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  1. Sex shouldn't matter in politics. Let's all be gender-blind! : The Curvature

    [...] [Cross-posted from Feministe] [...]

  2. janie
    janie November 15, 2007 at 2:57 pm |

    Minor point, in addition to all the major ones already pointed out. Ireland hasn’t had a female leader in the same way Germany has. There has been a female president in Ireland but Ireland’s president isn’t the political leader of the country. The equivalent of the US office of president in Ireland has never been female.

  3. D.N. Nation
    D.N. Nation November 15, 2007 at 3:18 pm |

    Regarding motivations for “color-blindness”:

    I think you’re missing a big and mostly-less-sinister one, Cara, that concerns race-promotion. I think many Whites see various pro-POC entities (think your NAACP, your Black Caucus, etc.), put them in context with the widely disdained pro-white ones (think your Klan, your skinheads, etc.) and think, well shoot, that isn’t fair. They also look at culture across the board and see things that are clearly identified as “Black stuff,” but nothing in particular that screams “White stuff” (they’re wrong about that, of course, unless you’d like to open my eyes to the Black Twee Folk sub-genre of indie music, and so on) and think, well shoot, that’s pretty unlevel. And don’t forget about the White guy who thinks he shouldn’t point out Black guys because, we’re all guys, right? Isn’t that what the Black guys want us to think? (No.)

    The solution to this, in their mind, is this we-are-the-world silliness that supposedly breaks down racial barriers, because we’re all people, you know. It’s wrong, of course, because the color of race is only the tip of the iceberg; race is the sum of historical experiences that can’t be simply wished away. But I don’t think the motives are necessarily sinister and self-serving. Just…confused.

  4. D.N. Nation
    D.N. Nation November 15, 2007 at 3:20 pm |

    And I say this as a White guy who used to be confused himself, but now puts it upon himself to understand people as they wish to be understood.

  5. Thomas, TSID
    Thomas, TSID November 15, 2007 at 3:59 pm |

    DN, in an oppressive system, it is difficult and maybe impossible to establish a positive, non-oppressive meaning for an identity co-extensive with the definition of the oppressor class.

  6. Thealogian
    Thealogian November 15, 2007 at 4:10 pm |

    Once a friend of mine decided to go around asking white people “why do white people do thus and so?”–her favorite was “why do adult male white men drink plain milk with a meal?”–she’s Latina and milk is for children (though cream in coffee is a-okay). She’s often asked, “why do Latinos do thus and so” as if one member of a race could answer such a question for all persons. There must be something about Blackness that is inherent to all that causes “X” cultural trait or something like that.
    Its great to turn it on its head and start asking White people, why do you thus and so–not so much for the “answers” because again, one person can’t answer for a whole population–but for the mind-bending benefits. To GET IT–how can I be responsible for all people who look like me? Exactly–how can anyone? This is not to dismiss race as social experience, but rather to get white people to stop thinking of themselves as the “default” human being–and Anglo-culture as default society.

  7. Lotte
    Lotte November 15, 2007 at 4:23 pm |

    The Klan is not a pro-white organization, though: They’re an anti-POC organization. To confuse the two is pretty amazingly and willfully stupid, so any conflation of the NAACP and the Klan is similarly moronic.

    I don’t give clueless white people a pass for not being aware of the reality of racism , DN, any more than I give clueless men a pass for not being aware of the reality of sexism. POC and women have been trying to talk to clueless people again and again, but the clueless people plug their ears or shout back to drown us out. And that’s malicious and oppressive.

  8. Charlotte
    Charlotte November 15, 2007 at 4:27 pm |

    Agreed. BUT, let’s face it, the demographic of USA Today is neither highly intellectual nor lefty–so, you can’t expect a Judith Butler 101 in this article. However wrong the argumentation in this article might be, at least it addresses an issues that’s been smouldering below the surface. And while it’s not optimal, I’ll take it over an article that’ll completely go over that demographic’s heads …

  9. dinogirl
    dinogirl November 15, 2007 at 4:33 pm |

    Yes, Janie is right. Marys Robinson and McAleese, while both excellent presidents with great liberal credentials who have done a ton of good work for Ireland, are NOT political leaders. They’re figureheads, like the Queen of England.

    Ireland has a shitload of work to do before we get a woman Taoiseach – our Dail (parliament) is 88% male. Gender equal, we ain’t.

  10. D.N. Nation
    D.N. Nation November 15, 2007 at 4:43 pm |

    The Klan is not a pro-white organization, though: They’re an anti-POC organization. To confuse the two is pretty amazingly and willfully stupid, so any conflation of the NAACP and the Klan is similarly moronic.

    Hold up. I didn’t mean that these aformentioned brains viewed these entities on equal footing; in fact, the opposite is true. Thus, “that isn’t fair” is rooted in self-reference, not bequeathed from any universal grading system.

    I don’t give clueless white people a pass for not being aware of the reality of racism

    And you shouldn’t. You should, however, be aware of the nature of this beast.
    Back in ’03, I attended a human rights event in Birmingham, Ala. Special guest speaker was the former head of the Black Panthers (an interesting choice). She ended up boiling her argument down to its essences at the end of her talk, and said that the only way to improve human rights in the world was to just plain do away with that whole USA thing. What an exciting argument!!!!1. It was a crying shame, though, that she didn’t have much of an answer when I inquired how exactly she intended to do this. Or how she would deal with the tremendous humanitarian crisis that would certainly stem from the USA evaporating (unless she intended 300 million people to up and die. Or maybe just some of those. Hmm.) Which brings me to:

    POC and women have been trying to talk to clueless people again and again, but the clueless people plug their ears or shout back to drown us out.

    Kill ‘em all! Or, barring that, understand where they’re coming from and the true nature of their wrongness*. You don’t do that, and you’re just flailing about.
    * Understanding =/= Acceptance. Don’t go Bill O’Reillying around and confuse the two.

    DN, in an oppressive system, it is difficult and maybe impossible to establish a positive, non-oppressive meaning for an identity co-extensive with the definition of the oppressor class.

    Again, understanding =/= acceptance. Is their way of thinking ultimately wrong? Yes. Do they actively seek this wrongness? No. Is that an important distinction to make? I definitely think so, as to properly confront that aformentioned beast.

  11. D.N. Nation
    D.N. Nation November 15, 2007 at 4:48 pm |

    Not really buying the willful ignorance bit; it takes no effort to be a clueless moron. That the clueless moron also believes he’s got the right views on race (as opposed to the clueless morons of majorities gone by, who were fine with being racists) presents a whole new challenge.

  12. D.N. Nation
    D.N. Nation November 15, 2007 at 4:48 pm |

    I think my post up there just broke the internet.

  13. nonskanse
    nonskanse November 15, 2007 at 5:19 pm |

    I thought it sounded like he was saying
    “these are past strategies and they played off of society’s view of women and femininity. but now these views are holding women back whereas they used to help, and a history of playing off of ‘feminine qualities’ may be hurting present day female politicians. We should get rid of these views because they aren’t true. People should know better but they don’t.”

    I mean he wasn’t very good at it, the message was garbled, but it seemed like an honest effort…

  14. D.N. Nation
    D.N. Nation November 15, 2007 at 5:22 pm |

    Cara- I want to make this exceedingly clear.

    There is NO excuse for racism. There is NO excuse for the ignorance of “color-blindness.” They are both a rancid, seething evil that have mucked up our world for centuries.

    There ARE REASONS for racism. There ARE REASONS for the ignorance of “color-blindness.” Yes, they are bad, but THEY EXIST. THESE MUST BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT. If they are not, then we haven’t even put a foot forward to stop racism. Or sexism. Or anything.

    Some Art of War stuff is all I’m advocating.

    Not true. If you don’t listen to people of color when they talk about oppression, that takes effort.

    Here is where we will agree to disagree.

  15. tannenburg
    tannenburg November 15, 2007 at 6:24 pm |

    I’d say there’s a difference between “listen” and “understand.” People are very good at filtering what others say through their own predispositions, as well as performing masterful acts of self-deception. After all, it’s a truism in my field of study that almost every die-hard Nazi had his own “good Jew,” the “exception” to his ironclad racist beliefs. Take a look at the head-butting going on now in most political debates, where no amount of experiential reference, evidence, or explanation can shake, for instance, the conviction of some rightist thinkers that welfare recipients = cheats and that $60K a year in New York City is “upper middle class.”

    It is difficult to believe that there are people out there who are completely tabula rasa, without any exposure to at least the basics of racial/feminist thought. Their exposure may be limited to vitriol or mockery. Still, many people are constantly surprised when confronted by evidence that things are not “as they should be,” that young women are raped, that people of other races are oppressed even in their own good old USA, that infants starve or old people are abandoned in the streets by HMOs…the effort to educate without the aforementioned vitriolic or mocking filters continues.

  16. ACG
    ACG November 15, 2007 at 6:50 pm |

    Not true. If you don’t listen to people of color when they talk about oppression, that takes effort.

    Here is where we will agree to disagree.
    And I’m going to have to disagree with your disagreement. Maybe once upon a time, ignoring the plight of women or POC was an easy thing to do, but that’s just not the case anymore. There are so many advocacy groups, so many lobbyists, so many Very Special Datelines and history months and history classes and sociological specialties that no person who’s being honest with him- or herself can pretend that it’s not out there. Ignorance these days comes not from a lack of information but from a conscious decision to look at the information provided, look at the information countering it, and deciding to go with the latter.

    You said that there are reasons that people are still prejudiced, and that’s entirely true, but you can’t argue that maybe folks just don’t know. If someone is arguing that oppression of women or POC doesn’t exist today, it’s because they’ve heard one group arguing that it does and another group denying it, and they’ve gone with that second group. That’s willful ignorance.

  17. rich
    rich November 15, 2007 at 6:53 pm |

    Glad to see you’re widening your sphere of influence Cara, congrats. I think your definition of a willfully ignorant person and DN’s definition of a clueless moron who is certain of their views are probably referring to the same person and mentality.

  18. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne November 15, 2007 at 7:54 pm |

    Once a friend of mine decided to go around asking white people “why do white people do thus and so?”–her favorite was “why do adult male white men drink plain milk with a meal?”–she’s Latina and milk is for children (though cream in coffee is a-okay).

    That’s an interesting thing to do. Did she actually listen to the answers, or was it just a way to put people on the spot?

    This is not to dismiss race as social experience, but rather to get white people to stop thinking of themselves as the “default” human being–and Anglo-culture as default society.

    That’s why I asked the above: I don’t think the solution is for people to stop asking questions. I think the solution is for people to be asked questions that point out that, despite what they think, their experience is not universal. Asking what seems to be a simple, obvious question — like why do white guys drink milk with a meal * — is a useful way of pointing out a cultural difference if you actually listen. If it’s used as a way of shutting people down, that’s different.

    * White guys drink plain milk with a meal because it’s a carryover from when the US was much more rural and dairy products were cheap and easy to get. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in the mid-1970s and we still got early-morning deliveries from the milkman. No one would buy milk at the grocery store since it was brought right to the house.

  19. D.N. Nation
    D.N. Nation November 15, 2007 at 9:25 pm |

    And you can say “agree to disagree,” if you wish, but suggesting that ignoring prejudice that is right in front of your face and refusing to learn about oppression when someone is speaking to about it somehow you does not take effort and does not amount to willful ignorance is pretty fucking confounding to me.

    Meet my relatives. They pretty fucking confound me too.

  20. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne November 15, 2007 at 9:48 pm |

    Mnemosyne, my immediate guess would be that she was trying to point out the ridiculousness of such questions. To ask why any whole group of people does something is nonsensical. All white guys don’t drink milk with their dinner. In fact, I know very few who do.

    Where I grew up in the Midwest, a lot did, and still do. It’s a regional thing. My dad still drinks milk with dinner every night.

    That’s where I was trying to go with it — a lot of these things are much more regional than people realize. Asking a guy from New York why white guys drink milk with their dinner makes about as much sense as asking a Cuban for their favorite recipe for mole (not mole, the animal, but mole, the sauce). Ask someone from the Midwest about milk, and there will be an answer.

    For example, one common complaint I hear is from black women with regards to ridiculous and demeaning questions about their hair. These types of questions are insulting and can make people feel like they’re being treated like some kind of oddity instead of a person for many reasons, including the one I discussed in the previous paragraph.

    And yet a lot of the time, especially among people in their 20s, the questions are asked out of essentially total ignorance. I know a minuscule amount about black women’s hair, and even that came from white-oriented magazines like Glamour and Allure. I’m sure that I asked — and continue to ask — plenty of stupid questions that were obvious to the person I was asking, but were about something I’d never encountered before because of where and how I grew up.

    I think a lot of PoC underestimate how insulated most white people are, especially in the suburbs and rural areas. In the suburb I lived in, we literally did not have one black family until I was 16 years old, and this was in the late 80s. As D.N. said, it’s not an excuse, but that’s where a lot of people are coming from.

  21. Nathanael Nerode
    Nathanael Nerode November 15, 2007 at 9:48 pm |

    This reminded me of some phrases from feminist theory:

    If we act “gender-blind” and “race-blind” without thinking about it, we will judge everyone by how similar they are to stereotypical white male upper management, because that is what you consider unmarked or “normal”, while women and non-whites and poorer people are marked as different “other”. This is pretty bigoted and unfair.

    In order to fight institutional sexism, people have to actually try to recognize individuals and fight individual biases in favor of masculine stereotypes rather than just saying “Let’s have more women, but only those who act like stereotypical men.”

  22. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne November 15, 2007 at 9:56 pm |

    Until my longer comment is out of moderation, here’s the short version and a clarification.

    A lot of white people are much more insulated than most PoC realize. That doesn’t mean you have any responsibility to fix their ignorance, but actually telling them that it’s a dumb question can be pretty useful, because most of us will be embarrassed and go try to fix that area of ignorance on our own. The people who don’t are the kind of people who give medical advice to strangers in wheelchairs and can be safely shunned in the future.

  23. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne November 16, 2007 at 2:04 am |

    Oh, and here’s a passage from Black Beauty (yes, the book about the horse) that sums up the kind of ignorance I’m talking about to a T:

    “Only ignorance! only ignorance! how can you talk about only ignorance? Don’t you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? — and which does the most mischief heaven only knows. If people can say, `Oh! I did not know, I did not mean any harm,’ they think it is all right. I suppose Martha Mulwash did not mean to kill that baby when she dosed it with Dalby and soothing syrups; but she did kill it, and was tried for manslaughter.”

    “And serve her right, too,” said Tom. “A woman should not undertake to nurse a tender little child without knowing what is good and what is bad for it.”

    “Bill Starkey,” continued John, “did not mean to frighten his brother into fits when he dressed up like a ghost and ran after him in the moonlight; but he did; and that bright, handsome little fellow, that might have been the pride of any mother’s heart is just no better than an idiot, and never will be, if he lives to be eighty years old. You were a good deal cut up yourself, Tom, two weeks ago, when those young ladies left your hothouse door open, with a frosty east wind blowing right in; you said it killed a good many of your plants.”

    “A good many!” said Tom; “there was not one of the tender cuttings that was not nipped off. I shall have to strike all over again, and the worst of it is that I don’t know where to go to get fresh ones. I was nearly mad when I came in and saw what was done.”

    “And yet,” said John, “I am sure the young ladies did not mean it; it was only ignorance.”

  24. Gus
    Gus November 16, 2007 at 9:28 am |

    Probably I’m not well-versed enough in feminist thought, and I come to this, and other, sites to educate myself. But I don’t see what’s so bad about advocating to “jettison the gender stereotypes”, and I don’t see it is the same as “stop paying attention to gender issues”. The ensuing discussion about “how did we get here” is certainly oversimplified, but I get the feeling that the article has been heavily cut.

    But my main problem is that IMO the article, and a lot of the discussions that one sees around, conflate two different issues. One is the issue of equality, gender steroeotypes and all that, and another one is the personalization of the politics, in the sense that one can’t talk about policiy issues without making it a question of personal character; at that point stupid sterotypes and assumptions start playing a role, but the discourse is flawed from the beginning. For the same reason, I cannot sympathize with those that would like to see Hillary become president for the sole reason that it would be the first woman president, without considering her actual record and the policies she would implement.

  25. kw
    kw November 16, 2007 at 2:25 pm |

    I think Thealogian’s friend’s idea is really interesting and provocative. Even beyond showing how no one can speak for everyone who looks like them, it helps a person step outside their shoes when they realize that their experience is not as universal as they thought.

    What other questions would you (the collective you) like to see asked? What kinds of answers would you like to see? What results would you like to see come out of it?

  26. Hayley
    Hayley November 16, 2007 at 2:31 pm |

    And I’m going to have to disagree with your disagreement. Maybe once upon a time, ignoring the plight of women or POC was an easy thing to do, but that’s just not the case anymore. There are so many advocacy groups, so many lobbyists, so many Very Special Datelines and history months and history classes and sociological specialties that no person who’s being honest with him- or herself can pretend that it’s not out there. Ignorance these days comes not from a lack of information but from a conscious decision to look at the information provided, look at the information countering it, and deciding to go with the latter.

    You said that there are reasons that people are still prejudiced, and that’s entirely true, but you can’t argue that maybe folks just don’t know. If someone is arguing that oppression of women or POC doesn’t exist today, it’s because they’ve heard one group arguing that it does and another group denying it, and they’ve gone with that second group. That’s willful ignorance.

    I do no know from where you are writing, but your assumption that everyone everywhere has been privy to such information as advocacy groups and lobbyists would spread is, for lack of a better word, rather ignorant. Take a quick look around the United States for example, and see where such groups, lobbyists, and other political activists tend to gather. Look at the places in which non-trad publications are distributed. Take a peek at the school systems who hire teachers with liberal education, the teachers who promote history months and who teach from different perspectives than the one traditionally taught. Chances are you are not looking at the United States anymore. You are looking at the urban areas of the States. Having just moved from one of the largest urban areas in the country to a rather forlorn, isolated area of the same state…I now see what it means to be truly ignorant. And not ignorant because one ignored something blatantly presented to him or her (much less because one heard two sides of the same issue and then went with one), but ignorant because there is no interest in the world of politicos and advocates to spread their views to the politically and socially “unimportant” rural areas of the world (or country, as I am referencing the States). There is a different between ignoring something and not recognizing something for what it is. This is where ignorance and willfull ignorance differ: yes, blatant racism is everywhere, especially where I live. Yes, blatant sexism, chauvanism, etc. is right in front of our faces. But in a place where this is completely normal and no voices stand out against it…how can you really believe that these people are being willfully ignorant of such issues?

    There, now you have heard the other side of the story. If you choose to ignore it now…well then, I guess that’s we’re talking about, isn’t it?

    Side note: I am becoming that voice for this place. If I can stand it long enough, there will be changes made here.

  27. Hayley
    Hayley November 17, 2007 at 1:02 am |

    (A) You went to school.
    (B) You had TV.
    (C) You can read.

    Those are some pretty hefty assumptions on which your argument is based. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it that a people who are predominantly educated by the faulty systems in which they live and who have so much more to deal with than paying attention to the outside world (namely, putting food on the table) are willfully ignoring things to which they do not have access.

  28. Shayne Carmichael
    Shayne Carmichael November 17, 2007 at 2:20 pm |

    We also have televisions, access to national newspapers, the internet and I went to a school where I was forced to read books and learn history by law.

    Yeah, that’s also saying that all of those people don’t use TV or internet as nothing more than fluff entertainment. Just because serious news is on the TV does NOT mean people are watching it. Just because there is an absolutely fascinating treatise on the effects and ramification of a color and gender bias on such and such a website, doesn’t mean lots of folks are ditching the porn to read it. Yeah, it’s all there, but is anybody listening? That’s the better question.

    You said that there are reasons that people are still prejudiced, and that’s entirely true, but you can’t argue that maybe folks just don’t know. If someone is arguing that oppression of women or POC doesn’t exist today, it’s because they’ve heard one group arguing that it does and another group denying it, and they’ve gone with that second group. That’s willful ignorance.

    It could also mean they have seen none of the above. I’m not sure why everybody is so willing to assume they know all of the motives of others and label them according. Sorry, the world isn’t simply this or that, and none of the other thing. If it was, then we would understand everybody.

  29. Shayne Carmichael
    Shayne Carmichael November 17, 2007 at 7:07 pm |

    I don’t think I said it was wrong, as much as simplified. There are people who understand the issue of racism very well. Whether they’ve experienced or witnessed it. But I also do not believe that every person who currently exists is willfully ignorant.

    Just as an example, I unfortunately spent some of my teen years in a VERY SMALL Ohio town. Having been a bit around the world, it soon became clear to me that the people had no clue what was out there in the world. The world to them was their own back yard. I’m damn sure people still live in that town, clueless to the world. People who go to work every day, get home, eat dinner, watch a bit of TV then go to sleep, only to repeat their day again. I don’t consider them willfully ignorant. Though I had a problem living among them.

    I spent several years in a school with several nationalities, they spent years with a bunch of other white folk. So far as I understand they’d never experience what I had. Some people’s experiences lead them to learn more about the world they live in, some people simply just try to live in the world.

    I notice quite a few people have shrunk the world down to their own back yard. Just like those people in that small town. Even people on this blog do it. The world is by their perception only, there are no inbetweens.

    But it’s just my 2 cents. I’m not seeing any right or wrong to trying to understand other people.

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