Warning: I’m not planning to do a detailed academic analysis on Post Modernist philosophy itself, this are my views (or rant) on my personal blog, because I’m tired of reading this nonsense on a daily basis.
ETA since I got a few negative comments: Again, I can’t emphasize this enough – don’t take this as a critique of post-modernism itself, which was never my intention.
Last month, a blog was posted in CNN about a white woman who visited India and had horrible experience with sexual harassment over here. This was met by outrage from many parts, some having victim blaming overtones. Myself as a guy who lives in India, and most feminists I know of, found it very relatable and not even slightly hard to believe. That’s hardly the point. The point is, when a woman, regardless of her background, ethnicity or race, narrates her experience in India, deserves to be heard and understood. You can’t just go on to blame her or ask her to mince the words just because you are offended. And there was no reason to either, she was very polite and did not attempt to paint all Indian men by the same brush. This has been already discussed at IHM’s blog, you can read it there.
Coming to the central point, postmodernism. I have never been impressed by postmodernist philosophy in general (I have respect, but although I don’t want to imply that their entire field is obsolete without proper exploration on my part, needless to say the sort of nonsense from many postmodernists is getting far too much for me to tolerate. Alan Sokal did a good take-down on the anti-intellectualism that plagues postmodernist philosophy in his book “Fashionable Nonsense“, but that is not again my central point. This blog is to discuss about how some post-modernists get it so wrong, you can’t sometimes even tell the difference between a post modernist and a misogynist. And when that happens, you’re doing it wrong. Period.
1. Victim Blaming
This was posted on a tumblr, and was posted in relation to the RoseChasm article I mentioned:
“Yet another deeply obnoxious, racist, classist and douchey, white woman’s account of her experience in India. […] There are ways to tell this story without being colonizing, white supremacist piss hole. Find that way or shut the fuck up.”
I saw absolutely nothing generalizing or unbelievable about her account. Why should a woman watch her mouth to stroke your post modernist sensibilities to narrate her terrible experience of sexual harassment? And what’s worse, this is riddled with personal attacks towards her. Yes, it is important that woman of color be heard, absolutely. How does that make this venomous personal attack on a person who faced sexual harassment okay? So extending the same reasoning, should non-dalit women be allowed to speak in India? Would you say the same shit to them? This is just downright misogynist douchebaggery. Oh no, we have to take everything as white savior complex, completely ignore the fact that this was a victim narrating her personal experience. Just write a post-modernist guideline that women ought to follow from now on to speak of their personal experiences, I’m sure they would be very grateful for that.
This is the worst form of post-modernism, which is, in my view, anti-feminist and misogynist. And this runs so deep down, where being offended and having an us vs them mentality is good enough to rant on about anything.
2. Cultural reappropriation
Now we come to the so called ‘cultural appropriation’ issue, in this case apparently the burning issue seems to be: “Should you wear a Bindi?” First of all, for all the things Po-mos say about racism, this post is ironically racist and such a sweeping generalization. Not all desi woman who wear bind wear them “cheap ugly looking desi chappals” – in fact many women who wear bindi probably from middle-upper middle class. And many of the women who do so themselves use these fairness creams. That is just the colorism they have internalized, and unfortunately confirm to. It’s an amazing leap of logic that you just made there.
And I am thankful that people from the west don’t make a fuss out of all this “cultural re-appropriation”, because we do that ourselves, if you are even aware of that. We’re not some monolithic group that wear “cheap ugly desi chappals” along with bindis. Bollywood actresses wear bindis. Upper class and caste women wear bindis. I haven’t seen many Indians getting ‘hurt‘ in India because some white women wore a bindi here, and we’re a very sensitive bunch when it comes down to religious and cultural sentiments. But regardless, being offended is not good enough reason to refrain from doing anything. Because especially living in India, I know very well how that is used to shut down any debate. If you offend any religious sentiments, you’re screwed. And that has worked out great for us, as you can see. You may find it silly, or you may not like it, but that does not make it inherently racist. That is just irrational prejudice, nothing else.
3. Savior Complex and Western Allies
This is a more sensitive issue, and I hope I get the nuances right here. I agree that racism in the west is not a trivial issue to this date, and I get that white savior complex might well exist and be very prevalent. But here is something many people just annoyingly go overboard with again:
Now here comes the oft repeated phrase: “we do not need saving“. I repeatedly hear this, that “we do not need saving” strawman. What is the point of this? I mean I could say that to any activist. That “women don’t need saving” or “LGBT people don’t need saving” – and you would rightly call bullshit on that. Homophobia is terribly prevalent in Islamic communities, that’s just a reality. And I don’t see how accepting that is a problem – and I would go so far to say that acknowledging the problem exists and is widespread is the first step.
Progressive Muslims (reformists) are still in the minority, and they’re mostly the ones who are vocal about LGBT activism. So yes, allies are important. At least in my view. This kind of broad and unhelpful rhetoric just negatively affects LGBT activism in Muslim communities. And I’m just pointing out Muslim communities in this specific case, that applies to a broader context too. And it’s hard to tell if it’s a satire or real thing (spoiler alert: it is real) when you say things like “”We” are not helpless objects for you to (hyper)sexualize and prey upon with your colonial gazes.” – seriously?
Yes stereotypes are bad, and should be done away with. I appreciate that. But how about some nuance? Or being more specific and conflating strawman arguments with genuine issues that should not be brushed under the rug? I love how “hyper sexualization by colonial gazes” is an acceptable statement, but criticism of veil as a form of sexualization is “orientalist and offensive“.
And I could go on. This is just me talking from a feminist perspective and me randomly choosing a few examples to present a case.
When you yourself engage in black and white thinking whilst criticizing black and white thinking, that’s the epitome of irony. Issues in the so called “third world countries” are that bad. Ignoring that because you’re “offended” is just counter productive. And it’s not just white people, anyone who doesn’t confirm to this absurd and irrational west bashing, and black and white thinking are subject of this nonsense as well. Recently I had the misfortune to read this horrible article attacking Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Muslims, for pointing out the irrational anti-west sentiment and pointing out the obvious denialism from this crowd. And not to mention the obvious Taliban apologia or rationalizations (blame it all on the west!) these usual articles come with.
So bottom line, for all your criticism of the “west” and “white savior complex”, just stop with turning a blind eye to the very important issues that people in so called “third world” face because it “offends” you. That’s erasure of people’s experiences and reality denial. And that hurts the activism in these countries more than anything.
End of rant.