Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chivalry and Race - Ina's Response

(Ina, since your profile isn't public I couldn't contact you privately. If you want me to take this down just let me know.)

Ina had an awesome and very important response to my last post (Dude, this is my JOB), reminding all of us that it is, in fact, only the white ladies who are (usually) the beneficiaries of chivalry.

And after she sent her comment she sent a second comment asking me not to post it because she didn't want to hijack my blog. But the hijacking is cool with me. Because I don't want this to turn into a catalog of my experiences without context. Because she's not wrong, and ignoring women of color has been and continues to be an ENORMOUS problem in feminism. So here is Ina's post, and below my own thoughts.

Ina writes:

In order to bring this post back to race, I'd like to mention one of my own racialized experiences on the job with "chivalry."

I once worked in a used bookstore when I was a teenager. It was a pretty physical job, stacking and shelving and bringing up books from the storage cellar and taking boxes back down again. Most of our staff (of eight) were college students, most female, most of the staff white, except for me and one other girl (asian descent). The three guys on staff were all white. I am black.

Never once did any of the guys offer to carry ANYTHING for me. Not once. Not a damn thing. Several times I had to BEG for help. The other four girls on the other hand, hardly ever had to drag the big bins up and down to the cellar when any of the guys were on shift. And if there weren't any of the guys on shift there on a particular day, these girls would either leave the boxes in their area there for the next Guy on shift, or ask ME to do it... because I was "quick about it" and didn't seem to mind, cuz they had to leave earlier for class blah blah blah always some excuse why they couldnt do it themselves.

One week I decided to play the girl card too and leave the boxes in my area for one of the guys to take to the cellar the next morning. Apparently the guys didn't take too kindly to it. By the end of that week I had been written up for slacking and the manager (a white lady) had to have a talk with me about my "attitude" and being a "team player" and "pulling my own weight."

I quit the following week.

I don't mean to devalue your own experiences, but you have no idea how irksome it is to hear white women talk about all the "chivalry" being forced upon them day in and out, how they're constantly being treated as weaker and less capable. Well, I get the weaker and the less capable part, ALL THE TIME. I just never get the part where men (of ANY color) try to help me just because I'm weaker and less capable.

In my experience, white men and even men of color dont generally care about women of color's safety and capacity to function as a packpony until we get elderly. No I take that back, they do care if we happen to conform to "mainstream" aesthetic standards of female beauty (ie... Hot Privilege).... But us average looking black girls daren't expect protection, let alone chivalry. Our general incapcity in ANYTHING we happen to do is a given... but somehow that never seems to translate into coddling.

I didn't mean this as an indictment of you, no intention of making you feel guilty or compete in Oppression Olympics. Just wanted to clarify the race component of "chivalry" as well.

Good comment, right?

Two thoughts:

1) Chivalry is directed at a unique and small group of people: white, femme, average-to-attractive women. Women of color, butch women, fat women, hell, even women who don't wear makeup are often left out of this equation. For example, I have a archaeologist friend, a white woman, who is fairly conventionally attractive and feminine but who is very conventionally masculine in her personality. I.e., she speaks her mind, takes charge, etc. And no one offers to help carry her stuff.

I'm not suggesting that these people are lucky to dodge the chivalry bullet. In fact, these women are left out because of the stereotypes that they are somehow not deserving of the same protection and respect that pretty, femme white women are. And yes, even though it is based on inequality, chivalry is a twisted version of respect. This translates into all kinds of more serious things. For example, women of color (particularly black women) being perceived as less damaged by violent acts like rape. Because they're less delicate and fragile, you see.

2) This is a great example of how race and gender intersect, and how feminism has been damaged by white women refusing to listen to the experiences of WOC.

White feminist: "Chivalry is insulting and oppressive!"

WOC: "I guess your experience sucks, but I'm not even seen as worthy of chivalry!"

White feminist: "Chivalry is insulting and oppressive!"

WOC: "I don't think you're listening to me."

Both perspectives are of course correct, and both are valid. But by not listening to the experience of the WOC, feminism suffers.

So thanks, Ina! This is a valuable addition to my post and I'd love to hear any other thoughts on the subject.

1 comment:

  1. Yea the thought which you have shared with us is really very interesting.. there is always a descrimination between the black and white..