Monday, March 10, 2008

Take A Deep Breath, Part I: Inhale

And plunge right in. That's what I keep telling myself because I really don't want to write these particular posts but I know that I need to, if I am going to continue calling myself a feminist blogger. Right now it looks like I might not be one, after all.

What is this all about? Some more internal belly rumblings about mememe? Not quite. I'm responding to the recent debate within the feminist activists about what it means when a feminist activist (not just a woman or a man with feminist beliefs) publicly endorses Obama over Hillary Clinton even though she is a woman with a good record of pro-woman policies, or what it means when a feminist activist publicly endorses Clinton largely because she is a woman with a good record of pro-woman policies, never mind what she is like otherwise as a candidate. And what it means when the two camps criticize each other.

What it certainly has meant is something that I read as an intergenerational power struggle. It's not truly about generations, but the issues in it have to do with who determines the tactics of the feminist movement, who gets listened to and whose experience and sacrifices are belittled. It's also, incidentally, about whether racism is worse than sexism and whether ageism against the young is worse than ageism against the old.

When I discuss the feminist endorsements, I am talking about public endorsements by famous and well-known feminist leaders, writers and even bloggers, not about whom a feminist might support and privately endorse. There is a difference between the two. When someone writes as a professional feminist then that endorsement must be viewed assuming that it is related to feminism. You bear that responsibility, and it is a weighty one. (Perhaps that is the reason why I was so very surprised with all those public endorsements both ways. I don't really have the guts to do something like that.)

Did that clarify anything? The point is that this post is about the acts and words of feminist activists, not about what a feminist does or doesn't do in the voting booth. When a physician gives a speech about home remedies against the common cold we take the advice seriously. When we chat about our favorite home remedies with some friends we take the advice of others with a pinch of salt. I fear that this distinction is lost in some of those recommendations and the reactions to them. The debate has become over-personalized.

This is why some of the second wave feminists have written angry and hurt articles, implying that women-these-days spit upon the hard work of the previous generations, and this is also why the response to those articles has been angry and hurt: What? Am I not allowed to vote for whomever I choose? How dare they tell me what to do? Wasn't feminism all about my rights to be a full human being?

But we wouldn't interpret a medical writer in those terms. We wouldn't necessarily believe everything that the article says, but we'd be unlikely to read it as a missive to just us. And neither would we decide never to read another medical article again if that particular one annoys us.

All of this shows that the debate provokes strong emotions, as does the Democratic primary campaign in general. That fire is a wonderful thing, of course. It energizes and pushes us forwards. But if we only focus on the fire and the energy we just might lose sight of the final goals, and all the different arguments push our values-buttons and our feelings-buttons at the same time, until we no longer know what it even means to be a feminist, though we know who clearly is not one.

And that is the topic of the second post about taking a deep breath. See how long it took for me to get into the geeky stuff: What is feminism?