionalism Has a Long Way to Go, Even on the Left

I promise, someday, I will write about something other than my experience standing in opposition to the omnibus anti-abortion legislation here in Texas. Someday, but not today.

Yesterday was another long day at the capitol. I worked from 9-2 and then assisted with whatever Planned Parenthood needed including managing lines and feeding volunteers from 2-midnight. If I may whine for a minute, my back has really taken a hit from being on my feet all day. It's started spasming, which is a new and scary thing.

Anyway, my experiences yesterday (and over the course of this process in general) have reminded me that feminism and progressive movements are still unfortunately far from inclusive. Here's a quick run down of several things I have noticed:

1) The main coalition of prochoice organizations has run off shirts that read, "Stand with Texas women." While this is better than the antis' condescending "Protect women," it is still cissexist and denies the reality that many people who do not identify as women need access to abortion. This exclusive phrasing of the entire campaign I'm sure has felt very disheartening to many who are not represented under the label "women." I think the organizations involved are wary of politicizing words like "choice" but "Texas stands for choice" would have been a better alternative, in my opinion. (Edited to add: It's also been pointed out to me that the "stand" verb is abelist, so I feel we must take that into consideration too.)

This concern is a big problem that I see with mainstream prochoice politics in general. For example, I saw a tweet going around the other day that said something to the effect of "This isn't just a reproductive issue, it's a women's issue." I believe the intent of this was to help people see how reproductive access is inherently tied into gender politics as a whole, but the reductionist language of "women" perpetrates trans* erasure.  As Jane Doe, MD tweeted earlier today,
Trans* inclusiveness to me is inherent to feminism, bc biological determinism & essentialism is the unthinkable alternative...Feminism needs to not just be trans* inclusive, but explicitly advocate for trans* people. Otherwise we let gender based oppression prosper.
2) So. Many. Ableist. Slurs. As someone who is handing out food, I occupy a space of special joy in many tired, frustrated prochoice activists' minds. As such, they come over to grab a bite and vent about what they're seeing and unfortunately, that frequently dissolves into calling antis every possible version of "crazy" they can think of. (One person even ranted to me about how "the other side is truly mental.") I try to mirror back non-stigmatizing language in regards to my own frustration with antis, but there's so little than I can do in these 20 second interactions to address the issue.

Too often words like "crazy" have become short hand for people who we disagree with or don't like. We see antis with signs that say incredibly offensive things, so the visceral reaction is to attack them back. But the result when the words we use have an ableish intent is that the non-neurotypical prochoicers who are all around us feel isolated from the movement.

And while we're talking about ableism, can we just stop for a minute and acknowledge that Wendy Davis wouldn't have even been able to filibuster last week if she was not physically able to stand for those 13 hours. Seriously. It's in the Texas law...a senator MUST stand to conduct a filibuster, regardless of their personal physical circumstances. Furthermore, I read that there were accessibility issues for the buildings and rooms involved, which presented real challenges to citizens participating in this process.

How messed up is that?

3) Tons of people feel the need to share their thoughts on the nature of the food donated, usually with the intent to fat shame and body and/or food police. So as a food passer-outer, I have a front row seat for all the weight/food related comments. Every 5th person makes some comment about how they "shouldn't take another cookie" or are "going to have to run an extra mile after this." Others bemoan that we need more "healthy" options or go with the whole, "well I guess I can be bad today" angle. As a happily fat person, who has learned to embrace who I am despite the chorus of "you're not good enoughs!" it is particularly frustrating to have so many people share their very personal food and health related values out loud over and over and over. The food that is provided by generous people from all over the country is to help sustain us as we engage with the political process. As such, it needs to be cost effective, easily available for delivery, and come in mass quantities.

That means that it's not going to work for everyone...and that's OK. What's not OK is sharing possibly triggering food/body thoughts with everyone else around the table.

As I've said before, I have been infinitely impressed with how diverse the people who have come together over this issue are. I've interacted with people of so many backgrounds, ages, and gender expressions, who hail from all over the state.

But if our movement is still marginalizing people, then we're doing it wrong.

I do not intend to needlessly criticize my fellow prochoicers who have been out there day after day...I admire our spirit and I'm proud to be a part of this. I just want us to be better, because the fact of the matter is that unless this movement addresses all of its own oppressive elements, it is inherently flawed and incomplete.

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