So apparently I’m a cynic. I pointed out that Anne-Marie Slaughter is way too überly-educated to belatedly realize that the structure of the US economy prevents women from “having it all” and therefore needs to be changed. Ah well. No journalist minds being called a cynic. And as Nora Ephron advised, I certainly don’t prefer being nice over being frank. Slaughter’s sincerity or whether she meant well never factored into my reaction, nor should it. In fact, I don’t much care about her feelings; I care about her work-life politics. I prefer to know why they took so long to surface in a policymaker of all people. Gleaning that bright red unmentionable from Slaughter and similarly influential women is more instructive than the kajillionth complaint that work-life is less balance, more gauntlet.
Instead of joining the pity party, it should be pointed out regularly and often that the work-life conversation among women in 2012 is largely the same as it was in the mid-1990s. At least 15 years ago, says noted work-life researcher Sylvia Ann Hewlett, paid parenting leave was on the Democratic agenda. Not so this election year nor the one prior. Apparently commiseration, not policy, is what many American women–with the liberal media’s encouragement–do best. But passing misery like some white women’s grandmothers passed Tupperware is not my story. I come from a different tradition and mine compels me to caution that the conversation surrounding Slaughter’s article moves American women backwards. Advancing the conversation away from a 20-year-therapy session to organizing and advocating for changes in policy will require us to be more selective about who and what feminism is. Right now though, it seems anyone who has a vagina and talks at the same time gets a pass.
Of all my female friends only one is a stay-at-home mom and that’s probably because she has a twin. A significant majority are single (well, those living in New York City anyway) and most are elite school grads too busy kicking ass in their respective careers to play the e-mail forwarding game. However, one rising star at Popular Brand Name Organization recently made time to e-mail Anne-Marie Slaughter’s, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” to a shortlist of friends, with a sweet note: “…and you ladies make it seem (almost) effortless.” For the aspirational set, real girlfriends are a precious commodity and time with them, a meticulously planned thing. It struck me that Slaughter’s article had become a Hallmark card for the corner office-bound. “Just thinking of you,” it says. Hugs.
I’m not mad at love notes between girlfriends. No one else understands my career, love and family options better. I can’t help, however, but view the current fawning over Slaughter’s revelations as yet another pass given to the musings of one of the nation’s super elite women. They get the platform, a bullhorn, a standing army of microphones and zero critical resistance–especially if opining on “safe” women’s issues. Low expectations are at work on Olympus but here comes a reality check from the cheap seats.
The word ‘rape’ appears four times in the recent NYT article, Meet your Cousin, The First Lady. Even before reading it, my first instinct was to count. Second instinct: get mad. No way a mainstream paper wasn’t going to pretty up sexual encounters between a female slave and her master for their majority white readers; the Times was already pushing it by introducing dark-skinned Michelle–whose image sometimes appears online as a monkey–as a cousin. And higher and faster I laid those bricks for a defensive wall all before even reading the article. I’m making the point of describing my initial reaction because after, I had to check myself.
First, stop expecting (demanding?) that white folks write and feel about slavery (or Jim Crow or the post Civil Rights period for that matter) in exactly the same way as you. That’s impossible given the historic gulf between black and white lives. And second, allow white folks to have their own conversations about race without me stupes-ing from the corner. (A caveat before I proceed,the audience for an article about white folks in a dark-skinned woman’s family tree is white folks. For blacks, that’s as much news as the sky is blue.)
All that to say, despite the criticism, read journalist Rachel Swarns’ article based on American Tapestry, her new book about the dark-skinned Obama-née-Robinson’s ancestors. If the book is like the article, it may help to open up a self-critical conversation about your own prejudices or assumptions. More important than the search for white folks in Obama’s family tree is our modern day reaction to that fact.
I don’t know which annoys me more: the notion that we can fuck our way out of racism, or Complex magazine using the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving decision to add legitimacy to a hit list of bi-racial chicks. The tragic mulatto’s happy now–ain’t ya heard?
Loving is the civil rights case, named for an interracial married couple, that struck down anti-miscegenation laws in the United States. It’s come into a certain prominence this century as more people tick off multiple race/ethnicity boxes on the Census and because Barack Obama is POTUS. The nasty undercurrent to these metrics of social acceptance however, is that for a certain swath of our society, people of indeterminate parentage are “in”–oddly enough, much like how they used to be, “out.” That these judgments are two sides of the same stank racist coin is apparently lost on Complex editors who’re too busy focusing on the erotic admixture of the African buttocks with the aquiline northern European nose.
The Loving’s would probably die again if they knew what their name was being attached to. Progress. Ain’t it grand.