Interesting piece on feminist tensions

/ 7 March 2008

Here’s an interesting piece from TheNation about the tensions within the feminist movement over this election. I think among the important points it makes is this:

Rebecca Walker, a founder of the Third Wave Foundation, says, "There are no new issues on the table. What we see in this election is the zenith of the decades-old struggle between women of different sensibilities." Walker believes today's election friction is simply a consequence of mainstream feminist leaders and organizations not listening to critiques from younger women, women of color and grassroots activists about the exclusivity of thought within the movement. "The issue at hand has to do with [institutional] feminism's inability to respond adequately to the claims brought against it," Walker says. One of these claims is that mainstream feminists have ignored an "intersectional" approach to feminism--one that takes class, race and sexuality into account--in favor of one that focuses on sexism above all else.

Reading this reminded me of something that happened almost 20 years ago, when I was a student at Yale, and some of my friends were invited to NYC to do an article on young feminists for Ms. Magazine. When they got there, instead of being interviewed and photographed "as they were," they were asked to change clothing, do make-up stuff, and photographed in a way that made them conform to the image the magazine had of them. This was back in the early '80's, and already many of us younger feminists were frustrated with the lack of awareness of race and class amongst the group of predominately white feminists.

I agree with Valenti, the author of the article noted above, we need to not hide from this tension but engage it openly and honestly and, frankly, maturely:

No matter what Clinton's fate, feminist election tensions will start to fade--but we shouldn't let them, no matter how many calls for solidarity are issued by movement leaders. Instead of the group hug approach, let's focus on tangible goals: fostering youth leadership, working from the margins in and using intersectionality as our lens--instead of just a talking point. Let's use this moment, when our politics and emotions are raw, to push for a better, more forward-looking feminism.