Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Spelman - Gender and Race

It seems that Spelman's point that the oppression of different sorts cannot be easily understood in combination is quite astute, and her suggestions considering the futility of the question concerning the primacy of one sort of the oppression over another was well taken. What she missed, I think, and what is also important in differentiating the experiences of different individuals in different cultures, are the culturally bound aspects of sexism and sex roles which accompany sexism in the rest of society. The marginalization of minority groups provides a buffer between the hegemonic culture and their own, so that culturally specific views of what it means to be a woman can be allowed to exist in tandem with what might be called "standard white" views of the women in question. The experience of a Black, Hispanic, or Native woman is different from that of any woman in any other group because of this. To take the example of a single mother: this phenomenon is more common in Black households and so holds a certain amount of cultural significance, both for the women living the role and the greater society at large. Pejorative talk of "welfare mothers" who "have more children so that they can collect a greater check", though more of a relic of the past, still has resonance as a pejorative term for minority groups. To be a white single mother is not necessarily to be poor, and it is only through the addition, often enough, of other pejoratives that such individuals are identified (such as "white trash); such pejoratives are not necessary when speaking of other groups, and indeed, it seems that the image of single mother is wedded to the single black mother. Further, while being a single mother has been somewhat legitimized within the majority of society, marginalized groups often tend to conservatism; they become marginalized not only from society but within their own group, considered to be unfortunate cases of dissolving morals.

This much said, it seems that there can be a united front if there is recognition of the varieties of experiences in the same stroke as the recognition of similarities. Marginalization of women and their rights does occur at all levels of society; Spelman mentions the subordination of women in the struggle for civil rights in the United States. As long as such experiences are acknowledged as legitimate grievances, as long as the unique experiences of all groups of women are understood as legitimate and not special cases, then can the be a united front. If the of the life of the white middle class woman takes a greater role than it deserves, if this life is taken as the standard for what it is to be a woman, then there can be little hope of reconciliation and a united front. It is a task which must be achieved over a period of time, however, not a problem that can be solved through simple immediate action.

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