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Whither Feminism?

Fire-thrower Linda Hirshman has a piece in the Washington Post today in which she bemoans feminism’s (newfound?) focus on intersectionality. She writes:

So what keeps the movement from realizing its demographic potential? First, it’s divided along lines so old that they feel like geological faults. Long before this campaign highlighted the divides of race, class and age, feminism was divided by race, class and age. As early as 1973, some black feminists formed a National Black Feminist Organization; in 1984, the writer Alice Walker coined the term “womanism” to distinguish black women’s liberation from feminism, the white version. In the early 1970s, writer and activist Barbara Ehrenreich argued on behalf of “socialist feminism,” saying that the women’s movement couldn’t succeed unless it attacked capitalism. The movement was barely out of its teens when Walker’s daughter, Rebecca, announced a new wave to distinguish her generation’s feminism from the already divided feminisms of the people who had spawned it.

This would have been enough to weaken the movement. But it still could have been like many other reform movements, which manage to remain effective by using such traditional political tools as alliances and compromises. There’s an old-fashioned term for it — “log-rolling.” Put crudely: First I vote for your issue, then you vote for mine.

The mostly white, middle-class feminist organizations could have established relationships of mutual convenience with groups such as the black feminists. An alliance like that might have been able to prevent the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991. White feminists opposed him, but he had enough support among black voters — who are heavily female — to induce four Southern Democratic senators who were heavily dependent on black votes for reelection to cast the crucial votes to confirm him.

But feminists weren’t going to do things the old-fashioned, “political” way. Instead, faced with criticism that the movement was too white and middle-class, many influential feminist thinkers conceded that issues affecting mostly white middle-class women — such as the corporate glass ceiling or the high cost of day care — should not significantly concern the feminist movement. Particularly in academic circles, only issues that invoked the “intersectionality” of many overlapping oppressions were deemed worthy. Moreover, that concern must include the whole weight of those oppressions. In other words, since racism hurts black women, feminists must fight not only racist misogyny but racism in any form; not only rape as an instrument of war, but war itself. The National Organization for Women (NOW) eventually amended its mission statement to include interrelated oppressions.

Although other organizations work on women’s issues when appropriate, none of the other social movements were much interested in making intersectionality their mission. The nation’s oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP, which co-sponsored the 2004 march in alliance with women’s groups, says nothing about feminism or homophobia or intersectionality in its mission statement. The largest Hispanic rights organization, National Council of La Raza, unembarrassedly proclaims that it “works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans.”

While I have sometimes found myself nodding my head in agreement with Hirshman, I have to agree with Jill that Hirshman’s painting of feminism is outdated and, frankly, head-scratch-inducing.

Hirshman’s neat division of issues into “feminist” and “other” (my labels) just doesn’t work. As jill notes, Hirshman’s privileging of white, middle class feminist issues as “purely feminist” and the issues of poor women and women of color as somehow less feminist encapsulates and reinforces the problem that made feminism passe to begin with. People rightly perceived feminism as a wealthy white women’s movement. It’s come a long way (though certainly not all the way, as various blog brouhahas make clear) toward a broader notion of what issues are “feminist.” But Hirshman wants to drag us back. And young feminists — rightly — are not going without some kicking and screaming.

So Hirshman’s incendiary vision seems to be just a rehash of the same old intergenerational feminist battles. It’s time to put them away. For good.

Update: Jen @ Feministing has more, including reactions to an online chat with Hirshman today.

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 8 ] June 9, 2008 |

Gerald Ford, discussing the New Jersey, Ohio and California primary results with reporters, 9 June 1976:

I think the polls as a whole indicate that I am electable. We have an occasional poll that shows a dip here or a dip there, but if you take the consensus of the polls, I think it proves beyond any doubt that I am electable.

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Shape of the Earth, Views Differ

[ 0 ] June 9, 2008 |

Matt asks, in re: a ridiculous LA Times editorial claiming that McCain and Obama are pretty much the same if you just ignore their massive policy differences on virtually every important issue:

Clearly, though, there’s a substantial difference between the candidates and I have no idea why the press would think that obscuring that is a good idea — conflict sells papers! And it’s true!

Ah, how quickly we’ve forgotten 2000. Blurring policy differences between the candidates, and in particular confusion personal claims of moderation from Republican presidents with moderate policies, is central to Republican strategy. And the media is generally willing to go along. World-weary High Broderism, of course, requires above all else the assumption that elections don’t have significant consequences, allowing elections to therefore turn on meaningless personal trivia. (And this wasn’t just conservatives, either; remember Frank Rich’s endless string of Gush/Bore columns.)

And in 2000, of course, the message that there was no meaningful policy differences between a center-left Democrat and a Republican who governed to the right of the Texas legislature was reinforced by a narcissistic third party candidate bent on electing the latter. Hopefully, the small portion of alleged progressives for whom one centrist Democrat was fine but another one with a somewhat more progressive record is completely unacceptable will not have similar influence.

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So, I’m Thinking…

….that in order to avoid total insanity due to the tedium and pure mind-numbing boringness that is bar review, I may have to write a tragic opera about BarBri. Libretto and musical suggestions are welcome.

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Conservative History: Still Crap

[ 20 ] June 9, 2008 |

The thing is, this actually sounds like an improvement in the genre:

[Daniel] Flynn generally views the history of the left through the crude lens of a propagandist: he considers the Unabomber a member of the environmental movement, claims Lee Harvey Oswald was a “communist assassin” and insists that federal largesse makes Medicare recipients “a burden to everyone.” And Flynn so loathes the sexual libertinism of the Beats that he resorts to physiognomy, of all things, to explain the most flamboyant among them: “If ever a face projected the seediness and perversions of the brain behind it, Allen Ginsberg’s did.”

Well… I dunno….

I digress.

Flynn’s more favorable reviewers in creditless places indicate that he’s especially preoccupied with “antebellum communists,” including the followers of the proto-socialist Robert Owen or various communitarians devoted to free love and vegetables (not necessarily in combination).

Setting aside the fact that Flynn seems upset about such fascist innovations as offal ordure-free beef, the apparently lengthy treatment of antebellum reformers is bizarre, since every historian I can think of would place these groups — for all their unusual notions and utterly harmless optimism — squarely within a democratizing tradition that would also have included the protestant revivalism of the second (or third, depending upon how you count them) Great Awakening. Moreover, the momentum for post-civil war liberalism and progressivism derived almost completely from anxieties provoked by corporate capitalism, and the leading voices in these movements took their cues from German and American social science rather than from the failed communes of the 1830s. But Flynn, out-pantloading even the Pantload, apparently finds a straight line from graham crackers to gulags. Wonders never cease.

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Can Separate Be good?

We found out six months ago or so that teen pregnancy rates are up in the US for the first time in many years. This of course translates to more pregnant high school students (particularly given that there has not been an attendant rise in abortion rates). Pregnant and parenting high school students unsurprisingly may have a tough time meeting some of the obligations their schools place upon them. So the question becomes: how to best accommodate the needs of pregnant and parenting teens while enabling and encouraging them to stay in school? Under Title IX, schools are required to make accommodations for pregnant and parenting students. But many don’t.

One solution has been to set up separate schools for pregnant and parenting teens (so-called “p-schools”), including the Pritchett School in Boise, Idaho. According to a recent article:

The school offers day care and a baby-supply store. Mothers can nurse their babies at the back of classrooms. The school’s size — just 45 students — allows the girls to get a lot of attention. Classes start after 9 a.m., and extracurricular activities are focused on skills such as business, parenting, and family law.

Above all, the school drills the value of a diploma. Incoming students are snapped wearing a cap and gown. Their photos hang in the hallway as a visual goal.

In the past several years, the school has managed to get 80 to 92 percent of the girls to graduate, and roughly half of them go on to college or junior college. “I have big plans,” says Alicia, who is heading to Boise State University in the fall to study culinary arts. “I am going to be head chef of some fancy restaurant.”

Sounds pretty good, right? But there’s also a downside: concerns abound that the schools offer sub-standard education and that separating pregnant teens from their peers might not ultimately be a wise move. Because of these concerns, p-schools have lost funding and are facing closure.

So what are we to do? Continue to “mainstream” or provide the services pregnant and parenting teens need but only in a separate school? I’m not sure which trade-offs we should be willing to make.

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Whither America’s Blogging Sector?

[ 0 ] June 8, 2008 |


My visit to Daytona Beach (more ETS related shennanigans) has come to an end. Tomorrow, after a brief stop in New York City, I will be leaving for 17 days in Tel Aviv and environs. Details upon my return; it should be a fun trip. Until June 23, Jonathan Gitlin of Ars Technica will be guest-blogging in this space. Jon, a rootless cosmopolitan hailing from the UK, describes himself as an immigrant seeking to take our jobs [ed. by Jon- and your women, of course].

Please extend him every courtesy that you would extend me, which is to say…

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B-2 Crash

[ 24 ] June 8, 2008 |

Watch $1.2 billion go up in flames:

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Don’t Look At Me, I Didn’t Do It!

[ 12 ] June 8, 2008 |

Mark Penn washes his hands having helped to seal Clinton’s fate. (Penn’s column is also available in video form.)

The thing is that there’s actually considerable merit to Penn’s argument that money and organizational issues were the key defects of the Clinton campaign; their inability and/or unwillingness to compete in February primaries and caucuses was far more important than any “message” problems that could have been solved by shifts in campaign tactics. To the extent that message mattered, it was the substantive errors — Clinton getting the most important issue of the Bush era disastrously wrong, digging herself in deeper, and then compounding the error by voting for Kyl-Lieberman — that couldn’t easily be corrected after Obama won Iowa.

But this doesn’t really exculpate Penn. One way for the Clinton campaign to have freed up funds to create some organizational capacity in small caucus states would have been to not pay Penn’s firm millions of dollars for consulting services that Penn implicitly concedes to have been virtually worthless. If Penn is right about Clinton’s campaign, he must be wrong about the value of his “message” advice. Similarly, structural factors matter more than campiagn tactics in presidential elections — which is precisely why it was wrong for the Clintons to think that Penn was some sort of genius for helping a relatively popular incumbent in a booming ecomony win re-election. If Penn is largely right about the reasons for Clinton’s defeat, people are idiots to pay him what he charges for his services; he seems to be admitting the truth about the consultant racket in the Democratic Party.

So either Penn is wrong to evade responsibility like this, or he’s grossly overpaid. There’s no third option.

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Sleeping Elephants…

[ 9 ] June 8, 2008 |

Let me go on record as saying that whatever minimal value there might be in returning Abkhazia to Georgia (and the value may indeed be negative, since the residents of Abkhazia don’t seem to want to return) is vastly exceeded by the costs of picking a fight, diplomatic or otherwise, with Russia. In other words, this is a situation into which NATO ought to be very wary of intruding, in particularly because of the possibility of emboldening the Georgians to do something stupid.

Via Nexon.

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This Alliance Will Not Last Until the End of Days

[ 47 ] June 8, 2008 |

I remain genuinely befuddled by this:

In an interview this week, David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, elaborated to me on a widespread reluctance among Jewish leaders to completely disassociate themselves from Hagee. Describing the feelings of Reform rabbis and leaders as “paradoxical,” Saperstein said that on the one hand, they have an “appreciation of [Hagee’s] financial, cultural, and political support for Israel in broadest sense,” but are simultaneously experiencing “alarming concern about his vision of the world, comments about gays, Catholics, Katrina, Muslims, the Holocaust.” Saperstein added that the “repugnance” Jews feel towards Hagee’s views has “only intensified in the past month or two,” but that “we often find common ground with groups whose views . . . are deeply troubling to us or that we are deeply opposed to.”

Here the question remains: What is that common ground, exactly? That Hagee believes that the Bible foretells a world-ending showdown that will swallow a Muslim holy site, decimate an army of Arabs, and lead the Christianization of the Middle East?

Listen; it’s not just that Evangelicals value Israel in a strictly utilitarian sense, rather than as a country full of human beings. That’s certainly part of it, but it’s not the only part, and obviously alliances based on a pragmatism can work. But not to put too fine a point on it, RADICAL APOCALYPTIC EVANGELICAL PROTESTANTISM IS NOT GOOD FOR THE JEWS. Pragmatic calculations change, and when it comes time for Hagee and his crew to sell the Jews down the river, they will do so without a twinge of conscience, and in utter confidence that they are doing God’s work. Alliances with people who view your destruction as a stepping stone to Armageddon and who, moreover, hate everything else that you represent (loathing of “latte sipping elitist intellectuals” is recognizable as anti-semitism to anyone with eyes open) will not, in the fullness of time, prove sensible.

…a couple of people in comments have brought up the “end of days, which is long enough” argument, which suggests that Evangelicals can be relied upon to support Israel until the Apocalypse, and since that’s never going to come, why worry? As I tried to suggest above, I think that this is exceptionally misguided. Evangelical support for Israel won’t, actually, last until the End of Days. When the alliance breaks (some new revelation by some new figure in the movement) the essential hostility towards Jews and all that they represent will remain, probably abetted by a sense of grievance. It doesn’t take a genius to see that it’s going to end badly…

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As Always, It’s All About the Heritage

[ 34 ] June 7, 2008 |

St. Paul, Minnesota:

Three high school seniors were barred from Bloomington Kennedy High School’s graduation ceremony Wednesday night at Target Center because of what the school district called a prank involving Confederate flags.

Rick Kaufman, a spokesman for the Bloomington School District, said three male students brought the flags onto school property Tuesday morning. Kaufman said they were suspended after “carrying and waving” the flags in the parking lot as parents and students arrived at the school.

Rezac said the flags were on the boys’ cars and that her friends aren’t racists. She said they’ve flown the Confederate flag before and simply admire the “Southern lifestyle” and TV shows such as “The Dukes of Hazzard.” A male character from the popular 1980s show would slide across the hood of a now iconic two-door muscle car featuring a Confederate flag decal.

There are a couple of issues here. First, the suspension of their graduation attendance rights may or may not be appropriate; I tend to think that the Confederate flag is the rough equivalent of the swastika and should be treated as such, but it’s fair to say that we’re really talking about social understandings in a case like this, and the symbolic meaning of the former is not equivalent to the latter. In general I’m pretty wary about restrictions on political speech in or near the classroom, but there are obviously cases that will fall on either side.

What I quibble with is the idea that the flag is just about “the Southern lifestyle” and that consequently its display doesn’t constitute political speech. I suppose it’s possible that these young men didn’t understand that the flag evokes not “the Southern lifestyle”, but rather the tradition of white supremacy, but I don’t think it’s very likely. The same correspondent who sent the article points out:

A little background. Bloomington is a predominantly white suburb, but Minnesota is an open enrollment state and Kennedy High School, located on a major bus line, has attracted a significant African American presence in the last ten years. An outside observer might not catch the undercurrent of race-baiting.

Right, and the journalist writing the above linked article would have better served his readers if he’d taken the time to investigate the state of race relations at the high school and, having investigated, to report on them.

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