Category Archives: women

Sotomayor ‘unflappable’? Quelle suprise.

I’ve been feeling for a while that I was going to have to blog about the whole Sotomayor debacle, but I was really hoping I could avoid it. It’s kind of like feeling like you might have to throw up; you know you’ll feel better afterward, but you still would prefer not to. Even thinking about the “She’s not a white man and therefore she can’t be ‘impartial'” line of Republican argument as applied to Sotomayor makes me so furious that I can’t stand to contemplate it for more than about 12 seconds. News flash: white men are still the unchallenged universal, and since they stand for the whole world, there is of course nothing they can do that isn’t “impartial”! Even their most bigoted and wing-nut actions and theories get to stand in as logical assessments for the good of the universe, while Sotomayor’s judgments are the “passionate” acts of a fiery Latina who can only see from her “narrow” perspective (which consists of the desire to punish white men). Coming from money and going to Harvard like your grand-dad apparently gives you unparalleled and uninflected access to all views of all issues–because the view from the projects doesn’t count anyway.

Even the most seemingly positive accounts of Sotomayor’s conduct seem unable to escape falling into this sort of (non)thinking. The New York Times today marveled that Sotomayor left behind her “passion” and remained “unflappable” in the face of small-minded badgering by Republican senators. That she was able to do so seems to be put down to appropriate “coaching”, as if it never would have occurred to her to act this way on her own. Does the NYT seriously think that this is the first time Sotomayor’s had to face this kind of reaction to her accomplishments and ambitions? I would guess that the journey of a Latina from the Bronx to Supreme Court confirmation hearings has been littered with these sorts of slurs–and that she wouldn’t have made it as far as she has had she not found a way not to react “passionately” to everyone who treated her like an undeserving interloper. The audience this time is bigger, but I would bet money that the comments aren’t the worst she’s heard.

If Sotomayor is confirmed, her place on the Court will be celebrated as a sign of the continuing progress of American race, class and gender relations–as if this whole sick drama surrounding her ability to think rather than feel, reason rather than react, didn’t happen. But the real story of American race, class and gender relations is in the drama, the seemingly unavoidable need everyone from the senators to the press has to air their unconscious (or conscious) and abhorrent fantasies about people who deviate from the white-male universal standard and still expect to play a leading role in the government of this country. If anyone ever thought that Obama’s election said anything promising about the decline of that standard–I’m pretty sure I did, for about twenty minutes on election night–this spectacle provides an inescapable corrective.



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Filed under mainstream media, Supreme Court, Uncategorized, women, work

Retro Creepiness

The return of leggings, asymmetrical haircuts, and the donning of the keffiyeh as fashion and not Palestinian solidarity—ah, the 1980s are back and show no signs of abating (at least on this side of the pond in London’s East End and Topshop). I won’t be caught dead revisiting my ’80s hairdo (a juicy jheri curl for the early 80s, if you must know), but 1980s music is the music of my youth and I refuse to forsake it.

But, then, forsaking is entirely different from revisiting some tunes, singing along, and then <<screeech of brake>> WTF?!

Herewith, a 1980s pre-feminist awareness trip down memory lane. Or more like a tiptoe down creepy Memory Alley.

Oingo Boingo, “Little Girls”

In all honesty, I’d never blocked out this song by Oingo Boingo. It’s (gross) meaning was clear and Danny Elfman’s nauseating leer skitters through my brain like a crab whenever I encounter someone with that certain…erm…pedo-vibe. I think Oingo Boingo was supposed to be punk, but their consistent presence on MTV would indicate that they were merely trying to provoke-for-profit.

Grown women dressed as schoolgirls had a history in Britain before Britney’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”  “School Disco” is an unfortunate, persistent theme night for parties and bars.

Rick Springfield, “Don’t Talk to Strangers”

This one may seem like the ultimate betrayal to anyone who knew me as a teen when I inserted Rick’s last name into mine with some clever parentheses (“Spring(field)er”—postmodern at 13!) and had a football jersey printed with “Springfied” on the back in Rick’s favorite color (purple, duh).

However, the fatted calf must be slain. Upon reflection, most of Rick’s songs have a stalker edge to them, but “Don’t Talk to Strangers” wins hands down. The admonishment not to talk to strangers shifts from urgings to preserve one’s sexy ladyness for the ex-boyfriend mooching around the shadows to menacing invitations to bed en Francais. The stalker element is in full force in the video.

The end of the video’s police cars and flashing lights would seem to indicate that either a) Rick committed a crime against fashion with all those ring-pull zippers on his jumpsuit (!) or b) Stalker Rick killed Effette French Girlfriend Stealer. Whatever the case, while my teen self might’ve boasted that, “Rick so fine I creamed my jeans,” older feminist self says, “Teen self, your language is foul, you don’t even know what “creamed your jeans” means, and you’re pining for a reprobate.”

While we’re on stalker songs, and before I get overwhelmed with the urge to hear Synchronicity, The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is surely a picking-through-your-garbage, steal-your-password-and-check-your-email ode to relationship dysfunction. And, yet, it gets played at weddings and included on many a mellow love songs station playlist.

My final ’80s ick also involves Sting. I’m pretty sure this was in his hot, rising star phase and not his competing with Bono for the crown of thorns self-righteousness bid. In the Dennis Potter television play, Brimstone & Treacle, Sting plays a young man who ingratiates himself with a couple whose daughter lies on the sofa, having been paralyzed in a hit-and-run accident. The parents, exhausted from caring for their invalid daughter, let this seemingly charming man into their lives and he soon rapes their paralyzed daughter. Ick. Double ick. The BBC banned the Potter TV version in 1976, but somehow the 1982 film with Sting made its way to Michigan on VHS.

Sting’s character, Martin, has got all kinds of sinister overtones and breaking of the fourth wall that lead the audience to believe that he’s the devil incarnate. Nonetheless, to my chagrin, I recall whole packs of us Michigan girls watching the film and oohing and ahhing over Sting’s “strong” performance and thespian creds. Did we just ignore the rape? Were were turned on by it? Disturbed by it? Diary excavation must ensue.

On the one hand, there’s a lot of be ashamed of about the 1980s, such as sartorial choices like legwarmers and Units. And, yes, there’re probably many more examples of music that was sexist, homophobic, and racist. But rather than being a misery guts about it I wanted to remind myself, when I question young sisters’ sanity for enjoying music that degrades them, that I know from whence they came. With any luck, they’ll find feminism or feminism will find them, and they’ll create their own beats to dance to.

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Classy (Black) Ladies: Why Some People Are Hating on Wanda Sykes

I came across this cartoon while reading the New York Times’ Week in Review this morning.

Cartoon by Steve Kelley The Times-Picayune

Cartoon by Steve Kelley The Times-Picayune

This cartoon put me into a momentary rage for a number of reasons.

First of all, Wanda Sykes was just down-right funny at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.

Secondly, I am tired of the silent conversation we are having about race, class, gender and Michelle Obama. I’ve been traveling a good deal lately and have overheard more than my fair share of these conversations in cramped airplanes and somewhat less cramped airport bars. They go a little something like this: “…and how about that Michelle Obama. She is just so (a pause to search for the right word)…classy.”

Now, I’m a big Michelle Obama fan too. I love her style and her arms. But I don’t love how the the word “classy” is silently standing in for a a host of other words often used to describe the type of Black woman that Michelle Obama is not i.e. the term used with alarming frequency at the moment: ghetto. In short, Michelle Obama is not a “ghetto chick” (or any other equally derogatory term used to describe poor, Black women) and that’s why so many ladies (and men) –white and Black–love her.

It is the casual illustration of this hierarchy of Black femininity that put me into my momentary rage. Sykes is a comedian. Her jokes, like those of Stephen Colbert, who provided an expert performance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner during the Bush Administration years, are open to criticism. But to say that she has no class is to critique her performance as a particular type of Black woman. To dismiss her in this way is to say that the loud, aggressive, (lesbian) Sykes is somehow less of a respectable woman than the reserved, resilient, and appropriately ladylike Michelle Obama. It is to say that Michelle Obama is “good” and Wanda Sykes is “ghetto.”

And that is not funny at all.


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Why I Love Black Women

Two words: Wanda Sykes.

If you haven’t seen Wanda Sykes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner take a moment and check it out. The only disappointment: no riffs on Obama’s weak public stance on gay marriage.



Filed under African Americans, marriage, Proposition 8, TV, Uncategorized, women

Where ‘Choice Feminism’ Has Got Us

Choice feminism, for those of you who haven’t been following along, is the name given to the idea that feminism equals women choosing what sort of life they want. Even if they choose to be a woman who defines herself as a man’s helpmate, they can still call themselves feminists. And by ‘helpmate’, I don’t mean simply women who decide not to work after having children. I mean a woman who thinks that a man’s role is to be in the public sphere and a woman’s is to stay home and help him succeed. Yes, folks, it’s now feminist not just to ‘opt out’ of earning a salary but to argue (and publish a book trying to persuade other women) that women should spend their time helping men get more money and power .

Rather than a platform that says that women should be equal, we’ve wound up with one that argues that women should be equal if they choose to be. And it’s easy to see how it happened. The most powerful argument one can make politically in America is one that protects individual rights from the infringement of the state. That’s how we made abortion and gay sex legal: by arguing that the state should not make decisions that violate the right to privacy–that is, the individual’s right to make determinations that primarily effect his/her own body and life. But the same right to choose that gave us legal abortion is giving us a politics that calls anything a woman wants to do ‘feminist’, even if it involves arguing that men are made for careers and women for domestic nurturing.

But it wasn’t just America’s focus on individual liberties that created this situation. ‘Choice feminism’ is also the natural outcome of a politics centred on women for whom choice is a really significant category–women who can stop working or not, use their Harvard educations or not, pay huge amounts of money for reproductive technology or not. Once you focus on women who have lots of choices–in the old days, we called it ‘privilege’–it’s easy to get hung up on what they decide to do with them.

In all the debates over race and class in feminism over the last thirty years, feminism was usually cast as needing to focus on race and class so that it could be truly just. The idea was that feminism needed to improve so that it would not simply be repeating the discrimination of the world at large.

Choice feminism makes it clear that we missed other half of the story: feminism needs good race and class politics because without them it quickly ceases to exist. It gets reduced to the individual wishes of privileged women, and then, when some of those women decide that equality isn’t really to their liking, feminism finds itself either without a raison d’etre or rendered equivalent to whatever self-deluded lifestyle choice an individual middle-class woman makes.

Choice feminism can only survive in a hothouse world where women can be presented as having all the equality that they want, if they want it. I wouldn’t put it past the likes of Megan Basham or Jessica Valenti to propound their ‘I Choose My Choice‘ version of feminism to a room full of incarcerated women or women on welfare, but I think it’s a safe bet they’d have a harder time selling it there than to the readers of the Guardian, the Atlantic or the New York Times.



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Black Women & the Radical Tradition-this Saturday!


If you’ll be in New York, or want a very good excuse to come to the City, check out the Brooklyn College for Worker Education sponsored conference on black women and radicalism. The registration fee is crazy, but I’m not convinced that one might not be able to tip in un-noticed—but you didn’t hear that from me.

Speakers include: Angela Davis, Manning Marable, Genna Rae McNeil, Leith Mullings, Erik McDuffie, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Gerald Horne, Frances Fox Piven, Mary Louise Patterson, Carole Boyce Davies, Ericka Huggins, Eileen Boris, Premilla Nadasen, Jeanne Theoharis. Black women’s activism, both historic and contemporary, in a range of movements will be discussed and debated. The site details and conference schedule are here.

I’ll be adding some trans-Atlanticness to the proceedings by presenting on Olive Morris. It’s the same plenary as Carole Boyce Davies’ work on the fabulosity that is Claudia Jones, as well Erik McDuffie who is doing great new work on black American Communist women.

Radical bookstore, Bluestockings will be on hand selling books after the conference. Credit crunch be damned! I’m glad to see a non-mainstream bookstore surviving and look forward to stocking up with them.

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Filed under African Americans, feminism, race, Social Justice, social justice movements, women

BBC Radio 4’s Call Yourself a (White, Middle Class) Feminist

Living in Britain’s like living in a time warp. A “Dr Who has returned to 1979” time warp when it comes to gender.  “Glamour models” thrive on page 3 of Murdoch’s The Sun, magazines like Nuts, Zoo, and Stuff feature women-as-commodity on their covers, and some men do actually still call women “birds.”

And it’s not like women are helping their own case. To wit, Aunty’s (the BBC’s) three part series on feminism. Granted, the program’s remit is to trace “the development of feminist ideas from the 1960s onwards,” which could account for the rather staid, static, white, middle-class female-centred nature of program 1. Just as some folks might be tired of that criticism of feminism, I’m tired of making it. Given how increasingly well-documented black women were in the growth and expansion of the women’s movement in Britain, that one-off programs like this one and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour continue to marginalize our contributions and experiences is nothing less than fucked.

We might get a bit of a race and sexuality analysis on the next program which features Linda Bellos, who was quite the radical activist in the 1970s, joined local government in the 1980s, and continues to work for human rights today.

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