Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Where Are the Feminists?

when HRC was still running to be the democratic presidential nominee... gloria steinem wrote an editoral for the new york times about why she was supporting HRC for president. In it she made her now infamous arguement that "gender is the most restricting force" in America today.

That’s why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter).

the essay was problematic for more than a couple of reasons. in the above paragraph she completely ignores the support the white women's suffragist movement received from black activists like W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass. just like it ignores the way in which those same white suffragists turned on black Americans and argued that blacks were not competent enough to vote. In turn, her willingness to create a hierarchy of oppression... raising the suffering of women (of course who she means by "women" is never quite clear) over the suffering of blacks (she genders blackness male).... further perpertuates the racism that has been present in the mainstream feminist movement since its outset and further alienates black women from a cause that in a lot of way speaks to a part of their many oppressions.

many black feminist activists responded to steinem. notably alice walker in her beautiful article on the, where she simultaneously explained her endorsement of obama as well as responded to white feminist HRC supporters.

It is hard to relate what it feels like to see Mrs. Clinton (I wish she felt self-assured enough to use her own name) referred to as "a woman" while Barack Obama is always referred to as "a black man." One would think she is just any woman, colorless, race-less, past-less, but she is not. She carries all the history of white womanhood in America in her person; it would be a miracle if we, and the world, did not react to this fact. How dishonest it is, to attempt to make her innocent of her racial inheritance.

in typical alice walker fashion... her arguments were both artful, thoughtful and multifaceted (can you tell i'm a fan? *smile*). and it brought a series of important discussions to the table, both about HRC's weaknesses, as well as obama's

so in the light of all this argueing over sexism and racism that was present every where from the barbershop, to the mainstream media, to the ivory tower.... where are the feminists now?

numerous articles have been published over the last month about the hire of a new chief of staff for michelle obama to "soften" her image. the obama campaign wants to curtail the media's tendency to depict her as an "angry black woman" and instead put emphasis on her dedication to her family.

the campaign is attempting to market michelle obama as a harmless homemaker who doesnt threaten white men and who white women can relate to. and yet amazingly.... those same white feminists who railed against the supposed sexism against HRC during her presidential campaign have remained completely silent against the blatant and unwavering racism and sexism thrown at michelle obama on an hourly basis.

Mary C. Curtis wrote an insightful essay about the loud silence of feminists toward michelle obama. interestingly enough... a representative from steinem's feminist organization responded back in a letter to the editor. in it she argues the following...

The Women's Media Center, a feminist media advocacy organization founded by Ms. Steinem in 2005, has been a consistent voice for fair media treatment of women, including Michelle Obama... We fight sexism in the media wherever we find it... Ms. Curtis may indeed have a complaint -- not necessarily against feminists but against mainstream media outlets that often do not let these voices demanding fair coverage be heard.

this response is inadequate... she argues that her organization has been defending michelle obama from the beginning and that they are simply a victim of the "mainstream media outlets that often do not let these voices demanding fair coverage be heard."

but how is it that they managed to be heard in their VERY vocal defense of HRC (i.e. steinem's editoral in the new york times), but when it comes to michelle they are the victim of sexist media?

seems a little to convenient for me.

especially... when it is multiple mainsteam media sources that are actually doing the questioning (that feminists should be doing) around whether or not michelle obama's makeover is even appropriate. as well as detailing the work that black women are doing in the defense of michelle obama. so the question again remains.... where are the [white] feminsts?

this seems to be an important moment in the history of the white feminist movement. just like in the 1970's and 1980's when black feminists pushed back against second wave feminism and demanded to have a voice in the womens freedom movement. once again white feminists are going to be forced to look at their racism straight in the face.

the question is.... this time around... will they attempt to change the woman they see in the mirror...


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