Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Woman and Black are Not the Same Thing

The other day, I had someone who identified himself as a feminist man, tell me that he is certain that women are more disadvantaged than men in our society because men hold more positions of power and influence than women.

I told him that when examining patterns of oppression, advantage, disadvantage and privilege, one cannot look only at the top. One must look downward as well (to the needless deaths, the incarcerated, the homeless, the suicides, the impoverished, etc), and frankly, men dominate the numbers there, too. They always have, and their domination of these areas has become even more lopsided relative to women as women break through the glass ceiling without concurrently breaking through the glass basement.

He replied that looking to those in power has always been a good indicator of privilege and oppression, citing apartheid South Africa and Jim Crow America as examples. Whites at the top, therefore whites are privileged. When I asked him if he did indeed feel that the experience of women throughout history was remotely comparable to the experiences of blacks during slavery, he replied "Absolutely."

I was shocked. And a little sick to my stomach. And I began to realize one of the reasons why I've been seeing more and more women of color throw up their hands and disavow mainstream feminism.

Anyone who has read my piece on Patriarchy will know that in my view, patriarchy was not a system of oppression, but a collective strategy for dealing with a world that was very different from what the world looks like now. Differences in biology that go just a little deeper than the color of one's skin, and a history of public sphere labor that more closely resembled the work portrayed on "Dirty Jobs" (only without the machinery) than "The Office" made it essentially impossible throughout most of humanity's time on this planet for women to collectively put their hands to "men's work".

The most effective team strategy humans ever stumbled on for perpetuation of the species, one that has been seen in some form or other throughout most of human history, was the pairing of a resource-gathering unit with a child-caring unit. Given the fact that until very recently, any sexually active woman was, or could have been, pregnant at any given time, that she was the sole member of the team who had the necessary equipment to provide food to a child in its infancy, and that the vast majority of public sphere work was either beyond her physical capabilities or more ably performed by the larger, stronger, faster man, it should really come as no surprise that the vast majority of societies have always arranged themselves this way. It was, up until recently, virtually impossible for men and women to swap roles on the team.

Then the nature of public sphere work began to shift dramatically with the Industrial Revolution, assembly lines, and automation, allowing women entry into jobs outside the home and giving them the tools to be able to compete with men. But even so, it wasn't until women got control over their fertility (the pill) and were provided with realistic options that eliminated their children's physical dependence on them and only them (bottles, formula, disposable diapers, regulated daycare providers), AND the workplace became dominated by service jobs rather than resource ones, that women gained some serious equality in the working world and became 50% of the workforce.

To say that this means men and women are equal is...disingenuous. Women and men are not equal and can never be, because men are still larger and stronger than women, and women are still the ones who gestate and lactate. What it does mean is that both public and private sphere work have changed in such as way as to make the biological differences between the sexes largely irrelevant. A father cannot lactate, but he can bottle-feed a baby as well as any woman can, and so can a daycare provider. A woman could never have been reasonably be expected to cut down trees with a handsaw for a living or harvest grain with a scythe, but she *can* file documents, run an office, diagnose an illness, operate a forklift, drive a taxi, enter data on a computer or work a cash register as ably as any man.

The biological differences between men and women are not even remotely the same as the skin-deep differences between black people and white people. Women's unique gendered disadvantages throughout history can ALL be traced back to those very real and significant biological differences between the sexes. Women were forced into their roles not by men, but by reality. And men's options were, realistically, not much more varied than women's.

The disadvantages blacks faced under slavery, and the ones they still struggle to overcome even now? Those disadvantages owed to nothing more than the color of their skin, and what that signified with respect to their status as persons to those in power. How on earth can the two be considered even remotely comparable?

Moreover, when we examine oppression with respect to men and women and their relative places in society through history, we see men at the top and men at the bottom. If we looked only at the top, as feminists have been, and are still, wont to do, we could say men were the privileged class and women oppressed. But if we look only at the bottom, and the expectations and obligations required of men that were not required of women, we could just as accurately and justifiably say that women were the privileged class and men the oppressed.

While there were downsides to being a woman, there were upsides to being one as well.


  • She might have less freedom of movement, but she had a greater expectation of safety and protection than a man did.
  • She might not be able to own property, but she had an often legally codified entitlement to financial support from men.
  • She might not be able to work outside the home, but at the same time, she wasn't expected to risk life, health and limb earning money.
  • She may have been "stuck" at home with the kids, but she wasn't "stuck" for 12 hours a day in a coal mine, either.
  • She may have been under her husband's authority, but if she committed a crime, she wouldn't be held fully accountable for her actions.
  • The upper echelons of power and influence were mostly (not completely) barred to her, but she couldn't be ordered against her will to die for her country, either.
When we examine the pattern of oppression, disadvantage and privilege with respect to black people and white people during slavery, things are rather more...uh...black and white. You looked up, and you saw all whites. You looked down to the very bottom and you saw mostly blacks. And things still very much look that way even now--the higher up you go in the strata of society, the whiter things look. And blacks still disproportionately dominate the areas of greatest disenfranchisement--the poor, the incarcerated, the uneducated. All based on a difference that is no more relevant than eye color or the size of one's nose.


And what, pray tell, were the "upsides" to being black in America during slavery? Can anyone here name a single white slave owner who ever died to save the lives of his black slaves? Who ever gave up a space in a lifeboat to his black slave and chose himself to go down with a ship? Who ever stood with a rifle between his black slaves and an enemy to defend their lives, rather than his right to own them?

Can anyone even imagine a white slave owner working 16 hours in a field while his black slaves stayed inside and kept his house tidy, then coming home and sharing the fruits of his labors with his black slaves?

Did a black woman who was the sexual partner of a white man have any expectation of respect, lifelong provision or shelter, or of sharing the benefits of his quality of life and his social status? Or was she just an object of the moment, free to be used and cast aside at will? Did a black man who was obligated to obey his owner's wife have any legal right or recourse when she turned around and pointed a finger and claimed he raped her? Or was he swinging from a tree within hours?

Can anyone imagine a reality where a white slave owner would perform physically gruelling or dangerous work his black slave was incapable of? Or would he simply set more slaves to the task, or work his slave to his death, or discard his used-up slave and buy a better one? If women were truly oppressed by men, would they have been spared the most onerous and dangerous work because they were less physically capable of it, or would men have simply assigned more women to the task?

Can anyone here name a single black person, man or woman, who rose to a state-sanctioned position of serious political power during slavery? Off the top of my head, I can name a fuck-ton of women who have been heads of state, going as far back as Ancient Egypt. The greatest and most notable black leaders emerging from Jim Crow America and apartheid South Africa rose to influence by opposing the government, not being elected to it, because they had no avenue to power within a system that oppressed them.

Women have always been less likely to be punished than men for the crimes they commit, and less severely punished. When, under slavery or Jim Crow laws, did black people enjoy this advantage? While women historically had to defer to men, in return for this disadvantage they have always been held less accountable for their actions. Black slaves, on the other hand, were under the total authority of their owners, and could be (and often were) brutally punished or executed--without trial--for crimes not their own.

Even now in these "enlightened" times, blacks are not only more likely to be convicted of crimes than whites, but their sentences are disproportionately long compared to whites. At the same time, while women no longer have to defer to men in any aspect of life in the west, they are STILL not held as accountable for their crimes as men are.

While a woman had less freedom of movement than a man, she had a socially and legally enforced expectation of safety and protection from the harshness of the world. Black slaves, on the other hand, had NO freedom of movement, and no right to any expectation of protection from those in authority over them, or from greater society.

Women had no money of "their own" (once they were married, anyway), but the most difficult, dirty, nasty, smelly, dangerous, physically arduous jobs (other than childbirth) belonged to someone else. And slaves? Do I really need to outline how it was downside all around for them in this area too?

When one wishes to identify groups which oppress and those which are oppressed, one simply cannot look only at the top of society and draw all your conclusions from who occupies those positions. In order to be oppressors, a group doesn't just have to occupy positions of power, but they have to, you know, do some oppressing. And while the biological differences between men and women could be said to be oppressive to both parties with respect to the expectations, obligations, choices, freedoms and rights afforded to each group, the oppressor responsible for patriarchy was not men, but nature.

The nature of human sex differences and the nature of the world we lived in, wherein some choices were simply not realistically open to either gender. Roles were rigidly enforced because rigid enforcement was beneficial to the stability of society. Was a man "oppressed" by women because his inability to lactate forced him into the role of provider rather than a possibly preferred role of nurturer? How then can we characterize a woman as oppressed by men because her inability to control her fertility and the limitations of her physical size and strength kept her from earning her own money working in a foundery?

The only quantifiable, material, functional and practical difference between black people and white people? Skin color. That's it. And yet it is black people, who won the right to vote before women did, who are facing a more difficult and arduous struggle for equality with whites than the women who have breezed to equal, near equal, or better than equal status with men in the space of a century. It is black people--not women--who even now inhabit an average position of lower social, educational, legal and economic status than white people in America, who are still disproportionately represented among the incarcerated, the poor, and a dozen other areas of real disenfranchisement.

And that's because the oppression of black people in America was--and is--really-and-for-true, one-way, genuine oppression that looked NOTHING like the experience of women relative to men at any point in human history.

Patriarchy was a cost/benefit partnership where men and women each bore some of the costs and reaped some of the benefits. Slavery was a cost/benefit system of oppression where all the benefits were reaped by one party and all the costs borne by the other.

To compare the experience of women--a valued, protected and provided-for class--throughout history with that of black people under slavery and apartheid is a slap in the face to every single black man who died wrongfully imprisoned in South Africa, to every single black woman who was forced onto her back by her white owner, to every single black man who was ever executed by a mob without trial, to every single black person who lived and died in bondage or in a concentration camp, and every single black person who still struggles to overcome the lingering and devastating effects of the utterly baseless, unjustifiable and man-made oppression of slavery and segregation.

So I just wanted to repeat, so we're all clear on this:

Women and Black are NOT the same thing.

15 comments:

  1. Where's the damn "Subscribe" button?

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  2. I don't know! Probably where my spare car keys are. LOL

    Oh wait, never mind. It's under the labels and above followers in the sidebar. Unless it's not showing up for you? Because then we have a problem.

    Thanks for stopping by. :)

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  3. Wow, you did a really, really good job laying all that out here, GWW. I've noticed a tendency for "Internet Feminists" like your friend there (YellowMix?) to become detached from the complex interplay between technology/biology that created the divide between genders in the past.

    I mean - we didn't even have baby formula until 1930s - and that was only for women rich enough to afford it. Women HAD TO BE tethered to their young infants - it wasn't entirely a matter of men keeping them down - it was goddamn biology.

    But how quickly they forget?

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  4. Hello again!

    GWW, I find the co-opting of slavery and racial oppression by well born feminist women more than distasteful.

    EasilyE, I find that frustrating too, trying to explain that there was no surplus of female friendly jobs, that women could fall pregnant at any time and so couldn't ever be viewed as long term employees and that keeping a house going was a full time job.
    Some people would rather ignore that in favour of an implausible conspiracy theory.
    Regards
    Sig

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  5. I'm sorry but your whole argument is completely off. First off your pretty much saying being black is being a slave. Its not. Slavery has been around since prehistory and has affected every single ethnic group not just blacks. In your argument you are cutting out over 4,000 years of history. The Romans enslaved just about everyone, Viking enslaved both Anglo and Saxon, and the Japaneses enslaved approximately 5,400,000 Koreans during WWII.

    You said "She might not be able to own property". The reason women could not own property was because they were property. They were owned by either a male family member or their husband, a husband most did not choose. Do you really think a 16 year old wanted to marry a man 20 or more years older then her. And 16 is late to be married in historical terms. The age of marriage was more like 12. Child bride is not a new term it's been around awhile. Think about just what it means to live in the past. People tend to see it through rose color glasses but it was a hard life.

    This is the legal definition of slave. A person legally owned by another and having no freedom of action or right to property. By that definition women historically have been slaves. It has been only in recent history that the status of women has changed to be what it is today. But you know what Slavery still exist today. It is estimated that between 12 to 27 million people are slaves in today's world and you know what most are women and children. Slavery in today's world doesn't care if your Black, White, Asian, Indian, or anything else. But it's does care if your a woman, a girl, or a young boy. Human trafficking is big business and it's mostly dealing in females.

    Posts like yours just make me really mad because you didn't do any research. You didn't really look into slavery and what it means. you just look into one small faction of it. that part of American history is a small blip in the history of the world. You also didn't really look into the historical role of women and what it really means. Do you know what your life would be like if you lived 200, 400, or 1,000 years ago. Its not what it is now. The information is at your finger tip. The internet has made it so easy to find out anything on all these topics in a matter of seconds. A better topic for you to look at is the difference between male and female slave. if you notice female slaves are treated the same across the board. it didn't matter what their skin color was. It was all the same to men.

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  6. Uh, no. I am not saying that blacks in America are still slaves, nor that all blacks in America are descended from slaves, nor that all blacks everywhere are slaves.

    I am saying that because blacks experienced severe, unilateral oppression under slavery, black people in America are demonstrably having a more difficult time achieving equality than women are. This is because women's experience throughout history did not look anything like black people's experience under slavery.

    Women were not property in the same sense that slaves were. They were a man's chattel in the same sense that his children were. Would you describe children's experience under the authority of their fathers analogous to slavery? If a man murdered his wife, did society just shrug its shoulders and say, "Oh well, she was his property, and he was entitled to do what he wanted with it."

    Tell me, did a black slave--whether man, woman or child--have any expectation of sharing their owners' social status or quality of life? Did a black slave have any expectation of his owner performing sometimes gruelling labor out of a legal and social obligation to support that slave--an obligation that existed *solely* in order to spare that slave the necessity of performing that gruelling work himself?

    A man had a *legally codified obligation* to financially support his wife, J.R., even if that meant toiling in a coal mine or on an oil derrick or as a soldier. Could one not turn around and consider that--the legally codified obligation to perform labor for someone else's benefit--slavery as well? After all, he was forced to perform labor for someone else's benefit rather than simply his own.

    Forced by law to work for someone else's benefit. Wow! It should be easy to see that men's experience through history was *exactly* analogous to that of blacks during slavery!

    Yeah, that sounded idiotic and insulting to me, too. Just as it is idiotic and insulting to compare the experience of a protected and provided-for class of people with that of the utterly oppressed and disenfranchised.

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  7. I think you are an excellent MRA

    Please visit www.avoiceformen.com

    We'd love to have you in the family

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  8. The vote, the presidency, and the ability to be lionized and defended even by proud retrograde bigots.

    Make no mistake: blacks have women beat, any day of the week.

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  9. Hiya ! Sorry I'm just commenting on what i don't like, but in one of your newest videos, you yourself reffered to the situation of men today as "slavery", which nullifies your (understandable) outrage in this instance.I mean, misandry and all are a problem, but noone stops me from "shrugging" and sod off to the woods if i want to (which to me is a very important right, which slaves didn't have : they had CHAINS, and blimey that should be taken into account!) or otherwise physically coerces me to go to war (at least not in Western Europe ) or risk my life for "others".

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  11. Having fun going through all your archives--I am online male and stalking you, call the fem-police! ;-)

    An important note: in America blacks both did, and did not, have the vote before women.

    Everyone should know this salient fact: MOST AMERICAN MEN COULD NOT VOTE IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THIS COUNTRY. Black or white.

    Expanding the vote just to allow most WHITE MEN to vote was a "progressive" and "radical" idea. It started mostly with Andrew Jackson, who took the then-radical notion that all free white men should get the vote, not just wealthy property owners. That movement took a LONG time to take hold, and changed only one state at a time. Slowly. Even in the late 1800s many white men were totally not allowed to vote.

    In the wake of the civil war, most freed slaves did not have the right to vote because they did not own property. You would have to look it up state by state, but in most states, there were rigorous property and other requirements put in place to limit who could vote--and many states doubled-down after the civil war to intentionally exclude blacks. Even when they softened or got rid of property requirements, they often enacted special laws specifically to prevent blacks from voting. A common one was a literacy test: if you couldn't read you couldn't vote. Guess what? Slaves were almost never allowed to learn to read! And there was no public education so even the freed ones mostly couldn't read so they mostly couldn't vote!

    As more blacks got educated, they got steadily more sophisticated about it. In some cases they were so blatant, they would give voters a test like, "Guess how many jellybeans are in that jellybean jar!" Oh, and guess what, all the white voters got the right answer every time, and all the black voters got the answer wrong every time. What an amazing coincidence!

    Google up something called the VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965. This comprehensive civil rights legislation finally established nationwide rules that made it nearly impossible to prevent someone from voting based on racial or phony property or literacy requirements. It was only then that ALL American citizens got the right to vote.

    Next time someone tells you blacks had the vote before women, set them straight: in 1918, WHITE WOMEN got the vote nationwide. Black women, and men, were still routinely denied the vote until almost 50 years later.

    In fact, here's a dirty little secret about the women's suffrage movement: many of suffragist women SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDED BLACK WOMEN FROM THEIR CAUSE, because they didn't want to be associated with those dirty negroes. Blacks were not given their full voting rights until half a century AFTER privileged white women were.

    And don't even get me started on how up until, oh, probably the 1960s (you know, 50 or 60 years ago) a white woman could just point to a black man and say "he tried to rape me" and that man was a DEAD NEGRO. Even if she'd had consensual sex with him and just wanted to deny it. Or even if she just didn't like him.

    Blacks were routinely denied the vote in the United States until 1965. Burn it into your brain. White women: 1918. Black women (and black men): 1965. A bit of a difference don't you think?

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    1. like early feminist icon nellie mclung, who was literally a raving rabid paranoid racist who supported, among other things, eugenics and forced sterilization. they never say much about that aspect of her life though.

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  12. And by the way, let me tell you something that leaders in the organized feminist movement (like NOW) have long noticed: black women rarely join feminist causes and rarely call themselves feminists.

    Oh they're out there, but they're very rare. Many many many feminist scholars and journals and organizations have commented on it, wrung their hands about it, asked what was wrong with black women and why didn't black women want to be liberated and all that?

    Guess what? First off, the women's suffrage movement had kicked black women to the curb (and needless to say had nothing for black men either). So right there, no love-fest between privileged white women demanding (and being granted) the vote in 1918 and their black female counterparts.

    The feminism of the 1960s and 1970s? Let me tell you something: I've spent a *huge* amount of time in midwestern black culture, studying it, hanging out in it, and black women as a rule don't give a shit about it. It does not speak to them. It has nothing to do with them.

    What is the stereotype of a black woman? Meek and mild? Or powerful? Yeah, you know damn well that the powerful black woman is a common motif, and there's a reason: women have ALWAYS been EXTREMELY powerful in the black community, and still are.

    They don't give a shit about "feminism" because not only did most of the early "feminists" kicked them to the curb, and not only because they were battling alongside their menfolk for the same privileges white people had, but, within the black community women have always been respected and known they are powerful in their own rights. In fact, the basic social conservatism of black voters in the United States has long been noted: this is an overwhelmingly Fundamentalist Christian demographic (the Black Church is a powerful force), and very traditionalist: women have their proper roles and rights and obligations, men have their proper roles and rights and obligations, and if you are a man or a woman who doesn't live up to your obligations you are shunned.

    And that gets to the saddest thing of all about this discussion to me: what a pathetic, SEXIST, DEMEANING portrayal of the women of history really is to refer to them as being akin to slaves. No, you had it right the first time: women had obligations and tough roles, but RIGHTS came with those obligations and forced roles. And men had rights and tough roles, and OBLIGATIONS that went with those roles.

    It is a spit in the face to my grandmothers, my great-grandmothers, and their mothers and grandmothers, and all the women of history to portray the status of women throughout the world as nothing but one long journey of horrible oppression. On behalf of the women of history, FUCK YOU if you believe that about them. Yes, in SOME ways they were oppressed, in OTHER ways they were privileged, and the whole "men as brutalizers/women as victims" thing is not just offensive today, it is offensive to the vast majority of men and women of history.

    And the comparison to American slavery? Fucking disgusting.

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  13. I have never called my self a feminist and have always believed that patriarchy was evolved rather than formed it is not the fault of men. Very good points , however, the problem with such a system is that it enslaved both sexes from birth. Who you were did not matter only your biology mattered. That might be ok for a horse or a crocodile but not for a creature with consesness and potential far beyond that. Feminist anger and MRA back lash are predictable, it's always been that way as well.
    While I don't support self rightious feminists eating their own and bashing men I do support a gender nutral society where a person is judged on their merits as a person and not on what hangs on their bones. I find that about as desierable as forced prostitution, their is just so much more to a human being than a reproductive tract.

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  14. Great article, except for the incessant need to characterize race as nothing more than "skin color". This is as laughable as the modern feminist who claims that sexual differences do not exist. Race is real and it has consequences, just as sex does. Race is not about skin color, it is about a whole host of biological differences in both physiology and brain function.

    History is rather clear about the consequences of ignoring the reality of race. Most of the major empires in history, that were not conquered, were destroyed internally by the perverse desire to label race as nothing more than skin color.

    Ignoring the reality of race and the damage such ignorance causes is as bad as ignoring the damage that feminism has caused (and both in the name of "equality").

    "No man will treat with indifference the principle of race. It is the key of history, and why history is so often confused is that it has been written by men who were ignorant of this principle and all the knowledge it involves." Benjamin Disraeli

    "Thus the view that the negro slave was an unfortunate cousin of the white man, deeply tanned by the tropic sun, and denied the blessings of Christianity and civilization, played no small part with the sentimentalists of the Civil War period, and it has taken us fifty years to learn that speaking English, wearing good clothes, and going to school and to church, does not transform a negro into a white man. Nor was a Syrian or Egyptian freedman transformed into a Roman by wearing a toga, and applauding his favorite gladiator in the amphitheatre." Madison Grant, Passing of the Great Race

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