I was added to the group Pantsuit Nation a few days after doomsday by one of my old graduate Women’s Studies peers.
It’s been interesting seeing how the world and rhetoric in 2016 have shifted to include all the topics we as students would discuss in our roundtable women’s studies classroom: race, ableism, privilege, gender fluidity, intersectionality to name a few.
And both my women’s studies classroom and Pantsuit Nation reminded me of when the women of my family would all gather together two days before Christmas and start the ritual of making tamales. For 48 hours, all the matriarchs and their kids would gather around the kitchen table laughing and sharing each other’s histories and stories with one other. No sleep. Just words and good food infused with the history of ourselves and our people.
I had just written my first piece for Global Grind about Susan Sarandon and the election and I was so happy that there was an online nation of ‘radical’ women sharing their stories of disappointment, hope, and anger.
I submitted my story, excited to add my voice to the awesome dialogue I thought was happening in Pantsuit Nation. I watched as other’s stories about placated anger and White wokeness were quickly approved. My turn never came. My radical and angry voice, for whatever reason, was shut out.
Soon after my first introduction, articles about how Pantsuit Nation was not inclusive to all marginalized voices began to circulate. The non-approval of my voice by the group’s creator and admin Libby Chamberlain — not to mention my anger — was now starting to make sense.
But when Libby announce she had landed a book deal off the creation of a safe and sacred space, I was hit with an all too familiar feeling of how little known artists and writers in marginalized groups are often stripped of our creative autonomy at the hands of White people trying to bank off our backs and our bodies of experience.
As if the universe set out to prove my hypothesis right, a day after Bookgate, headlines began to roll in because Lena Dunham had once again spewed White privilege from her mouth. This time she had ‘jokingly’ said on her Women of the Hour podcast that she never had an abortion but she wishes she had. A decision that no matter how pro-choice you are is made within so much complexity and with the risk and reality of social and media shaming — especially for women of color. I know because I’ve had two in Texas. And while I’m eternally grateful for my Constitutional Right to my own body, I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy, let alone myself.
But it’s easy to trivialize and romanticized (and joke) about experiences that are not your own. And use them in some twisted fuck-up way to prove just how woke you are because you are so sympathetic to a cause that has had very real repercussions for the women who have lived them.
But here’s what it all really boils down to. Are Lena’s words jarring? Yes. Is Libby’s book deal a shock to women of color and other voices that have been oppressed in her super secret and (and super white) Facebook group? Yes. But are we surprised by either of these actions?
Because we women of color have been pushing up against feminist’s White encrypted walls and ceilings for decades. And, unlike terms, our experiences are not umbrellas.
It’s why Alice Walker coined the term Womanist, “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.”
And why I, and so many others, claim the identifier as my own.
It’s why in 1979, 37 years ago, Cherríe L. Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa put out this anthology solicitation:
“We want to express to all women — especially to white middle class women — the experiences which divide us as feminists; we want to examine incidents of intolerance, prejudice and denial of differences within the feminist movement.”
And why so many women of color writers answered their call.
It’s why women of color were shaking their heads as they watched their White sisters place their “I Voted” stickers on Susan B. Anthony’s gravesite — a woman who fought their right to vote.
Because for decades, White feminism has been chipping away at our kitchen table as we feed our experience-filled stories to the very mouths that would come back to bit us — and then claim that in making us bleed they are doing us a favor.
But our voices and grief are not your commodities. And our kitchens, our words spoken around them — online or otherwise, our backs and our bodies of experience are not yours to sell to the highest bidder on the auction block.