Monday, September 22, 2008

Baumgardner and Richards: NO SEAN GRINGAS ESTUPIDAS

"We are not arguing that capitalism and clothing can't be political. Who makes your clothes and under what conditions is highly political. But when there is a critique of girlie-feminists and their clothes, the point is rarely the plight of sweatshop laborers."

So it stinks for Baumgardner and Richards that people tell them what they should and shouldn't wear. That certainly doesn't line up with the feminist principle of 'do what you want as long as you're not fucking other people over.'

But to put the "plight of sweatshop laborers" off as a side note....?
My question is why are they so focused on the women who are telling them what not to wear for the sake of being too girlie (whoever they are, they sound like lame self-absorbed feminists) rather than focusing on working with the feminists who are making their clothes?

I recently read a book about women in Nicaragua, some who identify as feminists and some who don't, who are resisting sweatshop conditions by organizing women's factory collectives. The book is written by a feminist researcher from the U.S. Jennifer Bickham Mendez (a gringa), but she did her best to represent the views of the all-women organizers and workers. The organization she researched is Maria Elena Cuadra, Movement of Working and Unemployed Women and you can visit their (amazing!) website here:

Not surprisingly, feminist factory workers in Nicaragua are disgusted with North American and European feminists who talk about "solidarity" and "sisterhood" but are more concerned with being able to live an unrestricted (affluent) lifestyle, than with the very real starvation, abuse, overwork, and assault that occur within and around sweatshops. They are careful to distinguish themselves from white elitist feminism, calling themselves "feministas de la base." This translates as "feminists of the base" or more commonly "grassroots" feminists. Grassroots? How ironic.

Their grievance is not that Baumgardner and Richards shouldn't wear Prada because it's too girlie.
B&R don't seem to be listening, so I'll repeat it:
Women who work in sweatshops do not care that Baumgardner and Richards might want to wear girlie clothes.
Many women sweatshop workers are girlie too. They also wear makeup, jewelry, and heels.

Their concern is that the U.S. corporations who make B&R's clothes have taken over their countries. Up until late in the last century, people in the U.S. wore clothes made in the U.S. Not that we weren't terrorizing Nicaragua and the rest of the global south for centuries before this. We know that our country is built on land stolen from indigenous people, with slaves from this continent and from Africa, and stolen resources from every region with smaller guns than ours. Building on the efforts of other European colonizers before us, at one point we white 'Americans' boasted conquering and colonizing other nations as a legitimate road to prosperity: the hundreds of nations native to this continent, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and many others.

In Nicaragua, we never broadcast our conquering efforts. Instead we militarily supported agricultural monopolies that displaced the majority of farmers in Nicaragua, forcing them to become migrant farmwokers, or in the case of many women, move to cities for factory work. While Nicaraguans struggled against the Somoza family dictatorship/agricultural monopoly in the 1960s-1970s to reclaim their land and livelihoods, the U.S. backed the Somoza family with arms and troops. Why would we fight against the interests of the people to support a dictator who was murdering workers and protecting millionaires? Many of the ag-corporations and factories are U.S. companies "investing" in Nicaragua. Our interest was a hungry labor force to fill our factories. They call this neo-colonialism. This is not radical history; this is common knowledge to the Nicaraguans who experienced it. Knowledge of a similar history is shared by every region where there is a sweatshop making clothes for a U.S. company: and we know they're everywhere when we read our clothing tags.

Why are the feministas de la base disgusted with feminists like Baumgardner and Richards?
When Baumgardner and Richards write an essay that focuses on their clothes but says "the point is rarely the plight of sweatshop laborers" they are blatantly supporting the corporate colonists: Sweatshops are sad, but not as big a deal as us being able to wear designer heels.

My thoughts are that maybe instead of defending themselves from a handful of judgmental no-girlies-allowed feminists, they should be worrying about the fact that were they to visit their feminist "sisters" who make their clothes in Nicaragua, they would be shamed out of town for supporting the corporations who have destroyed their "sisters'" communities. It's not that they wear clothes made in sweatshops; all "First World" feminists do that. It's that they are actively mentioning sweatshops, and condoning them by not protesting the deliberate destruction of the "sweatshop laborers'" nations, by our nation, in order for sweatshops to exist...
...And for us to buy Prada, or thongs from Forever 21, or jeans from the men's section at GAP.


Sarah Wissig said...
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Leila said...

"There is, after all, little room for critical thought or diverse opinions within feminism."

This is one of the critiques about feminism that we must resist, because it's simply false. Feminism is all about resistance and critique, even when we sometimes falter.

Sarah Wissig said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dominique.a said...

hey, so i went back and read what i wrote and i overstepped from 'speaking for boundaries' by asserting what Nicaraguan women do and don't care about. i was pulling from Bickham Mendez's research though--direct quotes def. would serve us better..

it's so frustrating though that jennifer and amy's message to girls here ignores how our lifestyles impact girls everywhere else. i'm sure there has been dialogue within the feminist community on JB and AR talk to Chicana/indigenous/immigrant feminists about their writings?

Ariel Dansky said...

I didn't even catch that comment they made...but you are totally right. They are speaking from a middle class, white, american feminist point of view, and they aren't taking the sweat shop workers, or the "feministas de la base," as you called them, into consideration

Great entry =).

Rebecca Walker said...

Great post. I continue to be amazed by the way white women of privilege continue to use the narrative of women's empowerment to belittle and silence those who do not look, think, or believe as they do. While I am usually launching this critique from the of color, more anti-exploitation side of the fence, yesterday I posited the same idea from the more moderate side. Either way, the point is the same, who gets to say what is or is not feminist? And when they do, who are they leaving out and why? Who is really being served by the point of view that privileges certain experiences over others?

Great discussion!