Thursday, February 19, 2009

Equality is equality is equality

crossposted from Mixed Race America

[Editor's note: As usual, Jennifer covers an important topic eloquently.]

Last night I heard esteemed feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon (she is almost single-handedly responsible for making sexual harassment in the workplace an issue of sex discrimination--a civil rights issue) discuss a new topic that she is working on, namely the connection between heterosexism (the dominance and privilege of straight, heterosexual people in our society) and sexism (the dominance and privilege of men in our society). I can't summarize or re-create the brilliant but dizzying talk that MacKinnon gave, that literally had me on the edge of my seat at times, because the implications, for us as a society, is truly astounding--simultaneously radical yet simple and obvious: we are all equal. Or rather, we SHOULD all be equal, regardless of what we look like, what sex organs we were born with, or who we choose to love.

And then a friend sent me this link to the Courage Campaign, a progressive organization which is gathering signatures to combat a law suit that Ken Starr (yep, THAT Ken Starr) has brought in the wake of the passage of Prop 8 that would nullify the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place in California over the last year.

Please take a minute and watch this video below--from the minute the first photo appeared, I had tears streaming down my face. The video below presents a picture of mixed-race America and presents a picture of people who simply want to live their lives--they want to be free to love the person they have chosen to love."Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

If those of us living in the U.S. believe in the tenets of FREEDOM and INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS, then shouldn't we ALL be signing this petition and advocating on behalf of all Americans to be FREE to choose the INDIVIDUAL that they have the RIGHT to marry?

Please consider signing the Courage Campaign's petition. And please consider talking to your friends and colleagues and families about this issue. Because equality is equality is equality. This isn't a gay issue or a marriage issue. This is a civil rights, a HUMAN rights issue.


Anonymous said...

It is always a bit weird to read all this "mainstream" "approval" of my life of the last 33 some years. It's as if straight people believed they EVER had a right to "grant" me anything. It's for this reason that the whole "marriage" debate seems a bit late in the game, what with heterosexual marriage itself a national disaster area among white people, and probably a nuclear bomb site among African-Americans.

I've never been convinced that marriage is something I want to immitate as a lesbian feminist, the standards are way to low, for one thing. It's kind of like looking at median incomes in the U.S., who would want those low paying jobs to begin with? Geez, as an out lesbian I had to work three times as hard as these silly men, so I might as well be in a profession that pays based on business I bring in. Straight male salaries or relationships are just too substandard for me :-)

But more seriously (I think):
Marriage is about domination and control of women; that is its origins. Men actually still believe they "own" women in marriage -- witness the incredibly high number of straight women who still change THEIR last name to that of their husband's. This still freaks me out even in our "post-feminist" world. Post meaning default back to the male supremacy button.

So while "equality" may be "equality" and certainly gay and lesbian marriage makes it easier for rather clueless straight people to "get us" as a people... Believe it or not, straight people now actually ask me a question about my lesbian relationship, whereas over the past 33 years, they never bothered to ask anything. I suppose that's progress.

Thanks Tami for putting it all out there -- thought I'd give you a nuanced view of progress :-)

Anonymous said...

P.S. Jealous that you heard MacKinnon in person!!! Jeaaaaa-lusssss... :-)

Color Online said...

Initially, I was simply going to thank you for the post. Then I read Anonymous comments and thought, wow. Well said.

I feel the same way she does about domination, the whole name issue blows my mind that otherwise progressive, independent women so willingly give up their name which in my mind is giving up part of your identity.

Hell, I'm all over the place. It's late here, and I get excited when I read truly substantive commentary.

Don't mind me. One day I'll say something cogent.

ActsofFaithBlog said...

Ok when I see a bunch of bloggers who aren't Black and female expressing concern for the lives of Black women and girls as well as see the campaigns being drawn and the requests for participation in equal measure as has been asked of us for other people's causes then I will expend some time and energy towards assisting them in their endeavors.

Tami said...

Acts of Faith,

But a lot of the people effected by Prop 8 ARE black and female. And their are black girls whose parents' marriages will be nullified. Just like black women are often forgotten as part of other movements (like the feminist movement), so too are we often not thought of as part of the GLBT movement.

Tami said...

Aw Anon and Colorlines,

Marriage isn't as bad as all that. Yeah, its origins are most definitely patriarchal, and there is a lot of pressure yet today to define exactly what "real" marriage is--a fact I think not only effects gay people who hope to marry, but also damages heterosexual marriages.

I think what people forget is that today marriage is really about legality. You get your piece of paper and married rights and everything after that is up to you. Marriage is what you and your partner make it.

On the name thing, I totally agree. As an amateur genealogist it kills me that female ancestors disappear because they lose their names. When I got married, I hyphenated. I was going to just keep my name, but (revealing some shallowness here) our names together sound cooler.

Jennifer said...

Let me also chime into this really rich comment thread--esp. since Tami so thoughtfully cross-listed this post from my blog "Mixed Race America."

I wish I could really convey the argument that Catherine MacKinnon made about the connections between heterosexism and sexism and the primacy of male domination at the center of both those systems of oppression.

During the Q&A I asked her what kind of legal precedents she saw coming in the near future that would act as a galvanizing force, much in the way that landmark civil rights/human rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education, Loving v. Virginia, and Roe v. Wade really helped to shape the current social and cultural progressive norms for people of color and women.

The very first thing she named was gay marriage. That the various legal actions taken in states like Hawaii and California and Massachusettes and New York would be key to driving this issue to the Supreme Court and to argue for equality of queer people using the 14th Amendment of equal protection under the law for all citizens.

She named other types of legal challenges that would promote queer rights as a form of civil and human rights that would allow one to make an argument about equality and to see the connections to male domination (and during her talk she made a very eloquent and convincing argument for seeing queer rights issues as being foundational to dismantling male dominantion and supremacy).

All of which is to say, while I understand the hesitation of Anonymous in wondering about straight/breeder/mainstream allies coming together around this issue, which could be seen as a conservative retrenchment of male privilege and heteronormativity, I think that pushing beyond those boundaries--reclaiming marriage as a right that, for those who want it, should be available, is a compelling legal action to take in order to push forward a more progressive agenda towards equality based on all identity facets, including gender/sexuality.

We, of course, aren't there yet--not with respect to gender/sexuality and not with respect to race/ethnicity. There is A LOT of work to be done.

But as someone who is trying to be a queer ally, and as a woman of color and an educator who works on issues of race/anti-racism and other forms of domination that plague our society, I think that at the very least thinking through the larger implications for our society in legalizing queer marriage nationwide and hence asserting the idea that equality should be granted for all, is a step in the right direction trying to talk about male domination/oppression (and along with that white supremacy and white privilege).

Idealistic, I know. But I'm an educator so I have to try to inspire my students to make a future that allows me to have hope that we are progressing into a more equitable society.

And one last tidbit, I think the naming issue in marriage can be complicated. For example, I have two female white friends married to Asian American men who have very self-consciously taken on their husbands' names as a means of racial/ethnic solidarity/education--to force people to consider what it means when they encounter a white woman with the last name "Wang." Just another bit of food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jennifer for your thoughtful and detailed comments about MacKinnon's arguments.

What we really need to do is detach benefits of any kind from any kind of marriage. All Americans should be able to elect who a social security beneficiary is, for example. Right now, only straight married people can "pass on" the benefits to a spouse. This steals billions of dollars out of lesbian and gay pockets to subsidize our oppressors.

But if we create "gay-lesbian" marriage, then my company will force me to get married, when I am perfectly happy electing whomever I want as a beneficiary, for example. I should be able to pass on my 401 (k) plan tax free to my elected beneficiary as well. I should be able to have a beneficiary be able to inherit my house with no "maritial tax exclusion" at all.

We need to establish that benefits are individually controlled, and not held hostage by the state. Right now marriage for straight people grants them all these economic advantages, and I don't think marriage should have anything to do with economic status.

I was surprised that straight people asked me "when I was getting married" during the whole Prop 8 fuss. This amazed me because I had been together with my partner already for 33 years-- what was that? Nothing? Apparently straight people never took us seriously at all, until some stupid proposition "granted" us legitimacy. Of course, straight people who divorce by the millions, don't support their kids, or screw up their families and create a social burden on ME, should be viewed as such great role models for the institution of marriage itself?

And when women married men before 1975, that gave the men license to rape the women in marriage. Remember that?

So I think this is a little trickier than it seems. I am very happy that so many straight people are stepping forward and being supportive of lesbians and gays. Before, I never heard straight people bringing up our issues without us FIRST bringing up the subject. Now THEY bring it up on their own, and this alone is a huge breakthrough. I simply feel happier now out in the world, because I am not erased in every conversation on earth, which was the case BEFORE Prop 8 believe it or not!

And ActsofFaithBlog, I can see why you would get mad at wite people messing with the "phoney" concern thing about black women. However, you assume that lesbians are all white-- all the men are black, all the women are know the drill... I think if you read the works of Audre Lorde or Barbara Smith or June Jordan, or heck, even follow the career of Barbara Jordan ( closeted lesbian congresswoman), you'll see that black lesbian experience is central to lesbian feminism.

But I can also see that we only have so many hours in the day, and you really have to choose what and who you will support or stick up for. That's a given.

If we want marriage to be a liberating thing than about property ownership and benefit ownership rights, then the entire institution needs to be considered.

And as for white women changing their last names to "Wang" in respect to non-white identity, well, it is still the erasure of the woman's identity. Perhaps both parties can change their name to a new Chinese last name, then both would be equal, and the Asian ancentry of the non-white partner would be honored. But if women are always expected to erase themselves, and men automatically get to be partiarchal big shots with THEIR names plastered all over THEIR children, well, that's male supremacy, and we all know that male supremacy is not a white issue it is an international attrocity.

Anonymous said...

And, as if the goddess was putting it out in the universe today, here's a great quote by black lesbian feminist June Jordan:

"There is difference and there is power. And who hold the power decides the meaning of the difference."

I "stole' this info vrom the the blog "Unapologetically Female: Life Through a Feminist Lens."
Great article of the Hollywood Boys Club over there- it will shock you!!!

ActsofFaithBlog said...

I know but they aren't the self-professed leaders and they are also marginalized and excluded. I am all for doing the right thing but I live in CA and saw how certain people behaved after Prop 8 and how the organizers rejected help. I also see how historically Black women have taken on this role of doing everything for everyone - but themselves. So that's not to say I won't offer assistance if I have time and resources but as I stated there needs to be reciprocity. Equality should be equal.

Tami said...


I have said that I think the state needs to get out of the marriage business, if indeed the idea of "marriage" is tied to religion as many people claim. EVERYONE ought to have civil unions.

But you are exactly right. there are "goodies" attached to marriage that are unfair and that invalidate equally committed relationships.

Anonymous said...

"Goodies" to marriage indeed. But also you'll find that once every American has the right to designate a social security beneficiary, for example, straight people who don't marry will also benefit. In face, in France, far more straight couples take advantage of the civil union option too. Kind of interesting how it all works in real life! :-)


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