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August 3, 2013

Race & Gender Through Generations of Feminism: My Response to Amanda Marcotte

By Amy Fried, Ph.D.

My response to Amanda Marcotte's dismissal of "radical feminism" and the existence of stay-at-home feminists, as well as an apparent tin ear for the relationship between gender in race in the history of feminism.


(Image by By BDEngler (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
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I recently became aware of a feminist blogger, Amanda Marcotte , who is seemingly all over the feminist blogosphere. She apparently feels that she has really mastered feminism by now, as she recently felt the need to write a "'quick blog post to clarify" for the rest of us feminists that radical feminism is now dead.

Perhaps I should allow that Amanda Marcotte and I have different definitions of "radical feminism." She adds the caveat that radical feminism once did exist, but she seems to be referring to the subjective response of "radical!" to a cluster of feminist ideas when (at least modern) feminism was relatively new. However, she distinguishes liberal from radical feminism as simply being concerned with " cultural issues, such as misogyny, objectification, rape, and domestic violence." She concludes that: "what was once 'radical' feminism is now mainstream feminism."

Frankly, I can't remember a time when feminists weren't concerned with issues such as misogyny, objectification, rape and domestic violence. From at least the beginning of the second wave of feminism, these issues were front and center with such icons as Gloria Steinem, Susan Brownmiller, and Catharine MacKinnon. Perhaps some called these women radical, but a cursory knowledge of the subject would show that there is a long history to the construct "radical feminism." While there are, of course, variations of nuance, the basic distinction between liberal and radical feminism has revolved around working to finding a place for women within the current patriarchal capitalist system, vs. changing the basic structure of that system.

I used to find it amusing when many conservative male politicians called Hillary Clinton a "radical feminist," back before she began making friends on the right as well as the left. No one would say that the former FLOTUS, Senator and Secretary of State was unconcerned with rape, or misogyny. But Hillary Clinton is perhaps the quintessential example of a liberal, vs. a radical feminist, in that she has fought for her place within a system that disadvantages women, minorities and the poor. Granted, she has worked to make some changes in that system, but she has not worked to change the basic way that the system is structured. In fact, by calling for more women to " participate " in the economy - rather than recognizing the many ways women participate whether or not they are paid - she invites others to follow her path.

Another long-time feminist also felt the need to offer a gentle history lesson to Marcotte. Anthea Butler reacted to a presentation by Amanda Marcotte at a recent Netroots convention, that gave short shrift to the role of black feminists. I recommend her piece; but I would add to it what Hester Eisenstein writes movingly about: the insensitivity of white feminists in the early women's movement, to the suffering of black women who were all too familiar with the world of work in white women's homes. Eisenstein points out how insulting it was to these women to center feminism squarely around the notion of work as a creative outlet. Such a view of work is a highly privileged one.

I saw some of that insensitivity in another Marcotte piece . She argues - understandably - against the hostile treatment by conservative members of Congress, of a law professor who objected to abstinence-only education programs that implied that girls should aspire to be stay-at-home-moms and homemakers. Of course, girls and women should be free to make that choice for themselves. But Marcotte's own condescending headline: " Radical Feminist Law Professor Believes Girls Can Want To Be More Than Housewives," harkens back to that myopic definition of liberation. Frankly, I had thought that the term "housewife" had been retired, except in the case of cringe-worthy reality shows. But Marcotte's condescension misses the fact that women's choices are neither black-and-white, nor are they strictly about ideology.

The most cursory look at our nation's child care structure, in combination with the lack of workplace flexibility , shows the agonizing choices that many American families have to make. Regardless of their position on feminism, the workforce is filled with women who work out of necessity, and the playgrounds are filled with women whose choice to stay home is more about the above failures than anything else. And of course, there are parents - both mothers and fathers - who actually prefer to do the very challenging job of raising children full time. Those parents don't need to be condescended to.

Marcotte brings a quality that's become de rigeur in the feminist blogosphere: snark. But the entertainment value that brings, should not lead us to oversimplification.

Submitters Website: http://www.amazon.com/Amy-Fried-Ph.D./e/B004QOOD04/ref=ntt_d

Submitters Bio:

Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism and the Religious Right.