Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More on the marriage of oppressions...

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm making my way through the book, Southern Women: Black and White in the Old South, to aid my genealogical research. It's really a great book. I recommend it for its insights into the history of both racism and sexism in America and how these things intertwine. And they do intertwine. (Here is the point where I usually link to Sudy's excellent post "Accepting Kyriarchy, Not Apologies")

Anyway, I stumbled upon this passage the other day and thought I would share. It highlights again for me why activists and allies can't just be up on their favorite "isms," but aware of how Privilege leverages all "isms" for its benefit.

Note, as you're reading, that "women" should read "white women." Southern Women is good about highlighting the unique ways that sexism impacted black and white women. This passage comes from a section specifically on white women and laws governing their marriages and property rights.
Stephanie McCurry, in Masters of Small Worlds, offers a provocative interpretation on the importance of the southern family and its hierarchical relationships, helping to explain why divorce was so difficult in the South and forbidden in South Carolina. She detects a parallel between the struggle to maintain slavery and efforts to preserve gender hierarchy within the family. McCurry finds that proslavery defenders equated the subordination of women with that of slaves, investing "the defense of slavery with the survival of customary gender relations." Every white man, whatever his station, had a stake in the defense of slavery. In the South, a woman's natural and social roles assumed political significance. Southern society glorified women's sphere and their secondary position and vilified anyone who stepped beyond its boundaries. "The legitimacy of male authority over women in the household was a cornerstone of the slavery edifice," argues McCurry. Slaves and women had to fit into their subordinate position, and white men had the inherent right to command those presumed to be naturally subordinate. Social relations in the private sphere thus affected political ideas and institutions in the public sphere. Anything, such as divorce, that might upset what seemed to be the natural order of the family threatened the southern social order. In South Carolina, where slaves comprised a majority of the population, this hierarchy was especially important to uphold.
By the by, this is one reason why entrenched sexism among black men bothers me. The idea of man as dominant and woman as subordinate is part of the framework of the system that kept African Americans enslaved and underprivileged for centuries. You cannot be about the uplift of the black race while working to perpetuate the subordination of women.


Monica Roberts said...

Tami, that kyriarchy post has a virus attached to it now...

kn said...

Wow. I have not read that before. Thank you for posting this.


This post is especially illuminating after viewing Ed Gordon this past Sunday. He had Priscilla Shirer, a motivational speaker and author who states emphatically that wives must be submissive to their husbands.
She also cites Ephesians 5:22 to substantiate her stand.
I moaned during most of the interview, yet, there are many out there who feel this way. Some say that the black family has deteriorated due to black women wanting to wear the pants in the family and their stubborn and disobedient behaviors. Is it assertiveness rather than wanting to take over the husband's role. A partnership is the key.
I've always maintained that I didn't walk ahead or behind but beside my husband of 40 yrs. It worked out pretty well.


Tami, The Root has posted an interview with black feminist author Beverly Guy-Sheftall you might find interesting http://www.theroot.com/views/root-interview-beverly-guy-sheftall. For a while many of the black women who believed in the basic tenets of feminism took on the womanist title penned by Alice Walker during the 70's and 80's.
Part of the rationale was that during that time many black women who worked in many fields--especially educators and authors had an issue with the focus of feminism citing that what white women were fighting for at that time had been done by black women out of necessity for years. At that time women's issues were trumped by the biases of many white feminist leaders.
It appears to have come full circle with the embracing of feminism by black women as well.
She's quite interesting. This is regard to your posts about black feminists and the "marriage of oppressions". I'd like to know what your thoughts are about her.

Tami said...


Thank you for this! You know, reading that Root interview reminds me that I need to spend some time immersing myself in the work of strong black feminists and womanists. I don't know enough about women like Guy-Sheftall and I need to remedy that.

The New Black Woman said...

Wow, I need to pick up this book asap.

I know sooooo many black men AND black women who feel that men are the "head of the household" and women should be submissive to their husbands. I almost cringe when my aunt told me my mother needed to "follow her husband" when it came to a family matter. *gag*


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