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.


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