Asking the hard questions

Jezebella has an excellent post up about the problems with being a well-meaning but ultimately privileged honky white woman – someone who wants to both do GOOD and to do better, while at the same time struggling with making sure her own needs for self-care are met.

I am reminded of stories of women in wartime generations. Women who simply could not join the army, but had the sense that supporting the troops was a righteous thing to do (is it rude of me to say: oh, the joyful innocence of believing that there is a “just” war, and knowing with absolute conviction that our side is the right side?). They were women (we are told) who could collect bottle tops for scrap metal, knit socks and blankets for the troops – in other words, practice both self-care and activism by parleying hobbies such as knitting into social activities with the goal of helping someone in need. If a woman was particularly idealistic, and young, she could join as a nurse and be as close to front lines of action as possible, performing heroic and appreciated acts.

Women today do not have those same kinds of options. One might say that we haven’t for years (witness the tragic farce that was the Vietnam war), but even there, there seemed to be a sense that activism at home could change things – sit ins, love ins, campus protests and putting flowers in a soldier’s rifle for the young women. For older women, there still seemed to be a fair way to support the troops (even if not the war itself) with care packages. Either way, there was much less focus on tragedies and indignities perpetrated abroad.

Modern young women do not have those same kinds of options. They are all too aware of genocide, of oppression, of the horrors of this war, and of their own complicity in the consumerist/capitalist behaviors that subsume the rights of others to live without poverty, without US troops bombing the bejezus out of their homes, their government buildings, and their museums. Women today know too much about problems, and too little about how to fix them short of complete institutional change (although this would be MY personal preference). We know that putting yellow ribbon “Support the Troops” stickers on our cars implies that we support the war – and equally we know that putting “support the troops – bring them home” stickers there opens up far more complex dangers than a one-time protest would. It makes cars (and the people in them) constant moving targets.

We know, too, that even well meaning interference (activism) can cause more problems than those the activism is intended to address. To which organization can you donate money if you don’t want it to go through IMF/World Bank, or through Citibanks’ corporate (and often terrorizing) private lenders? If a woman defaults on a microloan you give her through Kiva, will she be harassed and shamed by neighbors? Will she be hunted down by the lenders? If you support sending pads and tampons to poor/rural areas so that girls don’t have to drop out of school for missing a week of classes every month, will you be creating more trash? Furthering Procter & Gamble’s corporate greed? Opening up those girls to retributive punishments by the men in their own community for daring to appear in public while menstruating (when they “should” be sequestered)?

So what do we do? How do we act in ways that are both generous and redistributve AND living up to our need for self-care? How do we navigate our own oppression AND our collusion in the corporate greed that has created and sustained the impoverishment of 90% of the world?

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~ by heycarahe on May 1, 2008.

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