Why This Woman of Color Doesn’t Carry Water for Right Wing Women

So the candidate for senator from Delaware says she is a chaste “virgin” who believes in abstinence and purity, yet went carousing and noodling with a young man who caught her fancy. She’s a hypocrite.

She’s also a die-hard, career right-wing woman who has made a living (such as it is) as a “professional conservative.” She’s been paid to publicly espouse her religiously-based views on chastity, homophobia, and abstinence as if it were a real form of birth control, while trying to run for office and therefore shape public policy with her votes in accord with those views.

The Jezebel/Feministe argument is that humiliating details about a woman (who is also a political candidate) and her sexual past is ‘slut-shaming.’ I agree. I’m of the unusual position that there’s altogether TMI these days. Everywhere. I’d really like to know a little less about many people, including Snooki. I don’t even watch tv and yet her deeply tanned self has seeped into my consciousness.

What I also agree with is that this TMI scrutiny has also applied to male philanderers/hypocrites where they reveal extreme dissonance between their professed beliefs and real-life actions. And yet–is anyone more grateful than I am that John Edwards’ seedy affair was exposed to the public BEFORE he could get anywhere near the Democratic nomination and do damage to us all with a scandal before or while he was in office? HUGE bullet dodged. I don’t enjoy the pain this must have inflicted on the family, but at the same time that is something John Edwards should’ve thought more carefully about before dragging his family through the mud and frankly, I’m not entirely convinced Elizabeth was all that well-served by reliving it in a book she published.

Is anyone more annoyed that according to some Republican Biblical teflon double-standard, Senator Mark Sanford, equally sleazy, is still in office? Why hasn’t he been hounded from his job as public servant with ample evidence of his hypocrisy?

What I think this partisan difference exposes is a double standard when it comes to scandal for Republicans versus Democrats, and for men versus women.

However, we’re talking about Right Wing Women here. Phallicized women propped up by an extensive web of [male] pundits, think tanks, media coaches, consultants, and of course, FOX (isn’t) News.

I also agree with Gawker (which is unusual) that the first person to introduce ‘slut-shaming’ into public discourse and to want to make it into public policy–including making mandatory any unintended pregnancies from such ‘slut-shaming’ behavior–is Christine O’Donnell herself.

But above all, what I think the admittedly trashy story (which WE ALL READ) about O’Donnell’s Halloween sexual adventures show is that while her platform consists of hypocritical slut-shaming of the first order, her religious bona fides are even more hypocritical as someone who has engaged in vigorous pagan-shaming, yet was more than happy to participate in pleasant Halloween debauchery.

Please view the video here where she says, “I don’t celebrate Halloween because of what it means. Because it is a Satanic holiday, it is a pagan holiday, and while people are going around getting free candy, other people are falling victim to human sacrifice.”

Now we have 15 or so photos showing us from only three years ago that she does celebrate Halloween despite any possible but extremely unlikely human sacrifice also perpetrated on that day.

People change their minds, sure. Do I stand by everything I thought and believed in 1999? No, of course not. But people willing to go on tv and say any random shit just to be on tv should not be elected to the U.S. Senate for precisely this reason, and people who allow their random verbal diarrhea to be broadcast for all time through deep space should not be allowed to vote on serious policy that will have impact on millions of people. I don’t want Christine O’Donnell among those people who might ever have to vote on an authorization to utilize military force on anybody.

O’Donnell is a person who wouldn’t hesitate to take away your and my right to an abortion, someone who, if she votes like all the other Republican/Teapublicans, would consistently vote down children’s health programs or refuse to make insurance companies charge women fairly for health insurance, and vote up anything that makes the most sociopathic corporation prosper. I don’t seem to recall Senators Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins voting to insist that maternity care be covered by insurance policies, and had that not passed in the health insurance reform bill WITHOUT THEIR VOTES, I doubt they’d be troubled in the least.

Or, there’s Sarah Palin, another right wing woman. Sinclair Lewis said, “When fascism comes to America, it’ll be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross,” and Sarah Palin updates this in a chic, conservative women-calendar-worthy way: “When fascism comes to America, it’ll be wrapped in the flag and wearing lip gloss.”

So while O’Donnell is sort of the smeary next-gen photocopy of Sarah Palin, a little blurrier with the flaws magnified, they are peas in a pod politically and spout many of the same Roveian-Luntzian talking points. I notice that in O’Donnell’s time of need, several points down in the polls behind her opponent Chris Coons, the Uber Grizzly did not reach out a hand to decry the slut-shaming her protegĂ© and endorsed candidate was subject to. Perhaps married-with-many-children Palin was thinking some judgy-shamey thoughts about swingingly-single and “abstinent” O’Donnell herself.

We will never know. Unless something appears on Facebook or Twitter.

However, I watched with great interest as much of the (white) feminist-progressive political blogosphere RUSHED to rescue O’Donnell from the perceived embarrassment (doubtful if O’Donnell feels any shame; aside from the bit about the pubic hair it was kind of a jolly story of Girl’s Night Out) of ‘slut-shaming.’

I confess, I’ve been a great deal more lackadaisical in my own efforts to rescue O’Donnell. Oh wait. I haven’t at all.

Here’s why:

1) let’s unpack ‘slut-shaming’ for a second. There’s more white privilege there than you’d think. What happens when you are a woman of color: a “hot” Latina, a “sexy” black woman, an “I be your girlfriend Joe” always-available Asian woman? You have no recourse to the purity of white womanhood. You are always-already “besmirched”, your sexuality layered-over with a million projections of what mainstream culture finds appealing and has already spackled over you with its myopic desires and wants. Digging out from under this mess to reach your own authentic version of sex positivity is a challenge.

For me, for example, a short Asian Pacific American women with a Sarah Vowell voice and a femme-y look–I’d be very leery of becoming heavily tattooed. Add in wearing a short skirt and showing up at a bar. I’m not someone who blames the victim but I also think as much as you can, you must be savvy about what and where and who you signify. “Tattooed Asian girl in bar” out with girlfriends can somehow become “freaky tattooed Asian girl in bar out for good times” to others–depending on region, context, bar, one’s friends, how one acts–regardless of what one thinks oneself is signifying.

So there is very likely a way that ‘slut-shaming’ has embedded in it white feminists’ love-hate relationship with their place on the pedestal of pure womanhood. It’s an attempt to throw off the patriarchal disciplining of one’s sexual expression at the same time it calls attention to and is a tiny bit flattered that there is something there to protect–desirability, a place to risk losing in the gendered racial hierarchy.

I think the goal of feminists is the same: to define some sort of authentic sexual agency for oneself, but doing so while immersed in an unholy soup of signification, power structures, and meanings that pre-exist you and are not wholly within your power to define. But I think women of color and white women come at this necessarily differently, with different baggage and strategies.

It’s one of the few reasons that seem to account for the relative lack of speech by women of color defending O’Donnell. It’s why there’s such tremendous asymmetry and enormous white privilege in unpartnered teen mom Bristol Palin’s ability to land lucrative reality-star contracts as opposed to the certain opprobium a non-white parallel-universe twin of Bristol’s would endure.

2) I disagree with feminist orthodoxy that sisterhood is immediate, readily achievable, without hierarchy, and lacks its own power struggles. Honestly, there’s a huge disconnect between the attempts at feminist utopian sisterhood and the sometimes truly awful backbiting and relational violence that happens in the elementary, tween, and teen years. It boggles the mind.

So while I see (mostly white) feminists wanting to extend sisterhood to Christine O’Donnell, wanting to wrap her in the protective rhetoric of calling out slut-shaming, I don’t leap eagerly to the task myself because I don’t think women on the right have thought through and fought for their own feminism. It’s not mere ideological difference, although that’s part of it. Leap to the defense of someone whose policy notions, vague and poorly articulated as they are, would reduce my hard-won freedoms and rights? Would probably make life WORSE on the balance for all women? No. You don’t see me giving Karl Rove a “there-there, Karl” when conservatives come down on him for pointing out the irrefutable fact that Christine O’Donnell is “nutty.” I’m not exactly leaping to O’Donnell’s defense for much of the same reason. Given a chance, she’d smilingly destroy things I hold dear…you know, like the First Amendment and separation of church and state.

I try mightily not to give aid and comfort to the enemy. Where I differ from (white? mainstream?) feminists is in my ability to see Christine O’Donnell as the enemy. I know it as surely as I knew Meg Whitman let her housekeeper Nicandra Diaz Salletan go as soon as she became a political liability, and now says that her undocumented former housekeeper should be deported. This is her housekeeper of many years, whom Meg Whitman has glibly called “like family.” Family that you cold-bloodedly deport, apparently.

There is a racial difference between the billionaire and her former housekeeper that enables Whitman’s callousness. I’d never kid myself that Meg or Christine or Sarah is my “sister.” I approach them warily. I am that skeptical woman of color feminist who thinks racial difference doesn’t always flatten out power relations among and between women.

I think white feminists who rush to conjure an imagined sisterhood with white right-wing ‘sisters’ (while seldom rushing to conjure that imagined sisterhood with progressive women of color with whom they’d have much more in common, you would think) are making a mistake. They’ll have feminine conservatives eat their lunch– just as Operation Rescue co-opted civil rights tactics in their organizing, going so far as to sing “We Shall Overcome” while menacingly picketing abortion clinics.

It’s something our various progressive feminisms need to figure out, soon. Because what the right does best is mine the left’s memes and then figure out ways to market those memes using right-wing frames. Look at all the hot air about this being the Republican Year of the Woman. Corporate media, always looking for the “new” angle, has totally bought it despite not a single pro-woman or child-friendly policy plank in any one of the hard-right women candidate’s platforms. Please. I think what we have is Mitch McConnell in a skirt. (Or in the case of truly dangerously insane Sharron Angle, Tom Tancredo in a skirt.)

I think the best thing to do is let conservative, right-wing women rescue other conservative right-wing women from the brutal patriarchal mores of conservative right-wing men.

Let’s see an example of where that could happen and how it isn’t happening.

In Ohio, a Republican “right-to-life” activist, a mom of several children, filed a sexual harassment suit against a Republican candidate who is a wealthy car dealer and also anti-choice. She had contemplated buying a car from him and experienced inappropriate sexual remarks, and in the process of filling out the paperwork for the car, was subjected to unwanted physical contact and more boldly suggestive language. She filed her complaint against Tom Ganley because she tried to come to a settlement with him but he simply brushed off the allegations, calling her someone trying to sink his electoral bid for political reasons.

Mind you, this was a “right-to-life” volunteer for Ganley’s campaign who claims she was sexually harassed by him. She held off on bringing her complaints against him to light because she didn’t want the pro-choice candidate, Betty Sutton, to win. (Happily, Betty Sutton seems to be poised to win against Ganley.)

Now a second woman has come forward to say that she too was subjected to sexual harassment by Tom Ganley when she was in the process of buying a car at his dealership. Her motivation for stepping forward?

….she never said a word to authorities because she was afraid of Ganley’s connections. Then she saw the Cleveland mother of four that was suing Ganley for sexual harassment, following a series of meetings at the office.

“When I saw that on the news, right away I’m like, ‘that girl’s not lying. I need to go down there. I don’t care how long it’s been, and let them know that girl’s not lying,’” [the second woman] said.

Another source provides more details about the second woman’s fear of stepping forward:

The woman said she was afraid to go public because of Ganley’s ties to law enforcement. Ganley heads Crime Stoppers of Northern Ohio and has received a top civilian award from the FBI. The woman said she left the incident behind her until she saw reports that another woman had come forward.

The second woman, like Ganley’s first accuser, has also filed a police report. I have to commend both women for overcoming the sense of shame they internalized about the situation and speaking out on the principle that NO woman should have to experience unwanted sexual contact or overtures. That is absolutely a feminist principle. It’s an overall feminist goal for women to believe in and validate other women; I hope in this instance with more investigation that Ganley’s behavior can be corroborated and corrected if found wrong.

But again, the conservative movements that support Ganley and presumably the conservative WOMEN who support Ganley’s candidacy and will vote for him have not spoken out or taken up the cause of the two women he purportedly victimized. I can only conclude that they find it easier to throw two women, one of whom is an avowed conservative sister, under the bus than to stand up for principle.

I think it’s a total waste of time and resources for liberal/progressive women to save conservative women from patriarchy and conservative men. Why? Conservative women don’t stick up for each other. They’re happily aligned with patriarchy so long as their own plot is well-tended. In fact, their prosperity is completely dependent upon maintaining that alignment with patriarchal agendas set out by the establishment right.

I see this scandal for Tom Ganley and the indifference of conservative women to two women he very likely sexually harassed as parallel to Christine O’Donnell’s sad attempt to lodge a sexual discrimination suit against her employer, a right-wing “think tank” in 2005. The Weekly Standard lays out elements of her complaint here, detailing the ways she felt humiliated and demoted in being asked to serve as an administrative assistant to a college educated receptionist despite her longer resume as a spokeswoman for the conservative movement. Again, I’m completely unaware of any assistance or statements of support O’Donnell may have gotten from the Eagle Forum, the Concerned Women of America, or any other group of right-wing women.

Conservative women need to figure out certain realities of coalition building with progressive-left women, such as coalescing around a cause or action as part of a conscious alliance with others who have different stated goals and interests; acting on principle and not only self-interest; building trust through work; and reciprococity. In theory, we on the feminist progressive left are well-practiced in these things, amirite?

As one example of this coalitional work, I point to two Republican, Christian women in northern Virginia who nevertheless found anti-immigrant rhetoric surrounding passage of an SB1070-like law to be morally reprehensible. And they protested it and joined forces with the pro-immigrant forces who argued for a reasonable, non-racially-biased approach to immgration. It was quite heroic, and I’m glad the filmmakers Eric Byler and Annabel Park highlighted this in their film, 9500 Liberty.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9PXi1hGGy0]

I thought those “Moms on a Mission” were righteous in the most laudatory way. They may have been Republicans who campaigned for the council member at one time, but they weren’t going to stand for naked racism in their community and they weren’t afraid to say so. I would be proud to work in coalition with women like these on this particular project.

So why do we offer unconditional “sisterhood” to women who are not worthy of that alliance?

I’m not going to try to define feminism except to say that

Any collateral benefit to right-wing women as a result of feminist activism is purely incidental to the main social justice project of improving women’s lives in general.

I would like this cross-stitched onto many feminist pillows and placed around many women’s studies libraries and Take Back the Night Collectives and feminist political women’s groups.

We on the left sweated hard for our political gains, all with no help and active torpedoing from the likes of Phyllis Schlafly, Concerned Women of America, the Eagle Forum, and other hard-right women’s organizations. We have no Equal Rights Amendment because those hard-right women organizing to fight it tooth and nail in the 1970s and 1980s. We forged our alliances on the left painstakingly, through Anita Hill, through Third World student strikes, labor actions, and countless women of color conferences and women’s music festivals, LGBTQ, and environmental activism. Our coalitions are imperfect and provisional and fragile. But they exist, and we fought for them. Our priority should be to fight to make these connections strong.

Women on the right will flourish and succeed if feminism is successful. That’s because social justice for women lifts all women’s boats. There will always be people who surf the wave of a movement and seem to soak up all the sun, as opposed to the people working hard to make the subterranean shifts that create the waves below. As unfair as it may seem, their fame, their celebrity, their seeming “spokeswomanship” is a side-effect of making sure women who have the least voice and representation are helped by policies that help all women.

It’s enough for me to try to focus my efforts on women in poverty, women of indeterminate citizenship status, women lacking education or skills, women at the margins in all ways. I don’t have the time to rescue women who’d find my back a convenient stepping stone to something only they benefit from.

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