Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Is Motherhood a Point of Intersection?

SteveG forwarded me the link to this discussion on Democracy Now!: The War and Peace Report between Gloria Steinem and Melissa Harris-Lacewell. I was able to watch 3/4 of the show until Maddie had enough and wanted to do something more fun. But, from what I did catch, I must report that I found myself adrift in a sea of very complicated emotions. I don't know how to say it, but Harris-Lacewell emasculated Gloria Steinem.

She began by telling Steinem how appalled she was by her Op-ed piece and never let up from there. Many times she referred to Steinem's piece as the worst example of what is wrong with 2nd Wave Feminism. [I take it that she is representing 3rd Wave Feminism, a wave that I have never fully comprehended. I guess I don't see us having resolved the major political issues of the 2nd Wave: Equal Pay, Reproductive Rights, Affordable and Quality Daycare, Pornography, Domestic Violence, Affordable Housing, Humane Welfare Policies, Fighting Environmental Racism, Fighting Homophobia. . . If anything, we have seen a real push back on whatever gains were made by the right wing in this country.]

What did make a great deal of sense to me about Harris-Lacewell's position was to point out why intersectionality theory is more powerful for unraveling the complex ways in which race, class and gender are fundamentally intertwined in the United States. Harris-Lacewell made the compelling argument--that so many others have in the past few days against Steinmen--that appropriating the experience of black women--or their positionality--to suggest that sexism is more potent in the United States than racism is appalling. If anything, black women's experiences show how complicated these forces are;they cannot be disentangled. Whenever they are, an Oppression Olympics kind of discussion usually follows. I think she is dead on.

What bothered me, however, was the adversarial nature of the conversation. Call me an overly conflict-phobic whitebread chick, but I didn't see the value in the aggression. Gloria Steinem, however, didn't help her case. She didn't seem to complete a thought; was not capable of defending herself well and generally backed down. But what was accomplished in this discussion? What I couldn't figure out was: is this a discussion about the persistent tensions and obstacles in feminism--why women cannot seem to unite around concrete goals and policies due to the failures to think through more effectively the intersectionality of race, class or gender? Or, was this an argument over why feminists who support Clinton and see her as standing up for all women are wrong? Was this a theoretical discussion? I don't think so.

When I first started blogging about HRC after the Iowa causes, I found myself disappointed in Clinton's loss because now that I had a daughter, I wanted to her to see a woman become president. And, then I go look at Harris-Lacewell's blog and she writes the following:

I am mad because on the night that Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses, I was in a crummy hotel room in Manchester, N.H. I was there with two dozen college students who came to work the primaries and see American democracy in action. Many of them were propelled to their first political action as a result of Obama’s campaign. I also brought my 5-year-old daughter, Parker, because I wanted her to take part in this historic election. When the Obama family took the stage in Iowa to perform the traditional presidential wave, I could not resist waking Parker from her sleep so that she could watch Barack, Michelle, and their daughters. “Look at the beautiful black girls who might get to live in the White House,” I told her as I held her sleepy head in my hands. Whatever authenticity anxieties the American media conjured last year, Barack’s Iowa triumph was unreservedly a moment of racial pride. Parker spent the rest of the week proudly carrying an Obama rally sign all over New Hampshire. Last night, I had to explain Obama’s loss. She wanted to know if his daughters were as sad as she was.
I read this and I think, man, aren't Harris-Lacewell and I both projecting a lot of hope and dreams onto these candidates--whether HRC or Obama--to make a new day for our daughters? She wants her daughter to grow up with racial pride; I want my daughter to grow up knowing that being a smart, competitive, and ambitious woman should not result in misogynistic attacks. Can Harris-Lacewell and I find a point of intersection in our hopes as mothers for a different world for our daughters. Can we start there? Then, can we talk about what leads us to be drawn to one candidate over another--why we find this choice often difficult because we see so many great options out there? Can we talk about how sometimes certain aspects of our identity tend to rise in importance in relations to others? Context matters. There is no easy decision to make her as feminists. That if we find a partiality toward HRC, we aren't just part of the same ole Middle-Class, White, Eurocentric narrative in this country?

I can't help but wonder if the vitriol that is likely to pit feminist against feminist--lead to charges of white guilt and/or identity politics--is the result not of the personalities and policies of Obama or HRC, but the winner-take-all political system? We are being forced to pick our candidates (and despite what my posts say, I really don't know yet who I will support) and then go on the attack of those who have rallied around another. We are put into a bind where we are feeling guilty if we are drawn--for not wholly rational, pragmatic, or political reasons--to a candidate.

I am finding it hard to continue writing this post because for almost every sentence I construct, I can already anticipate the arguments that will be made against me--even the attacks. So, I will stop and see what others think . . .