To mark the International Day of the Woman on March 8 and Women’s History Month, Yahoo Lifestyle is exploring notions of feminism and the women’s movement through a diverse series of profiles — from transgender activist Ashlee Marie Preston to conservative campus leader Karin Agness Lips — that aim to reach across many aisles.
“You’re a f***ing fraud,” Preston told her, as Jenner — a frequent target of anger within the LGBT community because of her GOP sympathies — moved away from Preston, who had approached the celeb in the audience following a Trans Chorus of L.A. event.
In hindsight, that moment feels like “an unfortunate experience,” says the activist — who has since made a name for herself by having served as editor in chief of the feminist publication Wear Your Voice; by snagging Rose McGowan for an hour-long “healing” interview on her Revry podcast, Shook, following her well publicized run-in with an angry transgender audience member in NYC; and for announcing her run for office in California (though she soon dropped out of the race).
Preston has mixed feelings over that viral moment with Jenner, she tells Yahoo Lifestyle, because of how she felt a bit like an appointed “attack dog” by some — particularly as a black woman. “It was very similar to the way that America celebrated black women in Alabama when they showed up and blocked Roy Moore,” she explains. “People will often weaponize black rage when it’s convenient for them.”
The interaction also wound up overshadowing the “loving, healing, proactive, supportive unifying contributions” Preston says she had made as an activist over the past dozen years, and did not show her “depth.”
To that point, she says, “People were blown away with the Rose McGowan interview, because they thought I was going to come in and rip her to shreds and show off. And what they found is that we’re not perfect, and we can’t ask people to hear us and see us if we can’t see other people.”
With the Jenner video, though, “There were people who felt that it was a publicity stunt or that it was divisive — ‘Oh [Jenner is] a trans woman, we should embrace her, stop this infighting.’ But it’s not infighting if you were never in. The thing people failed to recognize is [she is] someone who is benefiting and profiting off of the pain of others,” she says. “There’s a quote by Zora Neale Hurston: ‘All kinfolk ain’t kinfolk,’ meaning just because people are African-American does not mean they are working toward the betterment of the African-American community. And so my own version of that is: Everybody LGBTQ ain’t always for you.”
The run-in did serve to highlight the complexities of identity politics within the women’s movement, she says, as well as kick off a conversation that needed to happen — regarding how members of oppressed communities, as they finally achieve some power, will often too easily shut the door in the faces of those who still need lifting up.
“When [Jenner] came up, all of a sudden, now not all, but a great deal of white trans women, were at the top of the food chain, and they weren’t being respectful … and basically sided with Caitlyn. They were even saying borderline racist things,” she says, “and what we found was the same dynamic shift that happened when gay rights became a thing, and gay white men forgot about the lesbians that fought for them during the AIDS epidemic.”
Of those who came out against Preston after the Jenner video went viral, she says, “Ironically, they were hoping to benefit from Caitlyn Jenner, and were OK with the crumbs that fall from the table. But what is the generation behind us going to eat?”
A similar logic could be applied to conservative women who believe that feminism can and should be expanded beyond the realm of its original progressive roots. It’s an argument Preston isn’t buying.
“Feminism is about improving the quality of life for all women. And if you’re not actively dismantling racism, not actively dismantling discrimination based on class and economic position, you are part of the problem, and you’re benefiting from the oppression of other women,” she says. “Therefore, as a conservative woman who is supporting those who work against those interests, you cannot be a feminist.”
She adds, “I think it’s one of those things where, if you’re not careful, you actually promulgate the very things we’re working against.”
That goes for some progressive women within the feminist movement too.
“As women, we’re not a monolithic people. So I think what it’s really about is giving people space to express their identities and their experiences, and when we look at it with that understanding, it really creates more unity,” she says. “Maybe it was a lot easier to define feminism in the ’60s and ’70s, because black women still didn’t have voices. … And I think what often happens is we forget that there are identities that carry more privilege within the women’s movement — and what happens is sometimes the experiences of women of color and trans women tend to be put to the back. There’s a lot of myopia.”
With more radical feminists, Preston says, and women who cannot bear the idea of transgender women in a female “safe space,” they feel “that trans women pollute it,” and someone born with a certain [male] privilege can’t possibly know oppression.
“We push back against that and say, not only do we know what that’s like, but we also have to deal with transphobia on top of it, we also have to deal with racism on top of it,” she says. “We’re not saying that cisgender women don’t have struggles that they’re born into — we’re just saying we also have struggles that we’re born into, and this isn’t a choice and this isn’t a gimmick and it’s not a way to insert the patriarchy into feminist spaces. It’s a way for us to actually come together and really demonstrate what it means to be inclusive of the experiences of all women.”
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