I grew up with Ms. Magazine and often find myself in agreement with Gloria Steinem, the Ms. Co-Founder pictured below left. That is perhaps what makes her op-ed in Tuesday's NYT so disappointing.
In it, Steinem argues that "gender is probably the most restricting force in American life." To make her point, she contrasts the experience of being female with that of being black and suggests that the former constitutes a more formidable obstacle to success in American politics than the latter. She suggests that the historical stereotyping of “black men as more ‘masculine’” works to their advantage in contemporary politics. How quickly Steinem forgets the scores of black men lynched as a response to the racist conception of black men as a hyper-masculinized threat to white women’s sexuality.
Although Steinem asserts that she is not “advocating a competition for who has it toughest,” her op-ed piece does exactly that. Steinem acknowledges that “the caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together.” Her piece, however, undermines this important insight and attempts to drive a wedge between the feminist and anti-racist movements, marginalizing women of color in the process.
Perhaps Steinem should take a cue from the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a committee that has, in recent years, embraced an intersectional understanding of race and gender discrimination. In its General Recommendation 25, the CERD Committee explores the ways in which gender and race discrimination are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. This approach reflects the “third wave” of feminism (described here by Amy Schriefer), and has greater potential to combat both racism and sexism than Steinem’s more divisive approach. (photo credit)