From Sabotage to Support: A New Vision for Feminist Solidarity in the Workplace
May 14, 2019
Joy Wiggins and Kami Anderson's new book explores how "patriarchy has created an environment for women to knowingly and unknowingly sabotage each other," and how to build a culture of support instead.
There is no better introduction we can give Joy Wiggins and Kami Anderson's new book, From Sabotage to Support: A New Vision for Feminist Solidarity in the Workplace, than the book's excellently written jacket copy.
Women are acculturated within systems that encourage them to sabotage one another; this book shows how they can break free of this cultural programming and use whatever privilege and power they have to raise each other up.
Joy Wiggins and Kami Anderson advocate that the only way women can successfully support each other is by addressing the varying intersections of our individual power and privileges, particularly focusing on how some privileges are inherited along lines of race, class, sexuality, and geography. When we fully examine how we have power in certain situations and not in others, we start to see where we can lend privilege to create truly inclusive spaces for the historically underrepresented and marginalized.
Wiggins and Anderson look at how the dynamics of privilege and power have played out in the history of the feminist movement and identify and break down socialized behaviors and ideologies that trigger implicit bias and microaggressions. And they provide tools to interrupt negative thoughts and actions so women can nurture mutual support and show up as their authentic selves. Each chapter features a dialogue between them reflecting on how issues of race, privilege, and power have played out in their lives and their friendship.
The system of patriarchy has created an environment for women to knowingly and unknowingly sabotage each other—it is not inherent in women themselves. This book teaches us how to take an active approach to becoming better allies for each other and by so doing improve our world and end the cycle of injustice.
We reached out to the team at Berrett-Koehler to see if there was anything more we could share with our readers, and the sent along the following excerpt from Chapter 2: "The Pervasive Patriarchy" and the effects of socialization—focusing specifically on how it has affected the authors themselves.
If you have friends or colleagues of color, especially black women, you’ve probably heard the following: you have to perform 200 percent better than your white peers and there will still always be a question of your competence (more colloquially, this theory is phrased as “twice as good for half as much”). When Kami was growing up, this notion was unspoken within many conversations with family, friends, and the influential black adults in her life. Often, it is a force that is never named outside the safe spaces occupied by black individuals.
This particular type of socialization sticks with black people the most. Even at their best they may still not be good enough, even though they have put in more effort, more sweat, more blood, and far more tears (likely in the dark when no one is watching) in order to make it in this world.
You can imagine this is a lot of pressure for a child, especially because they’ll carry this weight for the rest of their lives. In Kami’s case, no one ever explicitly had this conversation with her, save for subtle references—like when she came home crying after a teacher accused her of cheating when she aced a test, saying, “You couldn’t have done that well on your own,” or when she was told by a guidance counselor to “just stick to state school” even though she was a high performer and was offered full-ride scholarships. Kami was told she wouldn’t make it at Spelman because it was statistically “impossible” that she would succeed. For Kami, and for other women who have had similar experiences, socialization means defying odds as the product of a teen mother in the inner city of an urban Midwestern area and obtaining her Ph.D. It means being mothered by a woman who exposed her child to wide cross-sections of art, from chamber music to Toni Morrison, Stephen King to Virginia Hamilton. Socialization tells us this woman could not have entered into a committed, monogamous relationship built on respect. Socialization means this woman has an ability to flutter between cultures, because she is unable to be her authentic self in all situations. However, for Kami and perhaps for others like her, socialization also includes getting “poor child” glances from those in positions of privilege and power, or having kids of your home culture shun you, while having kids of the dominant culture keep you close only as an advantage and only on their terms. We don’t mean to diminish the struggles white women have had in the workplace, especially when it comes to fighting for equal standing with male counterparts. But for black women, and many women of color, the 200 percent “rule” is an added weight. These women will always wonder if they are being judged on two levels: for their gender as well as their ethnic or cultural representation.
Socialization and Double Consciousness: The Other Side of the Coin
Not every white woman fits into the patriarchy’s ideal of what a woman should be. Plenty of women, of color or not, claim many identities—single, partnered, with children, without children, queer, nonbinary, any myriad of others. When Joy was a young girl, she was bombarded with the constructs surrounding white female identity. Although she moved around a lot—the consequences of being born into a military family—the southern Texas values of how a proper young lady should look and act were well indoctrinated. Be pretty, nice, demure, and rely on men to be chivalrous.
She had the usual complement of “girl” toys (even though one of her Barbies had a data processing center, she still had this Barbie processing data on a little boy named Sherman). For her, the message was clear: men and boys are in power and in order to survive, you need to find one to take care of you; however, you are secretly the boss in powerful positions like in the kitchen and with the children. Your man is to take care of you, adore you, but that’s in exchange for the burden you bear not being fully actualized as a human being.
It didn’t take Joy long to realize the differences in the ways her classmates of color were treated compared to her and her white classmates. After returning to Texas from living in Germany for a while, she learned quickly that black people were not treated the same, and women were to be respectful of their men, quiet, pretty, and skinny. The globalized way of living she had adopted during the family’s stint in Germany came to a screeching halt. During these school years, her personal expectation was that she would follow a traditional path: get a teaching degree, find a (white) man, get married, have a baby, remain a teacher and ensure a good work/life balance, be a good mother and wife. Better be good to your man and keep him interested, because he is your lifeline. If he cheats, forgive him, but by all means, don’t let him walk away no matter what. Our young girls and women continue to be socialized in this way, and when they don’t fit into that mold, it can cause significant trauma, as it did for Joy—because her life didn’t follow this neatly laid-out plan. Instead, she barely got into college, and, once there, she quit her sorority based on the way she saw women of color being treated during rush week. She pierced her belly button and nose, and generally behaved in a way that put her out of the running for that traditional lifestyle her socialization so desperately laid out for her. All the while, she squelched her queerness as life progressed—through to Arizona, into Washington State, her obtaining of her master’s and doctoral degrees, failed marriages, a child. Finally, she was able to accept herself and come out to her family, and step out on her own path. We share Joy’s story of socialization and experience with patriarchy for this reason.
During a recent conversation with a young white woman, Joy learned that at this woman's workplace there had been a lot of backbiting and outward fighting among the female colleagues. She said her new male boos put a stoop to it, and the women were finally able to work in peace. She said he was kind of a dad figure and he even calls himself the "work dad." However, to Joy the scene was reminiscent of a brood of hens being put in their place by the rooster. Joy asked this woman, "Why do you think this work dad was needed? Do you think the women in your office could have handled this backbiting on their own? And do you think you all had it ingrained in you this idea that only a man could fix the meddling hens?" The look on this woman's face suggested she hadn't thought about that. It's a great example of how the patriarchy continues. Our goal is to kick out the rooster, free the hens, burn the coop down, and create an equitable free-range cooperative where all chickens have equal access. And while the previous statement is deliberately hyperbolic, these seemingly small "aha" moments are what start the revolution.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Joy Wiggins, PhD, is the founder and executive director of Joy Wiggins, PhD, LLC, a consulting company that focuses on equity, inclusion, and social justice. She received her doctorate from the Ohio State University in multicultural education with a focus on social justice in children’s literature. Kami J. Anderson, PhD, is the founder and executive director of Bilingual Brown Babies, a company that focuses on fostering bilingualism in black families. She received her doctorate from Howard University in intercultural communication and culture. She is the author of Language, Identity, and Choice.