Anyone who has been closely watching the primaries over the last two weeks probably feels like you've been riding a roller-coaster. This time last week everyone was ready to anoint Obama as the next president and the media was full of misogynist platitudes about Clinton. Then came her emotional moment and win in the New Hampshire primary. And now the intersection of race and gender is causing no end of turmoil.
In the middle of all this, I thought it would be interesting to listen to those in our midst who live at that intersection of race and gender every day - women of color. When I visited some of their blogs, I found that a common theme was their reaction to an op-ed in the New York Times last Tuesday by Gloria Steinem titled Women Are Never Front-Runners. In order to set the stage, its probably best to click through and read the whole editorial. But I'll provide a few of her statements that were most commented on by the blogs that I visited.
Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.
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’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that.
What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age.
This country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It’s time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.”
I'd like to start with some powerful words by Shark-Fu at AngryBlackBitch:
After reading Steinem’s Op-Ed I felt invisible…as if black and woman can’t exist in the same body. I felt undocumented…as if the history of blacks and the history of women have nothing to do with the history of black women.
When I read “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 felt both attacked and ignored at the same time.
I think of the women and men in my family who were not extended the protected vote until 1965. I wince at the lack of acknowledgment for the black women of Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery who had to march with their brothers in the 1960s to attain the vote because the suffrage movement abandoned them in a Southern strategy to get the vote in 1920.
And there it is again…that invisibility; like a brutal weight that I am so bloody tired of carrying.
What worries me is that this is the kind of article that makes some black women wary of feminism…wary of the sisterhood…because eventually, just give it time, it will all come down to black and white or women and men with black women vanished from the equation.
Next, let's hear from Sudy at A Womyn's Ecdysis:
Look, I'm not going to go head to head with Steinem and argue what is most pressing for womyn in America - race or gender. What I do know is that as a US womyn of color living in this country is that the two are so inexplicably interlaced that I resist ANY individual that pitts once against the other, especially a White mainstream feminist. What I find most often, too, is women like Steinem (White liberal women) call gender over race...
There's a reason why I use the word gender/ace as one entity. I cannot separate the two.
And finally, here's some of the conclusion of an essay by Jennifer Fang at Racialicious:
Ultimately, however, Steinem’s piece (intentionally or unintentionally) draws a line in the sand between people of colour and women, essentially disregarding the everyday racism faced by Black and Brown people, and claiming the Oppression Olympics gold medal for women. Further, by casting the debate as between Black men and White women, Steinem renders the woman of colour invisible, reaffirms the binary Black-White paradigm of race, and demands we take a side in the epic battle between race and gender. Is it no wonder, then, that women of colour have long felt alienated by feminists like Steinem? Where do we fit when we’re being asked to choose between Obama and Clinton as a metaphor for race versus gender? And how are we supposed to react when an incorrect choice labels us as “less radical”?
Gloria Steinem wants us to able to say we’re supporting Senator Hillary Clinton because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman. But if we’re really ready to take “equal pride in breaking all the barriers”, then how can we be expected to make the call between voting for these candidates based even in part on their identity? Regardless of whom we decide on, by making the identity politics of our candidate a factor in our decision, we are implicitly establishing a “separate and unequal” relationship between race and gender barriers that only fuels the continued clash between race activists and feminists.
Today I bring you these words from our sisters and ask you to take a moment to contemplate the invisibility of their situation in these binary codes that are used to divide us. These voices need to be brought into the conversation if we are ever going to understand the reality that surrounds us. It might sound a bit corny after all these years, but my vision for today is of Aretha and Annie...and sisterhood.