This Isn’t That Documentary: Gloria: In Her Own Words

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

 

As I said on Twitter, Gloria: In Her Own Words, the new documentary about feminist activist Gloria Steinem running exclusively on HBO this month, is a “precise” work on her life and The Second Feminist Movement (and what I mean by this is the mainstream Second Wave Movement) in the last 60+ years.

Dana Goldstein took the doc to task in The Nation for not addressing race and racism in the movement Steinem helped shape:

Though there are interviews in Gloria about how upper-middle-class, straight feminists came to embrace lesbian rights and economic justice for poor women, there is no explicit discussion of an equally enduring and arguably more fraught issue: the relationship between feminism and struggles for racial equality. The film does feature archival footage showing 1970s white feminists arguing that men’s only bars are the equivalent of Jim Crow lunch counters. Doesn’t that contention cry out for debate, for analysis—for something? We see Steinem appear alongside her 1970s “speaking partners,” the black feminists Flo Kennedy (pictured above–Ed.) and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, but we don’t hear much about how these women (who were so often overshadowed by the more famous Steinem) navigated their dual identies as women of color within the feminist movement.

Steinem notes that her own brand of feminism was more radical than that of her elders, women like Betty Friedan, who were concerned mostly with the plight of white, college-educated housewives. Yet there are no interviews with either Steinem or other movement veterans that reflect explicitly on the relationship between feminism and civil rights. We hear about how Steinem’s sexy good looks helped propel her to prominence, but not about how her whiteness helped make feminism seem less threatening. We also learn nothing about the sophisticated set of critiques women-of-color, such as Angela Davis and bell hooks, have long made regarding mainstream feminism: that its focus on abortion detracted from their own struggle for maternal rights and that the assumption that women represent a united interest group often downplayed the struggles of non-white women in overcoming racism.

The reason why I called this doc “precise” is because I didn’t expect it to be nothing more and nothing less than a reflection of the mainstream Second Wave feminist movement…which was, in reality, notoriously short on analysis of race and racism as it functioned within it. When it was addressed, the rhetoric talked about white men and their race vis-à-vis “male privilege.” Some of the white women within that movement may have deeply empathized with and felt themselves in solidarity with the struggles of people of color—Steinem presents herself as such a person—but, as cravenly cynical as it seems, those struggles were also a media-friendly “hook” so people could grasp why women were fighting for, say, equal pay and the right to safe abortion. And, as critiqued again and again, loaded with white female privilege.

For Second Wave mainstream feminism, the mere presence of women of color showed how “diverse” women can come together to fight for the “common” goal of equal rights for “women.” That was “race talk” enough to show the movement’s good faith regarding this.  When it came time to really deal with how race, racism, and white female privilege infused mainstream feminism, the usual response was variations of, “We’re all sisters here. Talking about race divides the movement!” Out of that frustration of failing to address the issue came the influential works like The Combahee River Collective; Pat Parker’s Movement in Black; Gloria Hull’s, Patricia Bell Scott’s and Barbara Smith’s All the Women Are White, All the Black Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave; Barbara Smith’s Home Girls: An Anthology; Gloria Anzaldua’s and Cherrie Moraga’s This Bridge Called My Back; Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider; Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens; and Anzaldua’s La Frontera/Borderlands.  (And, as some hip-hop and other feminists would tell you, some Second Wavers still hold that viewpoint.)

These and other books by and about women of color that came out of the that time period were viewed as writings of outliers, not really touching the mainstream rhetoric or the “concerns” of that movement, which is reflected  in the doc by omission. The writing of Angela Davis, which Dana Goldstein mentioned, helped shape the Third Wave of feminism. Though Angela Davis was in the same demographic as Steinem—both are Baby Boomers–during the throes of the Second Wave (in the 60s through the 70s), Davis was speaking about Black Power. Though her autobiography shows a consciousness around feminism and intersectionality, it was later in her public intellectual life that Davis became famous in feminist imaginations—and required college reading–with her classic books Women, Race, and Class and Women, Culture, and Politics.

It’s the same thing, really, with bell hooks.  Though she was critiquing the Second Wave hard, she was an outlier as far as the mainstream Second Wave was concerned.  hooks was 19-year-old undergrad when she wrote Ain’t I a Woman in the 70s and had it published a decade later—long after the mainstream Second Wave, with Steinem’s help, formed its rhetoric and platform of “equal rights” and became part of the academy.

That’s why I’m not surprised that the film didn’t include these foremothers of the Third Wave or pay attention to, let alone analyze, the issue of race and racism.  This doc isn’t that doc about the race/racism/feminism conundrum.  In that sense, I can, strangely enough, somewhat forgive Gloria for not addressing that issue. That almost insta-kyriarchal critique we in anti-racist and some other progressive circles do and are used to isn’t Steinem. This doc is, simply put, a longer periscope of the mainstream Second Wave through Steinem’s view.

And the way Steinem and her feminist compatriots have seen it is that all women were “women.” There wasn’t a whole lot of difference, as Steinem and some others in the mainstream Second Wave framed it, between the issues that a woman of color had and a white woman. And, probably coming from a working-class background as Steinem was , she probably felt she was in solidarity because her white femaleness was mitigated privilege where white women from that socio-economic group were (and are still) viewed as “trashy.”

However, as much as the film did not address race and racism in the mainstream Second Wave and how Steinem may have shaped that conversation, I do think Steinem herself did shift her ideas about race and feminism–and the film didn’t reflect that, either. That moment came when she was publicly called out by Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry on Democracy Now! for her New York Times op-ed challenging then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s qualifications to lead the country (transcript here):

Steinem, as per the Second Wave rhetoric, starts to say that “women struggle as women.” Dr. Harris-Perry checks that—she, who has not only the lived experience as a woman of color in the US, but more than likely studied the writings of hooks, Davis, Anzaldua, Walker, Smith, Hull, Moraga, and many other feminists of color.

I think the best example of Steinem’s post-debate shift is what I saw at the screening of the doc last Thursday. A friend of mine, Loop 21’s Keli Goff, asked Steinem about her thoughts on the anti-Black anti-choice billboards and how activists should move forward against future ones. Steinem responded by asking Goff if she heard about the activism that happened in NYC. Goff said no. That’s when another friend of mine, SisterSong NYC’s Jasmine Burnett raised her hand and got Steinem’s attention. All Steinem said to the audience was, “This is what we call networking.” Burnett got up and spoke very eloquently to Goff and the group on how a cohort organization, Trust Black Women, and SisterSong NYC helped galvanize people to take down the sign, the feelings of the pro-choice mom whose daughter’s photo was on those billboards, and the current situation with the ads.  The only other thing Steinem did was ask Burnett to mention SisterSong’s Loretta Ross. Other than that, Steinem fell back for Burnett: an older white feminist—an icon at that!—stepped aside for a younger feminist of color. And Steinem looked rather content in that role. I suspect that, if that call-out didn’t happen, Steinem would have interrupted Burnett and attempt to talk about the signs affecting “all women” and said and done other off-putting things.

Gloria: In Her Own Words is, if not a form of haigiography, a “legacy film”: Steinem is getting her bequethal in order for those people who may never pick her books or will wade through 60+ years of documentation about the second wave. With that understanding, I enjoyed the film: I understood her a little better. She, like me, came from Toledo, OH; she took care of her mom, who suffered a nervous breakdown; she suffered the loss of her dad, who she didn’t see transition due to being on the road for feminism; she married late in life and became a widow a short time after she married. Those details humanize Steinem when people are so used to discussing her as a controversial figure or icon to love or hate or debate about. The doc is a good summation of one person’s wide-ranging and deeply influential life.

As for the future of feminism, this is Steinem’s benediction: “Don’t listen to me, but listen to your own hearts about what’s best for feminism.” And, if it’s in our hearts to make that film about race, racism, and feminism, then I think Steinem would fall back about it.

Image credits:  Ms. Magazine and missomnimedia

  • http://twitter.com/anastasiakeeley Annie Shields

    In case anyone’s interested, here’s a 1973 article on Flo Kennedy written by Gloria Steinem: http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/08/19/the-verbal-karate-of-florynce-r-kennedy-esq/

  • http://twitter.com/anastasiakeeley Annie Shields

    In case anyone’s interested, here’s a 1973 article on Flo Kennedy written by Gloria Steinem: http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/08/19/the-verbal-karate-of-florynce-r-kennedy-esq/

  • Anonymous

    Reading this comment thread…

     

    First of all, I have to thank Latoya for holding
    things down during the day and thank you for the compliment and the song. (Hmmm…I
    think I may have to go back to pole-dancing class just to dance to that song. :-D) I
    didn’t find it ageist for the exact reason RVCBard stated: it’s an acknowledgement
    that a middle-aged woman (me) “looks good” because I’m “healthy, confident, and
    stylish”? If I’m not mistaken, those attributes don’t have an age.

     

    Secondly…really,
    Lynn?

     

    Lynn, if you would have simply said that, “Hey
    y’all at the R, I’m not seeing anyone explicitly covering race and age around
    here,” then I honestly think people here—both the R staffers and the commenters—probably
    would have been cool with what you said. 
    But that’s not what you said—regardless of your intention. You chose to not
    only go into over-lecture mode—like you did in this comment section—and, in the
    process, derailed into Oppression Olympics:

     

    “Just like on racialicious there is very
    little talk of ageism but lots and lots of talk about racism and homophobia. Even
    though ageism affects more people than those other two isms.”

     

    If you say that you “love Racialicious,” as much as you say you do,
    Lynn, then you’d know this from the comment guidelines section:

     

    “Let’s
    avoid oppression olympics please. I’m
    not saying it’s never something to be discussed, but generally speaking,
    bickering over who has it worse off, or who’s more racist, is really kind of
    useless.”

     

    When Grace and others pointed this out—and I agreed—you wanted to get
    into how you’re doing all this “calling out” of ageism at the R:

     

    “It’s just ironic that on a forum that devotes so much time
    calling out people on their various forms of privilege there is the inability
    to look squarely at one’s own age privilege.”

     

     And then went a step further in using Oppression Olympics to
    reason why the R should cover age and race by saying:

     

    Because
    when black womanists complain about white feminists’ ignorance of race issues
    it’s a legitimate grievance but when ageism is pointed out by the old to the
    young it’s called ‘derailing.’ 

     

    Angel H articulated why this claim is false:

     

    No,
    it’s called derailing because you brought up ageism in a post that has
    absolutely nothing to do with ageism and in which nothing ageist was stated.

     

    And, Lynn, you stayed in over-lecture mode
    and stating ageist assumptions about the R staff:

     

    The
    thing about youth privilege though is that there is a natural cure for it:
    time. I have no doubt that once the young bloggers of racialicious reach a
    certain age they will turn their critical eyes towards ageism, a most
    acceptable form of prejudice in our culture, and only then will it become a
    concern for them. As much as racism, homophobia, etc. are to them now. But we
    are all victims of it. Do/did you dread turning 30? Are you scared of wrinkles?
    Then you are a victim of ageism.

     

    With
    the assumption that the younger bloggers of the R aren’t thinking about
    precisely because of their age.
      That is
    ageism against those younger than yourself. And you’re also assuming that
    everyone trips about getting older in the exact same way…or that people will
    trip about it at all.  As for me, I
    don’t—as some of the younger bloggers and commenters at the R who have met me offline
    would tell you. Which is probably why they think I “stay fly.”

     

    As
    far as I am concerned, all of this nullifies your apology. Your intention doesn’t
    excuse or erase the fact that the result and the impact is you condescending to
    younger readers and bloggers here. Even Carmen (Van Kerckhove) Sognonvi, the
    founder of this site, has this to say on Twitter about you and this thread:

     

    We
    young whipper snappers should just sit down. Apparently…ageism is a legit issue and one that The R could do
    more on. But then she got ageist on us and totally lost me.

     

    And, in the
    process, you’ve offended me, Lynn, by erasing my experiences as a middle-aged
    woman and, furthermore how I choose to express that. However, how I choose to express it–including discussing it in
    posts–really is my place to do so. And Latoya trusts me with that. Full stop.
    Therefore, if I feel it’s relevant, I’ll talk about it. If I don’t, then I
    won’t. That’s not some “internalized ageism,” but a far more simpler principle:
    everything has a time and a place.  When
    I wrote about the New Yorker and that
    cover about the Obamas, I felt age wasn’t appropriate to me because hipster
    racism crosses age boundaries, even though it manifests itself differently in
    each generation. When I talked about Ciara and Justin Timberlake, age wasn’t
    appropriate to discuss to me because I know women my age who participate in
    BDSM and race play and also get agitated about those images being broadcast. When
    I wrote about Alexandra Wallace and white female privilege, I didn’t think
    speaking about age was appropriate because that privilege extends well into a
    woman’s later years, as witnessed by Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann…and yes,
    Gloria Steinem.

     

    And, if you would re-read this post and factor
    in my age, you’d realize that I was able to say what I said—and take on what
    Dana Goldstein said about the Steinem doc– precisely because I lived
    through it
    . Simply put, I have a longer view of both 2nd and 3rd Wave
    rhetoric because, again, I’ve lived long enough to hear it on the streets, in
    the classroom, and on the blogs and to witness for myself how the rhetoric has changed.
     That very same reason is why I’m also able to look at this doc and
    recognize that Steinem is using this film to, as older Black people would say,
    “get her house in order.” In my neighborhood, it’s called “perspective”—something
    my 66-year-old mom says one gains as one gets older.

     

    Now, Latoya
    and others have stated to you options on getting your particular take on ageism
    heard. When offered to do a post , you offered the “gosh, I’m sooooooo busy
    with my own blog” When Latoya offered to cross-post something, you’re all like,
    “That’s something to think about.” My thing is, if you’re so tight about the
    lack of ageism here, Lynn—and this seems so because you spent quite a bit of
    time in this thread talking about it—then there is nothing to think about. I
    don’t want to hear any more apologies or about your intentions or “I’m so busy.”
    I challenge you to do it, either by writing a fresh post or offering a
    cross-post.  In fact, I’d happily welcome
    it.

     

    So far, though, I’ve heard you’ve haven’t.

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    I’m confused. Are you saying it’s ageist for a younger person to acknowledge that a middle-aged woman looks good because she’s healthy, confident, and stylish?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SRMP4LTHXW42DPOTIPTFP5Q2MY Lynn

    Actually, Andrea outed her age to me in another blog post here on racialicious when I brought up the ageism issue, so I already knew that there was at least one older person here. But just as having one black person in the cast of a TV show doesn’t mean that race-related issues will be addressed on that show, it also doesn’t mean that having an older person on a blog necessarily means that ageism will be discussed on that blog. 

    I know PLENTY of older people who are ageist themselves, are ashamed of how old they are, and have bought into the anti-aging crap that’s so prevalent in our culture. Not saying Andrea is this way — I don’t know the woman — but this type of mentality is common. Another analogy: women’s magazines are staffed by women but they are some of the most anti-woman publications around.Point well taken about submitting something of my own. I have my own blog that takes up a lot of my time where I have talked about this issue, but I’ll keep that in mind.

    • Anonymous

      I have my own blog that takes up a lot of my time…

      That’s why we allow cross posting. So that you can share something you’ve already written.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SRMP4LTHXW42DPOTIPTFP5Q2MY Lynn

        Will keep that in mind. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, I (Latoya) outed Andrea, who appears to be here now, so I will let her take over. But this is the source of great amusement between us, since AJ is always lumped in with us age wise despite the fact that she has been very open about her age on the blog. Guess that’s what happens when you stay fly…

  • Mina

    I clapped my hands and squealed with glee when I saw the picture of Florynce Kennedy and I looked forward to reading about a piece on her but was sadly disappointed…please do a piece on Flo Racialicious!!!

    I was very bothered by Steinem’s response to Harris Lacewell. As another reader pointed out, it drew all of the attention back to her (and her feelings) and then shifted to focus on the ways that Hilary Clinton’s white womanhood was under attack…which just served to underscore what Harris Lacewell was stating. I’ve never really taken to Gloria Steinem for this very reason. And her negligence (or outright refusal) to incorporate a meaningful critical race theory/politics in her feminist agenda has pointed out to her on several occasions, by bell hooks, by Florynce Kennedy, and it this cited instance here yet she continues to fail to acknowledge racial politics in ways that matter. It is infuriating. 

    • Anonymous

      Renina sent me something a while back…let me see if she’s knee-deep in grad school stuff, but let me see if she’s up for something…

      • Mina

        Yay!!!! (I am going to cross my fingers now…)

  • Heartbunnyhug

    Steinem is not a baby boomer. The “baby boom” happened post-WWII. Steinem (b 1934) was born well before WWII started. 

  • Rictus Smirk

    Thanks for introducing me to the word *kyriarchy*, of which I’d been shamefully ignorant.  It’s a brilliant and obviously necessary idea. I feel like a high school sophomore who’s just discovered Nietzsche and has to disappear for as long as it takes to stop verbally marveling at the obvious.

    Question:  Why is Lacewell’s point about second wave feminism’s failure to acknowledge black women more valid than Lynn’s point about Racialicious’s writers’ tendency not to care enough about ageism?  Lynn misspoke in terms of comparing various levels of oppression, but does that really mean her point about the omission is unworthy? 

    It seems as if Lynn spoke hyperbolically due to the frustration of feeling ignored.  Given her situation, I can forgive polemical overemphasis.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SRMP4LTHXW42DPOTIPTFP5Q2MY Lynn

      >>Why is Lacewell’s point about second wave feminism’s failure to acknowledge black women more valid than Lynn’s point about Racialicious’s writers’ tendency not to care enough about ageism?<<

      Because when black womanists complain about white feminists' ignorance of race issues it's a legitimate grievance but when ageism is pointed out by the old to the young it's called 'derailing.' 

      Many of us tend to speak from our own experiences while ignoring others' viewpoints. It's just ironic that on a forum that devotes so much time calling out people on their various forms of privilege there is the inability to look squarely at one's own age privilege. The thing about youth privilege though is that there is a natural cure for it: time. I have no doubt that once the young bloggers of racialicious reach a certain age they  will turn their critical eyes towards ageism, a most acceptable form of prejudice in our culture, and only then will it become a concern for them. As much as racism, homophobia, etc. are to them now. But we are all victims of it. Do/did you dread turning 30? Are you scared of wrinkles? Then you are a victim of ageism.

      • http://dont-read.blogspot.com Angel H.

        Because when black womanists complain about white feminists’ ignorance of race issues it’s a legitimate grievance but when ageism is pointed out by the old to the young it’s called ‘derailing.’ 

        No, it’s called derailing because you brought up ageism in a post that has absolutely nothing to do with ageism and in which nothing ageist was stated. Also, ageism goes both ways: Younger people are often discriminated against because of their youth and have fewer rights than adults. By insisting that attention be turned towards your topic of choice because you think you know better, you are being ageist against the Racialicious staff.

        • Rictus Smirk

          My apologies for reinforcingwhat has proved to be a tangent.  I gave Lynn the benefit of the doubt, not being privy to anyone’s unstated motives or intentions. 

          As a separate subject, I suppose a tirade about ageism is tangential in this particular discussion.  As a point of comparison, however, I thought it was valid.  For one thing, it led to the mention of dynamics within hierarchies of privilege generally, which is quite pertinent to this thread (second wave feminism’s supposed privileging of gender over race as the issue of central importance and the dynamics of different kinds of discrimination within it).

          It seems to me there are just as many problems with third wave as second, however, specifically the acceptance of roles and values previously thought of as sexist simply because they are now populist.  What does one call a feminist who refuses to devalue/underemphasize the role of black, Native American, Asian, Latino and LGTB feminists, but who still opposes as oppressive certain activities now spoken about as “empowering” by members of the third wave?  Specifically, activities like sex work and stripping, which can be subverted in the abstract, in special cases (within circumscribed social groups, or as promoted by certain venues/people not affiliated with the sex industry and/or organized crime), but is fundamentally damaging to to most women in the long run.

          It should be possible to update one’s sense of the complexities of these issues, and to shed unnecessary dogma, without either short-changing feminists who came before us or embracing activities and attitude which still have the potential to degrade us no matter how meta- or post- they might look to us now.

          Apologies if my remarks are too OT.

        • Rictus Smirk

          My apologies for reinforcingwhat has proved to be a tangent.  I gave Lynn the benefit of the doubt, not being privy to anyone’s unstated motives or intentions. 

          As a separate subject, I suppose a tirade about ageism is tangential in this particular discussion.  As a point of comparison, however, I thought it was valid.  For one thing, it led to the mention of dynamics within hierarchies of privilege generally, which is quite pertinent to this thread (second wave feminism’s supposed privileging of gender over race as the issue of central importance and the dynamics of different kinds of discrimination within it).

          It seems to me there are just as many problems with third wave as second, however, specifically the acceptance of roles and values previously thought of as sexist simply because they are now populist.  What does one call a feminist who refuses to devalue/underemphasize the role of black, Native American, Asian, Latino and LGTB feminists, but who still opposes as oppressive certain activities now spoken about as “empowering” by members of the third wave?  Specifically, activities like sex work and stripping, which can be subverted in the abstract, in special cases (within circumscribed social groups, or as promoted by certain venues/people not affiliated with the sex industry and/or organized crime), but is fundamentally damaging to to most women in the long run.

          It should be possible to update one’s sense of the complexities of these issues, and to shed unnecessary dogma, without either short-changing feminists who came before us or embracing activities and attitude which still have the potential to degrade us no matter how meta- or post- they might look to us now.

          Apologies if my remarks are too OT.

  • http://www.blackpagan.com lynn

    Hi Grace, yes it is a complicated issue.

    Every person of color and every LGBT, indeed every person in our society will someday be old, if they live long enough, and then they will experience ageism as well as every other ism that affects them. So yes, it does affects more people collectively.
    The young do experience a certain kind of privilege compared to the old. You will understand this as you age. In the meantime, there are many websites and books you could access to help educate yourself.

    And as long as “radical women of color bloggers” continue to ignore the issue of ageism on their blogs, I will continue to bring it up. Folks are so quick to point out privilege in others, but when their own age-privilege is pointed out, they act like it doesn’t exist. Not participating in any “oppression olympics,” just pointing out something some of you may not have considered. Just as the black womanists of the ’70s pointed out racism to the white feminists of that era.

    • Anonymous

      Lynn, you’re coming off as a bit rude. You’re using the same kind of arguments that I have seen white people employ to shake off racism (since the US is majority white, of course we are going to be the focus of discussion…) and the same one that white feminists have used to justify centering white women’s experiences. You do not have to rank oppressions to say that yours is also important and also worth exploring.

      I’ll also note that (1), you are erasing Andrea Plaid, who I suppose associates with too many of us young’uns to be taken seriously anymore, and (2) you are ignoring one of the foundations of Racialicious, which is our open submissions policy. A lot of people complain about what we don’t cover, but very few are inspired to contribute a piece.

      Also, please note, the “radical women of color bloggers” tag is not one we identify with. Some people find our ideas and positioning radical; others criticize us for being hopelessly mainstream. This is a blog run primarily by women of color, but ideologically, we’re all over the map.

      • http://www.blackpagan.com lynn

        1) It wasn’t my intention to be rude , so I apologize for coming off that way.  2) that I would not take seriously anyone who associates too much with the young is an assumption on your part, and one that is very characteristic of an ageist society in which the old and young are kept separate from each other.

        Despite your omission of topics regarding ageism — particularly as it affects women of color — I love racialicious and will continue reading and sometimes posting here.

    • PatrickInBeijing

      Hi Lynn,  (and yes I have read the posts that follow with an earlier date).

          I sympathize with you on age.  I am 59.  (ouch).  The reason I am replying to your post is because I just got an email from one of my best friends.  She is a young black woman in her 30′s who just graduated with a PhD from UCLA.  She has amazing credentials, incredible experience, wonderful references, speaks several languages, and can’t find a job.  She wrote to tell me she knows it is hard for us older folk.  I wanna cry. (okay i did).

         Frankly, it is hard.  But race trumps age every time.  This lady is one hundred times more qualified than i am, but she can’t find a job.  She is truly amazing (I can prove it, but I won’t) (and no, we are not lovers, just good good friends).    It seems to me a crime that she is in a difficult situation.  I look at the statistics about who is finding work, and who isn’t.  It is clear in every study, that POC are getting screwed.  Yes, older folk are also getting screwed.  But, if you’re not white, you don’t even get a chance to have your age considered.

         Ouch, that should hurt.  It hurts my friend, and it hurts me.  As much as I would love my age to be ignored, I know that my race trumps age.  Look at the ranks of tenured college professors.  Last I saw, 85% white male.  Many of them are OLDER white males.  I have a number of friends who should be tenured now, but don’t stand a chance in hell.  And it ain’t age.  It’s always race (and sex).   (Well, sexual orientation of course, not wanting to leave it out, it is just that there are so many prejudices in the university systems).

         It sucks getting older and being excluded, but shit, I had my chance.  As a black woman, you may never have gotten a fair shake.  But even if your age were discounted now, your race wouldn’t be.  That at least is my experience working in corporate america.

         A long time ago, in another place and time, I worked with a buncha of the early leaders of the second wave.  i was in men’s groups (not the current kind, but an earlier kind, too long a story for this post).  I loved the people I worked with, still do.  Wonderful folks (I came to know many of them through the anti-war movement).  But race was rarely part of the conversation.  Mostly folks were working on where they had come from, which was segregated experiences.   It was kind of schizophrenic.    But it was what it was.  At the time, the folks I worked with, acknowledged the weakness of what was going on, but saw it as something that would be fixed “later” after they dealt with their personal struggles (a lot of the second wave was personal, some of the best was ideological).  Alas, that never happened, not due to ill will, but for a lot of reasons.

        Backing up, I want to say that age is important.  But nothing I have ever seen suggests to me that it trumps race, then sex, and sexual orientation (do we have a more general term for everything wonderful about who we are sexually?).

        Good luck to you in fighting ageism!!

    • PatrickInBeijing

      Hi Lynn,  (and yes I have read the posts that follow with an earlier date).

          I sympathize with you on age.  I am 59.  (ouch).  The reason I am replying to your post is because I just got an email from one of my best friends.  She is a young black woman in her 30′s who just graduated with a PhD from UCLA.  She has amazing credentials, incredible experience, wonderful references, speaks several languages, and can’t find a job.  She wrote to tell me she knows it is hard for us older folk.  I wanna cry. (okay i did).

         Frankly, it is hard.  But race trumps age every time.  This lady is one hundred times more qualified than i am, but she can’t find a job.  She is truly amazing (I can prove it, but I won’t) (and no, we are not lovers, just good good friends).    It seems to me a crime that she is in a difficult situation.  I look at the statistics about who is finding work, and who isn’t.  It is clear in every study, that POC are getting screwed.  Yes, older folk are also getting screwed.  But, if you’re not white, you don’t even get a chance to have your age considered.

         Ouch, that should hurt.  It hurts my friend, and it hurts me.  As much as I would love my age to be ignored, I know that my race trumps age.  Look at the ranks of tenured college professors.  Last I saw, 85% white male.  Many of them are OLDER white males.  I have a number of friends who should be tenured now, but don’t stand a chance in hell.  And it ain’t age.  It’s always race (and sex).   (Well, sexual orientation of course, not wanting to leave it out, it is just that there are so many prejudices in the university systems).

         It sucks getting older and being excluded, but shit, I had my chance.  As a black woman, you may never have gotten a fair shake.  But even if your age were discounted now, your race wouldn’t be.  That at least is my experience working in corporate america.

         A long time ago, in another place and time, I worked with a buncha of the early leaders of the second wave.  i was in men’s groups (not the current kind, but an earlier kind, too long a story for this post).  I loved the people I worked with, still do.  Wonderful folks (I came to know many of them through the anti-war movement).  But race was rarely part of the conversation.  Mostly folks were working on where they had come from, which was segregated experiences.   It was kind of schizophrenic.    But it was what it was.  At the time, the folks I worked with, acknowledged the weakness of what was going on, but saw it as something that would be fixed “later” after they dealt with their personal struggles (a lot of the second wave was personal, some of the best was ideological).  Alas, that never happened, not due to ill will, but for a lot of reasons.

        Backing up, I want to say that age is important.  But nothing I have ever seen suggests to me that it trumps race, then sex, and sexual orientation (do we have a more general term for everything wonderful about who we are sexually?).

        Good luck to you in fighting ageism!!

  • Anonymous

    I’d appreciate if we didn’t participate in the Oppression Olympics. Racism and homophobia aren’t “less prevalent” and don’t affect “fewer people” than ageism. Please think before you speak. 

    You took the words right out of my 42-year-old mouth. 

  • Anonymous

    Small quibble—Steinem isn’t a baby boomer. She’s 77–she would be in a baby boomer’s parent range (1934). Angela Davis might be considered one (1944). 

    • Anonymous

      Heartbunnything and gracefulvictory–

  • jvansteppes

    It’s interesting to hear that Steinem may have learned something from her encounter with Dr. Harris-Perry, because during the dialogue itself she appeared to take little responsibility for her statements. While she wasn’t aggressive she did emphasize how painful it was to hear the critique (subtext: your challenge hurts me), and then added that she didn’t even mean to write it, she got roped into it while she was minding her own business ‘trying to do my own work’ as if that editorial wasn’t ‘her work’.
    Your review is generous and I guess I ought to let that set an example for me.

    • Anonymous

      Awww, thanks! I feel like a part of me should have had the same anti-racist outrage that Goldstein had–especially after watching that debate again–but I couldn’t muster it. I almost felt that approach would have been too easy, especially living through and studying the 2nd and 3rd Wave. So I couldn’t make the same historical assumptions that Goldstein made about the film or, at least, thought the film should have addressed. ::shrug::

      For what’s worth, Steinem did mention our own Latoya Peterson as one of the women who she thinks is forwarding the feminist movement.

      • alizoom

        You know, I’ve got to say, as a 51-year-old African-American woman, I’ve completely rejected the label “feminist” and the so-called “second wave of feminism”. And why shouldn’t I? The vast majority of white women in my age bracket and younger have also completely rejected/ abandoned this so-called “movement”. Hell, I even have trouble calling it a “movement” because I see no “real”  and positive changes that occurred under these (white) womens’ “watch. Employment and payroll parity: FAIL; passage of the ERA Amendment: major-league fail. Passing on a true legacy of equality and parity to all American women – er, another major FAIL.

        From ’88-’91 I worked with feminists groups to bring abortion services to Cook County Hospital (Chicago). Why did they want black women (can’t WoC’s because at that time these feminists had NO interest in what Latinas, Asians, Native-American women had to say)? Brawn – Plain and simple. Zero interest in our intellect and zero interest in helping us obtain services and support for our challenged communities. We were there for “show” – so they could trot us to black officeholders and politicians and say see, “we got some black gals in our thing, too”. For these white feminists, it was “reproductive rights” for them, but “birth and population control” for the colored gals. I actually had one sincerely brag about when she spoke at schools to audiences of black girls: ‘I tell them, see this nice blouse I’m worrying? If you have a baby out of wedlock, you won’t be able to afford nice things like I have’. Yep, just like their men – greedy and materialistic.

        Steinem and Erica Jong can bite me. In ’08 both of them wrote scathing and racist essays all over Huffington Post, etc. denouncing POTUS Obama’s campaign – because it was “our turn” – meaning white women. Oh, and they turned on Norma McCrovey (“Roe” in Roe v. Wade). They promised her if she served as a lightening rod for the abortion fight, they’d help her get her child that had been placed up for adoption back. They didn’t, and then they denounced her as poor white trash that “wasn’t part of  “our movement”, anyway”. They also ignored those women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

        The sole purpose of that so-called second wave was to give white, upper women a seat at the boardroom table next to their fathers, uncles, brothers, and husbands. And then they turned around and kept the rest of us  out. And continue to do so.

        The “second-wave and its architects (Steinem, et al) are simply not to be trusted by PoC. And we should take care to remember that our communities are way too challenged on every front to waste time navel-gazing about the sole individual. The last 50 years has proven one thing: these white feminists may come and say a few nice things about you the person, but they have nothing for PoCs and at any time and any place will viciously turn and actively work to further destroy communities (and POCs) of color if our needs are not in lockstep with theirs.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for your response. alizoom. 

          However, you and I are going to differ on this because there are many, many forms of  feminism besides what Steinem and nem got to say, including womanism (thanks to Alice Walker, which formed out her work with the Combahee River Collective) and Xicanisma (Ana Castillo broke this on down in her book, Massacre of the Dreamers,because she felt (white) feminism and womanism didn’t speak to her as a Latina.  

          In fact, Xicanisma and Asian American feminism and their reads on how the Black/White binary played out in feminism and womanism and, because of that, neither movement spoke to them is something to think about when talking about this “we PoCs” who need to watch out for white feminists.*

          *@Rictus Smirk–speaking of kyriarchy…another historical example. ;-)

          • alizoom

            “Oh! And when I hear statements admonishing what “we PoCs” need to be doing, I think of this group right here.”

            My point is…we are in crisis and have many challenges and need to look for those that are allied with us, assisting us, as opposed to the historical problem with white feminism – coming into our communities and insisting that the focus and work be all about their vision, their goals.

            What you do is what you do – but I don’t need to place another antiquated label upon myself to feel like I “belong”. The white feminist community has had fifty years to work with and for women of color; to lend a hand.

            I have my experiences – and they are valid. And yes, there are some things that “we should” all being doing. But, it’s a choice, you know? And campy photos to define another’s  (perceived AND dead wrong) POV throws you whole up-until-that-link out of the window.

            Yes, there are many forms of, dare I say, “feminism” as founded and defined by women of color. But they are NOT the original recipe of feminism, nor are they welcomed or even recognized by Steinem & Company. WoCs tell her how marginalized and damaging the racism “her” movement has been, and Steinem starts talking about her “hurt”.  Yeah, that’s been her response for three decades now – and the Chicago NOW office is open a whole two days a week.

            Why does white-branded feminism fail: well, it has never valued the family structure, i.e. children, caretaking of elderly parents and spouses, working classes, community outreach – the very same reasons the daughters and granddaughters of these second-wave feminists. Hey, if it sucks for their own kind, then why should I hitch my ride to (it)?

            I did my work with them, out in the trenches. They see WoC as “The Help-The Radical Progressive Version”.  And let’s be real: the feminist movement is dead. It was an exclusive membership, and like all things exclusive, it dies out from lack of interest. No longer are these women invited in the halls of Congress or statehouses or K Street – Sarah Palin and crew have taken over. Why? Because white upper-middle class feminism was ALL about “them” – and no one else.

          • Anonymous

            I understand your frustration, alizoom, with the white feminist movement. However–and I said before, you and I are going to differ. In other words, you and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this. I disagree with your point because you’re trying to categorically state this sense of crisis within a singular community–”PoC”–that may or may not exist and that “we PoC all should do x.” Some *communities* are struggling with crises, yes. And the various schools of feminism, especially as constructed by women of color, were/are a response to those crises, yes.  

            Now, if you don’t want to tag yourself as a feminist for the reasons you stated, fine. If you re-read my comment, I don’t say anything in my original  direct response to you or in my original post states otherwise.  Furthermore, in this post, I have to consider the history of the white feminist movement for the very simple fact that, well, I’m dealing with a historical person who is deeply influential in feminism, for good and ill. And I had to consider that ill…and the good. And because we’re both middle-aged women of color, specifically African American women, doesn’t mean we have to feel the same way about, well, anything. That doesn’t make one or the other of us outliers of The Black Community (whatever that means), but two African American women who disagree with each other. 

            As for the campy photo…I like it. Full stop.   

  • http://www.blackpagan.com lynn

    Race just wasn’t the focus of the affluent, white women of 2nd wave feminism back in the ’70s and it really isn’t their focus now.

    Just like on racialicious there is very little talk of ageism but lots and lots of talk about racism and homophobia. Even though ageism affects more people than those other two isms. As a middle-aged black woman that makes me feel invisible at times here at racialicious but if it really bothered me that much, well, I could just go and start my own blog dealing with those issues. Just as bell hooks and Michelle Wallace and Alice Walker and Audre Lorde et al went out and wrote their own books and articles about black women’s issues. 

    Somebody is always going to be left out.

    • Morenaclara

       I agree. I wish not to derail the thread in any way but  one of the problems I had with   BOTH the Womanist and feminist movement is that )

      I felt this “otherness”I felt that , the voices and
      experience of coming from  an immigrant
      background and being a woman weren’t even acknowledged. Or being a
      child of an immigrant woman and dealing with two “rules” from two cultures of
      being a woman.