To Salma Hayek, Shirley MacLaine, Cat Cora and Anyone Shouting Down Jessica Williams and Other Women? Just. F*cking. Listen
This weekend, the LA Times ran a piece ostensibly about a luncheon celebrating women in film. The piece is actually a searing look into everything that is wrong with feminism and its lack of true intersectionality.
The focal point of the article is a conversation between Jessica Williams, Salma Hayek, Shirley MacLaine, and a couple of weird popups by chef Cat Cora, who acts in this piece as your ill-informed high school friend who thrusts herself into all your Facebook posts about politics with some half-assed call for unity that translates to “I voted for Donald Trump.”
It starts with Hayek and MacLaine calling upon the women in the room to put aside “victimization” and find their “core identity.” Rather than sit and roll her eyes, as I have to assume many attendees did, Williams spoke up.
“I have a question for you,” Williams, 27, said to MacLaine. “My question is: What if you are a person of color, or a transgendered person who — just from how you look — you already are in a conflict?”
“Right, but change your point of view,” MacLaine offered. “Change your point of view of being victimized. I’m saying: Find the democracy inside.”
“I’m sorry,” Hayek said, jumping in. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Williams answered.
“Who are you when you’re not black and you’re not a woman? Who are you and what have you got to give?”
Williams took a deep breath. “A lot. But some days, I’m just black, and I’m just a woman,” she said. “Like, it’s not my choice. I know who I am. I know I’m Jessica, and I’m the hottest bitch on the planet I know.”
“No, no, no,” Hayek said. “Take the time to investigate. That’s the trap! …There is so much more.”
“Right,” agreed MacClaine. “The more is inside.”
Williams and director Dee Rees attempted to explain to the other women at the table that what is being described by Hayek and MacLaine as “victimization” is an inescapable part of their lives. The way she is viewed in this room by her peers is not threatening, Rees explained, “but in line at the bank? Things were different.”
“I also feel like the word ‘victim’ — I feel like it has bothered me,” Williams replied. “When I talk about feminism, sometimes I feel like being a black woman is cast aside. I always feel like I’m warring with my womanhood and wanting the world to be better, and with my blackness — which is the opposite of whiteness.”
Then Cat Cora walked in made it about her.
Cora, who had been in the kitchen cooking lamb stew and halibut, wandered over to share that she grew up gay in Mississippi, where she was sexually abused from age 6. No matter an individual’s experience, she said, she just wished all women would have one another’s backs.
It was a somewhat of an abrupt turn, and “Transparent” creator Soloway returned to Williams to ask her to continue speaking.
Writer Amy Kaufman describes Williams as “visibly uncomfortable.” When she stresses the importance of not speaking over black women, Hayek asks her to define “speaking over,” in what feels a very familiar moment. That moment you are being pulled into a conversation where you are going to be asked to defend yourself as a human to a person only pulling you into the conversation to shoot you down. There will be no meeting of the minds, no coming to a shared understanding. There will be a black woman being made to explain herself and her point of view, and another woman telling her why she should not feel that way and determining herself the winner of the argument. Determining herself peacemaker for silencing this other woman.
It was a truly uncomfortable look at what black women go through every single day. And I found myself praying that I’ve never been any of these women forcing this unwanted moment upon Williams.
“So when you say women of color,” Hayek began. Then she noticed that Williams was not making eye contact with her. “Jessica, do you mind if I look at your eyes?
Williams barely looked up. Still, the back-and-forth continued, with Hayek questioning whether or not she was considered a woman of color in Williams’ estimation. Nearly everyone in the room responded that Hayek was.
“Wouldn’t it solve it if women just all had each other’s backs in general?” Cora asked suddenly.
OH MY GOD SHUT UP, CAT CORA, GOD.
Hayek then points out how misunderstood she feels. Kimberly Peirce, director of Boys Don’t Cry tells everyone to stop shutting Williams down (Cat Cora responded “I don’t think anybody here shut her down” because GOD DAMMIT CAT CORA) and then Hayek put the condescending cherry on the infantilization sundae.
“Baby, I’m Mexican and Arab,” she went on, addressing Williams. “I’m from another generation, baby, when this was not even a possibility. My generation, they said, ‘Go back to Mexico. You’ll never be anything other than a maid in this country.’ By the heads of studios! There was no movement. Latino women were not even anywhere near where you guys are. I was the first one. I’m 50 years old. So I understand.”
“You don’t understand,” Williams said, shaking her head quietly.
When Pantsuit Nation became massively popular, as women of color called to be centered in the conversation, members became enraged. “We’re all on the same side; stop attacking me.” “We’re all women; let’s just work together without these attacks.” This is that. This is all of that. This is every conversation about feminism and women’s rights and any other issue that has attempted to create a baseline of activism, an operational average of white and cisgender, with other concerns put to the side while we focus on the collective “big picture.”
When we attempt to find common ground to the detriment of issues facing black women, trans women, immigrant women, poor women, any woman who does not fit the Average American White Cis Baseline of Feminist Activism, we become one of the archetypes as portrayed in this piece: the new-age-kumbaya Shirley MacClaine, the minimally informed and me-focused “can’t we all just get along” Cat Cora; or the Salma Hayek, who has also been marginalized but cannot recognize the privilege she’s gained along the way. We condescend. We shut down. And then we call it a win.
We treat it like a secret, some hidden treasure we have yet to discover. We look for this magical key that will somehow make everything OK, but we have no idea what it could possibly be. There is no magical key, but there is something close. And it’s to listen. If we listened, if we just shut the fuck up and listened. If we listened to black women, to trans women, to disabled women, to poor women, to women who are all or any combination of the above or beyond, rather than trying to defend ourselves and thereby making things so much worse and proving everything the women we’re shutting down are trying to tell us about ourselves, maybe things would be better.
Just listen. When confronted with the uncomfortable truths we don’t want to hear, we need to listen. We need to hear things, we need to learn from them. We need to be better. All of us. We’re all in this together, yes, but our experiences are different. So listen. Just fucking listen. That’s a start
via The LA Times
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