Archive for March, 2008

So, about Ferraro

When I first caught wind of Geraldine Ferraro’s now infamous comments on Tuesday, I was looking forward to tearing them apart on this blog. But until now I just didn’t find the time, and in the past few days her compounding b.s. has only been rivaled by the Spitzer scandal in terms of media coverage, blog chatter and general commentary. There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said already by tons of other people. I haven’t been very good with reading the blogs lately, but I did catch and appreciate this guest post on Afro-Netizen by Dr. Imani Perry, in which she says

It is perverse and dishonest to present Barack Obama as the privileged one in this equation. We know why Hillary Clinton doesn’t want to reveal her tax returns. The image of her as a working class champion will suffer with the revelation that her power is not simply a product of being a political insider and public servant. She also has enormous personal wealth.

There is no affirmative action in politics besides that which comes from nepotism, wealth, and inside connections. If there is an affirmative action candidate in this election it is Hillary Clinton. And if there is a bootstraps candidate, it is Barack Obama.

Also, I was really surprised at how much I loved Keith Olbermann’s special comment to the Clinton campaign on the topic. Whoa! Although I could’ve done without the whole bit in which Olbermann talks about how Clinton and Obama should both understand the pain of discrimination and tells them that they should be avoiding injecting such offenses into their own campaigns. OK, white man, we appreciate the passion and indignation about Ferraro’s comments, but that’s enough telling women and Black folks about how much they’ve been hurt and how they should be acting because of it.

At the risk of simply repeating what others have certainly said and written already, I will say that the most infuriating things to come out of Ferraro’s mouth lately were not her initial comments, stupid and demeaning and, yes, racist as they were, but the things she said later in defense. Damn, even Imus had the good sense to capitulate after making a racist ass of himself. But Ferraro just made it worse and worse. She decided to play the ol’ reverse racism card, claiming that “any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls [the Obama] campaign down … you’re accused of being racist, so you have to shut up. Racism works in two different directions. I really think they’re attacking me because I’m white. How’s that?” How’s that? It’s stupid and categorically incorrect. God, white people really do want to lay claim to every damn thing sometimes, even to being victims of racism! Come on, I assure you, you really don’t want that! Just let it go already!

She also echoed notions that other (mostly white) feminists have been putting forth during this election:

But she also echoed remarks of feminist leaders like Gloria Steinem, who argued in the New York Times that Obama would not have succeeded if he were a woman because gender is “the most restricting force in American life.”

“Sexism is a bigger problem,” Ferraro argued. “It’s OK to be sexist in some people’s minds. It’s not OK to be racist.”

WTF? I mean, yes, sexism is certainly alive and well in our society. And one might even argue that subtly sexist language does get a pass more easily than equally subtle racist language. But one only need look at how race is one of most reliable predictors of things like poverty, incarceration, access to quality education and access to health care in American society to see the immense damage that racism does and the immense power that it holds in our society.

But of course white feminists who take this tack would think that sexism is worse that racism in this country, because they’re not affected by racism. They possess the privilege unique to white people to ignore and elide the true affects of racism. I think that reason why I haven’t caught any prominent feminists of color putting forward this position is because, as women of color, we don’t get to ignore racism or sexism, and we realize that you can’t just put them on a set of scales and weigh them against each other. I’m profoundly tired of white feminists doing just that and then speaking as if they could possibly speak for women of color (or “women of any color,” as Ferraro put it.) It’s the same old second-wave feminist b.s. all over again.

The other Spitzer on the stage

When I wrote my last entry on Eliot Spitzer’s newest scandal, I struggled to figure out how to talk about what it felt like to see his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, standing next to him during yesterday’s brief public apology. I knew that it felt strange and wrong, like some kind of sad political show that male politicians’ wives are forced into after they’ve royally screwed up. I wanted to write something about that, but couldn’t figure out how; it was getting late, I’d already written a long entry and I just wanted to be done. So I wound up writing this:

Is anyone else tired of wronged politician’s wives being forced into public embarrassment for the sake of standing by their cheating men?

But when rereading the post, I realized it didn’t come off quite right; the words didn’t even sound like something I’d say. Though I’m in a happily monogamous relationship, I’m certainly not invested in some idea of monogamy as sacrosanct or the exclusively correct relationship structure. I think this stance complicates my view of infidelity in a way that doesn’t come through in what I wrote, which actually sounds rather hetero- and monagamonormative, to coin a word there. To clarify: the fucked up thing about infidelity is not the multiple partners/lovers part, but rather, the violation of trust and deceit part.

When I read my friend Rabi’s take on positions like the one I put forth with the above statement, my dissatisfaction with what I’d written increased to the point that I took it down completely. Rabi writes:

i just want to say that I’m sick of people assuming that every time the wife of a man who has been revealed to be a cheater — so yeah, like hillary clinton and silda wall spitzer — stands next to him at a press conference, she has been forced to do so. maybe she is, which would be hideous and despicable. and it’s not that I doubt that happens pretty often. but MAYBE she isn’t, in which case your assumptions are unhelpful, nasty, and judgmental. argh.

[this is in response to like 95% of the feminist websites on my blogroll. NO i don't think it's antifeminist to decide to stay in a relationship after infidelity. although cheating on your wife with a prostitute probably is, assuming she didn't know about it.]

All very true. Silda Spitzer is strong, intelligent woman, and while it’s necessary to acknowledge how sexism plays out in situations like these, to immediately assume that she was forced to appear at her husband’s side does negate her agency. I agree with Rabi that leaving a relationship after infidelity is neither the inherently feminist response nor the right response for every relationship or situation. Silda Spitzer seems perfectly capable of assessing her relationship with her husband, figuring out what’s best for her, and acting on that. Perhaps she’s chosen to forgive him, or perhaps she can separate their personal troubles from his political career and genuinely supports him as governor. The NY Times reports that she’s among the advisers who’ve told Spitzer “that he should not resign in haste.” So who are we to assume that she’s merely a pawn here, playing a forced role in a sexist political tableau? Such an assumption seems rather patronizing and more than a bit sexist in itself. There are ways for us to point out the weird and quite possibly sexism dynamics of the situation while not perpetuating said sexism in the same breath.

Spitzer’s governorship in jeopardy, but what about reproductive rights in NY State?

So, as I’m sure everyone and their mother has already heard by now if they’ve been anywhere near a television or the Internet in the past 24 hours, NY governor Eliot Spitzer has been linked to a prostitution ring. He issued a televised apology to his family and the public on Monday, his wife standing at his side. Talk of a probable resignation is everywhere, and given his already embattled tenure as governor, it doesn’t look like he’ll last long.

Spitzer’s administration has been something of a disappointment, and he is just another fairly mainstream Democrat with the usual spate of disagreeable stances, but I still feel some regret and frustration that he’s gone and committed political suicide in such a royally stupid way. For all of his many shortcomings, he exhibited some glimmers of true progressiveness that I appreciated: his support for gay marriage (even though it was mostly a big old show given that his proposal was dead in the water and he had to know it would be), his push for drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants (though the plan had major flaws and, again, failed.) OK, so maybe for the most part Spitzer talked some good talk and tripped over his own feet when he attempted to walk the walk, but still, this was more than what we get from most elected officials these days.

Another one of Spitzer’s good ideas happened to be front and center on Monday – until the scandal broke, that is. March 10 is the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers (who knew?), and the annual conference of the Family Planning Advocates of New York State convened in Albany. Governor Spitzer was scheduled to address the conference on Monday morning, in part to speak on the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, a bill that he introduced into the NY State Legislature last year and had declared a legislative priority for 2008. The bill declares that abortion is a fundamental right for women and would protect women’s right to safe, legal abortions even if the Supreme Court was to overturn Roe v Wade. Of course, the Catholic Church is all in a huff about the bill and is doing its best to defeat it, though luckily New York state has a fairly good pro-choice track record, even when targeted by Rome’s most fervent efforts.

Perhaps this is just the conspiracy theorist in me, but it does seem all too convenient that Spitzer’s scandal should emerge just as he was about to renew his public push to get this tremendously important bill passed. The timing was so perfect that he had to cancel his address to the conference at the last minute. OK, so it’s probably unlikely that this was all orchestrated to defeat the reproductive rights bill, though taking down this bill at the same time as taking down Spitzer does seem like not-so-far-fetched icing on the cake for his conservative political enemies.

Regardless of whether the timing was coincidental or deliberate, it’s maddening that the passage of such an important bill may now be in jeopardy because Spitzer paid for sex. One only hopes that whether we’ve got Governor Spitzer or Governor Paterson by the end of the week, the bill will survive the scandal and ensure that women in NY State are protected in the face of an increasingly tenuous Roe v Wade.

And when it’s all said and done, it’s absurd that Spitzer can be taken down for paying for sex and infidelity, former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey resigned over being outed as gay (and infidelity), and Bill Clinton was impeached for cheating with an intern, while Bush and Cheney look like they’re going to finish their terms without so much as a hint of impeachment after they’ve waged illegal war, violated the civil rights of countless people, and endorsed torture. Yeah, the scandals that embroiled Clinton, McGreevey and now Spitzer also involved some perjury, illegality and corruption, but apparently breaking the law is only really bad if it involves sex taboos. Torture, murder and illegal imprisonment? Apparently not nearly as much of a threat to one’s political career. And that’s the true perversion.