1.08.2008

More thoughts

Okay, I swear to God this is the last blogging I'm doing today! I must create syllabi for my classes which start tomorrow.

But I wanted to say: I will also have Katha Pollitt's baby.

And I recognize that in my relief, my satisfaction, my warm and fuzzy feelings of somebody's speaking out in The New York Times about the misogyny in this campaign, I glossed over some of the problems in Gloria Steinem's op-ed. Problems like the fact that she overlooked the radicalism of young women (Feministing and Girl With Pen pointed this out) and that she did the whole tired race vs. gender comparison, even though we all know that comparison is waaaay problematic.

Angry Black Bitch would never have my baby if she knew me, because her take on the Steinem op-ed is entirely different than mine. Where I felt validated, elated, she felt "undocumented…as if the history of blacks and the history of women have nothing to do with the history of black women." She cites some of the same historical precedents I do (and Steinem does)--abolition and woman suffrage--but she makes the point that, although black men were given the Constitutional right to vote in 1866, in the South, at least, they weren't given the actual right to vote until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and '60s. The same for black women, whose 1920 Constitutional right was as null and void as black men's. So while it is true that the laws for black men changed before the laws for women, the implementation for black men and women was much slower.

This relates to another point she makes:

When I consider Steinem's “So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?” I’m left confused.

What country does Gloria live in where race barriers are taken seriously? I’d love to know…shit, maybe I’ll move there.
Okay, so I can certainly agree that race barriers are not taken seriously. Racism is a huge problem--pervasive, often operating in subtle ways (although in South Carolina not always so subtle), toxic. To the extent that Steinem is implying that we've "solved the race problem" by her comparison, she's way, way off. And this is, of course, one of the reasons that the race vs. gender argument is so problematic--it's often used to imply that we're good on race, so now we need to get good on gender, when in fact we're not good on the issue of race at all.

I think one of the issues here--one of the reasons Steinem was able to make the claims she makes--is that as a mass culture, we seem to at least be able to give lip service to the notion that racism is bad. Just like we were able, in the 1860s, to change the Constitution to say that black men should be allowed to vote, we're able now to recognize that if certain terminology is used, we should all act appalled.

This does not mean that we as a nation are good on the issue of race. As with the 15th Amendment, the text is (sometimes) there, but the implementation isn't.

But it does seem different than how we as a nation are on the issue of gender. In some ways, we don't even seem to offer the lip service opposing sexism.

This is why, as I said earlier, the Obama/Hillary stuff is kicking my ass. It gets complicated. Ultimately there's no way to compare racism and sexism because they get deployed differently in this culture, and then they intersect with other identity categories and change again. My experience of sexism as a white, straight, middle-class woman is in many ways qualitatively different than ABB's experience of sexism.

So it's hard to parse out how Obama benefits from being a man but struggles because of race, and how Hillary struggles because of gender but benefits from being white. And this is the kind of thing I do for a living! I'm going to have to think some more.

7 comments:

Daniel said...

On this subject (link).

claire said...

I was thinking about this in relation to USA Today's referring to the "Iron My Shirt" moment as "seemingly sexist." There is absolutely still a ton of racism -- but we seem to have decided that there is such a thing as racism (would sign holders be tolerated at an Obama meeting saying "shine my shoes"?). I am not sure that we have any societal agreement on what sexism even is -- what does "seemingly sexist" mean to a asign that says "Iron my shirt"? Is there some non-sexist interpretation I missed (a new band name, a role playing game)?

allison said...

what about Maureen Dowd in today's Times ("Can Hillary Cry Herself Back to The White House?")?

Daniel said...

I'm not a Hillary fan, but the people who hate Hillary are annoying and condescending and downright obnoxious enough to make me wanna vote for her. Almost.

Blogless Reader said...

What is your reaction to Camille Paglia's scathing Hillary comments at salon.com? I note that she uses the term 'feminazi' in a non-ironic way. If a feminist says 'feminazi' does that somehow legitimize the word? She considers herself a feminist; would you disagree?

Alison said...

Thanks for the link, Dan. This is some really amazing stuff.

The Maureen Dowd and Camille Paglia articles are about what I'd expect. Camille Paglia is actually one of the reasons I became so committed to feminist scholarship: one of my undergrad professors found her books compelling and had me read them, and I was so appalled and upset by them that I began researching and formulating counterarguments. Biffle will remember the debates I had with this prof, who I finally brought over to my way of seeing things.

It's not my business to determine who is or isn't a feminist, but Paglia is not a feminist in the way that I am. And the word "feminazi" remains illegitimate no matter who uses it.

Shark-fu said...

Oh, but I so welcome this discussion!

Great blog, btw.

Thanks for the link!