« My Ronson Touch Tip Lighter | Main | More On Dems Abandoning Their Base »

September 15, 2005

On Roberts, Reproductive Freedom, and Progressive Men and Women

I've been thinking quite a bit about the way women's issues have been treated by liberal white male bloggers. This latest dust-up at dKos is nothing new. Reproductive rights is a very important issue to me and to plenty of other women, and there are a lot of feminists out there who are not happy seeing this very issue set aside by the liberal white men who are supposed to be on our side. Keeping democratic unity must be upheld, even if that means placing an important issue such as women's reproductive freedom on the back burner. Now that Armando and Markos decided that reproductive rights and the Roberts hearings are important enough, feminist bloggers are supposed to jump right in and talk about it, now that we have a permission slip from the the white guys who think their opinions and blogs are so important. We are supposed to be grateful. Not only that, the Important White Dudes don't think us feminist bloggers are talking about Roberts as much as they think we should, although the feminist bloggers have been talking about it. The guys don't understand why feminist bloggers are angry over this kind of treatment.

What are women supposed to do? Wait until the guys think reproductive rights are important, and then they'll get around to standing up for women on that issue? Wait until all of the important things (read: what interests white men) are dealt with - then we'll get to the icky female stuff. Now that some progressive white male bloggers have decided that the Roberts hearings and reproductive rights are worthy of bandwidth, all the feminists are supposed to fall in lock-step behind them and be properly grateful?

Gimme a break.

Amanda had plenty to say about this issue:

Armando, I think I have the answer to your question here.

Finally, I noticed more than a few bloggers who enjoyed raking Markos over the coals for his saying he was not going to sweat the "pie ad" and would concentrate on the important stuff had no blogging on Roberts today. Love that commitment to women's issues from those bloggers.

Well, guess what. This IS the important stuff. And guess again -- Markos gave me carte blanche to blog Roberts throughout the day.

I hope folks remember that when they are again tempted to attack daily kos as lacking commitment to women and their rights.

Because that is bullshit.

A little birdie told me that after a conference call the other night, it was made very clear to the feminist bloggers that we don't have to worry our pretty little heads about John Roberts because the big boys were on it.

For what it's worth, it's hard for me to write about Roberts for the same reason it's hard for Kevin Drum—it's such a farce. He's clearly going to get the position and it's just a matter of noting what idiotic Democrats go along with it. That and I've been worn down by the people who thought this wasn't worth fighting about and that things like Roe v. Wade weren't really being threatened. I do it anyway, but my heart isn't in it, which is maybe why Armando thinks female bloggers aren't all up on Roberts. That or maybe I really am a man, as I sometimes get to thinking when reading my advice columns and/or essentialist literature. Abortion really is going to have to be criminalized before a good number of people wake up, I think.

Sheelzebub didn't mince words, either:

Oh, my flippin' head

Jaysus, for once I agree with Kevin Drum, much to the chagrin of some Democratic Party shills.  We're not supposed to say out loud that the Dems are rolling over on this one--yet again.

Apparently, dismissing women's concerns as unimportant isn't misogynist and dismissing choice as a side issue isn't misogynist.  However, it's the height of feminist action to blog endlessly about John Roberts, while decrying feminist bloggers for not blogging about Roberts when they've done nothing but blog about him

If a woman blogs about Roberts, but a not-so-closeted sexist doesn't acknowledge it, does she even exist?  If she blogs about Roberts, but not in the Officially Approved Way (TM), does it count?

This is rich, considering we are supposed to support the very Democrats who have no problems selling our rights down the river.

This kind of treatment of women by lefty/progressive men is nothing new. All you have to do is look back to the first wave of feminism to see it. The setting was abolitionism, and feminists at that time saw their issues - especially women's right of citizenship and the right to vote - placed on the back burner by men who supposedly were their colleagues.

FEMINISM OLD WAVE AND NEW WAVE
by Ellen DuBois

There have been two major feminist waves in this country, one running from about 1835 to 1920 (it took that long to win its major demand -the vote); the other beginning some time in the middle of the sixties and ending who knows when.

In both cases, a feminist upsurge was initiated by women who had attempted to function politically in the major reform movements of their days, and had found that because they were women, they would be unable to do very much at all. They found that they would be isolated from positions of decision-making, and instead they would do the shitwork (the typing, petition-gathering, meeting-organizing, etc.) while men made the decisions and got the recognition.

[...]

The first wave of feminism grew out of the major reform movement of the mid-nineteenth century --abolitionism. Like contemporary feminists, women working in abolition found that their full and equal participation in political activity was not especially wanted --that as long as they worked within "woman's sphere," everything would be fine. But as soon as they stopped beyond it, they were severely reprimanded by their abolitionist brothers. Like the women of the New Left, these 19th century sisters discovered that the political world in which they moved -- and which they thought was dedicated to equal justice for all -- was perfectly content to abide by the rules for "proper feminine behavior" that the outside, less politically sophisticated world provided.

What this meant for these 19th century feminists --as it meant for us --was that the women did the shitwork and the men made the decisions. Thousands of women participated in the abolition movement --collecting signatures on petitions to Congress; their labor and those petitions provided the organizational backbone of the abolitionist movement. The decision-making and public acknowledgement were reserved for the men.

In 1837, however, this peaceful division of labor was shattered when two female abolitionists and ex-slaveholdors -Sarah and Angelina Grimke --started to speak out publicly to mixed audiences against slavery. New England --and especially its clergy -- was shocked at women lecturing to what it called "promiscuous audiences." Some male abolitionists, notably William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, defended the Grimkes, But what is striking is how many male abolitionists did not. The Grimkes succeeded in preserving their right to lecture, and even began to write and speak about the "woman question." The controversy they had begun -- whether or not women were going to be allowed to participate equally with men in all aspects of the abolitionist movement -- continued to be hotly debated. In the end, it can be credited with generating l9th century feminism.

The next major event in which the "woman question" figured was three years after the Grimkes, in 1840. In that year, British abolitionists announced that they would sponsor a World Anti-Slavery Convention. Off to London went most of the major American abolitionists, among them Lucretia Mott (who was primarily responsible for organizing anti-slavery work in Philadelphia) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a young bride on her honeymoon with her abolitionist husband.

Once in London the American abolitionists had a surprise waiting for them. British abolitionists were offended by the thought of women functioning politically as the equals of men. and therefore the sponsors of the convention decreed that women -- even women like Lucretia Mott -- would not be seated as delegates to the Convention. Once again, a few male abolitionists stood up for the women, but the majority did not bother to even protest this discrimination. The women were placed behind a curtain in the convention hall -- so they might hear the proceedings without offending any male sensibilities. Stanton and Mott left the hall in disgust, to wander around London and discuss the "woman question." They found that they agreed on many things, but especially that the oppression of women deserved attention. Eight years later, in 1848, these same two women organized the first woman's rights convention in the United States, the Seneca Falls Convention.

By the time the Civil War had started, therefore, women were beginning to understand how they were oppressed and slightly wary of working with men, but they were not yet totally convinced that it was impossible for women to work as political equals with men in reform political activity.

When the War began, the women dropped all their activities as feminists, and threw themselves into patriotic work. They were very conscious that their participation in the national wartime mobilization would be a test of their political seriousness. They also expected to be amply rewarded for their selfless activity once the war was over. They were not. And that was where the final blow was struck and the leading feminists realized that they could not put political trust in men; that it was nearly impossible for even the most liberal of men to understand how much woman feels her oppression and how much she wants her freedom.

The first hint of this final betrayal by liberal men was in the 14th Amendment. This amendment -- the second of the three amendments that followed the Civil War -- defined the rights of citizenship, and. prohibited the denial of those rights to persons on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. This was all fine and good except for one thing -- the federal government was extending its protection only to all citizens of the male sex. Not only were women ignored by the Amendment, but they discovered that, after its passage, they were considerably worse off than before, For the first time, the word "male" appeared in the Federal Constitution.

Previously, political discrimination against women had been a matter of local statute and public sentiment. Now, with the 14th Amendment, this discrimination was being endorsed on the national level. Women were furious. They appealed to male abolitionists and radical republicans for support; is this how they were to be repaid for their loyal services during the war? Wendell Phillips, leader of the abolitionist forces, assured them that their time would come, that when he started laboring for the enfranchisement of the black man, he would labor for women also. Two years later the Fifteenth Amendment was passed by Congress. It prohibited disfranchisement on the grounds of race, color, or previous condition of servitude -- but not one word about sex.

Once again women discovered that they could not put their faith in male reformers because the oppression of women was not top priority for anyone but women themselves. They had been literally abandoned by the most radical political movement of the day. As it turned out, the decision of the abolitionists to ignore women's claim to the ballot was a particularly momentous one. It took another fifty years to get the ballot for women. This was the final blow -- feminists had learned that if women were to ever win their rights, they would have to win them without the help of men. Looking back on the 1860s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote:

'We would warn the young women of the coming generation against man's advice as to their best interests their highest development. We would point for them the moral of our experiences: that woman must lead the way to her own enfranchisement, and work out her own salvation with a hopeful courage and determination that knows no fear nor trembling. She must not put her trust in man in this transition period, since, while regarded as his subject, his inferior his slave, their interests must be antagonistic."

The process has been the same for the feminists of the second wave. First, we began to understand that women were oppressed, throughout our society, and that the oppression of women had crept into even the most radical political movements of the day. They were started to raise questions about the oppression of women and the "proper spheres" (19th century) or "stereotyped roles" (20th century) of men and women. But we have found that at worst iron were uninterested (or amused) by such issues -- and at best that men were incapable of fully understanding the oppression of women.

So, like the feminists of the 19th century, we have gone the separatist route and formed a movement of our own. We work in women's liberation because we are not permitted to function fully in other movements for social change and because, if we don't demand out own liberation, no one else will.

Perhaps two waves of feminism will be enough to free us.

So ladies, take this to heart: progressive men have been treating their progressive sisters like so much baggage for over one hundred years. We're expected to do the grunt work, yet our issues get set aside for more "important" issues. Issues of importance to women must be set aside in favor of "party unity". We're right to continue to demand that issues important to us such as reproductive freedom must be dealt with now, not later with promises by progressive men that "we'll get to it." It seems that that issues important to feminists, reproductive rights in particular, are only going to be addressed in a timely manner by the feminists who think they are important.

Posted on September 15, 2005 at 04:51 PM | Permalink

Comments

Trish, As someone who writes primarily about labor issues (but has written wquite a bit on abortion rights as well), I have to ask why you think women's issues are treated so differently from any other issues in progressive coalitions.

You cite the 14th Amendment, but ignore the fact that in practice Reconstruction was dead within a few years and blacks effectively denied the vote and all equal rights as Jim Crow descended. Womens groups continued to have the right to speak on their own behalf, a right most black groups lost since any speech on behalf of civil rights, especially in the South, would lead to a lynching. White women gained the right to vote with the 19th Amendment, but most voted to support politicians who upheld Jim Crow just like white men.

So political betrayals in history go multiple directions. I won't even comment on the betrayal of elite white women and men against working class voters of all races, especially in the early part of this century before the New Deal.

Talking about this history is useful (although as I note incomplete) but you aren't talking about political parties anymore where all of the voters are white men.

Heck, it's odd you start off by talking about "liberal white men", then slam Markos and Kos who are not even white. Look, I don't agree with either of them on all issues. Kos and Armando at points have been quite dismissive of labor and unions as well.

But the progressive coalition is made up of a lot of different groups, many or most who have been excluded in our society in different ways over history. It's quite reasonable to call people on their shit as appropriate, but I think you are massively simplifying history to treat it the way you do.

There have been (now successful) struggles within the labor movement, for example, to have unions come out in support of gay rights campaigns against the anti-gay marriage initiatives in places like Massachusetts and Michigan. That brings up a whole complicated set of internal fights that people have engaged in between a whole range of groups within the labor movement and within the broader progressive movement.

It's also hard for me to take seriously the idea that women's reproductive freedom is on the "back burner." During the Roberts testimony, abortion and the right to privacy were discussed by Democrats more than probably any other issue.

And it's still not clear how Roberts will rule on Roe. On the other hand, given his record, it is clear that Roberts will rule against labor unions in any case that comes before him (since he already has as an Appeals Judge). Yet how many questions were asked of Roberts about those anti-union decisions as an Appeals Court judge?

In fact, the Democrats are making reproductive rights a rather high priority during the hearings. Maybe they aren't competent in how they are making that fight-- and I won't disagree there in many ways -- but it does bother me that you reduce the issue to one you highlight, since that just replicates the apathy towards others' issues that you are complaining about.

One reason I am so strongly a labor person is that, for all unions' faults, it is the one institution that on a continual basis is always advocating for womens issues and civil rights for non-whites and for immigrant rights and for gay rights and for economic rights of the poor and for middle class interests and for a range of other issues that matter.

So when I hear any group calling for "separatism", I just hear people getting ready once more in American history to cut their own deal with the elite and screw everyone else. That may not be what you mean, but it's the real history of separatism, including of the womens movement at many points in its history. It's worth remembering that the first wave of womens movement basically excommunicated Elizabeth Cady Stanton because she continued to advocate for a progressive version of feminism, rather than the alliance with religious fundamentalism, which became the mainstay of the mainstream womens movement at the end of the 19th century.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at Sep 15, 2005 6:37:59 PM

The Dems have disappointed me TIME after TIME after TIME after TIME. RELIABLY.

Progressive men in general are NOT progressive. Democrats are NOT progressive, unless your standard is 1776. Democrats are middle of the road as you can get, not to mention that they can't apparently find a fucking platform. The only Democrats with any integrity at this point in time seem to be Conyers and Nagin.

Civil rights ARE NOT "PROGRESSIVE"! Women's rights are NOT "PROGRESSIVE"! THEY ARE THE FUCKING BARE FUCKING MINIMUM ANY HUMAN BEING SHOULD DEMAND FROM THEIR GOVERNMENT.

Posted by: at Sep 15, 2005 6:43:25 PM

oh poo. that was me getting all het up...

once more for the record.

The Dems have disappointed me TIME after TIME after TIME after TIME. RELIABLY.

Progressive men in general are NOT progressive. Democrats are NOT progressive, unless your standard is 1776. Democrats are middle of the road as you can get, not to mention that they can't apparently find a fucking platform. The only Democrats with any integrity at this point in time seem to be Conyers and Nagin.

Civil rights ARE NOT "PROGRESSIVE"! Women's rights are NOT "PROGRESSIVE"! THEY ARE THE FUCKING BARE FUCKING MINIMUM ANY HUMAN BEING SHOULD DEMAND FROM THEIR GOVERNMENT.

Posted by: sf knitter at Sep 15, 2005 6:44:56 PM

Here's a real dumb sh*t. Ellen DuBois
"There have been two major feminist waves in this country, one running from about 1835 to 1920 (it took that long to win its major demand -the vote); the other beginning some time in the middle of the sixties and ending who knows when".

She never mentioned in the entire article that the number demand they were making was for mothers to get custody in divorce. I guess she doesn't think that's significant? Because she doesn't have children? She doesn't care if women get custody or not? Kids aren't very important to this second wave of feminists?

"in 1848, these same two women organized the first woman's rights convention in the United States, the Seneca Falls Convention".

Posted by: pete kaplan at Sep 15, 2005 7:24:14 PM

"What are women supposed to do? Wait until the guys think reproductive rights are important, and then they'll get around to standing up for women on that issue? Wait until all of the important things (read: what interests white men) are dealt with - then we'll get to the icky female stuff."

I don't see many progressive, liberal women standing up for men on issues that are important to us...like fatherhood. Must be they don't think it's important...

Posted by: Steve at Sep 15, 2005 9:50:44 PM

If you ever want to write about this issue, feel free to submit to Adonis Mirror: examining the sexism of the Left is pretty much its primary purpose.

Our latest article is about how libby men seemed to get ESPECIALLY upset about the Katrina-as-an-Angry-Fetus nonsense from fundamentalists; strange being that 1: no uteruses of their own, 2: they were so quick to refuse choice as a "core" part of the Democratic platform.

But they're all about abortion if it means they get to have a good tussle with their peers on the Right.

http://adonismirror.com/09052005_leader_wrathofgod.htm

Posted by: rich at Sep 15, 2005 10:56:12 PM

I don't see many progressive, liberal women standing up for men on issues that are important to us...like fatherhood. Must be they don't think it's important...

Well said, Steve. Feminist women (I won't call them "progressive" because they're not) care only about their own selfish, man-hating concerns. They use euphemisms like "reproductive freedom" and "choice" all to avoid that nasty "A" word: abortion. Why are they so afraid of it? I guess even they don't want to be reminded that abortion involves killing a human being in utero.

Face it, Steve: these feminist women don't care about men or boys. Their whole agenda is the most selfish platform of points ever to exist on this planet. They're just spoiled, privileged princesses whining about how "awful" it is, while the overwhelming majority of people on the planet are just scaping to get by.

Posted by: MRAboy at Sep 15, 2005 11:19:04 PM

Civil rights ARE NOT "PROGRESSIVE"! Women's rights are NOT "PROGRESSIVE"! THEY ARE THE FUCKING BARE FUCKING MINIMUM ANY HUMAN BEING SHOULD DEMAND FROM THEIR GOVERNMENT.


Yes, and as society progresses and develope, so should the government. And just like the minimum wage increases, so should our minimum civil rights. Two hundred years ago we didn't running water and electricity or in door plumbing. We didn't have the health care services, the educational institutions or the abortion mills we have today.

Posted by: pete kaplan at Sep 15, 2005 11:46:01 PM

Thanks for the URL, Rich. I'm reading "Adonis Mirror" right now. I like it. I'd love to write for you.

Posted by: The Countess at Sep 16, 2005 9:04:23 AM

Is there any reason why you feminists here at this blog believe abortion or "choice" should be the basic and most important issue of the democratic party? If you can't explain it, can you at least tell me where I can find out. Maybe a website with a good article written on the subject. I honestly don't get it.

Posted by: pete kaplan at Sep 16, 2005 6:27:57 PM

Pete, for me it's about women's lives, health and individual autonomy. I'm personally not interested in having an abortion myself (I know none who are) but to me, it's a statement of how we value women, whether we give them moral authority, and whether we should subject them to unsafe ways to end a pregnancy. I guess it's also symbolic of who owns my body. I refuse to concede it to the State. I don't know if that's the satisfactory answer you're looking for but that's my answer anyway.

Posted by: stephanie at Sep 16, 2005 7:30:48 PM

just to clarify one thing: i don't know that choice should be the "most important" issue but i think it should rank up there pretty high. Just my opinion, of course.

Posted by: stephanie at Sep 16, 2005 7:35:18 PM

Is there any reason why you feminists here at this blog believe abortion or "choice" should be the basic and most important issue of the democratic party?

1. for me it's about women's lives, health and individual autonomy

2. it's a statement of how we value women

3. whether we give them moral authority

4. whether we should subject them to unsafe ways to end a pregnancy

5. it's also symbolic of who owns my body

6. I refuse to concede it to the State

I'll give Stephanie an A+ for her answer. And extra credit to anyone who can add anything.

Posted by: pete kaplan at Sep 16, 2005 8:33:36 PM

I agree with you, Trish -- "Adonis Mirror" is good! Thanks, Rich!

Posted by: Lee at Sep 16, 2005 9:04:25 PM

"I don't see many progressive, liberal women standing up for men on issues that are important to us...like fatherhood. Must be they don't think it's important..."


And in other news, middle-class white men told Nelson Mandela, "Well, gee, we understand you want liberation for your people, but what's in it for us? We have needs too, you know!!"

Posted by: Sheena at Sep 18, 2005 8:53:30 PM

"And in other news, middle-class white men told Nelson Mandela, "Well, gee, we understand you want liberation for your people, but what's in it for us? We have needs too, you know!!"


I don't think the Afrikaans are considered 'middle-class white men', in the context of this discussion.

Posted by: pete kaplan at Sep 18, 2005 11:34:10 PM

Is that obtuseness a special gift, or do you have to work hard at it?

You can delete "middle class" if it makes you happy, and replace "men" with "people". Although somehow I think you'll still miss my point.

Posted by: Sheena at Sep 19, 2005 12:34:59 AM

What's your point, to stereotype all white people?

Posted by: pete kaplan at Sep 19, 2005 1:09:26 AM

Sheena - I was responding to the original post in which a woman complains about white men by asking, "What are women supposed to do? Wait until the guys think reproductive rights are important, and then they'll get around to standing up for women on that issue? Wait until all of the important things (read: what interests white men) are dealt with..."

Clearly, the woman who posed this question was suggesting that men only support a cause if something's in it for them...after our "more important" issues are dealt with. I was merely holding up a mirror for women to look into when asking that question. Think of it as me pointing out the old "pot calling the kettle black" scenario.

Interesting that Sheena compared women to Mandela and men in general to the oppressive white men in South Africa. That's quite a stretch. Sheena, you can be certain...without a doubt, that more men support "women's" reproductive rights than is true of the reverse, (ie. women supporting fathers' equal rights to parent). sad...but true.

Posted by: Steve at Sep 19, 2005 9:50:37 PM

Steve:" Sheena, you can be certain...without a doubt, that more men support "women's" reproductive rights than is true of the reverse, (ie. women supporting fathers' equal rights to parent). sad...but true."

Pete: the wording here is interesting. You used the word "fathers'" instead of husband. Did you mean 'father, as in the guy who raped and impregnated the unmarried woman?
People still see society from a patriarchal perspective. If a woman is single a get's pregnant, it's her problem to deal with. Because there are a hundred social programs she can turn to for help. If she wants to abort, fine. If she wants to put up for adoption, fine. If she wants to keep the kid and get on welfare, it's no surprise.

But if a woman is married when she get's proegnant there's a general consensus that her husband has an opinion in the matter, also. And if they divorce the consensus is he should be the responsible parent and pay child support.

Now the question is, how many women support fathers' equal rights within a marriage? Does marriage actually really mean anything to women, or is it just vanity to them? Excessive pride in their appearance or accomplishments; conceit.

Posted by: pete kaplan at Sep 19, 2005 10:56:48 PM

Pretty much illustrating Kos's point, the pro-life Harry Reid has announced he will be voting against Roberts.

We'll see what the pro-choice Lincoln Chafee does.

But the point is that it is just not tenable to separate out issues like reproductive rights from the general fight over political control of government. Who controls the government matters and at this point, most "moderate" Republicans are so cowed by the rightwing that there occasional dissenting vote is just an indulgence to keep their key vote steady in supporting rightwing control of government.

But will Reid, as Senate leader of the Dems, get credit for this position?

Posted by: Nathan Newman at Sep 20, 2005 2:28:08 PM

I'm glad that Harry Reid will vote against Roberts. I wouldn't vote for Lincoln Chafee, even though he's pro-choice, because he's so dreadful on other issues that are important to Democrats and Progressives. I think NARAL should have not endorsed either candidate in that particular race, because neither is suitable.

I would like to see more inclusion from the Dems, in particular the DLC, for issues like reproductive rights. I think that once the Dem leadership gets behind social issues like reproductive rights, more of their base will support them. The party's drive rightward isn't in sync with its base.

Posted by: The Countess at Sep 20, 2005 3:29:49 PM

thecountess: " I think that once the Dem leadership gets behind social issues like reproductive rights, more of their base will support them. The party's drive rightward isn't in sync with its base."

Pete: What make's you think so?

Posted by: pete kaplan at Sep 20, 2005 5:29:28 PM