This has been a rough week, no? I went to a rally yesterday to turn in a petition to the Dallas District Attorney’s office demanding that the ex-police officer who shot Botham Jean in his Dallas apartment be charged with murder. When I was checking in with a friend, she shook her head sadly and said she was so tired. “Every woman I know is triggered right now.”
Ain’t that the truth?
I haven’t watched any of the Kavanaugh footage. I just can’t handle it. But I’ve seen enough horror on social media to last me several weeks. This conversation, about sexual assault, about women and the men who disbelieve us, is exhausting. The victim-blaming, slut-shaming, emotion-policing, male fragility, “But what about the men?” deflections: each is like a kick to stomach when we’re already down.
“Every woman I know is triggered right now.”
The rally was small but mighty. There was a short press conference and then we all traipsed up to the 11th floor of the Frank Crowley Courthouse to deliver our 10 boxes of petitions to the District Attorney’s office.
Let me be clear: This was a group of mostly Black protesters, some of whom had a personal connection to Botham (his girlfriend was there). This is a hurting community, an angry community, a community who has a right to deserve answers and demand dignity from our county’s justice system.
The DA’s office wouldn’t let us inside. They made a fuss about “not being able to take 10 boxes”, which is horsecrap. Pretty sure you can symbolically accept 10 boxes. It’s not like we delivered them on elephants. Activists, upset but resolved, stood in the hallway outside the door and consolidated boxes and handed them off.
Brittany, my badass Black activist friend, the one who said that every woman she knows, including herself, is triggered right now, had to stand in the door way and yell across an office at a man who walked away from her, refusing to talk to her, refusing to acknowledge the pain of the community she was speaking on behalf of.
Oh, the indignity.
After an already hard week, watching my friend be treated in such a manner was the last straw. After the rally, I bawled all the way to yoga and then wept silently through the first 20 minutes of class.
I once heard someone describe racism as “death by a thousand paper cuts”. Meaning that sometimes the hardest part about racism to deal with is the small injustices (also called micro-aggressions): the comment about “how well you speak” or the woman who cuts in front of you at the grocery store. The point being that white people often think that the most insidious part of racism is the KKK or someone using the n-word. Those are traumatic, for sure, but the death by a thousand paper cuts comment was meant to shine a light that all of those tiny micro-aggressions add up. They happen daily, by strangers, by people who are supposed to be trustworthy, by people in authority.
I’ve been thinking this week about my relationship to patriarchy and I’ve decided that “death by 1000 paper cuts” provides some pretty accurate imagery.
Every time I have to say something twice to assert myself to a man// paper cut
Every time a man argues with me about something that I clearly know more about// paper cut
Every time a man mansplains and assumes that i don’t know something// paper cut
When I do the work of trying to educate a man on why what they said was offensive and they say it’s “getting ugly” and delete the entire thread out of a fit of male fragility// paper cut
When I expend time and energy trying to have a calm, rational, “logcial” discussion with a man who won’t ever believe that my opinions are important as his// paper cut
Fretting about whether or not I’ll go to church tomorrow and no one will mention that fully half of the congregation has had a shitty, triggering week// paper cut
And so on and so on.
Alex and I were talking about this very thing yesterday and I was recounting an experience I had with a man this week, calling the experience a paper cut. “Well, why don’t you talk to him about it?”
Because, I explained, that’s the thing about paper cuts. They’re small and every time they happen, I have to decide if it’s worth the emotional energy to address it. What if he gets angry or defensive and I have to defend myself? What if he dismisses me outright? Typically women who try to address small issues are branded as crazy, over-emotional, angry feminists. “Oh, don’t mind her. She’s always angry about everything.” What if me trying to address one paper cut means that I get 10 more in the process? Sometimes, it’s not worth it.
However, if I don’t address the paper cuts, then I die by 1000 paper cuts, which leads me to weeping during the first 20 minutes of a public yoga class because I just can’t emotionally hold it together any longer.
So, I’m kind of damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
I have observed lots of white women engage around this issue, this time. Lots of us seem to see ourselves in Dr. Ford, in the way she’s being treated in the media and by public officials. I think lots of us are acutely aware of the oppression that we, and the women in our lives, feel.
White women are allowed to be mad about this. We are allowed to be tender and raw and pissed off.
I also want us (white women) to be thinking critically about other people that suffer slow deaths by 1000 paper cuts and the ways that we are complicit in those paper cuts.
We are not the only victims.
I read a facebook post yesterday written by a Black man who said that he is terrified of white women, followed by dozens of comments agreeing with him. And he has good reason. Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy who was lynched in 1955 because he was accused of flirting with a white woman. More recently, a white woman was convicted of falsely accusing two Black university students of raping her. They lost their scholarships. Her accusations ruined their lives, possibly their futures. During the victim statements part of the sentencing, reports say she was accused of rolling her eyes, as if she couldn’t even muster up enough sympathy for the Black men standing in front of her.
(SIDENOTE: For the love of all that is holy, this is not a wholesale endorsement of the “but what about the false accusations?” argument that is being used to deflect any serious conversation about how men are not held responsible when they are not falsely accused. We can both want perpetrators to be held accountable, while also holding space to make sure that true justice is done. This conversation is about the complexity of gender, race, possibly class discussions. If you’re just here to discount any attempt at accountability for sexual assault, then you can leave.)
While I don’t want Black men to be afraid of me, I get it. Historically, Black men have good reason.
White women, we are both victims of patriarchy and while also often being weapons of white supremacy.
Victim and victimizer.
Oppressed and oppressor.
We receive paper cuts, and we give them.
This week has been very instructive for me. I’ve spent several years now listening and reading people of color talk about their experiences. Just recently, since this past summer, have I started to seriously examine patriarchy and all of the ways that it affects me. Looking through the microscope of my own oppression has given me insight into the oppression of others. This week has given me a chance to see this play out more clearly.
For instance, I’m heartened to see men saying something about believing sexual assault survivors, but I wonder if they are ready to do the hard work of really learning and listening. I wonder if they even know what they’re signing up for. When you ally yourself with women, you become vulnerable to paper cuts too and I’ll warn you, men can be vicious, fragile, vindictive, especially when you’re challenging male supremacy, because that’s always been the default. I wonder if the allyship will stop at the huggy huggy feel good messages. Are they ready to get down and dirty? To possibly lose relationships? To learn to shut up, that their opinions aren’t always the most important? To have to learn to do conflict well, so speak truth to power even when your voice shakes?
Allying yourself with marginalized people is no walk in the park. It’s brutal out here.
Asking those questions of men has caused me to turn around and ask those questions to myself. If I want to really be an ally to people of color, to the Black community, the latinx community, the indigenous communities, am I ready to get down and dirty? If I want to really be an ally to LGBT+ people, am I ready to open myself up to more paper cuts?
I feel like white women have an opportunity here. When talking about their oppression, white women are often literally *only* talking about *their* oppression. It’s why lots of Black women identify as womanists, instead of feminists. They wonder if a white feminist is truly for them. Again, historically they have good reason.
A good example is the answer to the question: When did women get the right to vote?
The answer, of course, is almost always “1920! WHOO HOO! Suffragettes! Girl power!” This is even the answer on a f-ing .gov informational website about the 19th amendment. A GOVERNMENT WEBSITE!
You know who couldn’t vote in 1920? BLACK WOMEN, who are women too, the last time I checked. They didn’t get to vote until 1964. Fully 44 years later.
So while white women were partying hard to the polls, cheering that “women got the right to vote,” we literally abandoned our sisters. I see this repeating over and over again. Tons of white women wore pussy hats to the Women’s March after Trump’s inauguration. His treatment of women, in word and deed, is something to be horrified by and I’m glad it moved us to action. But you know what else is horrifying? Women being yanked apart from their children and being placed in detention centers. Black women burying their sons, dead at the hands of the police. Muslim women being attacked in public. Refugee women being denied entry to a country that could be a safe haven. Is our corporate outrage really only reserved for people who are exactly like us? If so, why and how do we change that?
White women, we have an opportunity here. We are feeling our paper cuts acutely. Let me reiterate: our paper cuts are real and the pain is valid. Let’s use our experience as victims to turn around help others who are dying from 1000 paper cuts. Let’s be motivated to learn and listen so that we aren’t giving paper cuts. We know the kinds of allies we want men to be; let’s be those same kinds of allies to other marginalized groups.
White women, we’re suffering from death by 1000 paper cuts. We’re not the only ones. Let’s be the kind of allies to others that we need for ourselves.