I have often been on the receiving end of the Crabs in a Bucket syndrome, starting from my teenage years to the present day. It is a mentality that continues to mystify me. The two main encounters I have had with this syndrome have been in the racial/ethnic and in the sexual/gender realms.
Being born and raised in Chicago meant, in the 1980s and largely still today, that you are born into a racially and ethnically segregated city. I can count on one hand the number of neighborhoods that are racially diverse and most of those are ridiculously expensive to live in. Considering that reality, I grew up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood on the southside of Chicago.
I absolutely abhorred it.
My parents are both racially mixed though, living through the Civil Rights Era, they identify as black. I did at first as well until I was repeatedly questioned on my claim to this identity. This was in addition to being told that I “talk white”, “act white”, and simply didn’t “look black enough”. I did wonder quite often why my family, especially my father, fit in more, phenotypically-speaking, with our (very Spanish looking) Filipina neighbor down the street. So when the other people in the neighborhood asked, “Okay, but what else are you?” I forwarded that question to my father.
Then I got the full account of my family background, explaining the ambiguous facial features my parents and brother all have. So I gradually started identifying instead as mixed because, well, that is what I was and boy, oh boy, did I ever get criticized for that choice! The very people who always questioned my looks, my racial background, and my racial/ethnic identity, were suddenly spouting off about how “they” or “society” will only ever see me as black…Essentially, “Who do you think you are? You’re going to stay right here with us and never leave!”
I’m always amazed by people who claim not to be racist nonetheless enforcing a racist philosophy that black blood is so “tainted” that a mere drop of it will contaminate and render inert all other heritage, that is the one-drop rule. What kind of disgusting and vile mind thinks up crap like that? Or thinks that’s a great basis for an identity? The diversionary tactic used to cover-up belief in a racist philosophy of miscegenation is usually referred to as “solidarity”: the “us against them” viewpoint wherein the individual dissolves into the collective no matter how much the collective abuses, disregards, and often outright hates what makes that person an individual. These people also assume that every person who claims a black identity thinks the same way they do about the situation. They don’t.
But of course, I absolutely did leave that neighborhood as soon as I could. I never ran into the vaguely defined “they” or “society” that has such a one-dimensional view of racial and ethnic background outside of the very people who promote the one-drop rule. Despite what its adherents and devotees believe, it is not nearly as popular outside of their own bubble as they think (or fervently wish to be true). I have always had friends of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, thanks to my parents and, upon reaching high school and university, attending diverse schools. My godparents lived outside of Toronto for a spell and if you know anything about that city, you know its diversity is on par with or even surpasses that of New York City. Traveling abroad to Australia and New Zealand for an international dance conference at 13 also expanded my mind as far as racial identity, primarily because I wanted it to be expanded. There are plenty of people who travel abroad yet retain a narrow-minded view of the world. None of these people thought the one-drop rule had any basis in reality nor did they balk at my racial identity. Weird how “they” and “society” acted in an exactly opposite way than previously believed.
So, having acknowledge an identity appropriate for my individual reality, I moved onto exploring feminism. Though I only had a brief interlude into disliking sex and men (it lasted all of two years), I never understood the feminist tendency to attack prostitutes, strippers, nude and erotic models, and other professionals of the sexual realm, for supposedly promoting “Patriarchy”. Everything I read said that Patriarchy had very strict and sometimes fatal proscriptions against sex for pretty much everyone. So mainstream feminism with its pearl-clutching over sexy images and obsession over the “male gaze” didn’t hold me at all.
Sex-positive feminism was my thing for a while and it was through that movement that I found out about the many facets of sex work and that it wasn’t the dichotomy presented in popular culture. I had always naturally gravitated towards prostitutes and or madams whether in the form of goddess aspects or historical persons, like my namesake or fictional characters, like Miss Scarlet in the movie version of the game Clue (though I was too young to understand her profession, all I knew is that she dressed well, was beautiful, and had the womanly figure I wanted when I grew up). This is where I remained, especially after taking up sex work, until the past few years.
But as Furry Girl astutely points out, until sex-positive feminism truly organizes and makes incursions into the political mainstream, they will remain irrelevant. The feminists who dominate law and politics are the conservative, misandrist, anti-transgender, anti-sex, anti-sex work, anti-sex worker, and is so many sad and disappointing ways misogynistic feminists. They influence the halls of knowledge at universities, laws at local, state, federal, national, and international levels, and even the general dinner chatter of Americans who may not be all that politically aware. Even among those who posit themselves as politically aware and astute have nonetheless had their talk regarding women, femininity, and feminism highly colored by the nasty philosophy of feminists like Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon, Kathleen Barry, Kate Millet, and the new kid on the block, Kat Banyard (from the UK). “Progressives” and “liberals” even repeat their filth because it is given a veneer of pseudo-concern (paternalistic).
Just like my experience with one-drop advocates, some feminists, like Salon‘s Mary Elizabeth Williams, are ever so upset that some women don’t identify as feminist and especially at those who very pointedly reject identifying as such. The same argument is made by feminists as by the one-drop assholes: “they” and “society” will victimize you and we are your only hope. The consciously non-feminist or anti-feminist women usually belong to groups that have been rejected or otherwise devalued by mainstream feminism and even many of its tributaries: stay-at-home mothers and housewives, sex workers of every stripe, transgender women, women who do not consider femininity and feminine adornment to be indicative of weakness, etc. When we decide to either turn in our Sisterhood card or decline to fill one out in the first place, then the crabs start nipping at your heels, pulling you back down. Where do you think YOU’RE going?
In these two instances, the Crabs in a Bucket mentality is strongly laced with elements of the Whipping Boy (or Girl). For all their bleating about solidarity, they always make sure that you are very aware of your difference from the group whether it is skin color, genitalia, hairstyle, footwear, whatever. On the one hand, they want you to dissolve your individual features; on the other hand, they want you to always be available for criticism and to bear the brunt of whatever perceived inferiority they think they possess.
Behaving like crabs in a bucket doesn’t promote solidarity nor will it form a community that will get everyone out of the sinks. All it does is get you boiled, eaten, and picked out of the teeth of the decidedly more powerful and discarded like an insignificant piece of meat.