Posted by: jacoxpdx | October 18, 2007

An Elsa Barkley Brown reading comment

As I was reading the Elsa Barkley Brown article titledWhat Has Happened Here”: The Politics of Differences in Women History and Feminist Politics”, I found myself confused as to why the author wanted to make Anita Hill’s race so prevalent in the testimony of her sexual harassment case. Brown starts out talking about Hill supporters and the fact that they should and did ignore her race, background and other matters: “When Prof. Hill testified, a number of women rallied to support her…however (they) ignored the fact that she is a Black women, the thirteenth child of Oklahoma farmers, or treated these as merely descriptive or incidental matters” (302).As I read it, I thought ignoring those facts was a good idea so all women could relate and support her. I agreed with those facts as descriptive of her and not as important as the issue. Having not her race but her sexual harassment as the central issue, I thought would help everybody relate and support her. If the media described her as a Black working class woman who got sexual harassed by a Black man, people my not relate or support her as much. Making race the main issue would just distract from the important issue of stopping sexual harassment. Having Hill’s working class status be a main issue ,could also make other women in the middle or upper class think sexual harassment only happens to “them,” leaving them unaware of the fact that it can and does happen to all different types of women.

After re-reading this section, I realized why talking about her race and class WAS important. I didn’t realize that sexual harassment has been a prevalent part of black women’s pasts. Brown notes: “A collective memory of sexual harassment runs deep in African American communities and many Black women, especially those born before the 1960s’ civil rights movements, would likely recognize sexual harassment not as a singular experience but as part of a collective and common history” (304). Brown also says, and I agree, that socializing sexual harassment is important and in doing so may make more men and women come out and talk about it. I have realized now that the more people talk about how race functions in sexual harassment, the more people can do to stop it.

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Responses

  1. White privilege is what enables many to have the privilege of remaining ignorant about the sexualized dynamics of race and how women of color experience their gender differently. As white women, it is our responsibility to understand this dynamic and refrain from thinking of gender oppression as sole dynamic of domination. White privilege is not having to even think about or consider what is a daily experience for many, and this is perhaps the biggest barrier to women of all races/ethnicities, classes, sexualities, and abilities to come together, acknowledging that the struggle is to end the oppression for all women, but that oppression isn’t experienced the same way by all women, due to the colonialism and imperialism throughout history and as it continues today in the neo-colonial global economy.

  2. Yes I agree with you that it is our duty as white women, to stop the sexualized dynamics of racism and to stop treating women of color and white women’s experience of oppression the same. Author Elizabeth Martinez would agree with us in her article “La Chicana”. She talks about how women of color are oppressed in three ways. Them being imperialism, sexism and racism. She says that these three cannot be separated and that the women’s liberation movement has not been helpful to her. The women’s liberation movement has ignored the racism part, and just focuses on the sexism, which does not work for all women. The women’s liberation movement should allow all women to have a say and have their voices be heard, no matter what their oppression is. Also, a lot of the time, the women’s liberation movement leaves out the disabled too, which is not right!

  3. I agree that our duty as white women is to stop treating women of colors experience of oppression the same as white womens experience of oppresion. As we all do want to be treat as equals, we all have our own history that should be shared and given importance. All women should have the ability to have their voices heard. I also think many writers of different ethnic backgrounds have written about their own feminism, but it is just not recognized in mainstream media perhaps. But I think the more women of all kinds join the women’s liberation movement, the better we will be at making a different through unity and understanding.


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