you may already know i work for a women's organization, a moderately-progressive and feminist organization. while many different people work for us, our staff is a rather self-selecting lot. we've been around for over 100 years, we all know what our mission is and we all like that over 80% of the staff have ovaries. contrary to stereotype, ours is a surprisingly even-keeled environment* and the team i work with is a good one - it's high performing and we're particularly mission-focused. so it was a surprise when, during a meeting yesterday, the only male staffer on the team got his Hanes in a bunch and just walked out.
context: we were discussing the idea of instituting a series of feminist salons, home-based discussion groups, and one of us was in the middle of explaining the history of the salon.
staffergirl: during the 18th and 19th centuries, prominent women opened their homes to artists, politicians, thinkers, writers to discuss current events. it was a way for women to enter the public sphere, become politicized, and it would be a good idea for us to engage people now -
stafferguy: excuse me, what people? (cupping his ear with his hand)
staffergirl: uh, young women. we think it would be a good idea to engage young women in these discussions and -
stafferguy: which people? (the cupping thing again)
stafferguy: i'm sorry. i'm sorry. i just don't like it when you forget that not all of us are women. (bundles up his lunch and starts to walk out)
staffergirl: i'm sorry, but - don't go - this is what those groups were! i'm sorry, i didn't mean to offend -
stafferguy: but you did, staffergirl. you did. (door firmly shuts and stafferguy is gone.)
the rest of us sit there a little abashed and stunned.
into the silence, i say, 'i'm sorry. we are a feminist organization. we are a women's organization. hegemony is tough.' i shrug and sip my diet pepsi. after a few seconds, our discussion continues without stafferguy. but at the end the manager wants to talk about it.
everyone is silent. then i and a recovered staffergirl say that, sometimes, a person who enjoys a certain amount of class and gender privilege has to acknowledge that it's not all about him all the time. if he is going to be a feminist man, then he has to recognize that sometimes that requires him to not be the center. sometimes, there are limits.
i said we see this limit in other political groups; while there are alliances between feminists of color and not, at some point there has to be a recognition that sometimes our interests divide and sometimes, we brown feminists aren't going to be thinking about what our white sisters might feel or want. in another instance, while we progressive straights can certainly be allies with our gay friends, we have to take a back seat when it comes to that community defining what's best for their interests. sometimes, the dominant discourse has to learn when to shut up.
in other words, sometimes the Other doesn't want the Master around.
[*this is not to say our workplace is perfect. some women have sniffed that it could be 'more woman-supportive' but for me, having come from at least two corporate, testosterone-heavy firms, working in an all-female office is like running on the beach during one of those 1970s kotex commercials. it's that refreshing.]