How NOW?: Some thoughts on the increasing irrelevance of American feminism

As if the usual mud-slinging of American politics isn’t distressing enough, a bizarre strain of thinking has begun to influence our already schizophrenic national conversation about the 2008 presidential race. 

What’s particularly bothersome to me about this emerging ideology is that it comes from a group of people with whom I was once proud to align myself–American feminists–so proud, in fact, that I pursued a double major in English and Women’s Studies, and argued against my parents’ doubts that the latter would add any value to a future career.  

But how NOW? What’s happening to white American feminists?

American feminists of other ethnicities–most notably Black feminists Audre Lorde and bell hooks– have long claimed that white feminists are out of touch with reality. The evidence just keeps piling up that Lorde and hooks have been right all along.  On February 22,  Letty Cottin Pogrebin  and her daughter, Abigail Pogrebin, were interviewed by PBS  correspondent Maria Hinojosa  on the program “NOW.” Cottin Pogrebin, one of the founders of MS. Magazine and a woman who is often credited as being one of the founders of the contemporary feminist movement, is a respected activist and scholar. That’s why I watched with increasing puzzlement as Cottin Pogrebin and her daughter debated their divergent political opinions. Cottin Pogrebin is an ardent Clinton supporter, while her daughter (also a respected scholar and former producer at “60 Minutes”) is an equally passionate Obama supporter. It’s not that Cottin Pogrebin thinks Obama’s a bad candidate,  she explained, it’s simply that she thinks he should wait in line for his “turn” to be President. His designs on the White House, she argued, effectively pull the rug from beneath Clinton’s–and, by extension, all women’s– feet. It’s an argument that opponents of feminism and equal rights have used for years–the wait your turn dialectic–which makes it especially sad that Cottin Pogrebin and the National Organization of Women have appropriated this tired, outdated tactic.

The Cottin Pogrebin interview would have been disturbing enough, but two subsequent women in power who are considered feminist trailblazers have trotted out similar arguments. In an interview with The Daily Breeze, a Torrance, California newspaper, Geraldine Ferraro,  former Congresswoman and vice-presidential candidate, as well as former ambassador to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights, opined that Obama is “lucky to be who he is [a black man],” and that he wouldn’t be “in this position” (whatever “this” position is)  if he “was a white man.” She went on to lament how Clinton has been victimized by a “very sexist media.” Since the article was published on March 7, critics have called for Clinton to distance herself from Ferraro. Ferraro, for her part,  gave another interview in which she expressed even more extreme sentiments, contending that SHE has been the victim of racism as the result of the first Daily Breeze interview.

Whew. What can even be said about that?

But wait: there’s more. This afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed the viability of the “dream ticket” of Clinton/Obama (itself a blog-worthy topic), simply saying that such a partnership would be “impossible,” but without qualifying her position in any meaningful way.

When I was working on that women’s studies major, I resisted the kinds of criticisms lodged against white feminists by Lorde and hooks. I didn’t yet truly understand what the dual burdens of sexism and racism could feel like, and I certainly didn’t want to be implicated as out of touch myself. But now I see the reason in their arguments and I find myself questioning the legitimacy, value, and relevance of white American feminist thought. What happened to the feminist movement that was committed to inclusiveness, that refused to embrace the politics and practice of stand-in-line polemics? Abigail Pogrebin is right: this kind of talk is “exactly what allows people to write off feminism as simply angry, and hopelessly stuck in the us-versus-them paradigm of previous decades.”


Video of Abigail Pogrebin and Letty Cottin Pogrebin on PBS:

Text of Abigal Pogrebin’s essay on The Huffington Post:

Ferraro’s interview with The Daily Breeze:

Ferraro’s second interview:

Pelosi’s remarks on CNN:

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Julie Schwietert Collazo

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2 thoughts on “How NOW?: Some thoughts on the increasing irrelevance of American feminism”

  1. I find myself in a similar (though less well-read) position, of being pretty disillusioned with the state of the feminist movement today. The idea that women are almost obligated to vote for Clinton (or risk being deemed anti-feminist) seems to undermine what is, to me, the point of the movement: to give women the freedom to choose their own path in life. (It’s sort of like how some feminists get upset at any film/tv depiction of a woman choosing NOT to have an abortion… The point is that the choice should exist, people, not that we should all be obligated to use that option. But that’s a whole other can of worms…)

    All too often the feminist discourse in North America seems to have degenerated into a mud-slinging contest over who is not feminist enough – who wears too much lipstick (or too little) or whose clothes are too slutty (or not slutty enough), or even who is and isn’t voting for Clinton. I don’t think I’ve heard a mainstream feminist voice talking about, say, spousal abuse, or the way the courts continue to treat rape victims (Kobe Bryant case, anyone?) in ages.

    Ok, rant over.

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