Sunday, July 27, 2008

Feminist History: Learn it or repeat

Like good little soldiers, Feminist Majority Foundation worked real hard trying to amp the frenzy and outrage over a cartoon this month. July 15th, they issued "Feminists Express Outrage over New Yorker" and reading it, you could feel the desperation, the "Hey, boys, pick us for the team!" They certainly sold out their brains, their common sense and their integrity on that one. And where it did get them?

Last week, the non-racial, non-sexist cartoon was formally and publicly 'protested' by those 'great' 'lefties' at MoveOn. In case you missed it, this is how they express their pride: "Hip-hop star Nas helped deliver 620,137 petition signatures from MoveOn, ColorOfChange, and Brave New Films demanding that FOX stop their racist smears against the Obamas. When FOX refused to accept them, Stephen Colbert did--making even bigger news!"

Hip-Hop star? Yes, Feminist Majority Foundation, they not only didn't pick you for the team, MoveOn (and the other two losers) teamed up with a misogynist. Or maybe you're not familiar with Nas' 'pro-woman' ditty "P*ssy Kills"? [See Cedric and Wally's "The racists of MoveOn and Color of Change" and "THIS JUST IN! MOVEON HAS NO STANDARDS!" for more on the ditty.] Poor little Feminist Majority Foundation. It was all so very "and girls whose names were never called when choosing sides for basketball."

Really pathetic. We're talking about lessons Janis Ian learned "At Seventeen" and the feminist movement is oh, so much older today.

So we think it's time to discuss some real lessons, ones that the movement regularly forgets to teach. They need to be known, they need to be learned.

The Ego Of Us All. Yeah, her, Red Betty. She died and Katha Pollitt clued you in on her own cognitive issues by praising Red Betty and by expressing puzzlement that young women in college today couldn't identify with The Feminine Mystique. Few ever could, few ever did. It was the sort-of crap you'd find in the self-help section today.

The reasons for that go to Betty being a Red but bound and determined no one find that out. So she hid not just who she was but also what she believed in. Made for soggy rip-off of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex.

Unlike Red Betty, Simone wasn't marveling over clouds. See, in Red Betty's public world, things just oppress women. Unnamed and unnameable things! (Hence 'the problem without a name.') Simon didn't play that game. Who oppresses women? Men oppress women. Simone spelled it out.

But there were the realities of feminism and there was the marketing. Too much of feminist 'history' today is based on marketing and not reality.

Marketing insisted it always be kept 'kinder and gentler.'

Which is why people like Katha Pollitt can wrongly credit Red Betty with doing a damn thing or express puzzlement that a book about as specific as a vaginal spray commercial wouldn't go over well with young women today. It didn't go over well with young women in the sixties either. But how could it? Most young women in the sixties hadn't given birth (once or many times) to children who were now off in school and feeling a little empty in their wonderful middle class lives. They were young women, not society matrons. It's cute the way, all this time later, Red Betty (Liar Supreme) is still credited with birthing something that predates by many centuries.

But there's a lot of 'cuteness' in the history.

Sisterhood is powerful.

Kathie Sarachild* came up with that slogan. She came up with many slogans before she and what she would probably term 'mainstream feminism' parted ways. (We're not taking sides on that long ago battle.) But Sisterhood Is Powerful was one of the many slogans Sarachild came up with, one of the many contributions she made to the movement.

It's not just that she deserves the credit she's earned, it's also the fact that the intent has been misconstrued. Feminist Majority Foundation misconstrues it today (intentionally or not) when it starts sobbing over poor Michelle Obama.

"Sisterhood Is Powerful" never meant "all of us are in the same boat and we're sticking together!" "Sisterhood" was used in the same way "brotherhood" had been. For example, the "brotherhood" of dock workers might stick together against their bosses. And those who didn't stick with the "brotherhood" weren't "brothers." Didn't matter that they were male.

By the same token "sisterhood" requires more than a vagina.

The Drama of Michelle Obama.

Last week, Rebecca, Kat, Wally, Ava and C.I. spoke with seven women's groups around the country. [See Rebecca's "the 'gals' in feminist leadership, ralph nader, more" for one group they spoke with.] It wasn't pretty for Feminist Majority Foundation which has included Michelle Obama in the sisterhood on the basis of vagina with intent to use it.

Real feminists, grassroots feminists, were outraged. Michelle Obama's never identified as a feminist. She's in the midst of her Laurie Petrie imitation. Her husband used non-stop sexism in the primary campaign. She didn't publicly object to the Iowa victory party where the 'song' about '99 problems but a bitch isn't one of them' blared. She didn't object to anything. Not her husband's sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton, not her brother's sexist attacks on Hillary. Michelle even floated her own attacks on Hillary on network TV.

So the idea that this woman who has not just stayed silent but has personally benefited from sexist attacks on another woman has become the 'sisterhood' focus for protection goes beyond laughable to outrageous.

As one woman wondered, leaving aside Michelle Obama's non-feminist status, "Why is so much energy being put into defending a potential First Lady when they couldn't say a ***damn thing to defend Hillary?" (In fairness to Feminist Majority Foundation, from the start of the year until the month of May they issued two -- only two -- 'daily' briefs on the sexism targeting Hillary. Yes, they've done more than that this month alone for Michelle and hubby.)

And that brought up a number of issues including that feminist leaders decided to break from action to electoral politics some time ago. It was noticeable in 1976. Or at least, there was no more denying after 1976. Possibly smarting from the wounds of Miami (real wounds, no question), leaders decided that the feminist movement was nothing but a get-out-the-vote for the Democratic Party and, worse, that women couldn't really push for much.

Which is how you got the song and dance at the convention. Should women be fifty percent of the delegates in all future party conventions? Considering that women made up more than fifty percent of the Democratic voters, the answer should be obvious.

But somehow that reality was obscured. Those running for office that year (including Elizabeth Holtzman) had reason to lie. Can't get the money they need from the party and also be a strong supporter of the feminist movement. Better to lie to the women about how they really don't need that in the plank. So Elizabeth lied and others like her (that would include Bella Abzug). Women wanted equality and were pressing their demands and Lizzie and the gals were sent out to tell the women to pipe down.

After the decree was issued (and 50/50 was taken off the table), Gloria Steinem did what she does (and that's not meant as an insult) which was to try to find the "win" for feminists in that betrayal. Gloria's wonderful and we love her. Her attitude and energy inspire millions of women. Her role is not one of critic of the movement, it never has been.

But historically, the truth needs to be told and no one's going to learn a damn thing until it is. Women had real scars from Miami and, truth is, they were better for having those scars. Those scars fueled actions and energy for the next four years. Women were treated like s**t in Miami. It was up front and visible.

By contrast, they were treated like s**t in New York City but with a layer of 'respect' so no one was supposed to notice that women were yet again screwed.

We prefer the honesty of 1972.

In 1989, it was time for the mainstream press (and Democratic Party) to attack Molly Yard. Molly's 'crime' was suggesting a feminist political party -- at least that's what Molly did according to the non-stop editorials, articles and columns. The push for a new political party wasn't from Molly. It came from the grassroots. [This part of history is addressed in Susan Faludi's Backlash, chapter ten.]

The attacks in 1989, like the attacks in 1972, were at least out in the open.

What was behind them? An awareness of the power of women. 1976 NYC, like most that has taken place since, showed no awareness of women's power on the part of our 'leadership' in the feminist movement.

It is the feminist movement and that's part of the historical problem. It's been marketed as something else and then that got shortened by the press (and some leaders) to make feminism more palatable. It was never "the women's movement." You hear that today. It was "the women's liberation movement." It became known as that because 'leaders' like Red Betty saw how popular radical feminists (and radicals period) were in the late sixties. "Liberation!"

"The women's movement" is as insulting a phrase as "women's lib."

Liberation. That's what was and is sought.

And when that important word falls out of the phrase, the movement's rendered weak and it allows 'leaders' to get confused. It allows them to, for example, waste their time 'contributing' by arguing against the grave injustices done to a potential First Lady.

Michelle Obama is not a feminist. She's married to a pig she doesn't disagree with. Elizabeth Edwards had no problem noting her differences with John Edwards on the issue of same-sex marriage (Elizabeth is for them). Barack speaks of women having abortion as "feeling blue." Where the hell's Michelle? Barack says, "I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she's feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal." He says "the claws come out." Where the hell's Michelle?

Like Feminist Majority Foundation (and Ms. magazine), she aired no objection.

Barack never called out the non-stop attacks on women by his supporters. And his wife is supposed to now see the feminist movement rush to save her two-faced ass?

Early on in the second wave movement, feminists attempted to address scope. This was shot down by 'leadership' which felt that the movement could handle it all (it can't -- and that's as obvious today as it was three decades ago). It was noted that there were other movements that could fight issues not related to the lives of feminists or issues not related exclusively to the lives of feminists. It was argued (and shot down) that feminists could participate in those movements but that those issues didn't need to consume the feminism movement.

If you ever needed proof of how needed that shot-down conversation was, note that the Feminist Majority Foundation could have led July 15th with a brief on the sexist 'jokes' made at an official Barack Obama campaign event and how Barack then made 'jokes' as well; however, it instead chose to call out a cartoon insisting it was sexist and racist.

A cartoon or an official campaign event that insulted ALL women? Which was the greater offense? A campaign event with the candidate joining in?

ALL women being insulted wasn't important to Feminist Majority Foundation. It not only sends the message that the organization is in the tank for Barack, it also sends the message that one woman (Michelle) is more important than all women. While feminists should be willing to come to the aid of other feminists, this notion that feminists have to spend all their time on one woman is a joke. It's idiotic if the woman herself is not a feminist. There are exceptions to that. A battered woman, a raped woman. A woman not able to defend herself.

A woman who may become First Lady? No. Hillary Clinton is a feminist. Hillary Clinton has long been ridiculed for being a feminist. When sexism was used against her, feminists should have stepped up. Michelle's yet to be the victim of sexism this month but that hasn't stopped Feminist Majority Foundation from trying to marshal the troops in support of her.

Michelle's 'running' for First Lady. Yawn. She clearly is aping Barbara Bush -- no feminist role model. Pamela Anderson is often the target of a sexist press. She's not a feminist. It's not really necessary to mount a campaign to defend her. Ditto Michelle.

This month Feminist Majority Foundation rushed out their brief on Barack's endorsement by the increasingly pathetic Planned Parenthood but never said a word about his reach-out to right-wingers using right-wing lies about abortion.

Feminism, at its most powerful, is never an auxillary of anything -- not a political party, not another movement. Feminism is at its most powerful when it focuses on the liberation of women.

By the same token, it is its weakest when 'leaders' sell out the movement to pimp for a man.

Just as peace movement 'leaders' embarrassed themselves getting into bed with Barack, so have feminist 'leaders.' There's no reason for either camp to get in bed with him. There is every reason to object and attempt to force him into addressing the issues that matter to each movement.

The scars from 1972 came mainly from men. There were a few backstabbers and sellouts among the women, but the biggest offenders were men. The scars of 1976 involved women selling out other women. It involved women being co-opted (they got a seat at the table!) and enlisting in the selling out of other women.

That is a part of the feminist history.

We love Gloria Steinem very much and will clearly state that it is not her job to be (and she's never defined herself as) the feminist historian. But it's past time that someone stepped up because a lot of today's lessons are actually lessons that keep popping up. When a woman in Atlanta brought up 1976 last week, there was shock from feminists (younger, the same age and older) who had never heard of it. As one said, "Well we can certainly see that repeating today." Exactly. And if we knew our history, we wouldn't just prevent surprise, we could prevent it happening in the first place.

Another thing that could be prevented is the repeated ignoring of the grassroots. If the grassroots were listened to, feminism would be a lot stronger. That's true today, that's always been true. The grassroots has always been more active and more radical than anything 'leadership' has allowed to be presented to the general public. 'Leadership' and journalists who saw their role not as reporting but as marketing -- Hello, Marlene!

The obsession with electoral politics was always scary and the main reason was fear that the movement would be sold out by leadership. Other reasons included that a movement of millions was reduced to a cheering section for one person (usually a man). As you piece together the historical truths in this article, you should realize how valid those fears were and are.

History isn't only something that happens in the past. It's something that continues to happen over and over until enough people say "no more."

Now is the time to say "no more." Repeatedly throughout the primaries, Hillary would be attacked by The Cult of Barack and they'd cite Michelle as a "traditional wife." In fact, two 'career gals' were praising Michelle for being just that last month on NPR. In March of this year, The New Republic was addressing that traditional factor. Cindy McCain self-identifies as a traditional wife and she's been smeared. (Isn't it interesting that her drug use* is regularly pointed out by the same people who screamed foul and 'racism' when Barack's was brought up?) There's not much point in the feminist movement wasting their energies to do a sexism watch on McCain. The same way there's no reason for feminists to fret over Michelle. "Traditional wives" aren't really what the feminist movement is about.

The feminist movement should be pressing demands on ALL candidates. It should not be telling half-truths for Barack -- or for any candidate. Having refused to stand up to the sexist attacks on Hillary (Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan are the only leaders who stood up), 'leadership' needs to grasp that the grassroots doesn't give a damn what happens next in the presidential race. If sexism mattered, if it was worthy of being called out*, that damn sure should have taken place when a feminist was the one under attack. Feminist Majority Foundation didn't find sexism very important when Hillary was a candidate for president? Well the grassroots really isn't into the rescue-the-traditional-wife-who-might-become-yet-another-first-lady. It all comes down the mushy-soft-focus approach, the one Red Betty sold. As opposed to the realities on who supresses women . . . and who benefits from it.



*Sarachild was and is a member of Redstockings.

* Elaine and C.I. want it pointed out that if the McCain camp decides to take issue with the attacks on Cindy McCain, those who have engaged in cheap shots at Cindy without any knowledge of the facts are going to look foolish and hateful. They'd be wise to back off now. Not only does the story have a strong built-in sympathy factor, there could be a huge backlash from women (towards Barack and his followers) if this is addressed. Any woman who's ever suffered physical pain and been dismissed by a doctor over it will emphasize with Cindy.

*Of course we think sexism is worth calling out. But you can't stay silent while a man uses it against a feminist and then rush to 'man' the towers for the same man's wife. It's offensive.
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