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Archive for June, 2009

Posted by pocochina on June 27, 2009

K.  I had no stake in the NOW election.  I had no preference for one candidate or sslate over another.  I have no bones to pick or excessive wild love for any supporters of either candidate.  That said, I do have a stake in the state of political feminism in the US, and an even bigger iinteres in my own ego and my growing annoyance with the Third Wave.  So.

This whole nonsense started in teh run0up to the election.  A writer at Salon’s Broadsheet, I shit you not, suggested that Lyles was the better candidate because NOW’s website isn’t cute enough for her.  Lest you think this is a total non-sequitur, a Mad Libs approach to journalism, written in a glamorous haze of booze and pills, fret not.  See, the website content and design are strictuly and directly under the control of the president of a large organization, which means the exact sill set of the president of NO will dictate the website’s layout and content.   Likewise, it is a given that knowledge and ability regarding website layout are directly inversely correlated with age.  Both of these assumptions are flagrantly stupid, one is deeply bigoted in that it projects its own level of stupidity onto older women strictly because they are older, and the assumption that the reader (that’s us!) will share that stupidity and bigotry is shocking.

If only the Salon stupidity were happening in a vacuum, it’d be pretty easy to dismiss.  But no.  I really hope  y’all were spared the excreable AP article interviewing, among other pretty, well known, media friendly feminists, Jessica Valenti.  Jessica (paraphrased and then quoted by AP, so hopefully this isn’t what she meant) “says her contemporaries would be far more excited if Lyles triumphs over O’Neill.”  Will we? She helpfully explains why we – that “we,” beloved f-list, includes me and most of you – feel that way in the following paragraphs.  Some people think NOW is 70s feminism, which is self-evidently “white middle-class feminism.”  Way to erase huge numbers of 70s feminists who don’t fit that description – all in the name of inclusion! – while perpetuating a myth about feminism.  Give us what we want, older feminists, or we’ll trash-talk you and crap on your achievements, which directly benefit us, if we even deign to acknowledge you existed in the first place!  I am not against historical honesty about feminism, or against critique where critique is relevant and warranted.  On the contrary, I support it wholeheartedly.  What I am against is the use of harmful, broad-brush stereotyping in the interests of a personal campaign.  There’s a huge difference between “I feel X Candidate cares deeply about and is most qualified to address the interests of my group” and “MY GROUP THINKS that HER GROUP SUX.  Isn’t it great that my group reinforces your existing perception of her group?  Isn’t it just self-evident that her group sux?” This is the languge of the backlash – older feminists are self-evidently wrong and embarrassing, and even if they aren’t, that perception isn’t worth challenging, not even among ourselves.

She then goes on to blithely assert that we Awesome Young Things are more interested in smaller, youth led groups (because what, once the director of an org hits middle age, her employees spontaneously reproduce until they become large national groups?), implying that NOW, by its definition a national organization, whwich has always had a broad advocacy agenda, should have more in common with small, targeted, shoetring-operations because those organizations are inherently better and appela more to youth.  this strikes me as a classic case of shooting the messenger, of blamming the doctor for your cold.  NOW is a political, broad based or ganization focused on the most basic of feminist battles because those bttles haven’t been won yet.  That doesn’t mean there’s no room for smaller organizations – there’s not moral infereioroty or superiority in specilaization or general practice because we need both, despearately.  It means tht a ntional organization election is about a large national organization.  Do young feminists not feel like making that distinction?  Do our respect and support bottom out so quickly that we get support fatigue after expressing enthusiasm for one organization alone?

It’s a bit misleading of Young Feminists (TM) to tell us tht our youth shsould be a ticket to anything .  Not just becuse it’s ageist, though that should be reason enough, but also because most of us won’t be media feminists, pro athletes, or presidential candidates.  Youth isn’t a career bonus for most of uss because we’ll have more experience and expertise when ere older, not now tht e’re younger.  Trusts me, I get how frustrating this is.  I’l be looking for aob next year and curing all those more experienced wowmen ahead of me for every position.  It’s tough enough to get wommen’s expertise recognized, ever.  Older wome are mos who fce enough crap in the workplace, here they still need to ork tice as hard to be considered half as good and not get paid as much.

e need to start recognizing youth privilege.  Where you at least have a prayer of having clothing and media reflect your attractiveness.  here you’re a valued marketing demographic, and thus, worth attention in the mainstream culture.  You don’t have to think something is good or just to gain privilege from it. Where you don’t yet, in many cases, make less money than your male peers.  Where you’re of childbearing age, which sucks in our culture, but at least organized feminism is spending a huge amount of its time protecting your rights through this time (even as you malign its myopic fixation on reproductive rights).  My nae is P, and I have cis, het, middle-class, well-educated, and youth privileges.

Much was made of Lyles’ race, conflated with her youth.  I really recommend checking in with BA on this one – if you assume that this generation of feminists of color are the only feminists of color, or the only ones that matter, enough that you can and should entirely ignore the history of NOW and the feminist movement, you’re saying those other WOC don’t matter.  You’re erasing them in the name of speaking for them, and in order to support your own ageism.  It’s appalling, and it’s factually wrong.  It perpetuates the myths – rooted somewhat in history and also in misogynist anti-feminist propaganda – that feminism is a white women’s country club.  It also strikes me as deeply appropriative to pretend that young white folks invented inclusiveness.

I really wanted to ignore the whole “2008 Primary II” vibe everyone kept drawing, based solely on the fact that Lyles is Young, Black, and Hip while O’Neill is an Old White Harpy, but it’s too fucking insulting to Lyles to let it pass.  For the hundred thousandth fucking time, there were substantive differences during the primary, often on feminist issues.  Just because they ere sometimes nuanced and even once in a while required a shred of actual critical thought – apparently we’d rather you kids not try this at home – does not mean they weren’t there.  This really was a conflict of style, and while style matters sometimes, it’s shallow-minded and ultimately harmful to conflate it with substance.  Not to mention, it’s extraordinarily reductive and offensive to boil Lyles down to her racial identity, pretending her Blackness erases her gender, particularly in order to compare her to someone who fails on feminist and LGBTQ issues.

Being young isn’t an automatic merit unless we’re going to get in the habit of attributing merit to characteristics people don’t choose.  It’s not even a “respect your elders” thing, not that that’s inherently bad.  It’s a “refrain from attributing merit based on inherent and unchosen personal attributes” thing.  Aren’t we against arbitrarily privileging some people over others?  Even when those privileges are temporarily useful to us?   And I do mean temporarily, because I devoutly hope that we Awesome Young Things will eventually be middle aged and old.  And since I don’t reasonably foresee, barring (more severe) mental illness, losing the ability to engage with the outside world, but rather collecting more experience and knowledge, I choose to extend that hope and respect to omen who want the same things I do.

I feel like this ageism is conscious stereotype-defying to the point of stereotype-reinforcing.  We spend an awful lot of time bending over backwards to show that we’re not, really, really not the stereotype of feminism!  The age one showing up here is particularly pernicious because it’s not just meant to put us on the defensive, it’s meant to try to get us to reject our brightest, most experienced activists who (by virtue of already not soothing the kyriarchy with their mere appearances and collective fecundity) have less to lose and more to gain.  So when we perpetuate the idea that feminism is (a) largely older women and (b) shouldn’t be, we’re actively helping the backlash along. I’d rather not.

There’s a pernicious “us versus them” vibe to the reporting of this whole thing, too.  For instance, the bizarre allegation that “Palin people” somehow infiltrated NOW and lined up, zombie-like, behind the anti-Obama seems to be, in fact, bizarre, getting mindless repetition and linkage (most notably from Feministing – twice – and somewhat surprisingly,  Shakesville) without, well, substantiation.  I was alarmed at first – Palin people?  Anti-choicers?  in NOW? – but when I kept looking, I could only find the allegation, not the reasons behind it.  Did Palin people (notice the failure of the original post to even use the word “supporters” which would imply thought on the part of these sleazy Republican moles) swing the NOW election to a pro-choice, anti-conscience-clause DV survivor?  It sounded kind of irrational, but I suppose as long as you put a question mark on it, it’s okay.  Maybe there was a bit of unintended conflation on the original author’s part – she talked in the first half of the blog post about her reactions to the outcome of the election, and then in the econd part about conversations she had with people about the inclusion of anti-choice feminists in the organization, making it look that these two things are the same topic when they may not in fact even be.  But I couldn’t get my hands on a more detailed report until my favorite phantom feminist (pheminist?) posted her reflections on the NOW conference.  Dr. VS isn’t any more an unbiased source than all the Lyles supporters above – she was enthusiastic about her support for O’Neill and explicit bout her reasons for it – but she did have enough respect for her readers to give us details.  As I have to admit I was starting to suspect, “Palin people” actually meant “Hillary supporters, Obama critics, and people who were frustrated about sexism against Gov Palin, along with one actual Palin supporter who is a pro-choice feminist Democrat but followed her informed feminist conscience, all rolled into one convenient ball of morally reprehensible female nastiness.”  Exaggerations in the wake of disappointment are to be expected, and disappointment in loss is normal.  Perpetuating what amounts to character assassination is reprehensible.  There was, as far as I can tell (and again,  the only detailed description I can find is coming from a pro-O’Neill source), no anti-choice contingency at the NOW convention, and saying otherwise is a laughable effort to beat other feminists with the Roe stick, for electing a pro-choice president of NOW. But, you know, they voted for the old lady, the old white lady, clearly they don’t care what other people think of them, so they must be evil, and we can say what we’d like.

You know what?  Those Roberts people sure are sore losers!  After all, if Lyles is clearly Obama, her supporters are all Obama-syncophants, and since Obama once failed to criticize John Roberts, all Lyles supporters, by their own logic, LURVE John Roberts.  Did Roberts people infiltrate NOW and almost steal the presidency from Terry O’Neill?  I have no proof, and in fact only the sketchiest of reasons to even say that, and it’s insulting and highly inflammatory, so I’ll just ASK WHAT YOU FOLKS THINK.  ASK ALL OF YOUR FUCKING FRIENDS.  Then ask them again, just in case you missed it, to make sure they and you know these folks are OUT THERE TAKIN OVER UR FEMINIZM.  If you even have any friends, you grumpy, house-bound, internet-illiterate, Second Wave old Ginsberg-huggers.  FEELS TRUTHY TO ME.

I’m being really harsh here, more harsh than I think I’ve ever been on any identified group of feminists.  Not because I haven’t had serious disagreements with feminists before, but because I really do think that the enemy is out there, not in here.  It’s one of my biggest pet peeves at my feminist peers, that we spend so long eating our own, and then I don’t want to contribute to the problem by criticizing people I respect.  But I didn’t bring this bullshit into the public, always salivating over a feminist catfight (which means inevitably that we’re spending that much less time doing untoward things like Challenging Teh Menz) and I feel like by not saying anything, I’m contributing to a problem that’s bothered me for a while and that is directly harming women who I deeply respect. Moreover, I’m fucking insulted.  How lazy, uninvolved, and deeply fucking selfish do these self-appointed advocates of young feminists think I am, that I need someone who soothes my fucking ego by being just! like! me! in charge of every fucking thing?  How stupid would I have to be to stop caring about contraception and equal pay and pregnancy discrimination just because the head of NOW didn’t meet some arbitrary age barrier?  If I were considering membership in NOW  but was afraid I wasn’t represented, would I really be so resistant to thorough research that I would look no further than the president, and ignore the diversity of the people she’s chosen as the most effective and qualified folks to execute her vision?  On the one hand, I hate to hold feminists up to a higher standard than everyone else because feminism about equality and all, but on the other hand, being a feminist in a patriarchal society means you have at least some tools and desire to challenge harmful preconceptions.  Maybe not stopping at the ones that benefit us personally might not be the worst fucking thing in the world?

It’s the dangers of personalizing somemthing like this, you kno?  From all accounts – even the wildly obnoxious ones – the to candidates were pretty much the smame.  The two candidates had orked inthe samem position at different times, and emphasized technological outreach.  And I have no problem with people who decided to support one andidate over the other, even if it’s for dumb reasons like “this person is my friend.”  That’s how small scale politics work, and i don’t think wome are any different than other standard-issue humans in that respect.  I am grateful for politcally savvy careerist feminists.  I have a problem with people who then decide that their small loyalties are representitive of some Epic Fucking Struggle between good and evil.  I then especially care when “evil” becomes either a false allegation (the “antichoice” nonsense) or something that’s FUCKING NOT EVIL (age).

Note:  My computer is being slow and I have family in ton this weekend, so I’ll be updating with links and typo checks throughout the night (you guys should see my keyboard, it’s half blank silver squares).  In the meantime, the only really comprehenisive coverage I’ve found is at Reclusive Leftist. If anyone knows anything more about the NOW election, I’d really appreciate dropping a link in the comments.


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