Hugo tries to split the difference, saying that both points of view have some validity. Jessica is a "popularizer", WOC bloggers are "purists" - and both are needed. To ideologues, those are fighting words.
I don't really care about feminism, and I could care less what Jessica Valenti or the various WOC bloggers that are involved in this controversy think. What interests me is Hugo's attempt to add his voice to the mix, by trying to convince both sides that there is room for both in his big-tent view of feminism. And I care very much what Hugo thinks, because he is clearly a decent man, and a deep thinker. He is trying to blend Christianity and feminism, and I'm skeptical that such a blend is possible with the more ideological feminists.
Like all of these discussions, it always – always! - boils down to a matter of privilege. Privilege is the leftist counterpart to the Christian doctrine of original sin, absent its universality. Hugo, like many people that try and engage with feminists, falls for the bait-and-switch tactics that leftists use in privilege-based discourse. Ideologues claim that if privileged people acknowledge their privilege ("unpack it" in their parlance) they will then understand the revealed truth of feminism, or ableism or racism. . . whatever. Failure to understand the truth can only be because of the blinding, corrosive nature of privilege. Sound circular? It is – that’s why it takes an intellectual to believe it.
But when you see a controversy like this, where leftist ideologues have fundamental differences, then the real meaning of privilege analysis becomes clear.
Look at this comment thread. Hugo, claiming he has something of value to say, says things like:
I think Jaclyn and Jessica have done a really awesome job of hearing the criticisms of their original call for submissions; that’s a consequence of this dynamic process of having these various constituencies weighing in. The anthology will be better as a result.
And you’re absolutely right that the popularizer can be the purist of the reframing. As someone who teaches a survey course on women’s history, the only course on feminist history in the whole college, I have to monitor myself very carefully here to make sure I don’t slip into doing exactly that.
And he's met with responses like this:
Are you labeling concerns like the recognition that most people aren’t white and middle-class, are you casting that notion as a technical intricacy of interest only to purists?
And what kind of popularization is served by by selecting ideas that are targeted mainly at the wealthiest 5% of the world’s population?
So Hugo tries this tack:
On the other hand, a desire to be a successful, money-making writer doesn’t vitiate anyone’s progressive feminist credentials. It’s not a zero-sum game; a given feminist writer can make some money without automatically depriving other deserving folks. A rising tide really can lift all boats. (Damn, now you’ve made me sound like some hopeless supply-sider.)And is met with this:
Spend some time outside of privileged spheres, read some Plato, read some Freire, do some listening to the experiences of the majority of the people on this planet, spend some time actually working with people in poverty, crisis, violence before crediting a blog or an ad campaign with the power to transform the world. Thousands of years of experience show effective social change is more complex than that. Basic social justice principles show that the same people saying the same things in the same way does not move us forward. Refresh yourself with what the legitimate criticisms of the call for submissions (not Jessica herself, regardless of your efforts to make it appear otherwise) were.See – it always comes down to privilege! And Hugo takes the bait:
I don’t just pontificate in the classroom. I’ve done youth work for years and years — and not just with privileged white high schoolers. I’ve worked with pregnant teens in a variety of outreach programs in underprivileged areas. I’ve been to God knows how many clinics with scared young women. I’ve taught workshops on sexual harassment to sullen angry young men who call me “faggot” to my face over and over again. That volunteerism doesn’t make me a wonderful human being, and maybe it is just white guilt or noblesse oblige in your eyes — but I have lived out my values outside the confines of the classroom and the comforts of my home.And this is the response:
And I cannot emphasize enough how unimpressed I am by you being called a fag. I mean you’re trying to claim that what? being called gay by a high school student is akin to the forced sterilization of native and black women or that it’s akin to seeing your friends and family arrested and thrown in prison because the police don’t care about being specific as long as they can arrest some black person.
You have not risked dying of dehydration crossing the border, you have not felt fear at the sound of police sirens despite your innocences, You have not wept at the stresses involved with tyring to pay for a court case, or suffered the symptoms of poisoning because your boss doesn’t follow enviromental health policies, you have not slept in a dirty alleyway with one eye open in case some random passerby takes it upon themselves to rape you, you have no fucking idea what hardship fucking is you little pissant.
Here is what is happening. In the view of ideological leftists, the sin of privilege - particularly that of a white, heterosexual American male - can never be washed away. It is a permanent defect of your soul. It means - to ideologues - that you have no moral worth. Despite what they say, no amount of “unpacking”, no amount of insight, no amount of loyal "ally work" can regain your humanity. In their eyes, your privilege means that - now and forever - you have nothing of value to say. Your experiences are of no consequence. Your views are always empty. While you might be trotted out on occasion as part of a show-trial illustration of remorse, once that is done you need to shut up and move to the background. Once you are privileged, you are free only to agree.
So as a privileged person, Hugo has no basis from which to persuade feminists about anything.
And to me, this is the danger of these ideologies. They make fundamental claims about the relative moral value of people. Sadly, we've long done this on the basis of race, class and gender. The new, modern ideologies want to do the same exact thing, but based on the "privilege" aspects of race, class and gender. Ain’t no difference. The only sort of justice that will result from this new twist will be the type of justice Stalin doled out to the privileged Kulaks.
The only analysis of privilege I accept is the Christian one. “It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get to Heaven.” Christ offered the tiny, but redemptive, possibility of forgiveness – to everyone. Ideologues do not.