The playing field

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I struggled for my first breath at 7:01 in the morning on the 18th of November, 1954. My struggle for equality began at 7:02.

Last week, Kos of the Daily Kos published a post supposedly in response to some people who were offended by an ad at his site. The ad features that silly new reality show based on that even sillier, but at least original, Gilligan’s Island. In the ad, two women playing Ginger and Mary Ann–busty and tight clothed–get into a pie throwing contest, to the titillation of the ersatz Skipper and Gilligan watching from the bushes.

Many folk found this ad offensive to women. Personally, and if you’ve read the Lehman poem Sexisim you’ll understand where I’m coming from, I found it offensive to men, as much as women. However, what became more of an issue than the ad is Kos reaction to those who expressed concern and outrage. We can only term it thoughtless at best, dismissive and arrogant at worst.

He responded first with:

So over the weekend, certain segments of the community have erupted in anger over the TBS ad for their reality show, the Real Gilligan’s Island. Apparently, having two women throw pies at each other, wrestle each other in a sexy, lesbianic manner, then having water splashed on their ample, fake bosoms is degrading to women. Or something like that.

Whatever. Feel free to be offended. I find such humorless, knee-jerk reactions, to be tedious at best, sanctimonious and arrogant at worst. I don’t care for such sanctimony from Joe Lieberman, I don’t care for it from anyone else. Some people find such content offensive. Some people find it arousing. Some people find it funny. To each his or her own.

Me, I’ll focus on the important shit.

He also made a crack about the women’s study set, which he later amended, writing

Hmm, after considering the early feedback, it seems most people didn’t have a problem with the ad, but had a huge problem with my sweeping generalization of the “women’s studies set”.

It’s a fair critique, and duly noted. I stand by everything else written, which is offensive enough to some people as is. But I honestly didn’t mean to smear anyone who has ever taken a women’s studies course, or majored or minored or gotten an advance degree in it. Just what is, to me, a small, extremist set looking for signs of female subjugation under every rock. So yeah, a poor choice of words that cast the net far too wide to cover the people that have, in fact, pissed me off.

Sorry about that, but not sorry about my broader point — that being sanctimonious about this ad is no different than the sanctimony we decry from people like Lieberman, Dobson, and the Family Values Coalition.

This unleashed a backlash that equals any other that I’ve seen in weblogging, and one that doesn’t look to be going away, because it’s really not about Kos. Not anymore. It’s tapped a frustration among many who consider themselves part of a growing political progressive movement.

I first heard about the discussion at Feministe where Lauren wrote:

Is the ad in and of itself offensive? Not necessarily. What is offensive is Kos’ dismissal of feminist complaint, concern and criticism regarding a pretty sexist ad designed for het male titillation run on the most widely-known progressive blog for his own personal profit.

Objectifying and demeaning any minority group for the sake of profit, be it corporate or personal, is abhorrent. This is exactly why I resist the Democratic party and most of its advocates. Women and women’s opinions don’t matter if they run contrary to the bottom line.

Others also responded, too many to link directly but among them are Echinde of the SnakesShakespeare’s SisterMediaGirlPandagonWaiting for Dorothy, and on and on — not just people responding to Kos’ statement, but also each other. (A cross-weblog thread I would surely love to capture in its entirety. Here’s a synopsis.)

I don’t care about Kos. I don’t find him particularly erudite or thoughtful in his writing; he has poor impulse control and is way too stuffed with his sense of his own importance. If this was about Kos, it wouldn’t interest me. But the focus on this discussion quickly went from Kos to the Democratic Party and even the progressive movement, and this does interest me.

Note in Lauren’s first post on this issue, the final two sentences: This is exactly why I resist the Democratic party and most of its advocates. Women and women’s opinions don’t matter if they run contrary to the bottom line. Shakespeare’s Sister also noted that this disregard for women among some of the more politically expedient of the liberal movement has deep roots, writing:

Indeed, the complaints about the male-centric upper echelon of the lefty blogosphere almost perfectly mirror the complaints about the male-centric leadership of the 1960’s anti-war movement—namely, that women were excluded from positions of power and influence.

Not only excluded, and I can’t find the original reference, but one of the original leaders in the Black Panther Movement was rumored to have said that the place for women in the movement was on their backs. Whether this is true, or, more likely, a misstatement, it is a known fact that women did not have full equality in the movement, even though they comprised the majority of the membership. From the paper, The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense about the history of the Black Panther organization:

The role of women within the Panthers was an area with many problems. At one point, women comprised 70% of the membership of the organization. Yet, all the leading positions were occupied by men. This is not a petty point because it illustrated the different roles that men and women took on. It seems that many women were confined to secretarial, administrative, childcare or other traditional roles whilst men were encouraged to develop the political ideas, speaking and leadership abilities. Also, some of the brothers complained that they were not taking directions from a woman! At other times it was found that accusations of being a counter-revolutionary were spread about a woman just because she did not want to sleep with someone.

These problems would have cut the Panthers off from a whole layer of Black women who were not prepared to put up with this nonsense. However, we have to see that sexist attitudes were not unique to the Panthers – it is something that occurs in all organizations because it is related to the oppressive nature of this society and the way in which it exploits women. The Panthers did take action against these attitudes but they did not fully succeed – equality in the party was never achieved. And you cannot be a true community organization, fighting the oppression of society if women are being oppressed within your organization.

My own political involvements at the time were all under the direction of men, even though women were many times placed in the front when police would come to break up demonstrations. In a paper on the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), David Gilbert wrote on an early meeting of women members of the organization, and a reception to their findings among the general body:

Meanwhile, the inspiration of the civil rights movement, the key and assertive work of women in it, and the problems of sexism within the left, all led to a re-birth of women’s liberation. An early example was SDS’s first ever all women’s workshop at our 6/67 national convention. The air crackled with the energy and creativity the women generated. But their report to the plenary got a raucous reception — including catcalls and paper airplanes — from many SDS men. Given there had been little history of struggle, it isn’t surprising that men were still very sexist, but such blatant hostility was shocking for an organization that prided itself on always siding with the oppressed. That debacle was an example of the problems that pushed many women to leave the “left” and contributed to an unfortunate tension between anti-imperialism and feminism, which weakened both. Many principled women — strengthened by the often unsung examples and leadership of women of color — continued to struggle on both fronts, but it took an Amazonian effort to do so.

But let’s not stop in the Sixties–we can follow along the path for the fight for rights for all and find women all along the way; women all too often recruited to swell the ranks of the fighters, and all too often discarded as soon as the fight is either lost or won. We are just so damn convenient; that is until we are no longer convenient.

Now the women who are angry at the lack of voice for women in what is supposedly the party that represents women, are being accused of costing the Democrats elections. Lauren wrote another scathingly angry piece on the issue of humor and feminists. She wrote:

Those who appear to be our natural allies appeal to women during election time, forget about us after the election is over, dismiss us when we call bullshit, demean us when we demand integrity, and then use our bodies to sell their product

She also pointed to a couple of other posts that discuss our ‘badness’ for raising such issues.

Poetic Leanings wrote:

The most important thing I can say is that feminism and the strong women behind critical social issues are NOT costing the Democratic Party votes and elections. Gay marriage is NOT costing Democrats votes and elections. The media “experts” will tell you otherwise, and various talking heads will point again and again to how specific social issues are harming the progressive movement.

…What loses elections for Democrats is cowardice. Refusing to have the courage to stand up for our beliefs, or holding to a hypocrisy based upon the idea that we can only be righteously indignant on issues when it is politically expedient to do so, is the reason Democrats lose elections. We are not true to our convictions. Voters are given a choice between a Republican and a Republican, and they vote … well … for the Republican. It is time for Democrats to stop apologizing for being on the correct side of issues. Ways of defending these positions must be promoted instead until more voters understand that Republicans are anti-woman, minority, blue collar worker, the middle class, God, and on and on and on. People might listen to progressives if they trust that we believe in what we say. Cowering in fear of the extremism of Republicans is hardly the best way of doing this.

What loses elections for Democrats is cowardice. Elections? Or self-respect?

Rana at Frogs and Ravens asks the question: does this sound familiar?

“You lefties just don’t get it. Standing up for the environment /arguing against the Iraq war /defending women’s rights /rallying for gay marriage /questioning free trade /regulating corporations is going to drive away voters. Let’s get the next election over with first, then we can deal with those things.”

“Greens will never win. You have to vote for Democrats, or the Republicans will win.”

“Why are you offended by this? It’s no big deal, and we have more important things to talk about. Why are you getting all bent out of shape by trivia?”

“Let’s get Bush out of the White House first. Then we can talk about racism /sexism /homophobia.”

“It’s a two-party system; third parties are a waste of your time.”

“It’s not like Roe v. Wade is going to overturned — and maybe if it is, that’d be a good thing, because then we could have a better debate about it.”

“Women’s issues are small stuff. Let’s deal with the important things first.”

Oh, and lest you think this is just a woman’s thing and therefore easy to dismiss, read Charlie’s take:

When it comes time for elections, Democrats are all about the women’s vote. But when the elections are over, and it comes time to pony up and actually lead by example, we get this instead. If you don’t want to see the party divided, don’t ignore the people whose vote you rely upon. And Kos, I’m well aware that you aren’t setting the agenda of the Democratic National Convention. But we all know that you’re considered one of the most influential liberal bloggers. And from your contemptuous comment about other bloggers needing the patronage, I think you’re well aware of that.

If you want to know why the Democrats are having trouble pulling people together, look no further than yourself.

This discussion resonated deeply within me, considering the following post I was in the middle of writing last week:

I’ve been a straight voting Democrat for close to thirty years, and though there has been, twice, when I’ve voted for a Republican, the only other time I’ve waivered from a strong party line was when voting for independents or Greens. Never at the national level though–only locally.

Well, I should say, I was a voting Democrat because I have quit the party. It wasn’t due to this latest fiasco, though I’ll admit this helped confirm my decision. It also wasn’t due to the Party picking Howard Dean as Chairman, though I’ll admit this did have something to do with it. The decision came from a lot of different factors, and began even before the Presidential election.

It used to be that the Democratic Party represented a strongly social agenda, while the Republicans focused primarily on economics. Lately, this has been reversed, and not in a positive way for either party.

The Republicans who, once, represented a fiscally conservative section of the populace that preferred to keep social matters out of the government, have embraced religious fundamentalism at its core; abandoning restrictions on government spending in favor of restrictions on personal lifestyle choices. Oh it still irresponsibly waves about tax cuts, as a panecea to all problems. Yet the government dominated by this party spends, madly at times, wildly at others–and seems incapable of connecting the two and a growing and dangerous deficit.

The Democrats, on the other hand, once focused on bringing more social responsibility into the government, even at the risk of an inceased tax burden. Where is the Party now that once helped bring civil rights to the South and hope to the ghettos? Now, the Party focuses on Social Security and balance of trade and unemployment, with an understanding that it has to pick and choose which battles to fight. (And let’s face it, there’s not enough gays to swing the election, and the poor can’t pay for medical insurance much less donate to the Party coffers. As for women? Hey, no one is stopping us from being fully equal, are they?)

I watched in the last several months as Congress came dangerously close to breaking the barriers that separate the legislative branch of government from the judicial; selling ANWR out through the back door; passing bill after bill that erodes our freedom and our dignity, as it caters sometimes slavishly and unthinkingly to corporate interests. I look carefully to see how each party votes, and the only time I can tell the difference between the two, is whether a politician is smiling when Howard Dean is present; or whether he or she looks ready to kill.

(And that’s not a guaranteed Party filter.)

Even now, most of the energy of the Democratic Party is being focused on protecting the chairman, Howard Dean, as he jumps up and down. The Party says he brings passion, but what the Party really likes is that he brings in money. Oh, and yeah — we need to put some Democrats in Mississippi and Kansas. You know, the places where the guys in pickup trucks fly them Confederate flags.

It gave me such pride to read Lauren’s and Shakespeare’s sister and Rana and Amanda and the others as they expressed their anger and their dissatisfaction, openly and directly, not afraid of being either condemned or questioned; not once backing down from their beliefs even if, in spite of, ‘rocking the boat’ for the ranked political bloggers.

We’re told that change comes from within, and if we want to make a difference, we need to get along to get ahead. I haven’t seen this strategy work in my technology-related profession, conditions of which seem to have worsened since weblogging has started. I haven’t seen this work in my society, where women being concerned about sexism are dismissed as ‘humorless women’s studies types’ who can’t focus on ‘more important issues’. I haven’t seen this work in the Democratic Party, which spends most of its time scrambling for the tattered ribbon of ‘morality’. I definitely don’t see it in very many countries, where rape is still a favored weapon of war, and women are still considered property. Even in my own supposedly egalitarian country, women make up half the population but only about 15% of the leadership.

The game is rigged, so I’m picking up my marbles, and I’m going to find a different playing field, and different players. My most sincere thanks to the prominant Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian gentlemen bloggers for showing me the light.

As of last week, I am now an official member of the Green Party. At some point I realized that the only vote you throw away is the one that you cast because it’s the lesser of two evils. I will no longer compromise on full rights for gays, equal representation and application of the law for minorities, the environment, global health care, separation of church and state, corporate responsibility, and above all, women’s issues. But I won’t stop with being a passive member, I plan on becoming involved as deeply as I can with how this party is run. I am not going to let another political organization classify the concerns of half the population as a ‘bullet’ item in a preset agenda.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email