White Feminism

Why We Need To Talk About White Feminism“The best thing any white feminist can do is educate herself, and listen and engage with the experiences of women of color without silencing them.”

Posted by HuffPost Women on Monday, August 10, 2015

This video was posted by HuffPost Women on last week. Since then, it has been shared over 9,000 times. It has popped up in my social media feed a whole lot and I’ve been tempted to share it each time. But I haven’t. Mostly because I feel like I need to do more than just share this video.

One of the things they say in the video is that being a white feminist does not mean that you are a bad person, it just means that you have a lot to learn. And that is very true. As a white woman and a feminist, I fell into the trap of white feminism early and often.

I can still remember some of my earliest failures as a feminist. In undergrad during one of my many women’s studies, I was chatting with a group of my fellow students on a break. We were talking about the beginnings of feminism and the roots of the movement. I quoted verbatim from a book that I had read about how the feminist movement began when women started to move out of the home and to take jobs in public space.

31 year old me looks back at that me and just puts her face in her hands. Because wow.

So I spout that to the people I’m with and a girl from my class says to me “But women of color were already working outside the home. In fact, a lot of them were balancing work and home life. What did feminism do for those women?”

I don’t even remember her name, but holy shit did I need that truth bomb dropped on me.

I stammered a lot and admitted that I hadn’t really thought of that. And that I clearly needed to. She recommended some books and articles that I should read and basically told me that I needed to shift my way of looking at things to include women of color when I talked about feminism.

She was so right.

The thing is, I’m sure that I had said white feministy stuff before that. And I’m sure I had done it in company. The people I was with just didn’t call me on it for whatever reason. I am so grateful to her for calling me out. For putting me on the spot. And I’m glad that, when she did, I was in a position to really hear her and process what she was saying rather than getting defensive.

Being called out is hard. And this isn’t the only time that it has happened to me, just my most vivid memory of it. I was embarrassed. And a little ashamed of myself. And honestly there was a spark of anger there at her calling me out. Because being called out is hard. Being wrong is hard. And being told that you are wrong in front of other people is embarrassing.

The fact of the matter is that it’s important that we allow people to tell us when we are wrong. And that we admit to ourselves and to the people around us that we don’t know everything. I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older how important it is to reveal our flaws and mistakes and pitfalls to the people around us. It lets other people know that they are not alone in not being perfect. It is deliriously easy to act as though we are somehow perfect. To present a face to the world that is blemish free. To edit our speech so that it is free from grammatical errors. But the projection of those things harms us. It makes us hold ourselves up to a standard of perfection to which we cannot possibly adhere. And it harms the people around us by making them think that, when they fall short, they should never admit it.

All of that is to say that I am far from a perfect feminist person. I have been guilty of white feminism. I have even been guilty of TERF-dom. These are not things that I am proud of. But they are things that, with time and education and good people calling me out, I have very much moved past. And if I don’t admit that to the world, then everyone who is guilty of those things will only ever see me as a person who does not make those mistakes. If I do not have empathy for people who are in the same position that I was in when I first started learning about feminism and social justice, then how can I expect them to listen to me?

So I say this to those of you out there who may be struggling with being called out and all the things that brings up for you: No one pops out of the womb full of perfect knowledge of how to walk the world. We are all walking and growing together. It’s OK to fuck up.

It’s how you learn.

DexCon 2015 Recap Part 1: Inclusion

I spent my July 4th weekend locked in a hotel with a bunch of nerds. It was glorious.

As per what has become usual, I ran a Dresden Files RPG KristaCon event with three other fabulous GMs, the fabulous Krista White (of KristaCon fame), Brennan Taylor, and Matthew Aaron. We prepped for weeks for that game, taking into account comments that we received during roses and thorns expressed after our last Dresden KristaCon event.

We used the Paranet Papers, which just came out very recently. The nature of the Paranet lent itself really well to the use of the three tables, and we were really excited to see a lot of movement between tables for the first two sessions, not to mention the number of “text messages” that were sent between players to keep each other up on what was happening at each table. The sessions were filled with highlights for me.

But this, by far, was the best one from the entire weekend of Dresden games for me:

This was said to me after the first session of Dresden on Thursday night by a player who I had never met before this weekend. And it meant so much to me. Gaming is a space that is dominated in a lot of ways by a straight white cis male narrative. The landscape can be pretty bleak when you look out at it as a person who isn’t those four things all wrapped up in one. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten bored with a game simply because I was forced to play a male character. I mean, it happened to me just last night with Batman: Arkham Knight!

Inclusion is important. More than that, inclusion isn’t hard. When we worked on the Dresden game last year, we made sure that our characters were representative of more than one narrative (i.e. the overwhelming straight white one). We created characters that covered a wide spectrum of backgrounds. And you know what? It was just as difficult to make those characters as it was to make any other characters that I have created for the Dresdenverse. You use the same stats. The same mechanics for deciding aspects. It’s all, shockingly, the same! The only real, concrete difference is some of the background work. For example, when we decided to make a native American character, we had to look into the groups that lived in a certain area and make sure that the things we created for that character rang true for those groups.

When you are working to make a game inclusive and friendly to people other than your generic EveryWhiteMan, there are some things to consider. And it should be noted that you are going to make mistakes. Here’s a great example. There was a moment during planning this year when we realized that all of our sites for the game were in the United States. We quickly scrambled and decided that South America would be a third site and scrapped Indianapolis as a city. The South American site turned out to work really well in a lot of ways, and we felt pretty good about the decision to not be yet another game that takes place only in the USA.

Here’s some cliff notes on how to work inclusion into your game while still being sensitive to the groups that you are trying to represent. And remember as you are going through this process: these are not obstacles, they are opportunities! So many new avenues appear for you and your players when you open up your game to new ideas.

  1. Setting. Consider setting your game in an area that you are not as familiar with. This might take a little research on your part. But you will find that some games (like DFRPG, for example) have settings fleshed out for you already. Honestly, you can get a pretty good idea of a lot of areas by looking at Wikipedia and then following the reference links for deeper knowledge.
  2. Gender & Sexuality. If you are building characters for your characters to play at a con or writing questionnaires for your gaming group, try defaulting to they/them pronouns. Leave out specifying the gender identity and sex of any romantic entanglements. Let your players build their characters into the sexual identity and gender expression that they are the most comfortable with. Leave out names and let your players create those for themselves.
  3. Racial Identity. I like to include photos with character sheets when I’m doing a con. If this is something you like to do, try to make sure that the characters you are representing are diverse. If you are including characters from a background with which you are not familiar, do a little digging and make sure that the details you include are authentic and do not read as a cartoon parody of the culture that you are referencing. (i.e. do not make Japanese ninjas) This is an important element of creating characters that ring true and that are not going to be insulting to the culture that you are trying to represent.

The most important thing that you can do when you are trying to be inclusive in your games is to listen to your players. If they tell you that something seems off or express discomfort, hear them out. Make changes where appropriate. Be an accessible and fierce ally for the people who are trusting you with authority over them.

Have any other ideas on how to make games more inclusive? Let me know in the comments!

Mad Max: Feminist Action Movie (Spoilers Ahead)

First let me say that I do not write reviews. I do not have any interest in reviews, generally speaking. But there has been a lot of talk in my circles about whether Mad Max: Fury Road is a feminist film or not, so I felt like I should try to tangle with that question for myself.

Let me address first the major issue I have with George Miller’s epic film: The inclusion (or lack thereof) of people of color. Despite the prominent inclusion of Zoë Kravitz, the whole film was seriously lacking in this regard. And that might have been because of the white body paint used on the War Boys, but I was not able to see more than one or two people of color, and those few that I saw were within the teeming mass of humans begging for water at the Citadel. This is endemic of a larger issue of inclusion that permeates Hollywood, and I stand with a number of other feminists in saying that this continued omission is unacceptable.

That said, that there was a notable presence of Maori actors including Courtney EatoniOTA, and Megan Gail. And it should not be overlooked in the conversation that these actors have a direct tie to the cultural heritage of the place where these movies were originally born. It is also worth noting that their apparent whiteness is a testament to the erasure of native features through centuries of rape and oppression. Overlooking these actors is a symptom of that erasure and should not be done lightly, or, you know, at all.

The rest of the movie was a feminist dystopian dream come true. The one-armed and brutal Impirator Furiosa leads society to freedom from the people who had oppressed them for their entire lives. I have heard people talk about how the only misogyny in the film was a sort of cartoon misogyny, and that is absolutely true. But I really don’t know where you would fit microaggressions into a film like this one. It is a pulse-pounding chase film. It is the best part of every action movie that you have ever seen smashed into one long opus. You aren’t going to have some guy standing at the water cooler leering at your boobs. It doesn’t fit. And I think people who call for that kind of nuance in a film like this are missing the point.

They are, after all, likely the only “gently kept” women in existence.

I mean, even the camera work avoided being shitty and exploitative. The most sexual it got was in the moment when Max saw the brides for the first time as they washed off the dirt of travel. And he, dizzy with dehydration and having been tortured and locked away for who knows how long, was dumbstruck by their beauty. And who wouldn’t be? But honestly, there were two nipple shots in the entire thing and there was one naked woman, but she had an actual narrative significance and was probably the least sexualized nude female body I have ever seen.

Some talk has occurred regarding the violence in the film and whether violence is a feminist thing. The film even addresses it, with one of the brides questioning the Vulvani (best name ever) about their seeming delight in violence, stating that she thought they would be “above all that.” Personally, I do not think that violence is inherently anti-feminist. More specifically, I think that it is anti-feminist that we would call the violent reaction against an oppressive state “anti-feminist.” Considering the national conversation about riots in this country, I would think that point could not possibly be more clear. Nor come at a more appropriate time.

All in all, the film has been hailed as a feminist opus. And I think that it could fit easily into that niche for me were it not for the issues of representation mentioned above. But it has also been criticized for being a two hour pulse pounding film that is basically devoid of complicated plot. And I think that is somewhat misleading because of one very important development toward the end of the film.

When Furiosa and the brides reach the Vulvani and decide to make good their escape over the salt flats when their green utopia proves to be a long-dead lie, something important happens. Max chases after them and impresses upon Furiosa that the only world they can hope to take – the only world with any surety of sustainable life – is the one they left behind.

notthingsAnd that is where Fury Road goes from being a meaningless action film to something greater. From the furious scrawling of “WE ARE NOT THINGS” on the wall of the cell in which the brides were kept, the entire film centered around reaching some kind of glorious green place where the oppression of men no longer existed. The brides are hell-bent on the idea that their sons will not be warlords. But there is no guarantee of life beyond the edges of the known. And the only way that they can find their way to freedom is by freeing the world they left behind. By freeing the War Boys from the bounds of patriarchal oppression writ large in the body of Immortan Joe.

So they return. They fight their way through hoards of men who would enslave and constrain them. And when the time comes for Furiosa to be raised on high, who do we see disappearing into the crowd? Max. Max who does not need or want to take the attention and credit from the women he has assisted in their furious return. He knows that the way to a better world is not his way, but theirs. And he slips quietly into the crowd, making way for a society free from the stain of war mongering waged by men like him and Immortan Joe.

Feminist rating: 7 out of 10. Three points deducted for inclusion. An excellent, if problematic, film.