Want to see some heads explode?

Or at least read about it?

At my favorite little pet site Feminist Mormon Housewives, guest blogger Hera writes about her campaign to support gay marriage and to break with the LDS Church’s activism against gay marriage, and then the heads of several of her Mormon brothers and sisters explode in a 300-comment thread (and still going).

Liberation Feminism… *sigh*

So, Jess H. at Feministe has the best blog post, feminist or otherwise, that I’ve read all year. It’s long and personal, it’s got some feminist theory and some Marxist theory and some blogosphere reflections. In other words, there’s a ton there, but it’s worth reading every word.

I’ll be honest, it’s left me not only with about a million thoughts running through my head, but also more than a little heartsick. I’m not really sure where to start on this post, so I’ll just let it flow, and maybe responding to this one post will become a little series before I’ve said all I want to say…

After establishing her background with reading radical feminism and her belief that liberation cannot be complete until all dominant systems of oppression, including capitalism, have been broken down, Jess pleads to better understand how someone can be feminist and not agree with those points:

And what is that pro-capitalist, individualist notion of feminism aiming for? More Carly Fiorinas and Madeline Albrights? More women participating in — profiting from — the endgame rush to climate chaos fueled by global capitalism?

Again, I get stuck: So many people have already made this critique. Is it that it’s not being circulated, heard, widely enough? Is it that the people defending a pro-capitalist feminism have heard those critiques and simply disagree? But if it’s that, why are they not even substantively engaging with, responding to, addressing those arguments?

I have shared so much of Jess’ sentiment about this. The mainstream feminist bawling about Clinton’s defeat in the primary, as if getting a rich white woman elected from an already elite position to an even more elite position were the greatest feminist challenge our world faced, was so upsetting to me for the past 6 or 7 months. Seeing such narrow understandings of feminism and liberation was one of the more discouraging things I’ve encountered since my feminist awakening a few years ago…even more so than blatantly anti-feminist nonsense.

Even reading Jess’ articulation of that frustration brought back that same old hurt, but then reading the first comment on the thread was almost more than I could take. Commenter DavidSpade says:

Are women in other political-social systems, like communism or fascism, better off than in capitalist societies?

Capitalism has tremendous power to push gender equity forward. When an industry generally underpays a class of workers competing firms will enter the market, offer the underpaid workers more, snatch up a lot of skilled workers, and be able to keep their prices lower than the competition. Over time, and with low enough market barriers for new firms, discriminating firms will be weeded out.

Sure capitalism has it’s dark side, but the solution is to fix capitalism, not to discard the entire system. You can’t blame all of sexism, racism, and classism on capitalism. Is American and modern European colonialism that much different from the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Mongol hordes, Timur the Lame, the Japanese Empire, or the Azteks?

Here is Jess writing a post about how frustrating it is that a liberationist feminism is a minority among blogosphere feminisms, and how tired she gets of having the same conversations over and over without ever advancing to the critical questions we need to be asking, and then we have the greatest display of ignorance and well, a contentment with the status quo, imaginable.

And here we go again? Will this just be another thread in which we talk about the fact that there is a major cultural bigotry and ignorance in the assumption that women in capitalist systems are better off than women in other parts of the world? That free-market ideology that pretends capitalism will solve social inequality is based on the false assumption that there is ALWAYS profit to be had in equal treatment? That this ideology is exactly that, an ideology, and not a fact. Do we once again have to reiterate why modern colonialism is a modern phenomena brought on by modern capitalism, and this is true no matter how bad empires in pre-modern eras may have been? Is this where we have to explain to more reform-minded feminists that just because we’re arguing a just economy is vital to a just society does not mean we’re arguing capitalism created sexism and racism, just that economic oppression cannot be disentangled from any other oppression?

Well, I don’t know about Jess, but I’m over this conversation. As Jess makes clear, it’s not like this ideal for liberationist feminism is new, or original, something she just thought up, and she’s thoughtful and patient enough to even name authors, texts, and even to write out quotes to show this rich line of feminist thought:

None of what I wrote up there is some unique insight of mine. It’s all stuff I’ve learned –- from experience, from observation, and, very significantly, from the work of feminist activists/artists/thinkers/scholars/writers who have gone before me. Over generations and across borders, feminists of color and a few allies have developed a language and way of thinking about how systems of power are interconnected. For instance:

In 1986, the Combahee River Collective wrote, “We are…trying…to address a whole range of oppressions … If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

bell hooks’ insistent, decades-long use of the phrase ”white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

2003’s Feminism Without Borders, in which Chandra Talpade Mohanty wrote: “I firmly believe an antiracist feminist framework, anchored in decolonization and committed to an anticapitalist critique, is necessary.” (Do check out the entire book if you haven’t already, but quickly, see how she connects anticapitalist feminism to a resistance to U.S.-centric feminism: “a protocapitalist or ‘free market’ feminism is symptomatic of the ‘americanization’ of definitions of feminism’.)

And quite recently, Sudy introduced many of us to the concept of kyriarchy.

Those are just a few examples. I could not have written any of what I wrote in the first section of this post without having encountered the profound work of everyone quoted above as well as Andrea Smith, Angela Davis, Vandana Shiva, Patricia Hill Collins, and so, so many others.

It is not because I believe gender oppression underlies or trumps other forms of oppression that I work within the context of feminism. It is not because, as someone the world reads as a “woman” within a binary and patriarchal gender system, “women’s” issues are the issues that are closest to my heart and experience that I work within the context of feminism.

It is because Audre Lorde, the Combahee River Collective, bell hooks, Cherie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, INCITE!, and so many others did this work, built this language, nurtured this vision of challenging all forms of unjust power within the context of feminism that I work within the context of feminism. They and so many others have, in their different ways, created a flexible and shifting and many-sided framework — and a beautifully complex legacy — of multi-issue work toward liberation. They have offered visions of liberation that do not ask any of us to leave any pieces of ourselves behind to participate in building something new, visions that will not uncritically support one piece of the scaffolding of oppressive power while trying to take apart another. The Combahee River Collective, again:

“Our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

The legacy is out there. Why does it seem so often in the feminist blogosphere, that this legacy never existed, that we’re at ground zero with feminist thought. Is this part of the backlash? That feminists themselves neglect the work that has been done for us already? Like Jess, I’m sort of at a loss…and it’s so discouraging…

Why I like Salon writers

They take the time to research and explain cultural phenomena, like the perceived heightened creativity  of African American names, complete with race, class, and gender analysis. David Zax responds to the ridicule black names receive with a break down of the history and realities of African American naming:

Much of this ridicule is either misguided or misleading. Exhibit A in the attack on black names is often a story about black schoolchildren that some friend of a friend met named Urine or Shithead, Chlamydia or Gonorrhea, or Lemonjello or Oranjello. Neither Lieberson nor Cleveland Evans (former president of the American Names Society) has ever encountered black people with such names, but Lieberson notes that the (white) comedian Dana Carvey chose the name Dex for his child after a bottle with the word “dextrose” on it, and Evans has more than once encountered a young woman on a baby name Web site (most often visited by whites) who rather likes the ring to the name Veruca, a character from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Roald Dahl chose that name carefully for the bratty girl he assigned it to: It’s a medical term for a wart.

As for those “Luxury Latch-ons,” it is true that an unfortunate culture of naming children after brands of champagne or fancy cars has sprung up over recent years. “But that’s a class thing, not a race thing,” says Cleveland Evans, noting that he has encountered twins named Camry and Lexus who were white. If you are poor and wish a better life for your kid, a name like Lexus declares that hope. With this in mind, much of the gainsaying in the black blogosphere smacks of classism: Many commenters call the unusual names “ghetto,” and Cosby’s jeremiad was essentially an attack on the black poor. (His assertion that “all of them are in jail” is, to say the least, dubious; an economic study by “Freakonomics'” Levitt and Roland G. Fryer showed several years ago that distinctively black names in themselves do not cause a negative life outcome — vivid evidence of which is seen on the Olympic roster and at the Democratic National Convention.

Of course, the vast majority of unusual black names are nothing like Clitoria or Tanqueray. They are names like — to page at random through “Proud Heritage” — the catchy Maneesha and Tavonda, the magisterial Orencio and Percelle, or the evocative Lakazia and Swanzetta. They are names emerging from a tradition of linguistic and musical invention much like those that gave us jazz and rap. And they are names that have paved the way for Americans of all classes and colors to begin to loosen up a stodgy culture of traditional name giving.

Why I Hate Salon Commenters

Jessica at Jezebel wrote about the rude, reactionary responses a Salon writer recently got to her article on being an educated woman who can barely make ends meet for her children, even while working her ass off:

Salon published a a thoughtful essay yesterday by Heather Ryan about being “working poor” as part of a series about the recession called “pinched.” Last summer, Ryan found herself, despite her Masters in writing and self-proclaimed bougie affections, unable to feed her three kids on her secretary’s salary. You see, she had recently gotten divorced, and the cost of daycare during the summer wiped her out.

Though it scared her and pained her to admit it, she couldn’t afford enough food, and so one night she took her kids to a food kitchen. I’ve written screeds against self-indulgent personal essays before, and I must say that this wasn’t one of them.

It explored a very real issue: that the gap between rich and poor in this country is now a chasm, and that many educated, hard working people are struggling, whether you see it or not. Salon‘s commenters, however, felt otherwise, and said things like, “I have no sympathy for breeders, or for brie-eaters.”

Another commenter wrote:

“The fact that you make a good salary but whine that a certain job didn’t take proper account of your ( questionable ) intellect and talent only speaks to your solipsistic (sic) ennui, brought-on no doubt by your liberal sense of entitlement.”

Could anyone other than a whiner with a massive sense of entitlement write such an unsympathetic, ungenerous comment about an article in which a person admits to her sincere surprise that the wealth gap has removed even hard workers with educations from the pot?

Sadly, ugly threads like this are nothing new at Salon. So how is it commenters like this abound there? I mean, I know Salon publishes a lot of self-indulgent, bougie whining, but the writers usually display a fair amount of compassion for the privileged and the underprivileged. How is it a publication’s readers can be so different from the writers?

And beyond that, what sort of false consciousness does it take for a person to read this Heather Ryan essay and instead of getting incredibly pissed off about how devalued labor has become in our society and how far the wealth gap has grown, finding it more important to bitch about how she had it coming for being pretentious? Really, it boggles my mind.

The politics of tourism and travel

Because summer time is the time of travel and all of its economic and national and identity contexts, I thought it was a great time to highlight a couple great posts that reflect on the complicated questions that attach themselves to these nuances.

First, check out this open thread on first-world traveling to third-world nations at Feministe, in which guest blogger Anna asks and attempts to answer the following questions:

What do you perceive are the ramifications of that type of tourism? (Broad question, I know.)

If you have participated in that kind of tourism, how did those potential ramifications affect the choices that you made as a tourist? What choices have you made to be a more “responsible” tourist?

Do believe there is such a thing as feminist tourism, and, if so, what does that look like?

And, finally, how do the politics of a country affect your desire/willingness to participate in that country’s tourism? What about their human rights record?

Then read Guest Contributor Margari Aziza Hill at Racialicious on traveling as a black woman and how foreign travel can change your perceptions and understandings of race and racism:

Further, Europeans and Americans can assume you are just part of the landscape. You’re that native that needs to move out their way as. One time I was traveling with my friend from Bahia. We look very similar and people often assumed we were Moroccan, maybe from somewhere in the South. On our way from Casa Blanca to Fes, we found some British people were sitting in our seats. So, we were looking at our tickets and them. Mariah said, “Umm, these are our seats.” I was trying to speak to them in my clear American diction. The young couple just looked at us blankly and the crusty old man blurted out, “Doo Youu Sbeakk Frrrench?!”

I said, “No, I speak English!”

What really pissed me off was that he didn’t hear us because we were brown. He assumed that our non-British accent meant that we weren’t fluent speakers. Our brown skin rendered our language incomprehensible, as well as our rights to the first class seats that we purchased with our hard earned money.

Systemic, economic explanations of human behavior? BORING!

Courtney Martin at Feministing has this really troubling post about being contacted by a morning news program about a story on a social networking site for women looking for sugar daddies (ick, reminds me of this post). After telling the producer what she’d say about some of the social and economic factors that often lead women to seek financial support in men, instead of simply calling these women trash, as the producer wanted, Courtney heard nothing back from them. That just wasn’t good TV. They wanted something a little more… “feisty.”

This is not entirely unexpected, but so bothersome when you hear about how calculated TV news is in a real instance. News media must make money. Sensationalism brings in the viewers and the money. Blaming individuals and framing a debate as a cat fight is sensational. Legitimate, boring explanations that have to do with money and social inequality…meh, we’ll pass. This really is so frustrating.

With stakes like these in the mainstream media, it’s hard to imagine real social change being instigated in these traditional forums…This is part of the reason I’m so grateful for alternative media (like Democracy Now! just as an example), and especially for the existence of blogs. I know we always question just what kind of impact or influence blogs have, but just think where we’d be without them. Though the audiences for blogs are self-selected and certainly more limited than the audience that would be watching the morning news show Courtney was asked to speak on, the very fact that we can turn to Feministing to hear about this instance and to hear the very arguments Courtney wanted to share on TV is a huge step forward. It’s progress, and I think an essential part of the path to positive social change.

Matt Zeitlin on class in our marriage debate

I threw my hat into the blogosphere’s recent marriage debate (see Martin, Singal, Matthews, and Marcotte, phew) last week with a post on how much gender plays a role in a person’s acceptance of critiques of marriage as weak or strong.

Matt Zeitlin at Pushback adds a critical component to the debate, when he zooms out and reminds us just how bourgeois our debate is:

We all know that when families far apart, children generally suffer. And with the college wage premium and financial returns to education both at all-time highs, any disruption to a working-class child’s life makes advancement much more difficult. Unstable family structures aren’t great for adults either, especially women. When parents split, it is usually the woman who is left to raise the child, meaning that she has to provide a loving, supportive home, all the while trying to make ends meet as the head of a single-paycheck family.

For those with high amounts of social capital and good jobs, this is a much simpler task, but for everyone else, it is incredibly difficult. This all gets worse when children are born out of wedlock; when parents don’t want to sanctify their bond and commitments to each other, it becomes all the easier for one parent to skip out.

I agree with Matt to a certain extent. It’s important to note what the context of considering marriage is for middle class bloggers. However, I’m always skeptical of arguments that suggest the crumbling of the traditional, two-parent family is contributing to economic deprivation for kids. Blaming “the family” for the larger economic and social factors hurting poor kids, especially kids of color, is often a right-wing talking point, in my opinion, and a cop-out for the failures of our government and society.

I have to disagree with Matt’s assessment that parents who don’t “sanctify their bonds,” are less likely to stick around and hold up their end of the parenting bargain. A dead-beat parent is a dead-beat parent in or out of a marriage. While abandoning one’s financial responsibility to his/her children may be more difficult to a certain legal extent within marriage, I’m highly skeptical that one who wants to abandon their children would only stick around because of the inconvenience of divorce. After all, I know a few dead-beat dads myself who just took off at some point but remain married to the mother of their children. If babies are being born to couples in which one or both partners are less than committed to emotionally or financially supporting the child, the obvious problem seems to be that parents who are going to bail are having kids. After all, poor parents, married or single, are poor parents.

I guess this is all a way of saying, I think the marriage disparity between high and low-income people is more a symptom of economic and social turmoil than a cause of it.

The much better explanation for the class-marriage disparity to me, is that wealthy people who are more often married long-term and having children in those relationships, have more of a financial interest in being married and staying married. They’ve got a lot to lose in a divorce. But when a woman gets pregnant with a guy who makes no money and is a dead-beat, why would she want to marry him? If anything, she wants to make sure the courts will be enforcing his child-support payments and to see little of him afterward. Even when completely committed working-class couples get married and have kids, their marriages face much higher levels of stress than the more successful marriages of the privileges, because of their financial struggles. This undoubtedly contributes to the higher rates of divorce.

Now I can see quite clearly that having two parents who are involved in your life, both financially and emotionally, is going to contribute to a more secure life, but then, the argument should be for planned, well prepared parenthood, rather than for marriage.

The myth that marriage is morally sound is part of a larger dialogue to convince people they shouldn’t expect to be able to support themselves and their kin with one, full-time income. I think they should be able to do so. Ideally, the fact that by the time I’m ready to have children, I likely will be able to do so, would be the usual situation for a woman, rather than the exception.

Now I recognize the reality is that in our current society, most people cannot expect to be able to support a family with one income and one committed parent, and this undoubtedly makes marriage or at least reliable, long-term parenting a desirable outcome for many working-class people, but I don’t think the statistics about marriage and class and race mean marriage itself is the answer to working-class problems.

If working-class people do manage to find a partner who will be committed to sharing the responsibilities of parenting, they too will have the opportunity to determine whether this commitment will be in or outside a marriage.