Posted by: Ophelia | May 2, 2008

Like two ships in the night

Anti-racism and feminism must pass each other, unable to coexist peaceably.

At least that’s the way it seems. It’s something that has always irked me about the feminist movement–the inability to criticize feminist heroes and heroines. The idea appears to be that for the sake of cohesion and harmony, criticism must not be too vociferous. To challenge well established notions of good and bad within the movement could only cause dissent, which must be avoided at all costs. The venerated few must be protected and lauded, not left open to the critiques that will undoubtedly assail them in the wider world within their own safe space, you could call it. Frankly, I think this notion is what motivated Amandagate. This idea that feminism cannot openly criticize its leaders and icons means that criticism must come from the outside and is therefore untrustworthy and worth ignoring. When it comes from the inside, it must mean that they’re just stirring up dissent, or not really committed to feminism. Race has nothing to do with feminism–as I’ve heard.

What prompted this post were Madonna posts that appeared on Feministing and Racialicious. It was rather interesting to see how these two blogs handled the same subject. While Racialicious addressed the rather disturbing colonialist trip called an interview with Madonna for Vanity Fair featuring quotes such as:

I know exactly what you’re going to say. It’s very painful. Which leads us back to our question: When you think about the way people treat each other in Africa, about witchcraft and people inflicting cruelty and pain on each other, then come back here and, you know, people taking pictures of people when they’re in their homes, being taken to hospitals, or suffering, and selling them, getting energy from them, that’s a terrible infliction of cruelty. So who’s worse off? You know what I mean?

Feministing posted a Thank you Thursday dedicated to Madonna, and her contribution to our understanding of sexuality.

In a fairly frigid suburb, she was one of the only experiences we had of a girl/woman who seemed resolutely in charge of her own sexuality and the expression of it. I think amid all the virgin/whore thinking that permeates too much of most American girl’s childhoods, she’s was always an interesting anomaly, a woman who couldn’t quite be pinned down, someone who disrupted all of those categories with a certain sinful glee (think “Like a Virgin” and “Like a Prayer”).

It also notes the Racialicious post:

And as Latoya so thoroughly points out over at Racialicious (thanks for the heads up readers), she’s got a really bizarre and possibly colonial mindset when it comes to race and the entire continent of Africa. Major grounds for pause.

But there is no pause, the post ends lauding Madonna for her contributions.

It’s as if she has two personalities, but she doesn’t. She isn’t just a feminist symbol, she’s also someone with an apparently flawed idea of Africa who sees herself as a type of savior. It isn’t impossible for someone to do right by one group, while doing wrong by another (Marion Sims anyone?). When elevating individuals as icons, one must really see them–all of them. The failure to do so explains the glaring disconnect between white feminists and women of color. How can we see the same person when feminism doesn’t want us to see all of them, and by all of them, they usually mean the racially biased parts. Those parts hit close to home, and a tertiary knowledge of their existence just isn’t really going to cut it.

I realize that the point of the Feministing post wasn’t to discuss Madonna’s personal beliefs so much as her role in increasing the visibility and control of female sexuality, so any mention of these colonialist beliefs of hers would have stuck out like a sore thumb–but shouldn’t they? Since I mean, they kind of do, I wouldn’t have expected her to espouse those sorts of beliefs and I would say it’s more than cause for pause but for a head scratch. But it was a springboard to something I’ve seen often within feminism. The veneration of feminist idols with racist leanings (Susan B. Anthony anyone?). To eschew those bad things is rather disengenuous–since it does affect the way I see them, and as a historian, I think it’s important to be honest about idols–the whole person, and not just the parts you want to represent their whole.



  1. Interesting. I briefly skimmed that Feministing post, but I have been busy with a lot of reading for class lately. You make some great points.

    I think I’m going to go read the Racialicious post because it seems as if it might fall in line with my midterm in my feminist methodologies class.

    Thanks for the links.

  2. I too was bothered by the “yeah, but” tone of the post.

  3. […] Like two ships in the night from Feminicracy-a post about white feminists “overlooking” the parts of women’s views that aren’t so nice. (tags: intersectionality feminism race) […]

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