Feminism | Posted by Kate S on 03/23/2012

Why We Need To Stop Being Politely Active

The International Women’s Rights Collective (IWRC) went to the third annual Women in the World Summit last weekend. The Summit, as I expected, was built on post-imperialistic rhetoric where women from the third world countries were victims and it was our job as privileged women from the West to rescue them via the power of capitalism. That said, the amazing women leaders, survivors, and activists accounted for the sponsors’ ignorant rhetoric. Topics of the panel included forced marriage, sex trafficking, glass ceiling, and media among others.

My favorite moments from the panel somehow came together when Shelby Knox (who, despite being one of the younger panelists, was a TOTAL BOSS) responded to the question of why this generation of young women is not as active in the movement as its suffragette and radical feminist predecessors. This was a question I often struggled with; in fact, I used to read about national protests against Miss U.S.A. pageants and riot grrl movements with jealousy. Shelby said that the young women in our generation grew up thinking that they are equal—that we live in a world of post-racism, post-feminism, post-imperialism. But as we grow up subconsciously chafing against glass ceilings and double standards, we internalize our frustration; individual women feel that their lived experience contradicts what they have been told. In her own words, “The most challenging thing for my generation is that we were told that we are equal, and when we go into the work force we hit these barriers, and we think it must be our fault, that it’s an individual problem. My generation’s problem is figuring out how do we get there not only individually but collectively, because the solutions for my generation are not going to be individual.”

The dominant culture certainly fails to validate their experiences. In fact, the illusion of sex-positive equality they produce encourages a passive attitude that someone, somewhere will deal with inequality. This is really telling, considering the ludicrousness of the GOP’s regulation of reproductive rights. Just last week, I saw people protesting about some monkeys dying during an experiment done by Harvard folks. Not to say that animal testing is okay, but people are enraged and going on the streets to scream about apes while women’s bodies continue to be violated, dehumanized, regulated, and belittled. Shelby’s explanation does begin to explain why there is such a passive attitude among young women when our rights are taken away. We think we’re equal so we don’t want to accept the gravity of the problem. We think someone else is going to fight for us. We think we’re equal. To that, 2011 Nobel Laureate Lehmah Gbowee said, “Why are these women not angry and beating men left and right? It’s time for women to stop being politely angry.”

Which raises another question: what kind of activism do young women envision themselves in? Seeing women walking around the Summit in their high heels and pearls made me realize the extent to which “politely-angry” mentality was ingrained in our minds. I am not suggesting that we need to go topless on the streets or burn our bras. But I am jealous of the fervor and intensity of our predecessors’ movement. If I suggested protesting against the proliferation of misogynistic images in the media to students at Harvard, many would laugh (and they did). Change works in multiple ways. In our attempt to dismantle the master’s house, I think we got used to using master’s tools. But polite anger brings us polite changes and I don’t think that’s what we want.

Watch Women in the World Highlights here!

Originally posted on Kate’s blog

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  • Global Feminist Link Love: March 16-23 @ at 9:01 am, March 24th, 2012

    [...] Why We Need To Stop Being Politely Active (fbomb) [...]

  • Ariel @ at 4:46 am, March 25th, 2012

    Agreed. Been thinking this forever. But can’t figure a way to destroy the masters house without the master knowing and calling the cops and ending up with us destructive non-polite people getting tossed in jail.
    Can anyone think this up? I’d love to be a part of anything I can.

  • Renee @ at 9:18 pm, March 25th, 2012

    Ug I love Gbowee I wouldd follow here to hell kick Satan’s ass and then take his shiny pitchfork as a prize.

  • KS @ at 6:42 pm, March 26th, 2012

    Thanks everyone! IWRC is the only undergraduate student group at Harvard that addresses women’s rights in the framework of universal human rights. Follow us on twitter @HCIWRC and check out our facebook page!
    -KS

  • Renee @ at 7:32 am, April 1st, 2012

    @Ariel I too have been asking this question and been brushed off time and time again. But I thinks it’s impossible to protest without reprecussion even the most peaceful of Protest have had dogs thrown at them, but that what happens when you dare to challenge the status quo.

    This quote says it all, “Aint nobody in this country ever got they rigts by asking foe ‘em.”
    Also,”Well behaved women seldom make history.”
    So you can take it for what it is.

  • Alexa @ at 8:05 pm, April 3rd, 2012

    YES YES YES!! This vocalises everything I have been thinking/feeling about the movement today. I think it’s also a passive mentality that we aren’t encouraged to encourage and support eachother in our activism. Personally, I am too envious of the protests of riot grrrl and second wave feminism. But also the climate and mentality that allowed these events to take place. There was a real sense of support and not-self doubt amongst feminists that I feel has been lost

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