Voices Worth Hearing

Transitioning into an introductory women's and gender studies class has proved to be an interesting experience for me, this semester. Oddly enough, my introduction to feminism was Shakesville, a blog that quite explicitly does not prioritize basic introduction to feminism, and I think that's certainly shaped the way I think about feminism and about progressive issues.

Particularly, we ended up having a spirited debate in class today about consideration of other cultures and viewpoints. Intersectionality has been a critical part of the class pretty much from day one, and I think the best point that came out of today's discussion was that American culture is not in any sense monolithic, and that there are wide racial and class divisions that can't and shouldn't be erased with broad references to American culture.

One thing that I heard in the discussion, however, particularly stuck with me. What does it mean to consider those differences, either between cultures or within them? To me, intersectionality means taking care to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes that created this culture in the first place - mistakes such as speaking "down" to other perspectives or ignoring voices that should have a place at the table.

I think it's important to say, though, that that doesn't mean every voice deserves equal consideration.

I am a man; I will lose something if the culture that I seek to create is brought to fruition. That doesn't mean I'm being treated unequally; it means that I already have the advantages of male privilege, and that part of creating an equal society will mean erasing those advantages. I accept that as the cost of creating that equal society, because I consider the alternative (the persistence of the existing unequal society) to be worse.

Needless to say, not all men agree with me. There are no small number of voices who denounce what they view as the growing damage being done to men by the feminism that I and others champion. There are no small number of voices who jealously defend their male privilege, whether unknowingly as something they have earned, or knowingly as the proper place of men in the world - and the same could be said of any other privileged group defending its privilege.

The point? Some voices are worth hearing, and intersectionality is the reminder to all of us not to shut out such voices. Some voices can testify to their own personal experiences and provide important perspectives on issues that would otherwise be an unknown to the rest of the participants. Such voices must be respected, honored, and heard.

Other voices, such as those like the ones I discussed in reference to male privilege, seek to defend the privilege they possess. I am under no obligation to show deference to such views. The best I can offer is this: I can take one shot at explaining why such views are harmful, why clinging to privilege is counterproductive. And if it turns out that that voice is not receptive, I will not continue slamming into a brick wall of futility - I'll shut that voice out without a shred of regret.

Intersectionality is the reminder to listen to those voices worth hearing. It is not a demand to respect voices that are better shouted down.

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