Thursday, January 10, 2008

Do we have to choose between racism and sexism?

The spin post-New Hampshire primaries has been interesting, to say the least, as well as the hype leading up to them. Of particular note is Gloria Steinem's editorial in The New York Times, "Women Are Never Frontrunners" (January 8, 2008) where she actually makes a claim for sexism being more oppressive than racism (or perhaps to put it in a different way, where she seems to be arguing for gender being the greater liability than race in achieving equity in the U.S.).

I was thinking of either writing to The New York Times or writing a blog post in response to Steinam's op-ed, but then I saw that Tami at "What Tami Said" has already said everything I would have said (and said it better). In her post, "Dear Steinem: Ain't I a Woman too?" (January 9, 2008) Tami lays out all the problems with Steinem's (il)logic in continuing to rank oppression, most especially, the notion that African American men became eligible to vote 50 years ahead of women. Here's Tami:

"Steinem separates the race issue from the gender issue as if there are not some of us affected by society's views of both. Ain't I a woman, too?

[Steinem]:'That's why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter).'

I assume that at 18, Gloria Steinem cast her first presidential vote in the 1952 election. Certainly society did not prevent her from doing so. My paternal grandfather was a 53-year-old black man living in Mississippi that year. He was not afforded that freedom. Do we really want to go here? Apparently not."

Read the entire post--it's smart and totally on point. And it reminds us all that ranking oppression or separating sexism from racism is truly a losing proposition for us all. Choosing between Obama and Clinton is not choosing to support sexism over racism. Both are historic candidates. But they are also, fundamentally, politicians and presidential candidates who have platforms and who want to serve in public office and have a sense of civic responsibility. I know the inner-cynic in me reads all of this very differently, but as an Obama supporter and a die-hard Democrat, let me take the higher road and say that all of these candidates, and I'm going to be extra magnanimus and include the Republicans (*take deep inner breath*), want to be President of the United States because they feel they want to make the United States a better place. We may feel like one candidate has a better plan and better vision than the other, but (and now I'm going to focus on the 3 Democratic front-runners) at the end of the day, what we want (as Democrats--so I'm speaking to my fellow-travelers now) is to have a viable Democratic candidate we can support. We don't want to start telling people that if they vote for Edwards they hate black people and women. Or that supporting Obama is against our best interests as women or to be a Clinton champion means supporting racism.

What we want is a win in November 2008 and an end to racism & sexism because they are oppressive systems that actually work well together and you really can't end one without the other.

But listen, don't take my word for it. Read Tami's post--because she really says it best.


Hilaire said...

Thank you for this - and I shall read Tami's post. I read Steinem's piece when it appeared and was absolutely appalled. (See, we Canadians do care about US politics!) What's most disappointing about it is that Steinem has talked the talk for the last number of years. She purports to understand the intersection and inseparability of "race" and gender. She endoreses every single third-wave feminist anthology that comes out, all of which are full of this recognition. But when it comes down to it, she falls back on this incredibly old, tired rhetoric. It was really disheartening to read...This sounds like it could have been written 30 years ago. Have we learned nothing from these *decades* of critique?

Jennifer said...


I know what you mean--it seems so dated and so unhelpful, and for someone of Steinem's stature, it's just disappointing!

And in terms of what it means for the Democratic candidate, whoever s/he may be, it just sets up this either/or that I think we really need to GET OVER and BEYOND (sigh).

Thanks for taking an interest in U.S. Politics--I hope we do the right thing and don't continue to embarass ourselves with the international community (sigh).