Toxic White Femininity

Keep looking deeper. . .

Following her fascinating performance at the G20 this past week, I have been thinking about how Ivanka Trump typifies white American femaleness.

This is toxic white femininity at its most caricatured, I think. I remember being caught by her apparent (key word: apparent) candor and thoughtfulness in her speech at the RNC when her daddy was running for prez. She could parrot feminist-sounding ideas, and perhaps she even has some sense of (white) feminist conviction. (What was the phrase she used in the infamous video from the G20? Something about a male-dominated ecosystem?) She can look deeply concerned in interviews about children and poor people. Along with the Barbie-fresh have-it-all physical image she has cultivated, she builds up an image of ideological understanding that has no basis in real, significant thought and education. She’s young and beautiful and well-dressed, and knows how to play for power based on her sexual appeal. She has the family and the power-husband and the power-job and the handbags. From Image Menu C, she’ll help herself to a little pseudo-feminism (as long as it has no hint of intersectionality), a little furrowed brow and sad eyes when presented with the pain of non-white non-rich people. Ideology as image-boost. Like someone who has no idea who Che Guevara is wearing a Che t-shirt because it looks cool.

Please understand that this isn’t simply a hate-Ivanka fest. I want to come back to the main point. I think she absolutely typifies toxic white femininity. Isn’t this toxic white femininity in a nutshell? The image from the G20 that seems to hold it all is the doll-like and flirty Ivanka sitting with her daddy among all those serious world leaders, because vulnerability, because sexuality, because Disney-princess.

And I don’t exempt myself here. I swim in this cultural soup myself. I try to wake up and wake up and wake up again. White sisters, we can choose to use our privilege to pretend our way into powerful situations, we can parrot intellectual-sounding babble about the male-dominated ecosystem, we can weaponize our sexuality with flirty child-like princess-innocence, we can carry all the power-handbags we want, but we’ll be helping only ourselves. Consolidating our own power. Continuing the sinister and insidious mock-innocence of the white woman who could pretend concern for the enslaved people on her husband’s estate while brutally and capriciously abusing the house-slaves. Continuing the hypocrisy of northern white women who could give lip service to civil rights, but do everything in their power to keep black and brown children out of their own children’s schools.

I’m not sure how to wrap this up. I guess the point is more about unwrapping at this stage. How do we white women unthread ourselves from this toxic tapestry? How do we grow beyond the very modern fairy tale that so many of us find ourselves embracing? Let’s begin by walking into a different fairy tale, leaving the princesses behind. We’ve got new woods to walk in, new characters to notice and pay attention to. Here is the stark and liberating reality: we’re not actually the main character. Can we step out of the spotlight, share power, and choose to live authentically? Can we be true to our human selves rather than purchasing images of selves like America’s princess?

(Gratitude: My friend Christine Lincoln–a Poet and Activist and Grandmother and Wise Woman and so much more–is the one who gave me the analytical doorway into an exploration of toxic white femininity. I hope she writes a book. All Americans should read it.)

On Intersectionality

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Today, I have been thinking about feminism and intersectionality. There’s lots of good–and some perhaps-not-so-good–commentary on the webs these days about the Women’s March coming up in a few weeks. While I don’t want to leap blindly onto any new bandwagon that comes along, I also want to lend my voice to a gathering movement for equal rights for all people, one that recognizes–hopefully–that the leadership roles and the power to shape the movement must be held by women of color. By all means include white women in the work of advancing feminism, but for too long we have allowed the veils of privilege to keep us ignorant of the full range of women’s experiences, and I think it is time and more than time for white women to take the listening role.  Here are some ways that white women can position ourselves within the movement.
1. Be listeners. Listen to the stories of women of color.
2. Believe. When we talk about abuse, we say that one of the things we need to do is to believe women when they speak their stories. This applies here, too: When women of color speak about the pain and anger and frustration, believe them, even (particularly) when it is about racism.
3. Avoid the day’s common default response of outrage and huffiness. When women of color have something to say about their experiences or about how they have been treated by white women, don’t get miffed. This prevents listening. Let’s just skip the defensive posture, open our ears, and reach out our hands. How else will we hear truth?
4. Put the power and energy of our inherent privilege to the use of the movement, and to our sisters of color. Offer our sisters whatever power and leverage we are able to create from our own privileged positions.
5. When I was a teenager, and my mother was trying to train me to be a more engaged participant in the life of our household, she pushed me to keep asking, “What can I do next?” That’s a good question for us, too. “What can I do?” Instead of, “I think you should. . .”
6. Be ready to keep learning.

I like Shishi Rose‘s take on the subject.

Gratitude List:
1. Layers. Layers of clothing on a cold day. Layers of ideas. Layers of caring and concern.
2. The bowl is big enough to hold us all.
3. The color pink. I am finding a new appreciation for pink. I am starting to wear more grandmotherly pinks and roses and beige. That’s okay. I need the gentleness of rose right now, and the ferocity of fuschia.
4. Arundathi Roy and Vandana Shiva. Look up quotations by them on GoodReads.
5. Baked oatmeal with blueberries for supper.

May we walk in Beauty!