What we read: March 13, 2020

I’m not in the business of panic and especially not inciting panic, but the news about COVID-19 and the market crash has me feeling unsettled. This is, very clearly, serious, and not just because of the impact I’m seeing in my professional life. Two of my major academic conferences have been cancelled (although another went on as planned this week). While I am sad to be missing these conferences and seeing my academic friends, it is clear that this is the right decision for the residents of those cities we’d be invading.

More than anything else, however, I am starkly aware of how my privilege allows for me to absorb these changes as an inconvenience. For those in less stable financial environments, an airline that will only issue an airfare credit could be crippling (like grad students, contingent faculty, etc). For those who work in the service industry and/or receive the bulk of their income in tips, a cancelled conference has major financial implications for them, too. Yet, many in those industries also don’t have the health coverage needed to treat illness and/or can’t afford to miss work because of illness. So, again, clearly the correct decision is to cancel these conferences, but I’m not hearing much of substance from political leadership about plans to support those who will be lost financially impacted by the virus. It should go without saying that those most marginalized in America are more likely to be persons of color and women. Women need paid sick leave and food stamp protections to survive.

I appreciated the post Is there a feminist response to COVID-19? from Fit is a Feminist Issue. Like all issues, I think a feminist response is about care, community, empowerment, and activism, but how does that look in practice?

The market crash has me worried too, but again, I’m reminded even being aware of the crash symbolizes an additional level of privilege. Graduate school me couldn’t have even imagined having investments; I was so focused on making sure that I could pay rent, get an assistantship the next year, and strategizing how to maximize free food opportunities. But I’m still worried, not because of my tiny investments but because of what a crash means.

Meanwhile, the democratic presidential primaries continue, and I’ve found myself incredibly apathetic about it all. If the rest of the electorate is feeling like this too, this isn’t a good sign for the 2020 presidential election. Mobilization requires motivation. Yet, I know the presidential election is critical, especially given the current administration’s response to COVID-19 versus what experts are saying should be done. Is it too late to bring Warren back in?

Next, one of the things I often think about is how white feminism has neglected and even directly harmed women of color as it has asserted itself. Those harms are evident in discussions of eugenics in the United States, and I think this is a history that all, but especially white women, need to be aware of.

In fact, I’ll do a longer review of Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall next week for a deeper conversation about how feminist issues have traditionally ignored or outright harmed those who identify as non-binary and women of color. It is beyond time that we, meaning white women, stop to seriously consider our role in perpetuating harms against women of color — not just because those issues harm us too — but because considering the intersectionality of feminist issues is critical to effect true change. We have to move beyond “shock” that white women were a voting bloc for Trump in last presidential election and start to explore why and how that matters. It’s bigger than a presidential election and is rooted in the white supremacist heritage of the suffrage movement. White women have historically fought for themselves and compromised away the rights of their peers in exchange for tenuous and faulty privilege. This has created a cracked foundation and until we restore it, no woman can achieve full equity and equality.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

It is not to say that white women aren’t harmed, that terrible injustice isn’t perpetuated against women every day. But until we create a movement that fights for all women, those harms, that imbalance—it will continue. We must fight for all women because it’s the right thing to do. In doing so, it’ll help white women too.

Finally, a reminder that we don’t just quarantine to protect ourselves, we do it to protect those most at risk. Take good care, and be thoughtful, responsible, and kind.

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