Rep. Jackie Speier on Abortion

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood yesterday. California Representative Jackie Speier made an impromptu speech on the floor against it.

If you seek an example of patriarchy you need look no further than our government, where a bunch of men sit around passing laws trying to forcibly make medical decisions for women.

Latino History Month #1

They say those who do not know their past are doomed to repeat it. I say, those who do not know their past have no future. For what are we if not the bearers of the collective memories and struggles of our ancestors?

In service of “Hispanic Heritage Month” (which I fear means little more than a few PBS specials and an enchildada dinner at the White House) I offer you a free Chicano/Latino history lesson every Wednesday for the next month.

This week, we go into the past to explore a moment in our collective history when youth radicalism seemed to be sweeping barrios from East LA to East Harlem.

Known as a Chicano nationalist organization with a militant leaning, the Brown Berets began in 1966 as a Church-fostered youth group called Young Chicanos for Community Action (YCCA). Sustained police harassment and an emerging exchange of “radical” ideologies and organizational examples reshaped them by the late 60s into the Brown Berets.

Their ten-point platform might be both easy to celebrate or deride, depending on your political sensibilities. As historians of our collective past, however, it is a significant statement of self-determination and youth idealism, shaped by a particular moment and place. We might wonder what experiences framed this utopian vision as “truth” for the young men and women involved?

Brown Berets, “Ten Point Program,” 1968. Reprinted in “Brown Berets: Serve, Observe, and Protect,” La Raza (newspaper), June 7, 1968, 13.

  1. Unity of all of our people, regardless of age, income, or political philosophy.
  2. The right to bilingual education as guaranteed under the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.
  3. We demand a Civilian Police Review Board, made up of people who live in our community, to screen all police officers, before they are assigned to our communities.
  4. We demand that the true history of the Mexican American be taught in all schools in the five Southwestern States.
  5. We demand that all officers in Mexican-American communities must live in the community and speak Spanish.
  6. We want an end to “Urban Renewal Programs” that replace our barrios with high rent homes for middle-class people.
  7. We demand a guaranteed annual income of $8,000 for all Mexican-American families.
  8. We demand that the right to vote be extended to all of our people regardless of the ability to speak the English language.
  9. We demand that all Mexican Americans be tried by juries consisting of only Mexican Americans.
  10. We demand the right to keep and bear arms to defend our communities against racist police, as guaranteed under the Second Amendments of the United States Constitution.

Like many other nationalist organizations, the Brown Berets’ history was marked by deep conflicts over sexism, as well as debates over the meaning of being “Chicano.” This is the story that flows from the above document, one best encompassed by questions like: How did this platform reflect the needs and interests of their membership and the larger community of which they were a part? How did it not? How did they go about trying to implement their vision?

If you are interested in pursuing just some of the above questions, feel free to do some further reading. A nice overview of the rise of the Berets can be found in Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice, by Ian F. Haney-López. A superb collection of feminist writings from this era, ones that often express the tension between nationalism and feminism, is Alma Garcia’s Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings.

You are reading LATINO LIKE ME.

Feminism and the high court

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sonia Sotomayor’s statement about being a “wise Latina woman”:

I’m sure she meant no more than what I mean when I say: Yes, women bring a different life experience to the table. All of our differences make the conference better. That I’m a woman, that’s part of it, that I’m Jewish, that’s part of it, that I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks, all these things are part of me.

In an amazingly candid interview with the New York Times, Ginsburg spoke out being the only woman on the court, the Sotomayor nomination, and a host of other related issues. It is a rare and illuminating opportunity to hear such talk from a sitting Justice. Check it out.


Hillary Clinton, not Feminism, is Defeated

As should be increasingly clear to most people by now, Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid is slowly coming to an end.

As a teacher of race and gender issues, I have been more than a little bit concerned at the widespread idea that the current Democratic nominating process pitted “race” against “gender.” This kind of analysis pinpoints our collective inability to understand the historic and present-day power of either social concept. More troubling, it also highlights the ways faulty understandings have actually filled the gaps created by this collective ignorance.

A small reminder of this has been the political line unquestioningly associating a vote for Hillary Clinton with feminism. In her widely-circulated editorial in last January’s New York Times, Gloria Steinem opined “gender is probably the most restricting force in American life.” She cautioned against “advocating a competition for who has it toughest”–often called the “oppression Olympics”–writing “the caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together.” Still, her primary argument did just that, asking “why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?”

In a similar vein, feminist activist Robin Morgan wrote an updated version of her classic 1970 piece “Goodbye To All That.” She does some of the work of “unpacking” the complex ways racialized and gendered notions have characterized the political process, often pitting one against the other, before suggesting support for Clinton is about women supporting themselves. She declares:

So goodbye to Hillary’s second-guessing herself. The real question is deeper than her re-finding her voice. Can we women find ours? Can we do this for ourselves?

Our President, Ourselves!

Both women were careful to frame their support for Clinton in terms of her qualifications (Morgan even going so far as to say of Obama: “I’d rather look forward to what a good president he might make in eight years, when his vision and spirit are seasoned by practical know-how—and he’ll be all of 54”), yet both substantiated those positions within the analytical terrain of a persistent gender bias in our political culture. In the end, support for Clinton becomes a feminist act because (in this way of thinking) it stands in opposition to the assault she has suffered for being a woman.

This is the context giving shape to seemingly profound divisions not only within the broad Democratic base but also, according to a recent AP article, among feminists themselves. Envisioning a female president as the fulfillment of a historic struggle stretching back to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, some Clinton supporters even chide and deride female supporters of Obama as “gender traitors.” As this recent story in the L.A. Times suggests, race plays a part in the Clinton-support stances of some Americans, but most continue to voice a belief that her campaign embodied a change that is now going to defeat.

I do not want to suggest that Hillary Clinton has not faced sexism in the course of her presidential bid. Negatively gendered ideas have met her candidacy from its first days. While these are difficult to tease out from other beliefs and positions fueling an anti-Clinton stance, that part of this fuel is constituted by a persistent and ubiquitous patriarchy in undeniable. However, the political demise of her presidential bid should not be construed as the victory of sexism over feminism, of patriarchy over progressive gender change.

To put it bluntly, feminism isn’t as simple as a vote for Hillary Clinton.

Just like a vote for Barack Obama won’t solve the nation’s “race problem,” a vote for Hillary Clinton does not mount a substantive challenge to U.S. patriarchy. While definitions of “feminism” may be as numerous as feminists themselves, there are collectives of understanding which might shed some light on this situation.

Noted feminist author bell hooks, in her classic text Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, put forth a definition of feminism rooted in the experiences and struggles of women of color to mobilize for change in the late 20th century. “Feminism,” she wrote, “is movement to end sexist oppression.”

hooks complicates the suggestion that feminist is about “equality with men” since men are not all equal in the modern (or historic) United States. She is careful to link the struggle of feminism to other forms of movement geared toward combating “domination” whether in the social, political, or economic realm. In her vision, shared by a multitude of “third world feminists,” feminism could never be reduced to the mere cause of representation. In fact, the political culture which equates feminism with women achieving positions of power regardless of what they do with those positions serves the forces of oppression more than it does those of liberation.

This doesn’t mean that Hillary Clinton is not a feminist or that her hypothetical election would not be a feminist act. But it does refocus our attention by challenging that assertion without some proof. It puts the burden of proof not on her gender but on her politics. How does the election of Hillary Clinton create any challenge to sexist oppression?

Her election may have been a symbolic victory on this front, but there is no basis to claim it would have meant much more. A political history which includes votes to support the war in Iraq and free trade policies which have led to economic dislocation and familial separation in Latin America; and which includes an unwavering support for welfare reform which mobilized around the image of the mother of color as a lazy addict of government aid and an education policy that has meant declining numbers of young, poor women of color to succeed; all suggests less of a challenge to systems of gender oppression than one would hope. While she undoubtedly also has a record any feminist could take pride in, that pride begins to wane as one looks at which women benefit from and figure into these efforts.

All this is to say, the defeat of Hillary Clinton is just that, the defeat of a political candidate. She was a historic candidate, who will continue to serve in a historic capacity in the Senate. But her defeat is not a blow to feminism. It does not say anything about the status of feminist movement in this country. It also says little about the prospects for true feminist change in the future.

So mourn, if you must, but take heart as well. All real change comes from masses of people united in movement, anyways.