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By Zillah Eisenstein
COUNT US IN!!! “We” are at the ready to play the WOMAN card. But what is an anti-racist feminist supposed to do?
I write this on behalf of many women who love the fact that there is a woman candidate running for president and yet do not love this particular candidate’s notion of feminism. I am also writing as someone who supports many of the activist groups that encompass Bernie’s campaign, and yet want it to be more radically anti-racist and feminist. I also write on behalf of those who do not believe the electoral arena can deliver the democracy they yearn for, but think they must do as much as they can on behalf of this dream—of a fully humane, free, and non-imperial, anti-racist feminist gender non-conforming world.
This is an election from hell. An outright racist/heterosexist rich bigot is most probably running against the first woman ever U.S. presidential candidate with a shot at winning. And this first ever woman candidate is challenged by a hugely popular first-time white male democratic socialist.
Hillary Clinton is seen as the establishment and feminist candidate. And Bernie Sanders is seen as the progressive and egalitarian candidate, though he has not said enough about racial or sexual or gender equality. Economics trumps (?) all for him. The optics are not good.
Neither of these candidates is anti-racist/anti-imperial feminist enough. And yet, we are asked to choose one OR the other and in these muddied waters. Hillary thinks that women’s “rights” is the heart of her message, but the “rights” discourse remains partial—and imperial and racialized.
Women’s “rights” are not enough. A woman can have a right to something, like abortion, and not have access to getting it. One can have the legal right to an abortion but if medical schools are no longer teaching abortion procedures, she won’t be able to get one. If TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws continue, abortion clinics will continue to close rendering the right to abortion meaningless.
Hillary’s women’s rights agenda treats women the same as men. But this is just not good enough in 2016, if it ever was. Which women is she thinking of here? Is she thinking about all of us? And which men are we to be equal to?
We will always have Hillary’s back against the pillorying by misogynists, but this is different than endorsing a feminism that is too privileged for most of us. Bernie is completely focused on inequalities in the economy and assumes the rest will follow forth. But it is hard to trust that an explicit anti-racist feminist agenda will unfold by itself.
Anti-racist/anti-militarist feminists need to hear more about the deeply connecting systems of imperialism, racism, misogyny, and heterosexism. Hillary, we want policies that are not simply smashing the glass ceiling but liberating all women out of the basement/s and then smashing the basements. And Bernie, we want recognition and remedy that women, especially women of color, are the poorest of the poor.
An anti-racist, anti-imperial feminist must spell out the particular connections and overlaps between racial and gender oppression. White privilege underlines the lives of white women and strikes through women of all other colors. As white, Hillary and Bernie need to specify the particulars and differences between white people and the other colors that suffer this white domination, and then seek a remedy.
Such an anti-racist feminism moves towards a more inclusive and radically democratic practice. The more specified one’s thinking is, the more inclusive it becomes, rather than the more universal it is, the more inclusive it will be. No one is left out of the specifying—so no one is excluded. If a policy allows a pregnant woman to end a pregnancy with an abortion, no one is excluded by this choice. No one need choose it, but the choice still exists. And although no male needs the option today, a female having the choice does not exclude him. The opposite is not true.
Let us think beyond a react/ionary, liberal, or simply silenced feminism.
Let us think beyond neoliberal feminism and hyper-militarist feminism. Beyond a “rights” defined feminism that privileges existing structures of power and privilege by focusing on the legal underpinning of choice.
So we want to further open the debate and the discussion of the “feminist” election discourse. Neither Trump’s misogyny nor Hillary’s (implicitly) white, neo-liberal feminism, nor Bernie’s unspoken feminism is good enough here. We want another way, a third way, so to speak…to think about the new racial and gender justice we are wishing for.
As anti-racist, anti-imperial feminists we have complete commitment to equal pay; reproductive rights and access to exercising those rights; a $15.00 minimum wage; paid family leave; LGBTQ justice; healthcare for all; affordable college education for all; combating climate change; fair immigration and humane refugee policies; racial justice; ending police brutality and mass incarceration; tribal nations’ rights; and avoiding war at all costs.
We are indebted to Beyonce’s phrasing here– we want to make #Lemonade out of the #Lemons handed us.
HERE IS OUR “WOMAN CARD” FOR 2016:
Commit to half of your cabinet being people of color and half being women.
Establish national compliance towards an end to global warming specifying an end to fracking and dependence on all fossil fuels.
Establish federally paid day care for anyone needing it.
Establish LGBTQ equality as a guide for all gender and race rights.
Establish Paid Family Leave.
Establish Equal Pay for all work and with a living 15-dollar wage.
When women’s rights are spoken of, they need to include the women in Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc.
Develop an adequate response to the TRAP laws. Show how you intend to better protect and extend access to abortion.
Set new policy to address and reduce the sexual violence in everyday life.
End all forms of sexual violence—domestic, military, policing, war-rape. Ending sexual violence means ending wars everywhere.
The abolition of the prison system as we know it.
Transform the misogynistic practices in policing and the penal system that particularly harm women and girls of all colors.
Clarify how transgender rights are crucial to the practice of an effective democracy.
Examine the possibility of “equal” work across gender divides—an end to racial and sexual ghettoes in the labor force. No more pink and blue-collar labor.
Specify the conclusion of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the end of arms trade.
The United Nations announced its condemnation of the widespread use of rape by peacekeeping forces globally. RENOUNCE this treatment of girls and women worldwide and utilize economic boycotts and sanctions to enforce it.
A committee of the United Nations recommends that the United States government should pay reparations to its African American citizens. Concur with this and add that particular reparations must be noted according to the sexual division of labor within racist slave practices.
Both Bernie and Hillary need to engage with this agenda. Do not ignore us, or you will find yourself without enough players holding a progressive Woman’s Card that they believe in to vote. And then we all know who will win.
Zillah Eisenstein has been a Professor of Politics at Ithaca College in New York for the past 35 years and is now “Distinguished Scholar in Residence” there. Besides her recently published THE AUDACITY OF RACES AND GENDERS: A PERSONAL AND GLOBAL STORY OF THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN (2009, Zed Press, London; Palgrave, U.S.), her books include among others: SEXUAL DECOYS, GENDER, RACE AND WAR IN IMPERIAL DEMOCRACY (London, Zed Press; New York, Palgrave, 2007); AGAINST EMPIRE, ibid.; HATREDS: RACIALISED AND SEXUALIZED CONFLICTS IN THE 21ST CENTURY, (Routledge, 1996); GLOBAL OBSCENTITIES: PATRIARCHY, CAPITALISM AND THE LURE OF CYBERFANTASY (NYU PRESS, 1996); and MANMADE BREAST CANCERS, (Cornell Univ. Press, 2001). For more information see: https://zillaheisenstein.wordpress.com/.