I attended two conferences back-to-back about gender and sexuality. At both conferences they were presentations from people not within the discipline of Feminist/Gender Studies and from men.
I noticed that many of those (men and women) outside of the discipline only turned up for their own presentations and left when they were over. And that generally men did the same.
Moreover, those outside of the discipline demonstrated very little knowledge of or respect for feminist scholarship in general or Caribbean feminist scholarship in particular. This made for very poor research on their part, which insulted the audience— especially those of us who were committed to ensuring that the space was one of dialogue and exchange and stayed for the entire day.
What was even more surprising, and perhaps even dishonest, was the way in which the audience (of mostly women, most likely feminists) passively expressed their discomfort with the presentations but refused to say anything other than congratulate the presenters. (I too was one of these passive disapprovers).
This is how privilege maintains itself— male privilege and the privilege of those who work within a discipline that is not called upon to justify its existence over and over again. In the end I see feminists attempting to reach out beyond their small circle (and it is a very small circle), and ending up complicit in the disrespect of their own work, both their academic scholarship and the work that goes into putting on a conference.
I feel the same way about the social media spaces which CODE RED has sought to create. They are to be spaces that are inclusive for men and women, that are anti-racist, that centre Caribbean experiences and that refuse to be complicit in the attempt at silencing of the Caribbean’s LGBTQ communities. They are to be spaces in which we can discuss global politics and economics just as readily as we discuss sexism and sexuality.
We have an “all voices are welcome” policy. But what about when those voices are wilfully ignorant and wilfully sexist? What about when those voices have other mainstream media platforms from which to spew their uninformed, anti-woman crap? What about when those voices are dismissive of the research in which we engage and the ideas we seek to share?
It’s not my job to teach those poised to inherit the Caribbean’s heteropatriarchal Old Boys’ network about sexism. Or racism. Or classism. Or homophobia.
CODE RED is here to provide critical feminist commentary on Caribbean life. If you believe that men are animals who cannot control their sexuality and that women are infantile temptresses who need to be ruled by their father-husband and refuse to entertain the possibility that you might be wrong, this is not the space for you.
How do you negotiate the need to reach beyond preaching to the converted given the ever present possibility of co-optation, dismissal and disrespect? And the fact that this kind of inclusion often means a re-inscribing of privilege itself as you are called upon to be the one to teach. After you have spent your time and energy teaching, explaining, arguing, giving examples you will be dismissed by minds that were already made up.
I end with Audre Lorde:
“Traditionally in american society, it is the members of the oppressed, objectified groups who are expected to stretch out and bridge the gap between the actualities of our lives and the consciousness of our oppressor. …Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call on us to share our knowledge with them. In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes.”