ETA: You can see me discussing OBR, The Vagina Monologues, and Eve Ensler with Mikki Kendall, Myisha Cherry, and Kristen Burzynski on HuffPost Live here.
We’re fast-approaching February 14th, and we all know what that means!
Valentine’s Day! The Annual March for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada!* V-Day/One Billion Rising! Hooray! I couldn’t be more less thrilled. I’ve previous laid out my reasons for not supporting Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising campaign. Many of these reasons have to do with the fact that the campaign, and Eve Ensler herself, is very clearly a version of “white savior feminism” and neo-colonialism that is harmful to many women of color and to many non-Western women around the world. I’m not going to repeat myself– for background, I suggest you read my original post.
Even with the information widely available about how and why OBR is problematic, many people are choosing to participate anyway. It is baffling to me when people that I know and respect find ways to rationalize their participation in something that has been shown to be racist and problematic. But many, many people have and many, many people do. Here I want to break down some of the most common arguments I’ve heard when I’ve asked people why they’re choosing to continue supporting OBR, despite very good reasons that maybe they should reconsider.
- I know that it might be concerning globally, but it’s really great locally for building support and camaraderie!/It’s been really important to us locally in my city/state! All of the women that have used this reason for their participation in OBR have been white, Western women, not surprisingly. And to me, this can basically be broken down to: “Well, yeah, it’s a problem, but it’s not one that affects me so I’m going to pretend it doesn’t exist.” It’s really easy to turn a blind eye to something when it doesn’t affect you directly, and people are really good at doing that. In fact, many of us white folks have been doing it for years, about things that affect POC in both large and small ways. Americans are really great at doing this, too, regarding problems in other countries. If it doesn’t affect you personally, then it must not really be a problem, amirite?
- It’s a great opportunity for us to partner with awesome local orgs! This is related to the first reason I mentioned. I see this as kind of like ignoring the ways that something is problematic because it’s super beneficial to you. No, please, continue stepping on other people’s heads in order to climb farther up the pile. It’s cool.
- We have lots of women of color that participate with us!/Our cast is so diverse! This argument is basically the equivalent of “I have a black friend, so clearly I’m not racist” or “I asked a black person and they didn’t think that thing was racist, so it’s obviously not.” I also have to wonder how many of those WoC have all of the information about the campaign and the problems with it. To quote a friend of mine, I’m a firm believer in informed consent. And if someone is participating in something without being fully informed of the background and current controversies (which many people are not), then that’s not really full approval of said thing.
- All movements are problematic, but this ultimately does more good than harm/don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sure, all movements are problematic. But when we openly support something like OBR, we don’t create the necessary dialogue to be the catalyst for the necessary change. We also already know that many women have tried directly addressing the harm that OBR has caused Indigenous women and it has not been taken seriously by Eve Ensler. Not only that, but she has acted in ways that a true ally would not. I also find it problematic when the majority of people defending a campaign are white, leaving all of the WoC who are speaking out about this to look “angry” and “defensive” again. It’s really easy to write off people’s concerns when we can just file them away into the “angry, overly sensitive, and overreacting” category, like many white feminists do to WoC on a regular basis. And I might be wrong, but it’s often those same white women that call out the patriarchy for calling women “angry, overly sensitive, and overreacting.” I think the word for that is “hypocrisy.”
- It was really meaningful/empowering for me X number of years ago when I first participated! No one said that participating in The Vagina Monologues or OBR is not empowering. It is! It can be! It has helped so many people! But it’s also important to recognize the ways in which the campaign has changed over time. There comes a point when, regardless of how good the intentions of a movement may have been, we have to step away because harm is being caused.
When someone says, “This thing is actively harming me/my community,” the correct answer is not, “Yeah, but…” The correct answer is to LISTEN. FULL STOP. I don’t know about you, but I cannot compromise my values to participate in a campaign that might be empowering for me and people like me when that empowerment comes at the detriment of other women. To me, that’s not empowerment and that’s not feminism. My feminism doesn’t choose which kinds of women** deserve to be advocated for. My feminism has to be intersectional or it ceases to exist. I will not run ahead of the pack if it means that I leave others behind. And so, again, I will not be rising. I will continue to speak out about why. I will continue to question people who are. And I will always use my voice to amplify the voices of women who deserve to be heard.
If you’re choosing to participate in OBR, even with all of this information, that does not make you a bad person. But I definitely encourage you to think about what that action really means on a larger scale, and at what (and whose) expense your participation comes.
*For information on marches and events for the Annual March for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, check here. If you are in the U.S. you might want to consider organizing and participating in a solidarity event.
**I want to also point out that this movement is transphobic in many ways, as are The Vagina Monologues. So that needs to be acknowledged, too.