Archive for the 'feminism' Category

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.

Against either/or feminism

Most folks have probably read Gloria Steinem’s op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled “Women Are Never Front-Runners.” Hopefully folks have also gotten to read, listen to or watch the subsequent Democracy Now! debate between Steinem and Melissa Harris-Lacewell, in which Harris-Lacewell took Steinem to task for many of the points she makes in her op-ed. If you haven’t gotten to take a look at the debate, I highly recommend it. Here’s just a taste of what Harris-Lacewell has to say:

And so, when Steinem suggests, for example, in that article that Obama is a lawyer married to another lawyer and to suggest that, for example, Hillary Clinton represents some kind of sort of breakthrough in questions of gender, I think that ignores an entire history in which white women have in fact been in the White House. They’ve been there as an attachment to white male patriarchal power. It’s the same way that Hillary Clinton is now making a claim towards experience. It’s not her experience. It’s her experience married to, connected to, climbing up on white male patriarchy. This is exactly the ways in which this kind of system actually silences questions of gender that are more complicated than simply sort of putting white women in positions of power and then claiming women’s issues are cared for.

Today I read another great response from Kimberle Crenshaw and Eve Ensler to “either/or” feminism: a feminism that deems a vote for Hillary Clinton to be the only truly feminist choice. Steinem’s op-ed echoes the arguments of this sort of feminism which, when taken to its extreme, results in the kind of malarkey that the New York State chapter of NOW put out there when it called Senator Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack Obama “the ultimate betrayal” of women. From Crenshaw and Ensler’s essay in the Huffington Post:

While denying any intention to square off racism against sexism, the “either/or” feminists nonetheless remind us that the Black (man) got the vote before the (white) woman, that gender barriers are more rigid than racial barriers, that sexism is everywhere and racism is not, that a female Obama wouldn’t get nearly as far as a Barack Obama, and that a woman’s vote for Clinton is scrutinized while a male vote for Obama is not. Never mind of course that real suffrage for African Americans wasn’t realized until the 1960s, that there are any number of advantages that white women have in business, politics and culture that people of color do not; that all around the world women’s route to political leadership is through family dynasty which is virtually closed to marginalized groups, and that the double standard of stigmatizing Obama’s Black voters as racially motivated while whitewashing Clinton’s white voters as “just voters” constitutes the exact same double standard that the “either/or feminists” bemoan. The “either/or” crowd surprisingly claims that the two Democratic candidates are more alike than different, yet those who gravitate to Obama find their motives questioned and their loyalties on trial.

Second Annual New York Gender Equality Festival

Girls for Gender Equity, the organization that I mentioned in my recent post on street harassment, is organizing the Second Annual New York Gender Equality Festival this Saturday, July 28, from 11am to 6pm in Von King Park in Brooklyn. From their site: “Featuring performances by artists including singer/songwriter Pamela Means, hip hop artist Carlethal, Women’s Project theater group, and spoken word poets Urban Word NYC, the Gender Equality Festival is a free public event for education, networking, resource sharing, community interaction, arts and recreation that is open to New Yorkers of all ages and genders.” Check out the GGE site linked above for more info.

Race, class, and street harassment

So, I have to admit – I was a little nervous when posting about street harassment the other day. I was really eager to open up the conversation, especially because it was focused on a queer/gender non-conforming/trans experience and perspective that I’m not used to hearing. But I was also worried about certain dynamics that tend to surface during these conversations, namely dynamics of race and class.

While women and other gender underprivileged folks of all races, ethnicities, and classes can and often do experience street harassment, the voices that I usually hear in these discussions are most often of women with either race or class privilege. This is not unique to conversations about street harassment: most larger conversations are dominated by the voices with the most privilege. In conversations about street harassment, though, this has an interesting and profound effect, as you’ll often have some very complex and conflicting power dynamics going on: men exerting their gender privilege and sexism over women who have class and/or race privilege over them.

Continue reading ‘Race, class, and street harassment’

Gender/queerness and street harassment

Yesterday morning I listened to a segment on the Brian Lehrer show about street harassment (cat-calling) in NYC. Lehrer interviewed three women: Latosha Belton and Ashley Lewis, two Brooklyn teenagers who worked with Girls for Gender Equity to create “Sisters in Strength Strikes Back: Our Struggle with Street Harassment,” a city-wide summit this past May; and Maggie Hadleigh-West, maker of the anti-street-harassment film War Zone.

The three women talked about their extensive experiences with street harassment directed at them from men of all ages. Ashley Lewis described how she feels like her new way of responding to street harassers is better than staying silent:

The approach I’m taking now, I feel like it’s better ’cause I’ll ask a man something, “Do you really think it’s appropriate to come at me in the street?” And they’re so taken aback by the question that they’re stunned, they don’t know what to say. So instead of answering it, they kind of walk away from me, so it kind of helps.

Hearing that, I couldn’t help worry that the girls would encounter some men who would do far more and far worse than run away. Continue reading ‘Gender/queerness and street harassment’

Blog for Choice Day


Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

Geez. This is what happens when I sleep on checking in on the blogosphere for a while – I nearly miss big important events like Blog for Choice Day. I’m not going to get a chance to blog extensively on the matter today, but I’ll just say that I’m very pro-choice, and I don’t see how you can be pro-woman (and pro-people-of-other-genders-who-can-bear-children) and not be.

I’ll also cheat and say lookie here for some good links from Jessica at Feministing.