I’m a big believer in girl power, as is my soon-to-be fourth-grader PunditGirl.
She’s all about girl solidarity especially when it comes to the boys on the playground. Come to think of it, so are all her girlfriends. They all share that “us vs. them” mentality regardless of their skin colors, the neighborhoods they live in or who’s wearing the best color Chuck Taylor’s.
After last week, I started to wonder when we lose that collective “she” and define ourselves less by our gender and more by other factors in our lives like race, class, age or zip code.
For a good part of our lives gender is a unifying factor that we identify with more than other aspects of our lives. But that apparently changes at some point and, for some, becomes a wedge that divides us.
I had hoped for a constructive, positive and thought-provoking dialogue on the panel I moderated at Netroots Nation ’09 entitled “Building a Conversation Across Generations of Progressive Women.” I thought the focus would be how we can come together on issues after women were split about whether to vote for Hillary Clinton, the first viable woman presidential candidate ever. Hillary somehow divided us, but I wondered how we could put that behind us and move forward.
Apparently, there are a lot bigger things that keep us from coming together. And, apparently, I was pretty naive.
I was able to put together some fabulous women ranging from their 20s to their 60s who have thought a lot about getting women to talk about mending those rifts. Gloria Feldt, a true leader in forging the way for women, agreed to be on the panel and I figured she would help us find some common ground.
But all of us on the panel were white. I hadn’t planned it that way. But when some in the audience took a look at us, they rebelled.
After I pulled myelf together, I looked at other panels and wondered, did they get same question? The same anger? The same amount of “I spit on your panel” attitude? Was it a mistake that I hadn’t thought to make race as central an issue in the dialogue as gender?
Clearly there was a huge difference of opinion in the room on how we come together politically after Hillary’s 2008 attempt to become the first woman President of the United States. And, of course, that’s OK if we can talk about it without the calling each other names. But those things seeped into the conversation and it was clear about half way through the panel that there are so many unresolved identity issues — gender and age specifically for this crowd — that it was almost impossible to stay on track to talk about what I thought were the common issues that should bring us together. Things like making sure that more women are elected who want to bring equal pay to the forefront. Finding women politicians who want there to be healthy school meals for our kids and good medical care and safe child care. And figuring out how do look for women who will help give us equal footing in the workplace.
I know that identity issues divide us even on common topics, but how can we begin to come together if identity always gets in the way?
Yes, I’m a white chick. There’s nothing I can do about that. But my skin color doesn’t completely define my cultural and racial identity or experience. My husband is Jewish. My daughter is Asian. And while I am white and I can never understand what it is to be Black or Latina or even Asian like my daughter, I hope that doesn’t disqualify me from talking about the issues that should bring women together and not divide us.
At some point, is it possible to get past all the different identities we have and work toward policies that would help all women? Or is that being naive, too?