Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Oh, Gloria

I've seen a lot of people, online and off, comment and/or applaud this piece by Gloria Steinem in yesterday's New York Times. Although I was initially pleased to see a feminist voice in the mainstream media (unfortunate that it's so rare that non-"celebrity" feminists get a pulpit, but that's another story), the piece started to give me real pause starting here:

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).

That paragraph and the next definitely raised a "my oppression is greater than yours" red flag. I was glad to see that, at least, Steinem does explicitly deny that she's trying to engage in a pissing contest and references intersectionality, though it has a patina of lip service to it: "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." But something still bothered me about it, and additionally, I was bothered that I liked the op-ed as much as I did.

Then, I read a post at Angry Black Bitch that expressed very well what the underlying problem is, and that's how Steinem's op-ed basically disappears women of color. The whole post is great, but this excerpt really encapsulated it for me:

What worries me is that this is 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.

Even if I think that Steinem has an impressive handle on and an accessible way of communicating the gender barriers that are still so deeply ingrained in our society, this kind of erasure of women of color remains pervasive in feminist discourse. I can't deny that the piece was initially very appealing to me (and I do love Steinem's writing style), but I also can't say that that's not at least partially because it pandered to white women's privilege. And that's not acceptable.

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Reductionism who in the what now?