So many of the same people who espouse liberal gender politics (i.e. mainstream, now branded “intersectional” feminism) respond with polite tolerance toward progressive gender politics (i.e. ideals for transnational gender revolution). The latter politics acknowledge the western constructed-ness of the male-female gender binary, whereas the former doesn’t normalize that knowledge into its everyday ideology. Instead, mainstream gender politics have tended to be “trans-inclusive,” doing things like inviting non-binary people into spaces which are intended for “women and non-binary people.” The sort of polite tolerance exercised by mainstream feminism is passive and complicit and implies the belief that, if we don’t have someone else’s struggle, then we should stay in our lanes and not get involved with it.
But, really, a much different approach to transnational organizing is possible. Instead of considering ourselves to be distinct from others, we can acknowledge our roles in the broader political systems which tie us together. That way, it is possible to discern the roles we need to fill in the present. This sort of exercise in locating oneself requires introspection.
It involves asking ourselves: How are our families in the financial space that they are in now? Did our parents inherit anything from their parents? What social roles did our ancestors have? Were they entrepreneurs, merchants, farmers or slaves? What were their privileges or oppressions? How did the way they looked impact the way others characterized them?
If we start to ask ourselves these questions, we can do what I think should be the most basic, introductory anthropologic practice: autoethnography–literally, studying yourself. Our cultural traditions are not without meaning. They are rich in historical and political significance, and learning about them can make us much more informed in our politics if we internally and externally acknowledge that context to our existences. The perspective of my argument for comprehending and communicating how we came to be where and who we are is rooted in the concept of reflexivity.
Reflexivity basically just means self-awareness and transparency. It was introduced into anthropology to shift the discipline from its more oppressive, colonial origins. But it’s also a valuable practice for everyday politics. One situation in which somebody might use reflexivity would be if they find themselves speaking over other people, who happen to have marginalized identities, in a public setting. If somebody does introspection around why they might have done this, they might find that their privileges granted them the entitlement to do so. If somebody were to reflect in this way, with acknowledgment of their historical and present political context, they might also be able to connect themselves with others who are marginalized.
And what’s important to acknowledge is that connecting doesn’t necessarily mean having to find points of similarity. In fact, I think this mentality is quite dangerous. In order to meaningfully connect, transnationally, we need to form bonds in the direction of responsibility.
For example, if we are aware that structural privileges brought us to our present comforts, we need to mobilize the resources and wealth that we have access to for people and collectives that do not share our privileges. If we are aware that we are settlers on colonized land, we can center Native people in our organizing rather than erasing them further. I am not perfect at exercising reflexivity and so I do not claim a position of authority on this topic, but I do argue that it is a virtue worth developing for all types of political engagement.