If you identify as a feminist, or even have any interest in feminism (which I’ll assume you do, since you are reading this blog) then you might have come across the idea of sticking to discussing “topics of value” or “topics of worth”. This frustrating phenomenon has decided to become quite prominent in my life as of the last few weeks, delegitimizing much of my writing and opinions. The statement arises when discussing a variety of topics, from feminism to cultural appropriation. The sole purpose in its usage is to devalue an argument, and thus delegitimize the person making the argument.
Firstly, let’s ask ourselves: What is value? We’re not talking about the value of a dollar, or the learning process that takes place to figure out what that means. We’re not talking about inflation rates or the recession. Everything has some sort of value in our society, and these are called value systems.
Professor of psychology, Dr. Clare W. Graves, was the first person to discuss value systems and the way they work in our societies. Graves proposes “that a value system consists of a hierarchically ordered, always-open-to-change set of identifiable ethics, morals, preferences, priorities, world views and purposes by which groups and cultures structure their societies”. To give an example of these changing value systems: 50 years ago, our priorities as a society were not so focused on exercise and a balanced diet, to consider such things in your day-to-day lives was unusual and often unheard of. Oftentimes it was viewed as a waste of time and energy, and thus, not valuable. Today, however, these topics cover the pages of every other magazine, book and billboard and thus demonstrating its worthiness to be there to the public as part of our social concern. It is a priority, it is important, thus it is okay and understandable that we are interested in it.
But who decides the value of something? Who decides what’s most important? We know the media has a lot to do with how we view a lot of what goes around us, but who decides on the smaller things? Who decides what’s an important issue or discussion at a party? On social media sites? Who has the right to place a value on that and what type of power is that person wielding in doing so?
Obviously, the more valuable something is in our society, the more importance and worth it claims. So it deduces that whoever claims the ability to place a value on something must be in a powerful position themselves. It is also an easy step to assume that the person claiming to know the value of a topic tend to be in privileged positions to wield such power: that is, people listen to them because they are of a majority = privilege.
As a writer, I’ve been told many times that I need to stick to topics of value. Usually I dismiss the comments, thinking of it in terms of someone simply not being interested enough in the topic. But recently, I’ve decided that that disinterest is part of the idea of “value” itself. What I’m discussing isn’t worthy of your or the public’s attention, so you attempt to call attention to its “unworthiness” in order to control what is being put out onto the public forum. So, let’s go ahead and have a look at (call out) some specific incidents’ where I’ve seen value systems controlled by the privileged at play recently.
On discussing cultural appropriation on Facebook with a friend, she linked me to some comments that her other friends had made on the discussion. What I found there was a lot of misinformed garbage and, as a stranger I felt that it was easier for me to call out these people then it would be for my friend who wished to maintain relationships with these people and thus didn’t want to stand on any metaphorical toes. Once I was in the discussion, shit hit the fan (again, this is metaphorical shit, not literal. Ew.) This was my first encounter with the “topics of value” argument as a white girl informed me that what we were discussing was a waste of time and not valuable. That costumes are just that, costumes, and we shouldn’t be making a big deal out of it. I think my reply was something along the lines of “so you don’t think marginalized people are valuable? Ah howeya racism”.
I thought that this was a one off, ignorant white girl thing that was said in a defensive manner during an argument, but lo and behold, it struck again a few days later. This time it was an acquaintance of mine who shared a similar sentiment towards certain feminist activities such as the protest against the male-dominated figures on our bank notes. His point was that we should be focusing on more important issues like the continuation of female circumcision.
Here there is a clear view of what constitutes as worthy of feminist energy. Here we see a man telling woman what is worthy and what is not. Here’s a man telling us simple women folk that we’re not putting our energy into the right things. Silly women folks.
We could go into first wave and second wave feminism (and even third wave) but let’s not. Let’s just say that we, as women, are working to attempt to right the inequalities in ALL aspects of society at this point. There will always be more “base” issues at play, but us feminists also need to look at patriarchy in all of its guises and fight the inequalities we see. And yes, some feminists (understandably, imo) think that having men dominate our currency is unequal. Money, the thing we use to pretty much run our country, is plastered by the faces of men. Equal? No. But don’t let me tell you what’s valuable, of course. It’s not like I’m the marginalized demographic in question, noooo, of course not. I’m totally ignorant of the harsh realities that patriarchy has on women.
(Did I make it clear enough that I’m being totally sarcastic??)
Another commenter stated recently that an article of mine concerning Halloween costumes and body policing wasn’t a topic of concern. POINTS TO THE FIRST PERSON WHO GUESSED HE WAS A WHITE MALE!
So, why am I getting my metaphorical panties in a twist with regards to this? Well it’s a total hypocritical mess that us ignorant privileged people think is justified. Think about it: We’re talking about topics that relate to power and privilege, be it feminism or cultural appropriation. When the person wielding said power or privilege with regards to a certain demographic claims that the topic is not valuable, they devalue a marginalized people yet again whilst claiming power to themselves yet again.
“I, AS MIGHTY WHITE MAN, DEEM THIS TOPIC TO BE NOT WORTH MY TIME. THEREFORE, I DEEM YOU TO BE NOT WORTH MY TIME. AND THEREFORE, MY FELLOW WHITE MEN WILL LIKEWISE DEEM YOUR QUERIES AS A WASTE OF TIME. AND BECAUSE WE HOLD ONTO ALL OF THIS POWER, OUR VIEW OF YOU AS UNWORTHY WILL STOP YOU FROM MAKING ANY CHANGES TO OUR UNEQUAL SOCIETY FOR THE BETTER. YOU MAY LEAVE NOW WHILE I DON MY BLACK FACE AND KKK HOOD”. (Ok, so the last sentence is an extreme example, but not unheard of. *cough* racist party *cough*).