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Successes and Failures in Intersectionality


This bell hooks interview is full of pleasures. You should read all of it. I found this passage particularly cheering:

My militant commitment to feminism remains strong, and the main reason is that feminism has been the contemporary social movement that has most embraced self-interrogation. When we, women of color, began to tell white women that females were not a homogenous group, that we had to face the reality of racial difference, many white women stepped up to the plate. I’m a feminist in solidarity with white women today for that reason, because I saw these women grow in their willingness to open their minds and change the whole direction of feminist thought, writing and action. This continues to be one of the most remarkable, awesome aspects of the contemporary feminist movement. The left has not done this, radical black men have not done this, where someone comes in and says, “Look, what you’re pushing, the ideology, is all messed up. You’ve got to shift your perspective.” Feminism made that paradigm shift, though not without hostility, not without some women feeling we were forcing race on them. This change still amazes me.

Now on to even more important things, like complaining about two sentences on a month-old episode of The Good Wife, specifically the episode described (in positive terms) here by Sonia Soraiya.

In short, the episode concerns a black female applicant, Monica, to a law firm on the show. The white partners are shown debating whether to hire her, and everyone’s attitude toward her is a different flavor of racist. In the end they do not hire her. Diane, the white liberal partner, brings her back offering her mentorship of some sort, but not a job. It turns out that the applicant has secretly recorded her interviews, and she edits ttogether the racist bits and puts them on the internet. Diane brings her back in to tell her that she knows what it’s like to struggle on the way up because she’s a woman. Monica is furious, and tells her off. Soraiya quotes her:

“There is no comparison,” she says, between Diane’s difficult choices to get ahead and the discrimination she faces. “I don’t choose to have women hold their purses tighter when they see me coming down the street. I don’t choose to have cops pull me out of my car and frisk me for failing to signal…. I don’t want your understanding. I don’t need your advice. What I need is a job.”

I agree with Soraiya’s overall take: the episode was mostly interesting. Where it was successful was in depicting white racism, including well-intentioned liberal condescension. But Soraiya edits out of her description the most difficult, and to my mind, totally implausible lines of dialogue, which come right before the part she quotes.

“If you chose to lay on your back for a male partner or two just to get ahead, that was your choice. I don’t choose.”

While it’s totally believable that Monica is furious at Diane’s claim to understand her experience, I don’t find it believable that an educated, professional woman with enough consciousness about injustice to make a secret tape to expose racism would have spoken these lines. It seems that in the writers’ mind, being black trumps being a woman, whereas I hear that you can actually be both at the same time. If you are a woman, you don’t think it is no bigs to feel you need to sleep with someone for a job. When I try to imagine who would more probably say this, I think of either: a man, a woman who is already sleeping with someone for a job and is saying it as a defense mechanism, or a very young woman attempting to sound sophisticated by affecting a shoulder shrugging jadedness. It doesn’t seem likely to me from someone who has certainly experienced sexism in her professional career and is more than aware enough to notice and name it. Maybe more to the point: why give her this line? Was there no other way for Monica to express that she found Diane ignorant, presumptuous, and condescending than by trivializing women’s historical and current struggle for workplace equality? It might make sense in terms of some backstory for Monica where we see her very involved in the racial justice movement but also struggling with her need to curry favor with powerful men in her social circle. But I don’t think we’re ever going to get any treatment of her character so nuanced. Instead she reads like a cartoon that defensive white people imagine when they hear the word “privilege”: someone to tell them that no difficulty they’ve experienced is important or worthy of consideration or remedy.

I am now caught up on The Good Wife, so any further TGW complaint blogging will at least be up-to-the-minute.

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