Saturday, June 21, 2008

Calling Out White Feminists

Mary Curtis, columnist for the Charlotte, NC Observer, has a column in today's Washington Post that is blunt, clear, and accurate.
Michelle Obama has become an issue in the presidential campaign even though she isn't running for anything. An educated, successful lawyer, devoted wife and caring mother has been labeled "angry" and unpatriotic and snidely referred to as Barack Obama's "baby mama."

Democrats, Republicans, independents, everyone should be offended.

And this black woman is wondering: Where are Obama's feminist defenders?


The campaign against Michelle Obama -- who went on "The View" this week to prove her everywoman bona fides -- has not caused a rift between black and white women so much as it has exposed it.

I have long been frustrated over the racial blindness (as well as class blindness) of many of the feminist leaders who came to prominence in the early 1970's. Looking back at a time when the Equal Rights Amendment was the issue for feminism, I can see much more clearly that this was as much about securing certain privileges for middle class and upper-middle class white women as it was about stating clearly that men and women are equal before the law.

Many of the issues feminists cite in defense of their claims that women are "second-class" citizens were legal issues that have been resolved by legislatures long before the rise of the latest wave of feminist protest (the legal status of women before courts, the ability of women to own property, sue for divorce, etc., the right to vote).

Another set, much more difficult to deal with, is wage discrimination, which while certainly a legal issue, is far more an economic issue, based upon the reality that many women leave the work force for part of their most productive years to give birth and raise their children. There is a certain economic logic to the argument that employers are wise to pay women a bit less, because the investment in women's employment has diminished returns, due to the fact that, regardless of income level, a woman will choose to remain out of the work force in order to be a mother.

I have also been outraged at the persistent racism, and classism, of many of the (white, upper-middle class) pro-choice arguments. Many of the arguments for choice include appeals for solidarity across racial and class lines that ignore the differences between the ways different groups view pregnancy and motherhood. Also, there is the not-so-subtle taint of racism in these arguments that too often sound far more like, "We need to control the population of these dark and poor folk" than they sound like serious attempts to understand the plight of poor women and women of color.

Ms. Curtis is correct that the attacks upon Mrs. Obama are based upon unsubstantiated rumor. She is also correct that they should have been expected, given the level of vitriol directed at Mrs. Clinton in 1992. No prominent feminist has spoken clearly that her treatment is unjust. No prominent white feminist has called out the overt racism of those who say she is an angry black woman.

If she wasn't before, she should be now. I know I am.

Virtual Tin Cup

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