Peace as a Feminist Ethic

Early on in the Democratic primary, one of the factors that swayed me toward Obama and away from Hillary Clinton was Obama’s prescient decision to vote against invading Iraq. I viewed Obama as the more “feminist” candidate because he favors diplomacy over war.

Last night’s debate troubled me for a lot of reasons but mostly because neither candidate really spoke about how to bring about a more peaceful global society. Rather they disagreed about which country should have been invaded and which should be invaded next. I still think Obama favors diplomacy over war, but it seems that the media’s calls for him to “toughen up” might be pushing him to talk tough in order to prove that he can “keep America safe.” But I worry, like I worried about Hillary, if proving himself tough (read masculine) will mean that Obama will have to appear pro-war. Even though McCain finds Obama’s desire to meet with all world leaders without precondition a signal of the younger candidate’s naivety, it’s that kind of diplomatic thinking that drew me toward Obama. Refusing to talk with other leaders, even if you disagree with them, is childish and hubristic.

Most of the world’s citizens do not want to be at war. Isn’t it time we elect leaders who value our lives? Or is the desire for peace also naive?


The Souls of Black Girls

Daphne Valerius’ The Souls of Black Girls, the culmination of her Master’s thesis project, opened the 11th Annual Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series. Featuring interviews with journalist Michaela Angela Davis, actors Jada Pinkett-Smith and Regina King, news moderator Gwen Ifill, rapper Chuck D, among others, Valerius’ film addresses the lingering question of beauty, how the media shapes these standards, and the impact those media standards have on real black girls. The film also alluded to the desire black girls and women have to be loved and valued by their black male counterparts, a running undercurrent of the film that was left unexamined and uncritiqued(and needless to say the heteronormativity was not probed).

In other words, teaching black girls to love themselves for themselves — not to meet male approval, black or otherwise — could have been emphasized more. To be sure, some black women feel unloved and abandoned by black men, including their fathers, as Pinkett mentions in the film. The broken ties between black fathers and daughters is not given nearly enough attention by today’s critics who continue to study the “negro problem.”

Valerius’ film is sure to spark some much needed conversations, especially in this climate where suddenly the U.S. public is “paying attention” to gender. Most importantly, young girls will benefit from seeing Valerius’ film and talking about it with their peers and supportive older women (mothers, sisters, mentors …).

New York Women for Obama

Over the weekend, I met up with (NY) Women for Obama for a press conference at city hall. Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Councilwoman Leticia James, and actress Kathleen Turner were among those who spoke at the gathering.

I learned about the rally through my Brooklyn for Obama/Women for Obama networks. Other groups representing included South Asians, Latinas, and Jews for Obama as well as Grandmothers against the war–quite a feisty fired-up group of women.

Feminist Politics Now?

Columbia University is hosting a two-day local and global feminism conference. I attended yesterday’s session and it was quite a treat to listen to feminist scholars from different parts of the world and various disciplines talk about the state of feminism. I would have liked to have seen feminists from my generation represented though. There seems to be a huge gap between “70s-era” feminists and those of us born in the 70s who have chosen to continue working for justice.

this just in …

NOW (National Organization for Women) will endorse Barack Obama for President. NOW has never endorsed a presidential candidate before but clearly they realize the state of emergency we are in and what a McCain-Palin administration will mean for most women.

FELA! A New Musical

A longtime fan of Fela Kuti’s music, I was so excited to learn that Tony Award winning choreographer Bill T. Jones was choreographing a new musical based on Kuti’s life. I ignored all the reviews, even this positive one by The Times, and went to 37 Arts not knowing what to expect. Jones’s production was even better than I’d hoped. Sahr Ngaujah
reanimated Fela as the sounds of Antibalas filled the entire theatre and made it impossible to sit still. This was not a show where the wall between audience and performers held firm. Call and response was in full effect.

In addition to shedding more light on Fela’s political activism, Jones’s production accentuated the close relationship Fela maintained with his mother Fumilayo (played by Abena Koomson), who was a political force for women’s rights. In life and in death, Fumilayo shaped her son’s lyrical critiques of the corrupt Nigerian government and the multinational corporations that aimed to suck Nigeria’s resources dry.

For much of the show, a translucent Funmilayo gazes down on her son from a ladder perched in the corner of the stage. And as someone who does work on female embodiment, and the way it functions in the service of an emergent male consciousness, I was immediately struck by this kind of framing. I went into the play wondering how Jones would approach the sexual and gender issues surrounding Fela’s memory. Calling Fela a ladies man is an understatement. At one point he had 27 wives and he died from AIDS-related complications. How do you fit that narrative into a musical?

Jones subtly and artfully integrates Fela’s marriages and risky sex practices in Ngaujah‘s interactions with the “queens,” dancers turned wives whose hip sways, cigarette lighting, and caresses impart a portentious feeling.

Jones does not end the production with Fela’s death however but with a climactic tribute to Funmilayo, who was thrown from a second story window when soldiers raided Fela’s compound and died from injuries incurred in that assault. Underscoring the potent aspects of Fela’s Yoruba culture, Jones portrays Fela’s crossing into the ancestral world to seek advice and direction from his mother. The journey fortifies him to continue his struggle through his music and his actions.

get ready WNBA

Elizabeth Weil’s piece on Jaime Nared, and the removal of the preteen basketball dynamo from the boy’s basketball team challenges a lot of assumptions about girls’ athletic ability.

election returns

When I last posted (quite some time ago, I know), I was preoccupied with the media’s insistence upon splitting the presidential campaign along race and gender lines and, consequently, feeling as if my voice as a black feminist voter remained muted amidst that polarization (see BSOUAB).

To be sure, the sexism and misogyny targeted toward Hillary was obvious and all feminists — black, white, female and male — were right to be outraged by the media’s attacks of her. We feminists should have been just as outraged by the racist smears aimed at Obama: the childish barbs about his name and religion, the slave t-shirts, and the frightening but under-reported incidents Obama’s white and black supporters have encountered while campaigning in some white rural and working class outposts. During a low point in her campaign, however, even Hillary, hearkening back to some of the early suffragettes, tried to use such racist sentiment to her advantage.

Since Obama took the nomination, the racialized sexist rhetoric that was turned on Michelle Obama has received a somewhat duller but still an audible outcry. Perhaps some feminists were so angry over Hillary’s loss that they conveniently forget Michelle is a woman too. But blogs like Michelle Obama Watch have kept the spotlight on this fascinating first black first lady-to-be (“yes she can”). And Michelle’s electrifying keynote address at the Democratic National Covention, proclaiming her place at the “crosscurrents” of the history of the women’s movement and the civil rights movement was as monumental as her husband’s acceptance speech. (Professors Farah Jasmine Griffin and Mark Anthony Neal have elaborated on the impact of Michelle’s speech, especially for black women).

The lights had barely dimmed in Denver’s auditorium before McCain (perchance hoping to woo disaffected Hillary supporters as well as conservative Christians) surprised the nation with his choice for a running-mate, Sarah Palin. Now conservatives are touting Palin as a new kind of feminist: the kind who is against a woman’s right to choose no matter the circumstance, the kind that prefers teaching abstinence over sex ed (despite glaring evidence that abstinence-only education doesn’t work). Sarah’s the kind of “feminist(?!)” that favors war, abhors the earth and its natural resources, is pro-gun and anti-LGBT rights. Um, what kind of feminist is that?

Granted, feminists are different. Working class feminists, feminists of color, and lesbian feminists have long critiqued the universal female subject. Are self-proclaimed “conservative feminists,” like “Feminists for Life,” “Independent Women’s Forum,” and “Concerned Women for America” asserting their same right to define feminism on their own terms? Or are they merely appropriating the language of feminism as a stand-in for pro-capitalist, conservative Christian, individualistic female power?

At the heart of feminism is a belief in women’s social, economic and political equality. For me that includes educating girls and women about reproductive rights and sexual agency and ensuring that women retain legal jurisdiction over our bodies. While I do think that it’s possible for a woman to be against abortion personally or to be in favor of reducing abortions (through sex education and poverty alleviation, among other strategies) and still be a feminist, I do NOT think that a woman who would impinge on another woman’s right to choose for herself is a feminist.

Does that mean that feminists should not critique the sexism that is aimed at Palin? Of course not. But not every criticism of Palin is based on her gender (most of it is based on her policies). And frankly, if you put lipstick on a pig, or even if you put a tie on a pig, it is still a pig.