FEMALE PRIVILEGE – Gendering Class, Part II – “White women’s tears” and who does and doesn’t get considered female


The hyperagency/hypoagency hierarchy – In the US we have a hyperagency-hypoagency hierarchy in the culture. The way it works is that if you are male you are deemed to be inherently stronger and less vulnerable, and so hurt you inflict is somehow inherently more hurtful and hurts you suffer are somehow inherently less serious than if you are a woman. In the US class and race work the same way – the higher up that scale you are the more hypoagentive you are and harms to you are going to be taken more seriously and harms you inflict less seriously – this despite the fact that you actually have the power to inflict more serious harm – while the converse is true the farther down the race/class hierarchy you are.

And the femininity/masculinity spectrum mirrors the racial spectrum so that you see this odd kind of down-stepping in the system where if you are darker, you get down-stepped toward the masculine end of the scale. In other words, a white women is going to be considered and be treated more like a female, a black or Hispanic or a blue-collar white woman less so, more on the level with a white man, and black, Hispanic or blue-collar white men will be at the bottom of the scale and will register as hyper-masculine.

Eldridge Cleaver discussed this black hyper-masculinity in Soul on Ice and also touched on black hypo-femininity. (These terms refer not to anyone’s actual masculinity or femininity but instead to the masculinity or femininity society imputes to a person.)

This system is completely race-based and doesn’t rely on some objective criteria of how looks more or less feminine. However you define what features look more feminine or masculine, in this system a big old blond Helga is still going to be accorded female status even when compared to an Asian woman.*

Let’s look how this plays out in some areas of the culture:

Dress – The strictures around masculinity and flamboyance of dress, or interest in clothes, seem to be relaxed if a man is black or blue-collar, but with special instructions of course. In the Seattle there is a chain of men’s stores called K&G serving black men with a range of clothing. Some of their suits are the color of tangerine sherbet and look like they would be great fun to wear. Of course this style of dress comes in for some stigma and scorn in that community, but it seems to be more for being naïve and unsophisticated rather than non-masculine. It may be the hypermasculinity ascribed to black men that makes such bright colors permissible on a man. In the same way a lot of those Western-style shirts you see as what I call rodeo-wear come in bold patterns in loud colors. Of course they can only be worn to certain venues, they have to be worn with blue jeans and boots, and similar other restrictions apply. There is some relaxation of the strictures, not absolute freedom to dress however you please.

Incarceration incidence – I cannot find the Feckblog article now, this is the closest I could come, but I remember some analysis of his that showed that controlling for the same violations white women got the lightest sentences, white men, black and Hispanic women got about the same severity of sentences and black and Hispanic men get hammered like no one else. And this is just for actual sentencing. It is likely that the same hierarchy applies to what crimes get charged in the first place – a black kid will get charged for an amount of a drug a white kid will be sent scurrying with.

Empathy apartheid – This is where “white women’s tears’ comes in. Where black women get stereotyped as “Sapphire” – angry, disagreeable, strong and invulnerable (and by the way, who else gets stereotyped that way?) – white women are seen as needing and deserving protection, as people whose hurts matter and have to be attended to. This is empathy apartheid. Basically it means that damseling will work for a white woman much better than for a black woman.

This came up as an issue a couple of years ago when a white female UCLA student made a racist video about Asian students and when called on her racism, crumpled into tears and recriminations that everyone was just being so mean to her. The conversation developed on Racialicious and then at Feministe brought out some interesting points about the validity of female privilege and white female privilege versus female white privilege and then finally one commenter said the distinction is moot since in this society getting treated like a female requires white privilege – in other words you won’t be considered fully female unless you are white (or Asian, but that’s another conversation.)

It means that if something happens to you, your ethnicity matters. We saw this in the reaction to the kidnap (and very likely sex slavery or murder) of Natalee Holloway in comparison to all the other disappearances in the summer of 2006.

The class angle of this is that even if you are white, the more blue collar you are the less you will benefit from this, however blond and blue-eyed you may be. Inexpensive clothing, hair pulled back into a tight ball, mannerisms that get interpreted as coarse – all these will put you further and further out of the protection of white women’s tears – so maybe we should call them “white lady tears”.



*“Asian” – I am using the term “Asian” in the US, not the UK sense. Ion the US “Asian” means ancestry in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines – Mongolia too if the question arises – but not Russians, not Indians or Pakistanis, not Israelis or Turks. In the US and especially the West Coast where I am, if you have round eyes and straightish hair, you are going to register in people’s minds as “Caucasian”. Of course a lot of Asians are “Caucasian”; I am talking about the terminology and how it’s used, not the genetic facts.

Jim Doyle
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<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="3101 http://www.genderratic.com/?p=3026">24 comments</span>

  • I didn’t used to believe in “white privilege” but then I spent allot of time in the man-0-spere…

    talk about crybabies…

    did you ever see Chuck Rudd, “GL Piggy” whine and whine…

    He’s not racist, it’s hbd, hehe, wasn’t it phrenology a hundred years back???

    If he’s so much better than me how come I’m not the one who went 40k into debt for a worthless degree and got a job most people don’t even need to graduate HS for? Maybe he has his head so far up where the sun don’t shine that all of his talk about race and IQ is just to mask that he’s not tough enough to get his hands dirty and “pull himself up by the bootsraps.”

    Did you ever her that Matt Forney fellow? He’s so much “better” than me because of the lighter skin. But put both of us next to the pull-up bar and see which one of us keep himself in good shape and which one practiced the paleo-diet with 5 visit’s through the drive through in one day…

    Jack Donovan, who “rubs elbows with the white nationalists”?

    some of those guys are Spearhead writers, and I’ve gotta say, that place is a sewer and almost as bad as IMF. It’s more fake men’s rights ala TGMP…

    and talking about white female privilege, look at the mental gymnastics Huggs Skeezer and fatuous Mr. Manboobz need to jump through just to defend the privilege princess Marcote…

  • just remember,

    Check Rudd, Hugo Schwyzer and Jack donovan hunted teh mammoth so we could all eat…

    and Amanda Marcotte and Jill Filiovitch are the true heroes…

    they did the real heavy lifting, y’know they are the emotional and moral compass of our great nation. Their arguments aren’t logical but they don’t have to be because they are our superiors and we are just too stupid to see it.


  • tbfkaSWAB*:

    Do you happen to know the context of that BlackAmazon post you linked?

    * sorry for being to lazy to spell out your shiny new nick

  • Dang, you went for the one-letter abbreviation leaving me with no shorter alternative. Well played, the Bastard formerly known as SWAB 🙂

  • Teh, welcome back in your new persona. Love those links, espcially BalckAmazon’s even though I don’t what she is specifically repsonding to.

    Do you ever read Judgy Bitch? She covers a lot of the same territory in a diffenrent way.

    Jack Donovan – whew. I don’t think you’re being homophobic, or if you are, I can’t see it. You know he has a piece of a point about tribalism, but two things – he gets the tribal boundaries wrong, we know what kind of society this kind of tribalism leads to because we all came form that and turned our backs on it and just bebcause we haven’t made the transition fully is no reason to give up, and one more, this all plays into the schemes of the 1%, that’s who this identity-politics thinking really benenfits, and when it comnes right down t it, that’s the tribal boundary that matters.

  • Ginkgo, I do have one quibble, I think you got it backwards. In our society, Asians are seen as highly feminine, and Asian women are definitely seen as at least as feminine as white women. It is one reason there aren’t any romantic roles for Asian men. No audience in the US (or so the story goes) could believe a white woman would ever fall for an Asian woman. (Although even within East Asians there is a white to brown, feminine to masculine hierarchy. Whiter korean, japanese and north chinese are more feminine than southern chinese, laotian, thai viet namese or malay women.)

    Other than that, this post hits on a major topic that has always baffled me. (White) women seem to complain very loudly that their opinions don’t matter, they are ignored, etc. etc. but I find that this is a most egregious privilege blindness, because their opinions and feelings are valued as more important than any other in our society! And they have the nerve to turn around and accuse men of not being able to see their own privilege…

  • Asian women are definitely seen as at least as feminine as white women

    Far more so.

  • “Ginkgo, I do have one quibble, I think you got it backwards. In our society, Asians are seen as highly feminine, and Asian women are definitely seen as at least as feminine as white women.”

    Oh we agree completley. I wasn’t saying that Asian women were not considered feminine, simply pointing out that even in comparison witrh Asian women white women were stlil considered feminine. What I was trying to do was to forestall a bunch of derailment about how this class gendering was due to some kind of objectively more feminine presentation of white women, when in fatc that is not what is going on at all.

  • It strikes me as confusing (but true) that Asian women are considered more feminine than white women, yet Asian women’s tears don’t provoke as much sympathy as white women’s tears do. Does race interact differently with gender in that comparison, or is there a different cultural reason? For example, would Asian women be less likely to make such emotional appeals because of differing cultural values in their community?

  • Theodmann, let’s pick your question into pieces we can deal with.

    I am referring first to Asian and Asian-American women and their position in US culture. They may get the same reception for thier tears, but I would guess not as often, because Asians, male and female, are generally not seen as hypoagentive. In fact the stereotype of the inscrutable, clever Asain informrs all the other stereotypes, and if anything, both genders are seen as hyperagentive.

    As far as concernrs Asian cultures, that’s quite a spread, but from what I see in Chinese film and literature, women are held to adult standards. They can cry and not be policed on that, but they can’t expect people to bustle around and find ways to comfort them the way children can.

    The reason white lady’s tears works is the social neoteny of white women.

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  • Sorry, but I think anyone who uses the term “white women’s tears” is a racist misogynist.

    Basically, social justice warriors scream and swear and denounce and when people understandably get upset at this hatred they blame the victims.

  • “Sorry, but I think anyone who uses the term “white women’s tears” is a racist misogynist.”

    1. Calling a woman on manipulative or childish behavior and holding her to a decent standard of behavior is not misogynist. indulging that behavior or tolerating it, or arguing against anyone holding here accountable, is the misogynist.

    2. Pointing out that someone is white is not racist, or that they are using their whiteness for some advantage.

    So no, Chris. FAIL.

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