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Using #MeToo as a starting point, this paper argues that the cultural power of mainstream white feminism partly derives from the cultural power of white tears. This in turn depends on the dehumanisation of people of colour, who were constructed in colonial ‘race science’ as incapable of complex feeling (Schuller, 2018). Colonialism also created a circuit between bourgeois white women’s tears and white men’s rage, often activated by allegations of rape, which operated in the service of economic extraction and exploitation. This circuit endures, abetting the criminal punishment system and the weaponisation of ‘women’s safety’ by the various border regimes of the right. It has especially been utilised by reactionary forms of feminism, which set themselves against sex workers and trans people. Such feminisms exemplify what I call ‘political whiteness’, which centres assertions of victimhood: through these, womanhood (and personhood) is claimed to the exclusion of the enemy. Through legitimating criminal punishment and border policing and dehumanising marginalised Others, claims to victimhood in mainstream feminism often end up strengthening the intersecting violence of racial capitalism and heteropatriarchy.
European Journal of Cultural Studies
1 –13
© The Author(s) 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/1367549420985852
european journal o f
White tears, white rage:
Victimhood and (as) violence
in mainstream feminism
Alison Phipps
University of Sussex, UK
Using #MeToo as a starting point, this paper argues that the cultural power of
mainstream white feminism partly derives from the cultural power of white tears. This
in turn depends on the dehumanisation of people of colour, who were constructed
in colonial ‘race science’ as incapable of complex feeling (Schuller, 2018). Colonialism
also created a circuit between bourgeois white women’s tears and white men’s rage,
often activated by allegations of rape, which operated in the service of economic
extraction and exploitation. This circuit endures, abetting the criminal punishment
system and the weaponisation of ‘women’s safety’ by the various border regimes
of the right. It has especially been utilised by reactionary forms of feminism, which
set themselves against sex workers and trans people. Such feminisms exemplify
what I call ‘political whiteness’, which centres assertions of victimhood: through
these, womanhood (and personhood) is claimed to the exclusion of the enemy.
Through legitimating criminal punishment and border policing and dehumanising
marginalised Others, claims to victimhood in mainstream feminism often end up
strengthening the intersecting violence of racial capitalism and heteropatriarchy.
Capitalism, colonialism, feminism, #MeToo, sexual violence, whiteness
'You ought to be ashamed of yourself,' said Alice, 'a great girl like you,' (she might well say
this), 'to go on crying in this way! Stop this moment, I tell you!' But she went on all the same,
shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool all round her, about four inches deep and
reaching half down the hall. (Carroll, 1865: 18)
Corresponding author:
Alison Phipps, University of Sussex, Freeman Building, Brighton BN1 9QE, UK.
985852ECS0010.1177/1367549420985852European Journal of Cultural StudiesPhipps
SI: The politics of victimhood
2 European Journal of Cultural Studies 00(0)
Introduction: feminism in testimonial culture
I’ve been called one of the first to speak out. No. I was the first. I called the New York Times. I
blew it wide open, not them. They won the Pulitzer and I’m the one hard-up for money. It’s
disgusting. (Rose McGowan in Gilbey, 2019)
The above quote comes from a 2019 interview in the Guardian newspaper, in which
actor Rose McGowan disputed how credit for the exposure of Harvey Weinstein had
been assigned. As her comments intimate, being the first to speak out is powerful in the
testimonial cultures that characterise neoliberalism and its heroic, individuated self
(Ahmed and Stacey, 2001: 4). Speaking out can attract political dividends: in earlier
work (Phipps, 2016, 2020) I have theorised experience, especially of the traumatic kind,
as a form of investment capital in what Ahmed (2012 [2004]: 45) calls the ‘affective
economies’ of testimonial culture. Trauma can be disclosed or ventriloquised to generate
further capital in the form of feeling, creating political gain. Being the first to speak out
can also have material rewards, particularly in media ‘outrage economies’ that thrive on
controversy and scandal.
#MeToo could perhaps be seen as the paradigm feminist movement of the testimonial
age. However, it did not start out that way: it began in 2006 as a programme of work created
by Black feminist and civil rights activist Tarana Burke, to help survivors of sexual violence,
particularly young women of colour, find pathways to healing.1 The phrase ‘me too’ denoted
Burke’s central principle of ‘empowerment through empathy’ which focused on marginal-
ised survivors connecting and supporting each other (Murray, 2017). Eleven years later, this
phrase went viral as a hashtag, following a tweet by actor Alyssa Milano and the input of
other white celebrities and politicians (Tambe, 2018). Analysis of over 600,000 #MeToo
posts showed they varied between personal stories and support, posting articles, discussing
alleged perpetrators, and general commentary (Manikonda et al., 2018). However, perhaps
supported by the declarative nature of the hashtag and the testimonial media cultures it was
shared in, #MeToo was generally viewed as a movement of mass disclosure.
Testimony has been fundamental to public feminisms around sexual violence (Serisier,
2018). Putting our trauma ‘out there’ is a means to escape being consumed by it ‘in here’
(Lorde in Desmoines and Nicholson, 1978: 13), a way of reclaiming subjectivity and
control after it has been stolen through sexual violation (Serisier, 2018: 11). However,
the mass public testimony of #MeToo both echoed and departed from feminist con-
sciousness-raising principles. As Tarana Burke herself argued, social media movements
do not automatically provide aftercare; in an interview with Elle, she said, ‘I [worried]
people would say ‘me too’ and then not go to a rape crisis centre’ (Murray, 2017). The
demographics of the movement also diverged from Burke’s focus on more marginalised
survivors supporting one another.
Most of the key figures in the viral iteration of #MeToo were Western, white and mid-
dle or upper-class (Tambe, 2018), reflecting the makeup of mainstream feminism and
especially its media iterations.2 As Black actor and sexual violence activist Gabrielle
Union said on Good Morning America, ‘I think the floodgates have opened for white
women’. Union’s use of floodgates as a metaphor is significant. #MeToo was described
as a ‘flood’ of stories of sexual assault by CNN, CBS and CBC, and a ‘tsunami’ on
Phipps 3
CNBC, in the Times of India, the New York Times, and the US National Post (see Phipps,
2020: 37, 71). These characterisations evoked trauma on a massive scale, representing
the movement as a collective weeping, a release of (white) tears.
The ‘wounded attachments’ of political whiteness
In her 1995 book States of Injury, Wendy Brown argued that progressive movements tended
to coalesce around ‘wounded identities’ that demanded recognition and protection, whether
from hate speech, harassment or violence. For Brown (1995: 55), such politics not only rei-
fied said identities but ontologised trauma, producing a ‘politics of recrimination and rancor’
with deep investments in victimisation and suffering. Second-wave feminism in particular,
Brown argued, had instantiated ‘woman’ as an identity based on injury. She interpreted
feminist consciousness-raising and the ‘speak out’ as akin to Foucault’s (1978) ‘modern
confessional’ in their production of accounts that could be appropriated by punitive (and
therapeutic) state governmentalities. Solidifying the ‘truth’ of women’s experience through
‘speaking out’, she contended, was not necessarily liberation (Brown 1995: 42).
As I have argued elsewhere (Phipps, 2019), the ‘wounded attachments’ Brown attrib-
uted to feminism are likely to be those of middle-class whiteness, given the domination
of both first and second waves of mainstream feminism by bourgeois white women (such
as myself) (Ware, 1992: 18). By ‘mainstream feminism’, I largely mean Anglo-American
public feminism. This includes media feminism (and some forms of social media femi-
nism), institutional feminism, corporate feminism and policy feminism. This is not a
cohesive and unified movement, but it has clear directions and effects. Building on
HoSang (2010), I call the modus operandi of this feminism ‘political whiteness’. This
goes beyond the implicitly or explicitly ‘whites first’ orientation of most politics domi-
nated by white people: it has a complex affective landscape involving attachments to the
self (often the wounded self) and to power (often in the form of the state). These attach-
ments produce a number of dynamics: narcissism, alertness to threat (which in white
women’s case is often sexualised), and an accompanying need for control. Political
whiteness characterises both mainstream feminism and the backlash against it, as they
‘battle it out’ (Banet-Weiser, 2018: 1) on the contemporary cultural stage.
Victimhood is central to these battles (Banet-Weiser, 2018: 4). Women’s sexual vic-
timisation has been at the forefront of recent mainstream feminist campaigns, exempli-
fied by actions such as the Women’s March as well as the viral iteration of #MeToo.
Responding to this, the backlash has been preoccupied with who the real victims are.
One of its central claims is that ‘feminism has gone too far’ (Nicholas and Aguis, 2017:
31), and that men are now fearful because harmless touching has been defined as abuse.
These narratives are bolstered by broader stories of white victimhood which have under-
pinned Brexit, the election of Trump, and the elevation of other far-right figures and
parties worldwide (Corredor, 2019).
Crying ‘white-lady tears’
On International Men’s Day 2019, Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan broadcast a
monologue comparing middle-class white men to endangered rhinos. ‘Yes, we do need a
4 European Journal of Cultural Studies 00(0)
day’, he said. ‘We are now the most downtrodden group of men in the world’. Assertions
such as this, from the heart of the backlash, have been given short shrift by white femi-
nists who often use the idiom of ‘male tears’. In 2014, writer Jessica Valenti tweeted a
picture of herself wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: I BATHE IN MALE TEARS (Phipps,
2020: 69). However, white feminists have been slower to acknowledge our own ten-
dency to be lachrymose, which is often an attempt to avoid accountability in response to
criticism by women of colour. Historically, bourgeois white women’s power has been
based on ideas of virtue and goodness (Ware, 1992: 37–38): as Hamad (2019: 105)
argues, this makes being criticised for bad behaviour deeply threatening. White women
can also be so invested in our oppression as women that we resist addressing our privi-
lege as white (Accapadi, 2007: 208).
Robin di Angelo (2011: 57) argues that white people in general exist in a state of fra-
gility ‘in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering
defensive moves’. di Angelo has been critiqued for her individualised focus on self-
improvement rather than structural change (Jackson, 2019). However, an understanding
of whiteness as the performance of structural supremacy still involves fragility, whether
this is the angry brittleness of hegemonic white masculinity or the ‘delicacy’ of white
bourgeois femininity (the source of its power). If anger is the main expression of white
power in a masculine register, tears are its feminine equivalent. ‘Tear’, as a both a noun
and a verb, has multiple meanings: bourgeois white womanhood both tears (in the sense
of becoming torn or damaged), and consequently tears (in the sense of tearing up), easily.
This ‘damsel in distress’ evokes a protective response: and simultaneously, colonial
archetypes of people of colour as aggressive and frightening come into play. This is the
pretext on which white men, enraged, tear the place apart.
Hamad (2019: 105) terms this Strategic White Womanhood, a historical dynamic
which endures in the contemporary, in various forms. She recounts a relevant incident
in 2018 involving Cambridge professors Mary Beard and Priyamvada Gopal. Beard
was challenged by Gopal and others over a tweet she had posted on allegations of
sexual abuse by Oxfam staff in Haiti and elsewhere. ‘I do wonder how hard it must be
to sustain civilised values in a war zone’, it said. In response to criticism, Beard
tweeted a picture of herself crying; afterwards, Gopal in particular was the target of
racist attacks (Hamad 2019: 102–105). For Hamad (2019: 25, 229), this exemplifies
the abusive relationship women of colour have with white womanhood. When the
going gets tough, she argues, white women ‘turn their sanctioned victim status’ on
women of colour. While privileged white women bathe in male tears, women of col-
our can drown in ours.
Our sanctioned victim status shields privileged white women from accountability in
interpersonal interactions and in the political sphere. In her discussion of the 2017
Women’s March, Brittney Cooper (2018: 182) highlighted exit polls that found 53 per-
cent of white women voted for Trump, compared to 94 percent of Black women who
voted for Clinton (despite their reservations). Watching white women protest Trump’s
election, she wrote, when we were partly responsible for it, felt like ‘an exercise in white-
lady tears if I ever saw one’. Read in a structural way, the Women’s March could be seen
as an action that hid white women’s complicity in Trump’s success (Phipps, 2020: 120)
– in Hamad’s terms, Strategic White Womanhood writ large.
Phipps 5
In May 2019, Theresa May wept outside 10 Downing Street as she resigned the UK
premiership. These tears did political work, creating amnesia in some quarters over
May’s record as Prime Minister, and previously as Home Secretary. Perhaps most strik-
ingly, domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid posted a (subsequently deleted) tweet thank-
ing May for her service to women and survivors. This prompted a critical response: prior
to her resignation, May had failed to guarantee that women’s refuges would not close as
part of an overhaul of supported housing. In 2015, she had been accused of allowing
‘state-sanctioned’ rape and abuse of vulnerable migrant women at the Yarl’s Wood deten-
tion centre. Her government presided over the rollout of Universal Credit, the punitive
benefits system that has made it more difficult for women to leave abusive relationships.
It appeared that, for some, May’s tears washed these acts out of the picture (Phipps,
2020: 70).
In response to a picture of May crying, news anchor Eylon Levy tweeted: ‘this is such
a haunting photo. Whatever you think about Theresa May's record as prime minister, it's
impossible not to feel sorry for her as a person’.3 This attempt to separate the personal
and political is central to white women’s tears as a strategic device. We demand to be
treated as ‘just a person’ who should be granted the benefit of the doubt, who exists out-
side racialised structures and power relations even as our actions perpetuate them.
However, while privileged white feminists deny the relationship between the personal
and the political in response to critique, in our own theory and politics this relationship
(and in particular, our own personal experience or that of women like us) takes centre
stage. This is more than just hypocrisy; it is white supremacy. Whether we deny or
emphasise the relationship between the personal and political, white women’s tears ena-
ble us to centre ourselves and marginalise women of colour.
In an article on #MeToo, Jamilah Lemieux (2017) commented, ‘white women know
how to be victims. They know just how to bleed and weep in the public square, they
fundamentally understand that they are entitled to sympathy’. Lemieux was not claiming
the disclosures of #MeToo were not genuine; she was highlighting the power brought to
mainstream feminism by the power of white women’s tears. White-lady tears, to use
Cooper’s phrase: bourgeois white women’s tears are the ultimate symbol of femininity,
evoking the damsel in distress and the mourning, lamenting women of myth (Phipps,
2020: 71). It is likely that this power is not fully accessible to working-class white
women, who are often figures of classed disgust (Tyler, 2008). While it might date back
to the ancients, the power of bourgeois white women’s tears was solidified in the modern
colonial period, as ‘women’s protection’ became key to the deadly disciplinary power
that maintained racialised and classed regimes of extraction and exploitation.
White tears, white rage, white personhood
White supremacy produces both white tears and white rage, and colonialism relied on a
circuit between bourgeois white women’s tears and white men’s punitive power. This
was often activated by the vocabulary of rape: Indigenous, colonised and enslaved men
were maimed and killed after allegations made by bourgeois white women (Ware, 1992:
11, 37). As Angela Davis (1981: 106–111) argues, both mass rape of Black women and
allegations of rape against Black men have been instruments of white supremacy (Davis,
6 European Journal of Cultural Studies 00(0)
1981: 106–111). In earlier phases of capitalism, rape laws functioned to protect upper-
class men, whose wives or daughters (their property) might be violated (Davis, 1981:
101). In the genocidally violent relations of theft, capture and chattel that characterised
colonial capitalism, rape prohibitions took on similar meanings at the levels of commu-
nity, nation and race.
In colonial Australia, rape was a ‘violation of female purity’ punishable by death:
politicians insisted this was necessary to keep Aboriginal and ‘disreputable’ (poor) white
men under control (Kaladelfos, 2012: 159). The vulnerable bourgeois white woman was
central to accounts of insurrections such as the Indian Mutiny and the Morant Bay upris-
ing in Jamaica (Ware, 1992: 39–42): fear of rape was fear of revolution. In the United
States, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, white Americans used lynch-
ing to terrorise and control Black people. Rape of a white woman was one of the most
common pretexts for attacks on growing Black social and economic power (Ware, 1992:
179–182). In 1921, white mobs (many of them deputised and/or given weapons by city
officials) killed between 100 and 300 Black people and destroyed 1000 houses in
Greenwood, Tulsa, after a Black man was falsely accused of assaulting a white female
elevator operator. Greenwood Avenue had been known as ‘Black Wall Street’ because it
was one of the most affluent African-American communities of the early 20th century
(Madigan, 2001).
The story of Emmett Till is perhaps the best-known of this history of what Sharpe
(2016: 15) calls the ‘ongoingness of the conditions of capture’. A 14-year-old Till was
brutalised and killed by two white men in Mississippi in 1955, after Carolyn Bryant
falsely accused him of ‘uttering obscenities’ and grabbing her by the waist. Jessie Daniels
(2018) has called Bryant ‘the foremother of contemporary white women who call the
police on Black people sitting in a Starbucks, barbecuing in a park or napping in a dorm’,
acts that have also led to fatal violence (Sharpe, 2016: 52). The 2020 Black Lives Matter
protests following the police murder of George Floyd reiterated that Black lives are still
the price of white affective security (see Schuller, 2018: 2), and Black death is still cru-
cial to the operation of the white supremacist state (see Sharpe, 2016: 9). White women’s
‘safety’ is also central to contemporary border regimes, which purport to protect us from
immigrants and traffickers but actually create the conditions for mass exploitation and
abuse (Mac and Smith, 2018: 59–60, 75–76).
Political whiteness involves a will to power: in the case of bourgeois white women,
this was and is often achieved through performances of powerlessness. We exist at the
intersections of capitalism, white supremacy and heteropatriarchy, with little control
over the means of production (Lugones, 2008: 15) but with raced and classed dominance
that requires feminine submission. Like Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey, we fling our-
selves on the floor and cry. This activates the settler’s and master’s revenge, now embod-
ied in the necropolitical (Mbembe, 2003) criminal punishment and border control that
captures Black and brown people and/or leaves them to perish: what Sharpe (2016: 16)
terms the ‘reappearance of the slave ship in everyday life’. This circuit between white
tears and white rage means that the relationship between the personal and political in
white feminism has always been corruptible or perhaps even inherently corrupt.
In contrast to the damsel in distress, the woman of colour has had her innocence
stripped by colonialism, often through rape (Hamad, 2019: 18–19). As Angela Davis
Phipps 7
(1981) argues, colonial ideas about Black sexual ‘savagery’ created both the notions of
the Black man as rapist and the Black woman as un-rapeable, encased in the notion of
Black people’s bodies as objects to which anything could be done (Sharpe, 2016: 13).
During #MeToo, the only allegations Harvey Weinstein publicly refuted were from
actors Salma Hayek and Lupita Nyong’o: Hamad (2018: 55) argues that this was
because brown and Black women are easier to discredit. Women of colour, and particu-
larly Black women, are not able to politicise their pain in the way white women do: this
both reflects and perpetuates their thingification (Césaire, 1950: 42) and ‘abjection
from the realm of the human’ (Sharpe, 2016: 12).4
It is not just that the tears of white women are valued while those of Black women are
dismissed. It is that race itself (and perhaps class, at least to a certain extent) is defined
by the perceived capacity to cry, that the performance of bourgeois white emotion accom-
plishes the dehumanisation of people of colour. As Kyla Schuller (2018) has shown, in
19th-century sex and race ‘science’, ideas about sex difference (seen as a property of
bourgeois whiteness) intermingled with ideas about feeling. This divided the ‘civilised’
body into two halves: ‘the sentimental woman . . . and the less susceptible and more
rational man’ (Schuller 2018: 16). The bourgeois white woman’s capacity to cry was
fundamental to her dominant status, as was the capacity of her male counterpart to
respond to her tears with action. Humanness came to refer to both an assumed capacity
for feeling and the capacity to control it.
In contrast, Schuller argues, Black people were seen as driven by impulses and sensa-
tions. Other people of colour were defined differently, yet similarly stripped of their
sensibilities: Asian people became ‘enervated’ and ‘stagnant’ remnants of the past, while
Native people were ‘animated fossils destined to go the way of the dinosaurs’ (Schuller,
2018: 11). These racialised symbolics fitted material bodies to labour differently for
capital accumulation. Communities of racialised people were drafted, appropriated or
kidnapped from across continents for both free and enslaved labour, forced reproduction
and coerced experimentation, ‘on the grounds that they lacked the nervous capacity to
feel any harm’ (Schuller, 2018: 14). The racialised construction of feeling also created
the need to protect the refined, sensitive and civilised bourgeois white subject from the
‘coarse, rigid and savage elements of the population suspended in the eternal state of
flesh’ (Schuller, 2018: 8).
In the afterlives of colonialism and slavery (Hartman, 2007: 6), these dynamics
persist. Middle-class white women are allowed emotions and inner worlds, while
women of colour are not (Hamad: 18-19). (White) ‘women’s protection’ upholds the
edifice of criminal punishment and the violence of the national border (Phipps, 2020:
11, 79), while people of colour become an undifferentiated mass whose tragedies,
like the ‘migrant crisis’, are often consumed and forgotten (Sharpe, 2016: 33, 74–75,
see also Chouliaraki, 2006). The resistance of Black people and other people of col-
our is often ignored even by those who are in solidarity, or dismissed as ‘senseless
rage’ by those who are not (Bailey, 2016: 1–23). White feminism, with tears as its
centrepiece, is a factor in this racial calculus (Hartman, 2007: 6). Furthermore, some
reactionary strands of white feminism have capitalised upon narratives around vic-
timhood and ‘women’s protection’ and in doing so, have become entangled with the
contemporary far right.
8 European Journal of Cultural Studies 00(0)
Feminists and the far right
Reactionary feminisms, which coalesce around debates about sex workers’ rights and
transgender equality, magnify the political whiteness of the mainstream and deliberately
withhold womanhood and personhood from marginalised Others. Trans women are
defined as ‘biological men’ while trans-exclusionary feminists are ‘adult human females’.
Sex workers’ rights are juxtaposed with ‘women’s safety’, a manoeuvre in which the
womanhood of sex workers is implicitly denied. This reasserts the normative economi-
cally productive body and reproductive sex. It conjures up colonial sex difference and
bourgeois white womanhood as a symbol of moral order, set against the racialised and
enslaved inhabitants of colonised and settled territories and the multi-racial, ‘dangerous,
immoral, and libidinal lower classes’ of the metropolis (Tyler, 2008: 22). In this mental-
ity, neither the ‘unnatural’ or the ‘unrespectable’ woman can ever be a real woman
(Phipps, 2020: 151).
Victimhood, disclosed or ventriloquised, is central to these dynamics. In sex industry
debates, harrowing narratives of suffering in pornography, prostitution and trafficking are
used to implore people to ‘listen to survivors’ (Phipps, 2016: 309–310). These traumatic
experiences are deployed within a colonial feminist framework (Ahmed, 1992: 151) that
demands border regimes and regulation policies which sex workers oppose. The latter
includes the Nordic Model of client criminalisation, and the prohibition of online advertis-
ing of sexual services: both have been shown to drive sex work underground, creating
additional risk (Mac and Smith, 2018). Projects to ‘get’ the pimps and traffickers do not
target the conditions – austerity, Fortress Europe, criminalisation itself – that create these
figures in the first place. Nevertheless, when sex workers highlight this they are often
defined as ‘happy hookers’ who do not care about ‘women’s safety’ (Mac and Smith, 2018:
Trans-exclusionary (or ‘gender-critical’) feminism similarly relies on accounts of
sexual victimisation, set alongside a construction of trans women as predatory and essen-
tially male. This pertains to discussions about trans women’s inclusion in women’s ser-
vices and other spaces such as prisons, toilets and changing rooms (Serano, 2013: 31).
Trans women are made responsible for acts of violence committed by cis men, through
narratives that naturalise the penis as violence and stick this organ to the trans woman via
an intrusive and violent obsession with her surgical status (Phipps, 2016: 311).
Simultaneously (like other reactionary politics), trans-exclusionary feminism monsters
trans women in general through publicising isolated incidents of violence committed by
members of this group. The effect of both tactics is to repackage trans equality as preda-
tion: trans women’s demands to be recognised as women are reinterpreted as invasion
and sexual threat.
This reactionary feminist politics exemplifies the threatened bourgeois femininity of
political whiteness. This is magnified in claims to be silenced and oppressed, which have
been made by reactionary feminists (or men speaking on their behalf) in high-profile
media outlets (Phipps, 2020: 150). The narrative – that reactionary feminists are the real
victims but their voices are not being heard – achieves several aims. It disseminates
reactionary feminist ideas; it deploys Strategic White Womanhood to avoid accountabil-
ity; it uses the device of white women’s tears to deny humanity to the Other. Reactionary
feminists seize womanhood – and personhood – while sex workers become uncaring
Phipps 9
‘happy hookers’ and trans women become shadowy threats. We see the weeping Madonna
versus the unfeeling whore. We see the weeping survivor versus the menacing predator.
Neither sex workers or trans women are entitled to complex feelings or to claim victimi-
sation on their own behalf.
Many of the most marginalised sex workers and trans women are women of colour,
and Black feminists have also suggested that symbolically, these categories are associ-
ated with Blackness. As Sharpe (2016: 21–22, 31) writes, Blackness is already transgen-
dered and queered, because binary gender is a construction of bourgeois and colonial
whiteness. Bourgeois whiteness appears in sharp relief against the Black people ‘ungen-
dered’ in the hold of the ship (Spillers, 2003: 206), and the ‘future criminals’, ‘prosti-
tutes’, ‘thugs’ and ‘birthers of terror’ that supplant girls and boys, men and women, in the
anagrammatics of Blackness (Sharpe 2016: 47, 55).5 Hartman (2019) highlights the per-
sistent association of Blackness with prostitution, grounded in notions of commodifica-
tion that link enslaved people and sex workers, and colonial constructions of Black
sexual ‘excess’ (see also Davis, 1981: 106).
Flavia Dzodan views trans-exclusionary feminism as a settler-colonial mentality in its
attempt to solidify the sex/gender/sexuality system (Rubin, 1975) which intertwines with
race and class in the division of labour through difference (Skeggs, 2019: 32). Its essen-
tialist mind-set reflects how ‘the coloniser could name us, assign us a place and a role in
the hierarchies’6 – a mind-set exemplified in the ledger that rendered Black people illeg-
ible as humans, which reappears in contemporary border regimes (Sharpe, 2016: 30).
The reactionary feminist emphasis on social purity (a campaign against the managed
prostitution zone in Leeds was openly named ‘save our eyes’) also summons colonial
ghosts: the bourgeois white women missionaries, social reformers and philanthropists
sent forth to ‘civilise’ people of colour and working-class white people both overseas and
in the metropolis (Hartman, 2019: 24; Ware, 1992: 149–150).
Anti-trans and anti-sex worker feminisms continue the legacy of ‘respectable’ feminin-
ity as a tool of capitalist and colonial domination (see McClintock, 1995: 47). They are
complicit with the contemporary far right, which argues that countries should be invaded,
borders closed, walls built and marginalised people incarcerated, to ‘keep (white) women
safe’. There are significant, and growing, financial and other material associations between
reactionary feminists and far right groups, which exploit the circuit between white tears
and white rage. For instance, Hands Across the Aisle’s mission statement reads:
We are radical feminists, lesbians, Christians and conservatives that are tabling our ideological
differences to stand in solidarity against gender identity legislation, which we have come to
recognize as the erasure of our own hard-won civil rights.7
Through this initiative, trans-exclusionary feminists associate with the US National
Catholic Bioethics Centre, the American College of Paediatricians (an anti-LGBT group
not to be confused with the American Academy of Paediatrics) and Tucker Carlson’s
website the Daily Caller.
For me, these alliances bring to mind Patricia Hill Collins’ article ‘Learning from the
Outsider Within’, in which she reproduces a quote from an interview conducted by John
Gwaltney with 73-year-old Nancy White:
10 European Journal of Cultural Studies 00(0)
My mother used to say that the black woman is the white man's mule and the white woman is
his dog. Now, she said that to say this: we do the heavy work and get beat whether we do it well
or not. But the white woman is closer to the master and he pats them on the head and lets them
sleep in the house, but he ain't gon' treat neither one like he was dealing with a person. (Hill
Collins, 1986: S17)
As Hill Collins (1986: S19) explains, the white woman may feel that she is ‘part of
the family’, when in fact she is a ‘well-cared-for pet’. Bourgeois white women achieve
personhood in relative terms, largely through the dehumanisation of people of colour. We
may experience the necropolitical rage of white men as vicarious power in the form of
protection, when ultimately we too are property, to be abused at will (so perhaps not
always that well-cared-for) but defended violently from the Others. Our tears do not
often hold powerful white men accountable (such as Brett Kavanaugh, for example, or
Donald Trump), but are used by them in the service of domination and control. Reactionary
feminism appears content for women to be championed by men who reserve their own
right to perpetrate abuse. In this way, it bolsters its proponents’ race and class supremacy,
and all women’s gendered subordination.
'I wish I hadn't cried so much!' said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. 'I shall
be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing,
to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day’. Just then she heard something splashing
about in the pool a little way off . . . it was only a mouse that had slipped in like herself.
(Carroll, 1865: 23)
The cultural power of white tears, which underpins movements such as the viral itera-
tion of #MeToo, is a racialised and classed power which relies on the illegibility of
women of colour, and Black women especially, as victims. To paraphrase Christina
Sharpe (2016: 20), it is not just that Black woman are excluded from mainstream femi-
nism. The constitution of emotionality in opposition to Blackness means they may be
‘the ejection, the abjection, by, on, through, which’ the testimonial politics of the move-
ment constitutes itself (see also Hartman, 2019: 90). Victimhood is dressed in white. The
‘sanctioned victim status’ (Hamad, 2019: 25) of bourgeois white women especially can
be turned on women of colour in interpersonal interactions: this evokes less Alice’s pool
(which in the end, turned out quite benign) and more a salty grave.
Structurally, bourgeois white women’s tears support what Sharpe (2016: 16) calls
‘reappearances of the slave ship’: ‘protecting (white) women’ fuels the necropolitics of
criminal punishment and the border regimes of Fortress Europe, North America and
other parts of the world. These tears enter a world in which marginalised people are dis-
posable, whether they are Black people killed by police, migrants left to starve or drown
(Sharpe 2016: 43–44, 54), or trans people and sex workers (many of them people of
colour) disproportionately left to survive outside bourgeois families, communities and
the law. The circuit between white women’s tears and white men’s rage means that
because we cry, marginalised people can die. As some forms of reactionary feminism
exploit this circuit in their engagements with the far right, their narratives of victimhood
Phipps 11
can themselves be understood as violence. The ship, then, stays afloat: captained by
white men, but suspended in a pool of white women’s tears.
Thanks to Emile Devereaux for his thoughtful review of an early draft of this manuscript. Thanks
also to the two anonymous EJCS reviewers for their helpful and supportive comments, and to
Sarah Banet-Weiser and Lilie Chouliaraki for putting together this special issue.
Declaration of conflicting interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or
not-for-profit sectors.
Alison Phipps
1. Sometimes I refer to women of colour as a group (for instance, when racism treats them as
such), and sometimes I describe specific experiences and archetypes, for instance related to
Black people. There is, of course, great diversity within racialised communities: however, my
arguments often pertain to their symbolic construction (see also Ware, 1992: xii).
2. There were many interventions into #MeToo which had an intersectional and decolonial
focus: for instance, by the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas and similar groups of domestic
and other service workers. The hashtag trended worldwide and was associated with a number
of movements including the 65 day Garima Yatra (dignity march) of around 5000 Dalit and
Adivasi survivors in India.
3. Tweet posted by @EylonALevy at 10:44 am, 24 May 2019.
4. The Muslim woman, who is always-already victimised (Ahmed, 1992; Ware, 1992), is an
exception: however, she is not allowed to speak. Her feelings are ventriloquised by white
women who act as saviours, to gain platforms and power for ourselves (Phipps, 2020: 74–75).
5. Anagrammatical blackness, for Sharpe (2016: 45–48), is the process by which ‘grammati-
cal gender’ falls away: ‘girl doesn’t mean ‘girl’ but, for example, ‘prostitute’ or ‘felon’, boy
doesn’t mean ‘boy’ but ‘Hulk Hogan’ or ‘gunman’’. This degendering also, paradoxically,
supported the violent exploitation of enslaved women’s reproductive labour, which ‘turn[ed]
the womb into a factory producing blackness as abjection much like the slave ship’s hold’.
6. Tweet posted by @redlightvoices at 9:49 am, 4 February 2019.
7. I have written extensively about these alliances in my (2020) book Me, Not You – see espe-
cially chapter 6.
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Biographical note
Alison Phipps is professor of Gender Studies at Sussex University. She has been a scholar-
activist in the movement against sexual violence for fifteen years, and is author of Me, Not You:
the trouble with mainstream feminism (2020, Manchester University Press).
... Women, people of color of all genders, and subjects speaking from outside the West, meanwhile, have had their truths confined to the particular, the subjective, and the partial (Go 2017). This epistemic inequality graduates with degrees of separation from the white, male Anglo-European subject, so that (for example) a white Western woman may only speak 'as a woman' but often universally on behalf of her gender, to the further particularization and epistemic marginalization of Black and Indigenous women, women from outside the West, and women who experience other intersecting forms of oppression (Phipps, 2020). At any gradient, the mandate for objectivity at the heart of the Western understanding of truth only too often operates as a mechanism of domination. ...
... We adopt this focus because the (binarily) gendered character of believability is the narrative thread that links the three television series we analyze and connects them to mainstream #MeToo discourses. However, from the horrific murder of Emmett Till to the growing visibility of the 'Karen' 3 in contemporary media culture, real world contexts make abundantly clear that white women possess a conditional believability that can be, and often is, weaponized against people of color, including men (Hamad, 2019;Phipps, 2021). An economy of believability that centers white, cisgender men with wealth and influence-as we argue it does-is as much an economy mediated by race, class, socio-economic privilege, and heterosexuality (among other power structures) as by gender. ...
... And so, it is not only women who must labor to believed, nor is 'maleness' a politically singular way of moving through the world that comes with believability 'built in'. Our argument here is simply that the question of whether, when, and how to believe women who accuse men of sexual misconduct and violence endures in the current conjuncture as a heated point of cultural anxiety and contention-perhaps even more so amid renewed conversations about the violent potential of 'white women's tears' (Hamad, 2019;Phipps, 2021). ...
Between 2019 and 2020, three streaming series premiered on Netflix, Apple+, and BBC One/HBO: Unbelievable, The Morning Show, and I May Destroy You. All three narratively centered sexual violence against women, foregrounding the experiences of the women characters, and were produced within the context of the global movement #MeToo. We offer a conjunctural analysis of these programs within what we call the economy of believability, arguing that these shows should be read as fictionalized real-world phenomena, distilled for television but nonetheless reflective of deeply sedimented assumptions about women, sexual violence, and believability. We argue that the programs examine the struggle for belief as it manifests in three key forms of labor: (1) the affective performance of believability; (2) payment of the costs of believability; (3) entrepreneurially attaching value to believability. Our analysis positions the discourses and narratives of these shows—and of the real-world contexts they speak to—within the broader frame of a mediated, intersectional economy of believability, where contestations about how and when women may be believed play out in and through struggles over visibility, authenticity, and recognition.
... For instance, racial minorities can experience increased levels of anxiety when entering white spaces (Anderson, 2015), while white people have been observed to follow a 'normative racial script' because they adopt the typical emotional repertoire of dominant actors in society, often by becoming accustomed to what makes acceptable (or unacceptable) feelings and behaviours (Rosino, 2017). Furthermore, the apparent cognitive dissonance and emotional disconnect of white people when confronted with issues of race and racism have been observed in mainstream discourses (Eddo-Lodge, 2017;Oluo, 2019), especially in terms of 'white fragility', 'white guilt' and 'white tears' (DiAngelo, 2018;Phipps, 2021;Vice, 2010). Yet, discussions that centre the emotionality of whiteness risk diluting the effects of racism on minority ethnic individuals. ...
... A sign of optimism may be drawn from the reinvigorated #blacklivesmatter movement in 2020, which seem to have 'woken' some individuals and institutions, with renewed commitments for race equality and selfreflection (Thomas, Davis, Wilson, & Sobande, 2020). However, racial inequalities persist in HE, as white privilege is arguably institutionalised through subtle manifestations of racism, and the subsequent trivialisation of racist behaviours which favour the emotionality of its perpetuators (Phipps, 2021;Simon, 2020). The longer-term impact of the latest movement on the lived experiences of minority ethnic students therefore remains to be seen as the constant battle against everyday racism continues. ...
Full-text available
Racism is harmful for minority ethnic students from compulsory to tertiary education. Whilst there appears to be renewed public interest in structural racism, the realities of lived racism are, for many, a part of everyday life. This paper explores the experiences of minority ethnic students in UK higher education, especially their approaches to racism and coping strategies. Drawing on 51 in-depth interviews, the authors discuss the different ways in which racism can affect students and the extent to which it is normalised. As a means of coping, students appear to develop different degrees of emotional detachment and desensitisation towards racist behaviours. They discuss how white privilege in higher education can contribute to the silencing of minority ethnic students in the battle against racism, especially in white university spaces where racist behaviours are generally accepted, overlooked or trivialised. They conclude with a discussion of implications for policy and practice.
... Para isso, podem acentuar a sua identidade social positiva e/ou projetar a culpa nos outros grupos sociais. Além disso, as mulheres partilham com os homens do seu grupo interesses de classe, o que dificulta desde sempre a emancipação feminina (Beauvoir, 1949(Beauvoir, /2016Phipps, 2020). A par desses interesses, as mulheres brancas comungam entre si privilégios de raça, o que as torna tendencialmente insensíveis à opressão racista que outras mulheres sofrem (hooks, 1981/2018). ...
... Deste modo, o discurso fílmico de Margarida Cardoso parece reificar a construção discursiva da branquitude, que envolve uma vontade de Poder. No caso das mulheres brancas, especialmente em contexto colonial, o Poder foi e geralmente alcançado através de performances de impotência (Phipps, 2020); ao mesmo tempo as mulheres negras foram remetidas para a incapacidade desenvolverem sentimentos complexos. ...
Full-text available
A complexidade do mundo contemporâneo impõe formatações inovadoras na leitura das linguagens que circulam na comunicação social convencional (ou hegemônica), as quais imprimem a necessidade de outras perspectivas de abordagem dos fenômenos socioculturais em emergência. Desse lugar de partida, o dossiê “o contemporâneo visto pelo ecrã: políticas, culturas, memórias e identidades” se propôs em reunir reflexões que discutam as inseguranças de nossos tempos. “Ecrãs”, na tradução para a língua portuguesa do Brasil, pode ser entendido como tela de cinema, televisão, computador, celular, tablet, etc., o que a transforma em um espaço de circulação de informações, “máquinas de produção de subjetividades”, como sugere Félix Guatari (1982). Na tradução dessas máquinas de produção de subjetividades aparecem um conjunto de inseguranças, para o bem e para o mal. Inseguranças que “colocam em xeque” a ordem (política, econômica, social, cultural, moral, ética, intelectual, simbólica e subjetiva) estabelecida a partir de um consenso cêntrico “ditado” pela cultura ocidental, mas traz, consigo, o fortalecimento do debate sobre a condição humana. Dessa premissa, impõe leituras distintas da realidade, em que se abrem perspectivas para outros e novos conhecimentos abafados, calados, omitidos, desprivilegiados, subalternizados, colonizados ou para novas e outras interpretações de distintas formas de linguagem e comunicação social, diante de um modelo hegemônico de desenvolvimento, crescimento e progresso aplicados, com maior ou menor grau, a todos, em escala mundial. Abrem-se, face às "imposições" dos tempos informacionais e tecnológicos que experimentamos, amplos campos de disputa “dos”, "nos" e “pelos” sistemas de linguagens que afetam dimensões do político, da cultura, das memórias e das identidades, forjando a necessidade de diferentes modos de compreensão do mundo. Para pensarmos esses contextos em disputa, tomamos como referência a provocação de Sousa (2020) e o destaque em Séquéla (1993, p. 13) que questiona alguns pontos a respeito do nosso tempo: "[...] o poder não existe. A política despolitiza-se, a justiça mediatiza-se, a Igreja prega no deserto, a empresa já não tem poder, e quando a rua se enreda ela enreda-se. A nossa sociedade bipolariza-se, já não entre esquerda e direita, já que não significam grande coisa, mas entre os verdadeiros 'reaças' e os falsos modernos". Tudo isto se repete, dia após dia, nos ecrãs da televisão, das redes sociais, do cinema. A provocação citada foi replicada por Pimenta (2020) e, posteriormente, por Costa (2020), no sentido de tensionar as certezas do futuro e o medo diante de um mundo “doente”. As perguntas sem a devida resposta se avolumam diante da liquidez de nossos tempos (Bauman, 2008) ou da interferência do não-humano nas dinâmicas concretas do humano (Latour, 2012). Contudo, outros quadros de organização social, mental e simbólica se inscrevem nesse processo – por exemplo a proposta do “bem viver” (Acosta, 2016). Esses traçados, aparentemente contraditórios, porém instigantes, fomentam reflexões sobre as formas de disputas que organizam as linguagens e comunicações estruturadoras das “crenças” (no sentido de organização das relações em sociedade) racionais (ciência), simbólicas (religiões), políticas (ideologias) e se juntam às dinâmicas em torno de uma determinada cultura. Há, na base que fundamenta e justifica essa proposição, duas preocupações subjacentes que nos convenceram a instigar pesquisadores, nacionais e internacionais, de línguas ibero-americanas e luso-fônicos, em trazer suas contribuições a este dossiê: (a) a história das relações de colonização; (b) a necessidade de descolonização. Os exercícios anunciados caminham no sentido de desenvolver um interconhecimento de Portugal e do Brasil enquanto países de língua portuguesa, marcados por um passado colonial comum, para além de promover o desenvolvimento da cooperação científica, cultural e artística entre os seus povos, ampliado para os países africanos de língua portuguesa. Podemos destacar que esses movimentos perpassam pela integração da problemática da memória social e das identidades transculturais, com as migrações entre os dois países como pano de fundo. Os textos que compõem o dossiê trabalham com temáticas contemporâneas e assumem um caráter interdisciplinar (teórico e empírico), por meio de interfaces que implicam questões no campo da política, cultura, memórias e identidades. Sintetizam preocupações com as linguagens no sentido de “revelarem” o surgimento de inúmeras formas de desenvolvimento, ambiental e econômico, em outras bases de organização sociocultural. “As marcas do luso-tropicalismo nas intervenções do Presidente da República português (2016-2021)”, abre o dossiê apontando as consequências da política do Estado Novo português em relação aos então territórios “ultramarinos” para legitimar o colonialismo e, consequentemente, mantém o mito da tolerância racial e do nacionalismo integrador e universalista. Em “reflexões sobre o Brasil colônia: as escolas de samba e algumas histórias que a História não contou”, enfatiza-se a relação cultura e desenvolvimento na perspectiva de questionamentos sobre a história colonial brasileira, a partir de manifestações culturais de carnaval, desencadeadas por determinadas escolas de samba do grupo especial do Rio de Janeiro, em especial os desfiles da G.R.E.S Paraíso do Tuiuti, (2018) e da G.R.E.S. Estação Primeira de Mangueira (2019). “Margarida Cardoso e as mulheres da Casa-Grande: reconfigurar a memória (pós)colonial a partir da branquitude”, apresenta a obra de Margarida Cardoso como parte de um movimento global da arte portuguesa contemporânea que visa refletir sobre o presente à luz de um passado recente, no sentido de ultrapassar um evento silencioso e silenciado que marcou a sociedade portuguesa desde os anos 1970 até à década de 1990 dentro das ideias de branquitude e de fragilidade branca. No artigo “um narcisismo colonial: implicações históricas nas tecnologias de vigilância”, propõe-se refletir sobre a interferência dos legados de colonialidade nas tecnologias de vigilância no espaço pós-colonial europeu, argumentando que estes instrumentos implicadas e comprometidas com os contextos histórico, político, social e cultural da ordem hegemônica. Por sua vez, em “dilemas da ciberdemocracia: em qual medida o ciber potencializa a democracia?”, há uma interpretação dos efeitos sociais da ciberdemocracia, na sociedade contemporânea, por meio de identificação dos possíveis danos democráticos vinculados ao uso das redes sociais como plataforma de dissipação de discursos. Apresenta o argumento de que muitos indivíduos se utilizam das redes sociais e desconhecem sua estruturação, atenuando problemáticas do convívio democrático, bem como o espaço da e-democracia não se traduz em, apenas, benefícios. Dentro dessa dinâmica, a análise elaborada no “Wikipédia em língua portuguesa: dinâmicas, estruturas e dilemas na colaboração para o conhecimento”, expõe a realidade da plataforma Wikipédia em língua portuguesa. Trazem alguns casos que demonstram o quotidiano desta comunidade colaborativa, retratando os desafios inerentes à função de edição e difusão de conhecimento em regime enciclopédico, livre e colaborativo para, no final, considerar que as forças superam as fraquezas deste processo colaborativo, sem deixar de reconhecer a existência de disputas poder, sombras aos objetivos altruístas deste projeto enciclopédico. No artigo “zoom out / zoom in às redes sociais digitais do Plano Nacional de Cinema: um visionamento em tempos pandêmicos", vê-se uma elaboração sobre o interesse pelas potencialidades do cinema à educação a partir do Plano Nacional de Cinema de Portugal (PNC), enquanto um programa governamental junto do público escolar. Acredita-se que algumas ferramentas da web social, como as redes sociais digitais, podem ser instrumentos de trabalho válidos para as iniciativas do PNC, numa virtualização complementar da sua presença física nas escolas. Do debate em “Resistência à intermediação pelos ecrãs/telas conectadas” emergem as lógicas tecno-econômicas que organizam as relações sociotécnicas das plataformas sociais digitais. A análise recai sobre temas como: motivação para escolha de voto; cobertura da imprensa sobre o movimento Black Lives Matter; covid-19. Salienta que houve resistência em relação às notícias da imprensa, opiniões de influenciadores ou resultados das discussões em grupos de redes sociais, por parte dos consumidores de informação. O argumento “do subúrbio para a periferia: o suburbanismo fantástico contemporâneo, uma nova ambientação do subgênero cinematográfico?” tensiona o tratamento cinematográfico de Angus McFadzean (2017), tomando como base os filmes A Gente se Vê Ontem (See You Yesterday, Stefon Bristol, 2019) e Vampiros x The Bronx (Vampires x The Bronx, Osmany Rodriguez, 2020). Explicita que estes filmes representam um ciclo fechado do suburbanismo fantástico e podem ser caracterizados como resposta pontual de Hollywood a movimentos sociais como o #OscarSoWhite e o #BlackLivesMatter, mas, também, sensibilidades modernas sobre a representatividade e participação de novos corpos na indústria cinematográfica. O dossiê se encerra com o artigo “olhares netnográficos sobre cultura, desenvolvimento e ações coletivas no vale do paraíba”. Na articulação textual, entende-se cultura como instância ativa da formação social e base ao desenvolvimento regional, apontando à necessária elevação da ação sociocultural ao status de consciência política, visto que se constitui como força de resistência e transformação. Na sequência, na seção ensaio, segue o texto “pedagogia do cinema na escola: a prática audiovisual como construção social e de ensino” e problematiza a escola brasileira na sua relação com a produção audiovisual, no sentido de que a escola repense suas práticas excludentes que perpetuam uma monoculturalidade hegemônica e busque novo olhar (identificando e valorizando) diferentes culturas entre os alunos. O cinema, enquanto recurso pedagógico, tem potencial para contribuir ao enfrentamento de temas como: diferenças; diversidades; novas linguagens pluriculturais. Fecha o dossiê, na seção resenha, a proposição de leitura do livro de “Tarde, G. (1978 [1890]). As leis da imitação. Porto: Rés Editora”. O autor ao revisitar a obra, escrita de 131 anos de existência, repara uma lacuna às Ciências Sociais que pouco priorizou as discussões contidas nas teorizações de Tarde. Revisitar este clássico é, ainda, uma possibilidade de debruçarmos sobre as semelhanças e cópias da imitação sugeridas no livro, mas, também, atualizarmos a amplitude das imitações produzidas, divulgadas, circuladas em contextos e linguagens tecnológicas de comunicação social e de pandemias. Nos resta, na condição de editores, desejar boas reflexões e excelente leitura.
Hierarchies of knowledge can be noticed in feminist studies, particularly between dominant/mainstream feminisms, generally from the Global North, and subaltern feminisms from the Global South. Subaltern feminisms seek to unmask the social-racial-geopolitical limitations of mainstream feminisms, forging feminisms more plural and inclusive. María Lugones is considered one of the most important representatives of subaltern feminisms in the Latin American decolonial debate. The purpose of this paper is to present the trajectory of María Lugones, particularly focusing on the discussion of her works and theories on Coloniality of Gender and Decolonial Feminism. Her works are fundamental for gender discussions from a decolonial perspective, and further debate is necessary on her important contributions.
This article examines the recent popularity of women-centric narratives of trauma for television, in order to explore the politics of screening women’s trauma. The first part of the article locates the shift towards women’s “trauma TV” at the intersections of “quality” and “complex” television, “popular trauma culture” and “popular feminism.” Following arguments that female trauma has become a mode of program differentiation in the post-network era, I demonstrate that the uptake of women’s trauma is just as much a function of aesthetic and narrative trends as it is politics. The second part of the article looks to HBO’s Westworld (2016-present) and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-present) to examine how women’s trauma is represented for television, as well as the effects and implications of its representation and consumption. Through these series, I explore some of the issues and concerns of packaging women’s trauma as television entertainment.
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This article applies an intersectional feminist lens to social media engagement with European politics. Disproportionately targeted at already marginalised people, the problem of online abuse/harassment has come to increasing public awareness. At the same time, movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo have demonstrated the value of social media in facilitating global grassroots activism that challenges dominant structures of power. While the literature on social media engagement with European politics has offered important insights into the extent to which social media facilitates democratic participation, it has not to date sufficiently accounted for patterns of intersectional activism and online inequalities. Using Nancy Fraser’s feminist critique of Habermas’ public sphere theory and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, this article explores patterns of gender and racial inequalities in the digital public space. By analysing both the role of racist and misogynistic online abuse targeted at women, nonbinary, agender, and gender-variant people in public life, as well as the opportunities for marginalised groups to mobilise transnationally through subaltern counter-publics, I argue that social media engagement is inextricably linked with offline inequalities. To fully understand the impact of social media on European democracy, we need to pay attention to gendered and racialised dynamics of power within the digital public sphere that have unequal consequences for democratic participation. This will involve expanding our methodological repertoire and employing tools underpinned by a critical feminist epistemology.
How does a world of rival victimhoods disrupt our understandings of the educational subject? In which ways do competing claims of victimhood and their connections with justice have an impact on everyday educational practices? These questions are at the heart of this essay. The analysis conceptualizes the affective logic of victimhood as a terrain of struggle over competing claims to suffering, trauma and injury. The argument is that victimhood works by tactically mobilizing effective claims to suffering, trauma or injury for moral and political gains. The paper highlights implications of this analysis for everyday educational practices, discourses and relationships, and discusses the extent to which a pedagogical approach that engages students with the affective claims of victimhood – namely, who claims to be a victim, from which position and to which effects – can offer productive ways of navigating through competing claims of victimhood.
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Me, not you pulls back the curtain on #MeToo and other recent feminist campaigns against sexual violence. In a right-moving world, women's anger about sexual violence has been celebrated as a progressive force. However, mainstream feminist politics is unable to tackle the converging systems of gender, race and class which produce sexual violence. Phipps argues that the mainstream movement against sexual violence expresses a political whiteness which both reflects its demographics and limits its revolutionary potential. Privileged white women use their traumatic experiences to create media outrage, and rely on state power and bureaucracy to purge 'bad men' from elite institutions with little concern for where they might appear next. Even more dangerously, the more reactionary branches of this feminist movement are complicit with the far-right, in their attacks on sex workers and trans people. This text is essential reading for anyone interested in the politics of sexual violence, and the feminist movement more generally.
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This article explores how whiteness shapes public feminisms around sexual violence, using #MeToo as a case study. Building on the work of Daniel Martinez HoSang (2010), Gurminder Bhambra (2017), and others, I theorize political whiteness as an orientation to/mode of politics that employs both symbolic tropes of woundability and interpersonal performances of fragility (DiAngelo 2011), and invokes state and institutional power to redress personal injury. Furthermore, I argue that the “wounded attachments” (W. Brown 1995) of public sexual violence feminisms are met by an equally wounded whiteness in the right-wing backlash: acknowledging the central role of race exposes continuities between both progressive and reaction- ary politics dominated by white people. Political whiteness stands in contrast to the alternative politics long articulated by women of color, and Black women in particular. However, these alternatives may encounter different problematics, for instance intersecting with neoliberal notions of resilience, which are also racialized. Challenging political whiteness is therefore not simply a case of including more diverse narratives: this must be done while examining how sexual violence is expe- rienced and politicized in the nexus of patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism, in which gender, race and class intersect with categories such as victims and survivors, woundedness and resilience.
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In July of 2016 during a closed session with Polish bishops, Pope Francis stated, “In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these – I will call it clearly by its name – is the ideology of ‘gender.’” Several months later, in the Republic of Georgia, the Pope publicly condemned gender discourse as the “great enemy” in a “global war” of ideas. Around the globe, religious and other conservative actors are intensifying their attacks on feminist and LGBTQ+ scholarship and activism, casting advocates as “gender feminists” promoting a radical “gender ideology.” Language deployed by the Vatican, such as gender ideology, gender theory, and genderism, has been captured by right-wing enthusiasts to thwart emancipatory gender agendas worldwide. This article examines antigender campaigns as palpable transnational countermovements, and considers their use of gender ideology as salient counterstrategies to feminist and LGBTQ+ social movements. By situating antigenderism within countermovement theory, I show that recentantigender activity transcends generalized resistance and instead operates within distinct and coordinated countermovements to defeat feminist and LGBTQ+ policy. By conceptualizing antigenderism as a countermovement, I provide a useful framework for studying national and supranational antigenderism and for understanding the stakes in the tug-of-war among progressive social movements and countermovements for ontological and political control over the term “gender.”
This is the first critical study of feminist practices of ‘speaking out’ in response to rape. This book argues that feminist anti-rape politics are characterised by a belief in the transformative potential of women’s personal narratives of sexual violence. The political mobilisation of these narratives has been an incredibly successful strategy, but one with unresolved ethical questions and political limitations. The book explores both the successes and the unresolved questions through feminist archival materials, published narratives of sexual violence, and mass media and internet sources. It argues that that a rethinking of the role and place of women’s stories and the politics of speaking out is vital for a rethinking of feminist politics around sexual violence and key to fresh approaches to combating this violence.