I try very, very hard to be aware of the privileges I have in my life and of the challenges others face. I am a white, cisgendered woman from an upper middle class family. Yes, I have struggled and I have worked very hard to get where I am today, but I also understand that part of the reason I have come this far is because I started out with certain privileges.
Well, sometimes I fail. Sometimes, I can’t see past my own nose.
Recently, everyone has been talking about the Netflix original anime, Aggretsuko. It’s a wonderful anime about a red panda named Retsuko who is experiencing the stereotypical millennial struggles. She doesn’t like her job, she doesn’t have much money, and she doesn’t have many friends. So to blow off steam she goes to a karaoke bar every evening and sings death metal. I loved this show. It was a good blend of cutesy animation and millennial angst. Watching it soothed my withered, adult soul and re-kindled a love for anime I haven’t experienced since I was fourteen.
My favorite character by far was a gorilla named Gori, the director of marketing for the company Restuko works for. Gori is fierce, rocking a pink dress and taking crap from nobody. During the show you also get some glimpses of her being vulnerable, like when she’s worried Retsuko doesn’t like her or when she gets dumped.
I loved Gori so much. As a woman, I was thrilled to see a female character in a position of power, a female character who is allowed to have more than one emotion and still be considered strong.
Well, unfortunately, I realized afterwards that I was a bit blinded by white feminism when it came to Gori.
Before I go on, let me explain what I mean by white feminism. White feminism is a form of feminism that solely focuses on the struggles of caucasian women, ignoring the struggles of women of color, queer women, or disabled women experience in favor of solving white women problems. Examples of white feminism would be the first suffragettes excluding black women from their marches and organizations, modern day feminists protesting against hijabs and other religious clothing as being oppressive without even asking Muslim women how they feel, and Emma Stone at the Oscars complaining that only one female director was up for Best Director while completely ignoring the two people of color who were also nominated.
Needless to say, I try very, very hard to not be a “white feminist.” I try to be intersectional when it comes to my feminism.
That’s why I was incredibly upset when I Googled Gori from Aggretsuko and found multiple articles about how Gori’s character was a gross stereotype of black women. Historically, black people have been compared to apes and gorillas as a way to dehumanize them. Well, Gori the gorilla is not only written as a “sassy black woman,” she’s also voiced by the only black woman on the show.
If you want to understand more about Gori and how problematic her character is, please read “The Problem of Gori in Netflix’s Aggrestsuko” by Nicole Adlam. Her article was the one that opened my eyes to the problem with Gori and, as a woman of color, she has more of a right to talk about how cruel this stereotype than I do. I don’t want to talk over her, so go read her words.
After reading more, I was incredibly upset with myself. I was so into this character who was so powerful and sassy and wonderful. I thought, “wow, look how far we’ve come! Look at this three dimensional female character! I love her.” It never even crossed my mind that she could be offensive because, well, she’s in a position of power! That’s so positive!
I didn’t fall into the trap of white feminism. I ran into it, fingers in my ears going “la la la la la!” I wanted to see her as a positive role model and never stopped to think about how she was representing women of color. I don’t like the idea that I could be so blind to this racism built right into my TV shows. I am ashamed of myself and will try to learn from this so I can be more critical of the future media I consume.
Everyday, I just need to remind myself to listen, to be respectful, and try to pull my head out of my own ass every once in a while. I try so hard not to be a white feminist, but sometimes I fail. And you know what, that’s okay, as long as I keep trying to learn and grow. It’s when I stop listening that I’ve truly failed.