The other night, I went to a play that has been universally praised by critics for its bold portrayal of racial divisions in America, and the complicity we all share, liberals and conservatives, Southerners and West-Coast elites, in perpetuating racism, racial disparities and race-based violence in America. (In the play, a diverse group of kids at Berkeley decide to go to a small town Georgia where one of them grew up and stage a fake lynching—and things go about as badly as possible).
What none of the reviews I read mentioned was that the chief villain of the show—the person at the center of every bad decision that leads to a disaster—is a dingbat white feminist who personifies cultural appropriation, wearing her blonde hair in dreadlocks (the show includes numerous references to “Medusa” if you didn’t get the point) and claiming to be “one-eighth Native American.” Candace is the one who comes up the lynching idea, the one who eggs the guys on when they want to drop out (the one who does participate is trying to impress her), and flees the scene when things go bad—showing back up so, ahem, hysterical that she can’t manage to explain what happened to her, setting off another cascade of calamities. In the end, the three male friends are complicated, flawed—and ultimately redeemable. The lone woman, having served her role as the foil for male redemption, is unredeemed.
After I came home, I started thinking about “Get Out,” a movie I loved with one massive caveat—its reliance on a lazy, misogynistic trope about white women seducing men of color with the intent to harm them. (It’s the same reason many of Spike Lee’s movies are hard to love). Few of the raves I read mentioned the thread of misogyny that ran through that storyline, either.
And then I got to thinking about all the other ways in which women are expected to ignore misogyny in discussions of other kinds of oppression, as if a person’s gender has nothing to do with how they experience the US economy, or job opportunities, or racism, ageism, disablism, and homophobia. (Why are you whining that Bernie doesn’t talk about abortion? All those women’s issues will be taken care of when he fixes the economy!)
And then I saw on Facebook that a white female candidate, Jessyn Farrell, had been asked for at least the second time if she planned to step aside for another candidate. In this case, the candidate was Nikkita Oliver, a woman of color; in the other, it was Mayor Ed Murray, who was contemplating a write-in run. Oliver and Farrell’s platforms are about as far apart as Kshama Sawant’s and Tim Burgess’, at least on issues like density, HALA, and rent control. Imagine, for a moment, someone posing this question to Mike McGinn: “There’s another man in this race. He has a completely different platform than you and your policy positions are diametrically opposed, but have you considered stepping aside to help him win?” No one asks this question of men. Men are unique, each with their own individual platform and set of beliefs that makes them fundamentally different than all the other men seeking the same position. Women, on the other hand—women are fungible. And there can be too many of them.
And then, while marveling at the fact that we’re asking whether there are too many women in the race when Seattle hasn’t elected a female mayor in 92 years, I remembered that the King County Democrats endorsed an all-male slate of candidates in a year when four of the top six candidates for Seattle mayor are women.
And then I thought about another conversation I had in the last couple of days, this one on Facebook, about the ways in which women’s unpaid labor often goes uncredited and unthanked in “progressive” political communities, even as men sign their names to their work and take the credit and bask in the spotlight.
And then I heard an appalling work story from a friend that convinced me we have so much more than we even imagined, right here in Seattle, to address misogyny and negative assumptions about ambitious women who work in fields where women don’t “belong.”
And then I thought about all the women I’ve known over the years, but especially young women, who are discouraged from running from office because they’re “too young” or “aren’t ready,” or who just decide those things themselves, because of all the training we all get, starting at birth, that we have to work twice as hard for half the credit, and that even then the worst thing for a woman to be is ambitious.
And then someone pointed out to me that in its profile of Jessyn Farrell, the Stranger interviewed her father (and did not interview the fathers of the male candidates for mayor). His quote is about what she was like in middle school.
And then of a specific female candidate who was asked to drop out more than 10 years ago, by women, which reminded me once again that misogyny doesn’t come only from men; it can also be internalized.
And then I asked on Twitter: Why is it okay for men to repeatedly ask women, and only women, to step aside?
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