Gender, Race, Language, and the Netroots
Bloggers Mike Meginnis and Matt Zeitlin have responded to my assertion in this TAPPED post that male "netroots" bloggers rarely write about identity politics. They both agree I'm right, but unfortunately, choose to interpret my simple observation as an attack. To be clear: Guys like Duncan Black, Matt Stoller, and Markos do what they do very well. But journalists ought to stop using "Atrios and DailyKos" as shorthand for "liberal bloggers." There are whole communities of liberal bloggers not included in the constellation centered around those sites, and foremost among those are feminist bloggers and bloggers of color.
I'm sympathetic to what Mike and Matt describe as a fear on the part of the white, male blogger that if he writes about race or gender, he will be subject to extra scrutiny and possibly attack. But I'm wary. If "male bloggers" like "arguing" so much, as Zeitlin writes (what? and female bloggers don't?), they should welcome these back and forths, not shy away from them. The sense I got from both responses was that while Meginnis and Zeitlin relish a good "man-to-man" fight, they don't really want to engage in debate with women or people of color who practice "identity politics."
That's their prerogative, of course. I certainly don't think every blogger needs to cover my pet issues; if they did, there would be no point in me writing every day. But I'm really disturbed by the language Zeitlin uses in his lengthy critique of so-called "identity politics." Here are some of his descriptors, all direct quotes. My emphasis is in bold.
- pantywaist pseudo-intellectuals who didn’t have the balls to get us out of Iraq and fight a class war
About his Netroots heroes, Zeitlin writes:
The netroots - Kos, Atrios, FDL etc — was born fighting, born opposing the Bush administration and all it stood for. And you don’t fight a war, you don’t win Matt Stoller’s “bar fight primary” by being splintered over identity issues. You have to stand together to fight the baddies in the Bush administration, instead of constantly fretting over seemingly tangential issues of identity.
Note the language here. Note the language. Netroots dudes are "born fighting." They can "take on the baddies." We lady bloggers, well, we're "fretting." Our "panties" are all twisted up in a knot. This kind of rhetoric is regrettable. It prevents dialogue by marginalizing women -- it's sexist language. My point about the Netroots was that they are great at what they do, but they're narrowly focused. I'm narrowly focused too. That's okay, because being a good writer often requires specialization.
But this kind of language from Zeitlin is not okay.
As a woman, I never forget how female-ness affects (and often limits) my days, my walks home at night, my professional choices, my relationships, my politics, my visions of the future. As a white person born in the United States, I can try to imagine how blackness or accented English might similarly impact an individual's day, but I can never fully understand. People have different experiences of the world. It shouldn't surprise anybody that they might also have different focuses to their progressive activism.
So I disagree strongly with Matt Zeitlin about the role of identity in the progressive movement. It's not separate from our struggles over Iraq or poverty or inequality -- we are one movement devoted to justice. An understanding of sexual and racial politics only increases one's outrage about the Iraq war, for example. It's only since we invaded Iraq that women in that country have been forced into burkas. Or consider the plight of gay people in Iran. Or the mass rapes in Darfur. It's all connected.
Unfortunately, language like Matt's makes me want to head into a feminist corner and never come out to converse with some of my fellow progressives. It's a tempation I'm happy to fight, though.
Because I've got balls like that.