Over at Slate.com, they’re talking about race and gender and such on their blog The XX Factor and Melinda Henneberger, in her entry, is wondering why some black women reject this notion of sisterhood with white women.
Anyway, what Donna said was, you know, women don’t vote as a block because we never had to go through something like the slave experience together. So the biological and cultural deal that I consider such a sealing bond just doesn’t compare.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, coming at it from another direction, lately. I’m not so worried about why women don’t vote as a block. I’ve been thinking about the different responses to Obama and Clinton, even my own responses.
I’m not sure how this is going to go, but what the fuck, you know? Let’s just step off the edge and see what happens.
I think that we’ve come to talk about oppressions as if they are all similar–that it’s about “othering” some group to the point where we think it’s okay to mistreat them or subject them to intense scrutiny or whatever that results in them not being able to function like full, free adults in our society. And, on the one hand, I think that’s true. I think that’s why it’s very easy to just swap one hated group out for another–first the Irish are ruining things, and then the Chinese, and now the Mexicans (or whatever). It’s the same narrative, just with different characters, and because it’s a narrative, told in a round, we can have this moment–this strange, strange moment–where people do genuinely seem to be floundering for some way to acknowledge and move past how black people have been treated in this country while at the same time we seem to be devising ever more ridiculous ways to single out Hispanics for bullshit (though I should be clear that I have very mixed feelings about said floundering).
I say that because we cannot take a step back and say “Oh, hey, same story, different players. Why do we want to continue to tell that story?” we will continue to to tell it and then shift uncomfortably in our seats later on when our children and their children ask us to explain ourselves, as if we both did and didn’t know exactly what we were doing.
So, on the one hand, we do tend to cram all our stupidities into similar form. So it makes sense that folks would want to compare tragedies and measure them against each other, as if something is gained from seeing who has it the worst. And it makes sense that women would sometimes say “Hey, we are all women and so we have all been through some shit and so we have this ‘in common’ that should bind us together.”
But here’s the thing, I don’t think the oppression of women works much like other forms of oppression, when it comes down to it.
There are three big differences that prevent “women” from being one great big shiny monolithic sisterhood. One is that the oppression of women works at both a personal and a societal level, so you could have a woman who was severely abused in her own home, who’s still a racist and willing to use her power as a white woman to make other folks miserable even as her status as a white woman is contributing to her misery. Being a woman, even a woman who’s going through some shit, doesn’t mean we’re not pulling some shit on others. So, women of different groups are bound, I think, to be wary of locking arms and declaring ourselves to be bonded without first seeing some real evidence that a woman’s whole heart is in the right place.
Two, I can’t think of any other form of fucked-up-ness in our country that relies so heavily on the victims of the fucked-up-ed-ness to police themselves and each other. Yes, of course, it’s there to some extent–otherwise insults like “oreo” and “twinkie” wouldn’t sting. But I think most folks–black and white, for instance–see the “see there’s black people and there’s niggers” distinction for the load of racist shit it is, as a way for white people to try to exert power and authority we don’t rightly have over black people and to try to police their behavior and encourage behavior that makes us comfortable while discouraging behavior that makes us uncomfortable, as if black people should just be running around worrying about making us comfortable.
But, oh sweet and tender Jesus do we cling to the “me v. bitch” distinction!
Oh, god yes, the world is full of bitches, terrible bitches who are too smart or too ambitious or too rich or too stuck up or too, heh, bitchy and god we hate those bitches. We are not those bitches. See, those bitches deserve the crap they get. Shoot, those bitches need to be told a thing or two. Sure, it sucks for us to point out what a terrible bitch you are, but better us than for the men to have to come in here and settle it, because clearly, you will lose and, though it hurts when we put a bitch in her place, it really hurts when the men do it. Don’t make us bring the men into it.
Oh, hey, men! Don’t you worry, honey, we’re not bitches like those bitches. Yeah, we hate those bitches too. Can I bring you a beer?
How can we have some kind of bond because of the cultural shit we’ve been through together as women when, often, the front line of people putting us through that shit are other women? In any other circumstance, we get that people who identify with their tormenters are deeply wounded. Why can we not see it in this case?
Whew, I thought the second reason was going to be the hardest to talk about, but it turns out that I’m actually having the most trouble with the third reason–sitting here staring at the screen, wondering if I can’t just trust you to glide over the rough edges of my first point, laugh along with my second point, and let the third point go without saying.
I guess not.
Okay, here goes.
The third reason is that, in broad generalities, the oppressor and the oppressed don’t see themselves as being a part of the same group. So, Mexicans might face a lot of racial prejudice from white people, for instance, and as damaging as that is, they can just hate white people. They can build up a little protective shell of hatred that has them and their loved ones on one side and the folks that do them wrong on the other side.
But where do you build that wall when the man who beats you is the same man that makes your heart skip a beat? How are you not like your father, who tells you that no man will ever love you? How do you accept that a man you know loves you with his whole heart and would give you the world also is fine with letting you be the one who does all the housework and the childcare and the shitwork of the marriage because he’s the man and you’re the woman?
With most other forms of oppression, the hate is there between the groups and often it’s up to charismatic leaders to say “Hey, if we’re going to overcome this, we have to learn to love each other, to see each other as human beings.”
But women, for the most part, see men as human beings. We already love men. We have tied our fates to them.
And frankly, I look at us at this moment and I do see a lot of people who look at Obama and his candidacy as saying something, or at least as an opportunity to say something, about race in America. A lot of people want to live in an American where things are okay enough between black and white people that a black man can be president.
Now, we can argue all day about whether things really are okay enough between black and white people. We can argue all day about whether Obama’s candidacy says anything about what’s really going on in American for black people.
But the truth is that we’re at a moment where most people in the country are saying “Yeah, something is fucked up between us and I wish it weren’t.”
That acknowledgement by society of and for women isn’t here yet.
And I know we’re skating dangerously close to the Oppression Olympics here, so I just want to reiterate that this story–about women in this country–is much different than other forms of oppression.
I don’t believe we’re ever going to have some national moment of “Yeah, things are fucked up between us and I wish it weren’t.” Because we need to have millions of individual moments like that–between men and women AND among women.