How white feminism threw its black counterpart under the bus

Schuler, a white historian and feminist scholar at Rutgers University, clearly understands the political significance of this transfer of labor. From the outset, she describes how white feminism, rooted in a binary, dated understanding of femininity, “is a political position, not an identity,” and is not interested in disrupting the status quo, or redistribution of power. Instead, she writes, “it sees the lives of black and indigenous peoples, other people of color, and the poor as raw resources that can fuel the rise of women’s status.”

Credit…via New York Public Library

The most skilled historian is the one who can turn a carefully mined nugget of archival material into compelling, if not prose, mesmerizing. Schuler is a gifted storyteller, his counterhistory being equal parts writerly craft and scholarly diligence. Each chapter features a popular pagan white feminist alongside a black, Native American, Latinx, transgender or gay feminist, many of whom are lesser known. Suffragist icon Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whom Schuler credits with “inventing white feminism”, appears with the poet, novelist, and early black feminist theorist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Schuler enlisted abolitionist writers Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet Jacobs, birth control activists Margaret Sanger and Dr. Dorothy Ferreby, Betty Friedan and civil rights leaders Paulie Murray, Sheryl Sandberg and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the conversation. But Schuler’s mission isn’t just diversity and inclusion: “The problem with white feminist politics is not what it fails to address and what it leaves out,” she writes, but “what it does and what it suppresses.” Is.” Schuler’s writing is strongest in tracing the precise historical moments in which these feminist figures intersect. Every transgender, gay, and non-white feminist offered mainstream white feminism an opportunity to choose a more equitable, ethical path, and Schuler explains the real consequences of every white feminist’s denial.

Schuler takes care to present these women not as heroes and villains, but as studies of complexity, contradiction, and nuance. Sometimes, however, the balance between the two subjects can be disturbed. For example, despite Schuler’s acceptance of Yankton Sioux organizer Zitkala-Sa’s “literary genius” in “prestigious” magazines such as The Atlantic and Harper, without his own written prose in the text, his approach is far more than that of Alice’s. Seems short term. C. Fletcher, a white advocate for Indigenous women and families. And Schuler fails to adequately support her alleged claim that Ferby’s advocacy of birth control “involved eugenics,” noting only that she was less of a eugenicist than Sanger.

However, when Schuler strikes the right balance, as she does between anti-trans feminist Janice Raymond and trans theorist Sandy Stone, the result is mesmerizing. “The Trouble with White Women” is a welcome addition to feminist theory. The kind of significant labor needed to give birth to truly libertarian feminism, Kyla Schuler is doing.

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