The Gloria Steinem roundup
Hello & welcome back to the F Word, mis lectores querid@s.
I’m not gonna lie, I was geekin’ out about Gloria Steinem speaking on Tuesday. Feminist leader and icon, founder of Ms. Magazine, columnist for New York magazine, huge inspiration to yours truly in many, many ways. But she’s no saint, mind you. As you’ve probably already read (ahem), I’m here to explore feminism in terms of race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other “-isms” that are often ignored by feminists. Gloria Steinem has a reputation for representing a brand of feminism that applies specifically to white, middle-class folks at the expense of people of color, queers, and other marginalized groups.
She told her mostly fawning audience how breast cancer is linked to health care inequalities, environmental justice, race, and social class and appropriately acknowledged the inequalities in our health care and economic systems in these regards. She acknowledged the contributions of womanists and mujeristas and displayed a But even though she was good at explaining intersectionality, she wasn’t exactly an expert at applying her supposedly antiracist, pro-queer, pro-social/environmental justice philosophy.
Knowing that half the questions would be variations on “I’m so glad I’m breathing in your presence!” I ran up to the microphone, hoping to give her the opportunity to dispel the myth that feminism isn’t just a middle-class, white girl thang. I asked, “What role do you believe women of color play in the feminist movement today, and how do you respond to the belief that women of color are excluded from the feminist movement?”
Her response simultaneously surprised and disappointed me. On one hand, I was extremely happy that she mentioned how involved African-American women were in the feminist movement initially. On the other hand, the “I can’t be racist, I have two black friends!” argument just doesn’t cut it. She paid the appropriate lip service to womanists and mujeristas, but almost used their existence to absolve herself and other white feminists of the exclusion that other marginalized groups have faced in the broader feminist movement.
“They have their own groups, their own movements,” she told me and the rest of the audience. I do not wish to downplay the importance of black or Latin@ feminism – they sprang out of a desire to explore how different types of oppression keep women of color down. But they were also a reaction to the perception that the term “feminism” didn’t include them. To put it succinctly, her answer was a cop out.
Until attending the event, I was also not aware of the transphobia of which Gloria Steinem is often accused. When asked about a transphobic comment that she supposedly made, Ms. Steinem completely avoided the question. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she claimed. “I don’t even remember saying that – when did I say that?” That was a moment in which I lost much of my respect for a woman that is often seen as the arbiter and pioneer of the American feminist movement.
I’m certainly not stupid enough to dismiss Gloria Steinem’s impact on American feminism or women’s rights in America, but for someone who has been lauded for her progressive thinking, she has yet to get with the program. I certainly respect her contributions and her voice. She can certainly talk the talk, but when confronted with actual questions about antiracist or pro-queer efforts, I find that she is unable to wrap her head around the conversation.
Kya kehna, mis lectores? (What do you say, readers?)
Posted in The F Word