Recently a dispute has broken out revolving around a performance of modern feminist canon: The Vagina Monologues:
The producers of Brown University’s upcoming performance decided to ban white women from performing. They cite two specific reasons:
- The Vagina Monologues has historically overlooked the empowerment of women of color, queer women, and trans* folk, among others—often replicating and perpetuating the same systems of power and privilege that prompted the playwright, Eve Ensler, to write The Vagina Monologues in the first place,” the Facebook page explains
- The page goes on to excoriate “mainstream Western feminism” for “the marginalization and erasure of these groups” and the “failure to consider the effects of power structures outside gender within the feminist community.”
So The Revolution is beginning to affect academic/political feminism, just as expected. Through the movement’s history, various splinter groups have hewn together in the face of shared enemies. However, as feminists achieve their goals and the threat posed by their political opponents diminishes, the pressure of their incompatible ideologies will begin to drive them apart.
The ideological fault line in play here is that of race within the feminist movement. The divide has roots in history. Modern American feminism began as the pursuit of relatively wealthy white women who wanted more esoteric things such as voting rights and the dismantling of gender roles (although the Flappers wouldn’t likely have used such terms, the first foray to dismantling a social norm is to bend it.) Non-white women at the time had more tangible concerns such as racial discrimination which led to violence and unemployment for both men and women of color. To contrast the two: white feminists were fighting for the privilege to choose to work as a second bread-winner while non-white women were supporting their families’ attempts to maintain at least one bread-winner.
This divide continues to simmer. White feminists are, in essence, accused of being out-of-touch with the reality of discrimination by their non-white counterparts. Helpfully for this discussion, prominent white feminist Hanna Rosin had an ill-thought-out point to make this week as well:
Her point boils down to contrasting American gridlock and America’s predominantly male federal government with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity and success and then concluding the problem with American government is that it has too many men in it. Her flaw in reasoning is clear and two-facetted. First, she gives women as a whole credit for the recent achievements of a few women. Second, she holds all men accountable for the recent failures of several large systems that most men aren’t even participating in. The article’s reasoning could just as well point to Sarah Palin as a reason why all women should be kept out of politics, and point to the 2012 Super Bowl victory by the Giants as evidence that a team full of men can be champions while disregarding the fact that the Patriots also were an all-male team. Near the end, she states:
Perhaps this will be remembered as the week when everything shifted, when we realized that leaving groups of men in charge of global decisions and of facing down terrorists is not a good idea, and we’d better calmly hand the reins over to the women. Don’t laugh. It happened in Iceland.
And this is where Rosin demonstrates the mindset that is dividing feminists among racial lines. White feminists are fixated on obtaining legally mandated equality-of-condition in society, especially in the workplace. They are willing to resort to quotas and affirmative action to get their way. Their thinking is continually derailed by the apex fallacy, wherein they attempt to attain equal representation among the top 1% of society yet ignore the numerically much more significant imbalances that exist among the 99%. To their non-white counterparts, they sound like a person in a cancer ward complaining of a cold; they are so wrapped in their own state-of-mind that they don’t appreciate or respect the magnitude of difference between their situation and the situation of others.
In this particular instance, the white feminists have been cast out from the rest who believe they have more important and visceral issues to attend to. I predict the divide will continue to simmer and escalate.
For another take on the race divide among feminism, check out this article on Return of Kings.