The feminist blogosphere in April of 2008 was busy unveiling the torrent history of feminist-identified white women writers and presses co-opting and adopting the work of women of color writers, and ignoring the lines of power and oppression between women. Or, in other words, it was about the long history of white women acting as the authority on subject matter that clearly were out of their lines of experience.
The dispute led Lisa Factora-Borchers to introduce the feminist blogosphere to the idea of Kyriarchy, which she adapted from the feminist theologian Elizabeth Schlusser Fiorenza. The term has met predictable hostility and sneering in circles dominated by white men, but beyond those enclaves it was the object of great interest and discussion itself and has been widely applied to clarify the reproduction of oppressive social structures necessary to exploitation. Factora-Borchers was pleased with the reception of her work. But:
two months ago, I received a link to a recently published article inThe Guardian entitled, “The Patriarchy is Dead, But the Kyriarchy Lives On,” by Nichi Hodgson. After reading it, two questions immediately popped in my head: “How is this article covering the emergence of kyriarchy in the feminist sphere with not one attribution and where had she learned it from?” and “What have I done?”
...Hodgson pats kyriarchy down to a nice and quasi-intelligent term that relegates the freedom to complain about oppression to include The Men, too. It turns a highly flexible academic term by a feminist theologian into a pop cultured meat loaf: a soft, feel good term that everyone can chew and swallow....
...And then Hodgson makes a common and dangerous jump about kyriarchy and contemporary feminisms in general:
It helps us to recognise the interconnection of education, class and eating disorders such as anorexia, and of domestic violence and poverty, rather than encouraging us to indiscriminately blame men.…
It helps to explain how women themselves can in some cases morph into the supremacist bully, when paranoid mothers pass on anxieties about food and bodies to their daughters, ground down themselves by years of trying to live up to constructed notions of beauty.
The purpose and measure of kyriarchy – and feminism in general – is not to increase our time at the microphone so we can more accurately assign BLAME. The purpose and measure of kyriarchy is to further understand the power and crippling tendencies of the human race to push, torture, and minimize others. It is in our nature to try and become “lord” or “master” in our communities, to exert a “power-over” someone else. Kyriarchy does not exist to give us tools to further imprison ourselves by blaming our environment, upbringing, or social caste. It is the opposite. Kyriarchy exists to give us tools to liberate ourselves by understanding the shifting powers of oppression. It is not about passing the megaphone to men so they can be included in the oppression olympics. Simply check-marking our gender, sex, race, ablity, class, citizenship, skin color and other pieces identity will not free us from the social ills of our stratified society. Kyriarchy is not the newly minted alarm clock to wake us up to what’s wrong. It exists to radically implement our finest strategies to deconstruct our personal and political powers for the liberation of self and community. For self AND community.
Which is why I so vehemently disagree with Hodgson who believes that the most helpful piece of kyriarchy is “its emphasis on individual liberation…”
Please indulge my own theory-making right now: There’s no such thing as liberation if the word ‘individual’ precedes it.
As for where Hodgson gathered her article's content from, Factora-Borchers eventually received a reply to her email in which Hodgson cited Shira Tarrant's book which explains Factora-Borchers' work explicating, enlarging on and disseminating a concept she learned from Elizabeth Schlusser Fiorenza. Hodgson apologized and hoped Factora-Borchers didn't feel "plagiarized."
“Felt plagarized?” What I found most ironic is that I was brought back to 2008, to the originating circumstances of what drove me to introduce kyriarchy to the US feminist blogosphere: the blantant and irresponsible disregard for (at minimum) thorough research and (at best) moral and ethical journalism. But, for me, this incident just tacked itself in the ongoing practice of appropriating, ignoring, and assuming authority on and of the work of women of color by feminist-identified white women.
There seems to be almost no scruple about appropriations of this kind which erase the intellectual productivity of women and especially women of colour. Old myths that women and poc have never produced "real thinking" and cannot produce intellectually except under the guidance and borrowing the original intellectual products of celebrity intellectuals of the superior caste require the routine erasure of the origins of ideas and analyses and turns of phrase and information tagged by the appropriator class as their private property. It is becoming more and more common for white mediocrities to run little cheap culture commodity rackets resembling the white supremacist revisionist fantasy in Back to the Future where Michael Jay Fox's suburban adolescent "every(white)man" teaches Chuck Berry to rock and roll.
In the comments to this post labouring effortfully to explain to another white feminist why she should not rebuke groups of people for not doing what she is simply ignoring they are doing in order to set up the occasion for her self-dramatisation as advisor and sage Tarzana Queen and saviour of the Savages, (trans savages in one case, black savages in the other), "piny" opened a comment with this observation:
Mandy, you’re starting from the assumption that you have something to offer, and that the problem is how best to facilitate you. You’re begging that question here.
That struck me as very well put and insightful about the posture of white supremacy in expanded and accelerated comment/opinion-commmodity production. It doesn't occur - it cannot occur - to Mandy that if she is indeed not allotted enough space under her byline in this one instance, as she complained in excuse, to do anything other than misrepresent those she claims to champion in a demeaning and contemptuous way, assert her superiority and crown herself Emperor over them, then rather than accept that space and that byline, she might instead leave it to someone capable of using it constructively. When the white feminist pundit feels the value of her product will benefit from her exploitation of transgender issues or from seeming to take a critical dissident pose toward black feminist participation in high traffic sites, appearing to deplore a "digital colonisation" or "unwitting complicity" while really just using racist contempt to cast aspersions on rival, higher visibility culture producers depicted as helpless passive vessels of a plundered natural resource of some sort, white entitlement and white solipsism and the hierarchies of white supremacist patriarchy are crucial to overcoming any hesitation one might reasonably feel regarding the usurpation of voice and self-appointed role of both proxy and leadership. The priority of self-promotion is unquestioned, and the white feminist pundit accepts no responsibility either to factuality or to respect that can override her individual right to publicise herself and enhance her brand.