Oh yes, if you thought I was going to beat the agonizing pony once more, you thought right. Because I am here to continue inflicting this nearly dead horse with some more pounding. I am, of course, talking about Dominique Strauss-Khan and the rape allegations which seem to be a never ending tale of misconducts, privileges, rape culture and now, that more facts have come to light, the historical continuum.
You might wonder why I keep writing about this subject. After all, there is so much everywhere already (even written by me), what could I possibly have to add to an already muddled topic, one that seems to be covered to oblivion? The thing is, I am mostly concerned, at the moment, with the unexamined colonial implications of some recent developments. More specifically, with the ethics of feminist solidarity and how this solidarity intersects with the legacy of colonialism.
Time ran an extensive recount of the case yesterday, Cherchez les Femmes, which included some of the actions taken by feminist organizations in France to protest the press coverage of the case (emphasis mine):
“We don’t know what happened in New York last Saturday, but we do know what happened in France in the last week,” begins a petition drafted by a consortium of feminist groups that has gathered 25,000 signatures. The petition goes on to denounce not just sexual violence against women but also the “daily wave of misogynous commentary coming from public figures,” the “anthology of sexist remarks” on the French airwaves and the Internet, and the “lightning-fast rise to the surface of sexist and reactionary reflexes” among the leading French figures defending Strauss-Kahn. A makeshift anti-sexism rally thrown together in a mere 24 hours drew big crowds, mostly young women, many bearing signs with catchy slogans such as “Men play, women pay” and “we are all chambermaids.”
We are all chambermaids! How catchy! How media friendly! So much solidarity in this statement, so much empathy! Except that no, there is no solidarity and aside from the catchy tone, it enunciates the core of my problems with the ethics of feminist solidarity in the West: it leaves the power imbalance out of the equation. It erases the fact that, sadly, not all women are equal and that, for some, rape is not just rape, but also an act of colonialism on their bodies, an act of class war inscribed on their very subjectivity, an extension of state sanctioned violence on their personhood. Because, in case you weren’t aware yet, the victim in question is a Muslim woman from Guinea, a former French colony.
However, French media and, disappointingly enough, French feminists creating catchy slogans, do not mention France’s hand in the fate of this woman’s home country. They now stand in solidarity with the victim, “they are all chambermaids”. A solidarity that doesn’t take into account the role of the oppressor in these events is the kind of one sided, privileged noise that continues to perpetuate the problem. There seems to be no acknowledgement from feminist organizations of the fact that there is a power imbalance, that an immigrant woman from a former French colony is significantly more vulnerable and more likely to be attacked, that she lacks the privileges that native French women get to enjoy and that, in France, women like her are constantly subjected to racial slurs and attacks (included from their very own government, who displays a shameful Islamophobic and patriarchal stance towards the bodies of Muslim women).
Instead, we are told by these protesting feminists that “We are all chambermaids”! This erasure diminishes the plight of colonized women and, in its naive effort to appear egalitarian, in fact, it excises the lived realities of chambermaids; of women who do not, actually, have the privilege of being part of the dominant culture. If we are all chambermaids, we are all identical. We all enjoy the same freedoms, our struggles are not intersected by varying degrees and types of oppressions. And in case this needs clarifying: there is nothing further from the truth. The troubles of a Muslim chambermaid from a former French colony are certainly not equal to those of a Native French woman who has the luxury of protesting in Paris.
A “top down” solidarity is, actually, no solidarity at all. If we wish to be truly inclusive, if we wish to be self aware, our ethics of solidarity must include an acknowledgement of differences and a deep examination of how Western countries continue to benefit from the legacy of colonialism. Otherwise, I am afraid to say, our feminism is part of the problem.