Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is the 2008 presidential election bad for feminism?

I hear you out there--wondering if I'm crazy.

How can having a smart and accomplished woman a hair's breadth away from the Democratic nomination be bad for feminism? How can having America's ingrained gender prejudices dragged into the light be bad for feminism? I'll tell you how:

The 2008 presidential election could be bad for feminism because as it has put a capable woman in the national spotlight and uncovered gender bias, it has also revealed and given voice to the prejudices of mainstream feminism. And those prejudices are alienating women who passionately want equality.

I firmly believe that marginalized groups--women, people of color, GLBT folks, immigrants, etc.--ought to have uncommon empathy for each other and should work together towards the common goal of equality. That's why I am saddened when I hear some of my black sisters and brothers spouting homophobic rhetoric, and equally distressed when I see how some in the white gay community have embraced the patently offensive Shirley Q. Liquor character. (Read Jasmyne Cannick's awesome post on this modern-day minstrelsy here. Thanks to Mr. Shadow.) We're not going to get to the mountain top that way.

But it never fails to amaze me how tone deaf one group of marginalized people can be to the plight of other oppressed groups. The Democratic nomination, which has a white woman competing with a black man, has left me feeling that my acceptance by many white feminist sisters is predicated on my marching in lock step with the mainstream and ignoring my black self. I am frustrated and angry--angry enough to take the word "feminist" out of my blog profile. And on the eve of the Women's History Month blog carnival dedicated to healing tensions within the movement, I am still too frustrated to put it back.

I am angry because whether it is Gloria Steinem in The New York Times, Erica Jong on Huffington Post, or random posters on feminist and progressive Web sites, I am being subtly and not-so-subtly told that:

- Racism is not as important as sexism
- A vote for Hillary Clinton is the only history-making vote at stake
- White women are more oppressed as a group than black men
- The only vote for true feminists is a vote for Hillary Clinton
- Feminist = white woman
- The needs of black women don't count
- Black people who vote for Barack Obama are doing so only because of his race
- Other people who vote for Barack Obama (women and men) are doing so only because of misogyny

Consider the not-so-uncommon comment from a Feministing poster re: Tina Fey's "Bitch is the new black" bit on last Saturday's SNL:
As feminists, we have worked our whole lives for this moment. Our
foremothers fought for us to have this moment. We have an amazing woman running for the office of the president. Not just any woman running, but the most
qualified candidate in years. I cannnot believe the cowardly way women are
rolling over to appease the male media. Don't vote your vagina, but no one is
saying don't vote your skin color. On the contrary what black man or woman is
not voting for Obama (90%!)? Which I fully support as they have fought their
whole lives for this moment. But they have vision and clarity, and we are chcken
shits. We lack the courage of our convictions to make this moment ours. I am
proud of black America right now, but disgusted by women.

I don't really get the lame "I can vote who I want" BS as it is just a
way to appease your mind that you failed to act. Excuse it all you like, in
history, you prevented a great moment from happening. One that we could have
shared with our daughters. But now, our daughters know, they are not able to be
representations of "cool" "hip" or "inspirationsal". What this election has
shown us is we all end up shrill, bitchy, women. Thank you feminsts, what a
legacy we have created for the future.

When the weaker candidate messes up in his first term, I will be sure
to proudly disply my "Don't blame me, I voted for Hillary" bumper sticker!
Notice how black women are grouped with black men as "other." Notice that the appeal to "vote Hillary for our daughters" seems not to include mothers of black or bi-racial children. Frankly, I think either a Clinton or Obama win will send a powerful message to my young stepdaughter and my nieces. Notice how the fact that Hillary Clinton once held the majority of the black vote, particularly the black female vote, has been forgotten. Now all black people are voting for Obama, the once "not black enough" candidate, out of racial fealty. Notice how Obama, despite having more legislative experience than Clinton (11 years vs. seven), is being painted as a figurative "affirmative action hire" with few skills and a free ride.

This is why I am angry: Because it seems like some of my white feminist sisters are beckoning me to join the movement with one hand, while throwing racist bombs with the other; and because my feminist bonafides are questioned, yet Hillary Clinton can stand on stage with Bob Johnson who made his fortune by denigrating black women as bitches, hoes and sex objects and still be a feminist icon.

I am alienated from the feminist movement. And I am hurt. And many women like me feel similarly. So, where will we all be after the Democratic convention, when we have to go back to fighting together for equal pay, reproductive rights and other issues? How long will the scars take to heal? My experience over the last few months, I admit, has colored my view of feminism and left me searching for something else--some other movement that will embrace me as I embrace it. If women like me are doing the same, what does that mean for the feminist movement?

I know we have to come together. But how?

Have something to say? Consider making a submission to the Come Together blog carnival.


PioneerValleyWoman said...

I call myself a critical race feminist, with a wait and see attitude. I voted for Obama in my state's primary, and I will see who wins the nomination.

I am a critical race feminist because it lets me claim my race based loyalties and gender based loyalties both. I'm a woman of color. At times, race will matter more, at other times, gender.

I'm now unaware of racism among white women just as I am unaware of sexism among men of color.

PioneerValleyWoman said...

Some serious typos in my previous post:

I'm aware of racism among white women just as I am aware of sexism among men of color.

SheCodes said...

Thank you for this honest post.

My take is this: we don't have to agree on everything to come together. We just have to come together to work on THOSE things that we DO agree on. Does this make sense?

For example, I don't go by the feminist moniker because there are some things that I could say that would make them want to burn me at the stake. So I don't say them in their presence.

There are some trains of thought by some feminists that really anger me too -- so I concentrate on the ample amount of things that we agree on and unite with them to get stuff done.

It's really easy to get so distracted by the 10% of disagreement and offense, that one can throw out the 90% of agreement.

I feel no anger toward white feminists, because they do not have the power to hurt me. There is no expectation for them to understand me, because they only understand a slice of who I am. Therefore, they will get a slice of my participation.

I have enough in common with feminism to be able to bite my tongue and get along for the agendas that we both believe in.

I have a short lifespan and can't spend it trying to evangelize white women to my way of thinking.

Why do we have this this urgent need to have titles anyway? The very term 'definition' means to LIMIT what something is.

I only allow a few terms to define me: woman, black, Christian... and now, Queen. ;-)

Anonymous said...

oh please, can we leave the black, white, minority thing out of this election? I'm tired of it. I'm brown, but I don't look at this election as racially NOTHING. I look at it as who is the best candidate and that's why I'm voting for Hillary.

As to the feminist movement it's dead and forgotten. Pity. I'm a woman in my late 50's and we worked hard to get the movement going. Now it's dead.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Tami,

I have never bought in to the feminist movement. It has always been about marginalizing Black women unless they need us to show support for a particular issue. But that support has never been returned.

Has NOW or Gloria Steinem spoken out about Dunbar Village? Nope. Did they speak out when Hillary embraced the help of Bob Johnson? Nope.

Hillary Clinton is a desperate power hungry megalomaniac. I would vote for George Bush before I would vote for her.

Her alliance with Bob Johnson shows she is not a real believer in feminist ideals for Black women. I'm not even sure if Ms Stand by Your Man Clinton really believes in those ideals for White women.

I just wish March 5th would get here so she can become just a bad memory.

Tami said...


"I'm now unaware of racism among white women just as I am unaware of sexism among men of color."

Can you tell me more about what you mean by this and how being a critical race feminist affects your response to things like the current campaign?


Thank you. Your approach to this is very wise (as always) :).


Race, gender and bias are a part of life, so it is hard to take them out of the election. I do agree with you about voting for the best person. That is why I am voting for Barack Obama, because I believe he is the strongest, most qualified candidate. I respect your choice, though.

Danielle said...

It's funny. White feminists and their bigoted attitudes don't hurt me. Maybe I'm jaded, but there are certain things that aren't mutually exclusive. You can be gay, a feminist, a woman, black and a total bigot.

I remember watching "Unbought & Unbossed" about Shirley Chisolm's historic run for the presidency back in the 70's. I remember how crushed she was because Steinhem, Bella Abzug & many black congressmen bailed on her because she represented blackness and womanhood at the same time.

The feminists stopped backing her because she had the audacity to inject race into the "movement" and the brothers cut her loose because she was a woman and they felt she had no chance.

This is the reality of things and the only way to make things better is to first concede that a problem exists. We have to be willing to be honest about our prejudices towards one another.

However, this is just symptomatic of America's unwillingness as a whole to confront our racism, sexism and classism.

Jennifer said...

I hear and share your anger/frustration. And thanks for such a well written post. I still use "feminist" as a tag for myself because, as imperfect as it is, I believe in what it means to me--equality, although I appreicate PVW's phrase "critical race feminist"--as an academic who reads critical race theory, I'm very attracted to this orientation.

But I also feel like I don't want to give up on feminism. I disagree with the anonymous commenter--I don't think feminism is "dead"--like all other progressive movements, it is changing and has been changing every since Seneca Falls in the 19th C., the 19th Amendment, Rosie the Riveter, Rosa Parks, and of course the second wave of feminism that heralded the icon of the bra burning, ERA, man-hating feminist that so many people seem to be trying to either distance themselves from or re-embrace.

Like with racism, sexism is very much alive and well. But like with class issues, these are all so intertwined.

And I guess I'll just end with agreeing with Shecodes--we don't have to agree on everything to work together. It may make trying to work on finer points hard, but I think at the end of the day if we really believe in working towards an anti-oppression agenda, then we can work to end BOTH gender and racial oppression (and lets throw in class and sexuality while we're at it).

And I think you are doing this Tami--you are trying to create an alternate space and discourse--one that says, "Don't box me in--don't box my sisters (and brothers) in--let me CHOOSE my family and advocates, and let them CHOOSE the agendas that they believe in because of or in spite of how they personally identify."

This IS a historic moment--not matter what happens--the spin doctor's and pundits and politicos and journalists can't take that away from us.

New Black Woman said...

That was an excellent entry!

I think everyone made some good points. I don't let the absent-minded white feminists dictate how I define myself.

I, too, have become disillusioned by so-called feminists and so-called civil rights activists. Both have ignored the needs of black women and girls. Both have not stood up for black women and girls who are being degraded by our society.

PioneerValleyWoman said...


I'm aware of racism among white women just as I am aware of sexism among men of color.

Can you tell me more about what you mean by this and how being a critical race feminist affects your response to things like the current campaign?

My reply:

The first post I wrote had some typos, so I copied the second one I posted which is more accurate of my sentiments.

Because I'm aware of some black men's sexism just as I am aware of some white women's racism, I am wary when each group seeks my loyalties.

It also means that I am dedicated first and foremost to the needs and interests of black women and children.

It also means that there are times when I go with racial loyalties, and others when I consider gender more important.

It means that as for the election now, I'm sitting on the fence, until I can decide which candidate earns my vote in November.

It means that I'm not registered with any party, but that I made sure I voted in the primary.

I voted for Obama so that he could gain more electoral votes, which would thus give his candidacy more strength, especially when I saw the way race was being played out in the debates around the primaries.

bradski said...

"Mainstream"? I hate how that word is code for acceptable by "White" American society.

There is a certain irony behind Tina Fey's "Bitch" rhetoric because I recall her complaining on the View talk show last year that she just wanted a guy to run against the Republicans.

Dehumanizing African-Americans into this monolithic voting bloc is typical speech from the entitled crowd. As you noted, Tami, Fey skipped over the huge lead that Clinton had over Obama amongst African-Americans. A lead that Clinton destroyed through her team's injection of racism into the campaign.

Moreover, it is also astounding that Fey also de-intellectualizes African-Americans from being able to judge between candidates' positions and choose a candidate. African-Americans only vote based on racial affinity while other vote based on reason? Bullshit. Were that the case then why did Lynn Swann get his butt kicked when he ran for governor in Pennsylvania? Why did Ken Blackwell get his butt kicked when he ran for governor in Ohio? Why is Clarence Thomas reviled by most African-Americans? Why was Michael Steele rejected?

Over and over, African-Americans have voted for white candidates over African-American candidates when they believe the white candidate can better deliver for their needs. Why does Fey choose to ignore this fact? Because, I can only infer, she is an ignorant, apologist, bigot to intellectually lazy to inquire about the truth.

Fey's cowardice to seek out and learn the motivations from a variety of African-Americans why they choose to vote for Obama over Clinton underlines her self-serving purpose of shaming white women into not voting their race and genitalia instead of their conscience.

Just another day in America when some pseudo-liberal can toss mud at people of color and dress it up as a complement.

Tami said...

(Moved comment from Anonymiss)

Yeah, I saw this on Daily Kos too. I wish people would read more and stop accepting what's handed to them as info.

Obama's much more of an aggressive legislator than Hill. Hillary supporters that I know of and those who leave impassioned reader comments tend to regurgitate what she's said without doing their own homework. I've reviewed his website, read some critical stuff written about Barack, looked up his voting record, and I've even read up on how Illinois politics works in comparison to other states. I didn't wanna be some lazy fool checking for sound bytes.

rikyrah said...

Don't know how I found this blog, but this was an excellent post.

You wrote:

Notice how the fact that Hillary Clinton once held the majority of the black vote, particularly the black female vote, has been forgotten. Now all black people are voting for Obama, the once "not black enough" candidate, out of racial fealty.

And, I respond to that - SO WHAT IF I AM.

So what if I am voting for the Black man because he's Black, and AFTER he's been race-baited by the Clintons.

My question is...

What self-respecting Black person WOULD support Hillary Clinton, POST RACE-BAITING?

But, they seem to want to just wash that the Clinton Dogwhistle Politricks never happened.


And, that they'd EXPECT Black folk TO support her AFTER she race-baited Obama tells you what they actually think about Black folk.

They wouldn't expect it of ANY OTHER ETHNIC GROUP, WOULD THEY?

As I wrote elsewhere, it just came to me like a bolt - WHAT OTHER ETHNIC GROUP...

Would tolerate their ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES, being loyal to someone in opposition to someone in their own ethnic group..


You're going to sit here and tell me that if a Jew was running, and the opposition had used Anti-Semitism against the Jew, that the Jewish community would tolerate THEIR representative STILL voting for the one who used Anti-Semitic language against 'their own'?

You really gonna sit here and tell me that?

You mean, after they gave those half-assed non-apologies...what other community would accept that kind of bull#*$&, and then have elected representatives think that it was OK to STILL support the RACE-BAITER?

You get where I'm going?

When I thought about it in those terms; when it came to me that clearly, the patent absurdness of Hillary's Handkerchief Heads became even more obvious.

I already knew Miss Anne wasn't studdin' me. I have never wanted ANY parts of White feminism - Period.

I am a BLACK woman. I know that my lot has been cast with the Black man who raised me; the Black man who loves me, and the future Black men that I plan on rearing in my home, and that I help to mentor now. I am not, nor have I ever been, apart from them.

Tami said...


I read your post on the topic of Clinton race-baiting at Jack and Jill Politics. (Love your stuff there, btw).

For any who missed the post, find it here:

The negative way Hillary Clinton has conducted this election pains me, because I think she is a capable and smart candidate. I think Obama is better, but I am a liberal and a Democrat and I am inclined to vote with the party in November. BUT the Clintons' conduct is making it hard for me. I think four more years of Republicanism would be disastrous for this country, yet I hate to reward the dirty politicking of the Clinton campaign.


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