Rules of Feminism 6: Your Experience is not Universal

Nov 2, 2013 | Opinions

So, you know how I said that experience trumps theory? Well, here’s the caveat – experience doesn’t trump other experiences.

Your experience is not general or universal.

What I mean is that you had best be very, very careful about taking your personal experience and expanding that to cover the experience of everyone else. If you’ve never actually experienced or witnessed street harassment, that doesn’t mean jack shit to the millions of women who have to deal with it every day, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem. If you’re a western feminist who would never in a million years wear hijab, do NOT fucking talk about how horrible and wrong it is to a Muslim feminist in the Middle East for whom it’s a vital personal touchstone.

Never, ever make the mistake of thinking that your experience is the only one that matters. And here’s where academics and analysis comes back in and becomes useful – because with that, you can aggregate experiences, and find out useful things about the big picture side of problems. So if, for example, a lot of feminists in the Middle East say that this patronizing colonial shit isn’t helping, also shut the fuck up about our veils already, you should take notice of that when you want to talk about things happening in the Middle East. (Or maybe, you know, back off and let them talk, because they’re the experts here.)

You’re the authority on your own life, and maybe the class and race and gender and country in which you’ve lived. And you’d better respect the same for others – don’t assume your experience of a thing is the same as theirs, and don’t presume you can speak for them because you share some traits with them.

This is about accuracy and respect for the variety of human life.