Rev Irene Monroe

Will "Feminists for Obama" help us at DNC?

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | August 19, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, DNC, election 2008, feminism, lesbian

Michelle Obama won't use the F-word. Alice Walker called it by another name. Her daughter, Rebecca Walker, an icon of the "Third Wave" of feminism, redefined the F-word and then denounced it. And when Hillary Clinton used the F-word, before she ran for president, she got clobbered with rumors stating she was an L.U.G. - lesbian until graduation - because she got married to Bill, and then an L.A.G - lesbian after graduation - because of her marriage to Bill.

With the Democratic National Committee Convention this month, the delegates that identify themselves as "Feminists for Obama" will come out in droves. The trek to Colorado will be made by dykes, dykettes, dykelings, bi-sisters, trannies, and, oh yeah, our straight sisters, too. But as my LBT friends have pointed out to me, the sisterhood between straight feminists and us is strained at best and nonexistent at worst. And with Hillary Democrats moving slowly over to the Obama camp, we LBT women also move with hesitancy given Obama's stance on same-sex marriage.

While the fault lines are already rearing up among "Feminists for Obama," so too are the fault lines of gender expressions and sexual orientation, as LBT women attempt to convince our straight sisters that our families, like theirs, matter.

And while I believe many of our straight sisters understand our struggle, will they forge a sisterhood with us against a presidential candidate who supports civil unions for same-sex couples but not marriage?

"He can't take on this issue now and win the election. Wait until he gets into office. I think he'll do it," argues Gaby Meadows, a lesbian from Maine.

During the DNCC in 2004, our issues got swept under the convention-floor rug. In the Democrats' effort to neither bash Bush nor bring up hot-button topics that might turn away swing voters, the elephant in the middle of the convention floor was the issue of marriage equality. And as the Democrats donned Republican drag, the DNC left Boston reneging on one of its platform promises: to support "equal responsibilities, benefits and protections" for LGBTQ families.

But in the Democrats' rhetoric to secure a safer world for all children, they did not understand that our children must grow up with the same rights as others and that the children of LGBTQ parents must also have those rights.

And can we, this time, rely on straight "Feminists for Obama" to help us?

Feminists for centuries have fought for reproductive justice and family protection. But they have also viewed us LBT women as a liability to the women's movement. In 1969, Betty Friedan, then president of the National Organization for Women, and an icon of the "Second Wave" of feminism, called us "the Lavender Menace." This created not only a chasm between straight and LBT feminists, but also even bigger chasms between black and white feminists, and between black men and women that still exist today and have me worried that these tensions will get played out on the convention floor.

Going into DNCC 2008, "Feminists for Obama" face not only the expected infighting classic to the feminist movement, but they also face, with the current backlash to feminism, their own struggle for legitimacy. And a woman who benefited from the all the feminist movements - past and present - and could be important to their cause is not a feminist: the Democratic presidential nominee's wife, Michelle Obama.

Michelle Obama told Washington Post writer Anne E. Kornblut in May 2007, just months after her husband's announcement of his run, that she's not a feminist.

"You know, I'm not that into labels," Michelle Obama told Kornblut. "So probably, if you laid out a feminist agenda, I would probably agree with a large portion of it...I wouldn't identify as a feminist, just like I probably wouldn't identify as a liberal or a progressive."

When white feminists pounced on Michelle Obama for not using the F-word, many African-American sisters came to her rescue, stating that many African-American women don't use the term "feminist" but instead prefer the term "womanist" because of the racism embedded in the feminist movement and the strained history that remain unaddressed.

But if truth be told, the creation of the word "womanist" was to conceal "the Lavender Menace," keeping on the down-low the homosocial and homosexual relationship between two black church women.

Alice Walker specifically devised the term in response to Jean Humez's introduction to the book Gifts of Power: The Writings of Rebecca Jackson, Black Visionary, Shaker Eldress. Humez suggested that Rebecca Jackson and Rebecca Perot, who were part of an African-American Shaker settlement in Philadelphia in the 1870s and lived with each other for more than 30 years, would be labeled lesbians in today's climate of acknowledging female relationships. Humez supported her speculations of the Jackson-Perot relationship by pointing to the homoerotic dreams the women had of each other. Walker disputed Humez's right, as a white woman from a different cultural context, to define the intimacy between two African-American women.

But many African-American sisters don't use either term because both have been and continue to be used for lesbian-baiting in the African-American community that has kept black women from identifying themselves even to each other, let alone publicly.

In the last convention, DNCC delegates who were supporters of marriage equality were disallowed from bringing signs into Boston's Fleet Center for what was cited as "security reasons" and that "the campaign wants to get a consistent message out." Of the 4,300-plus delegates, 255 delegated were identified as LGBTQ. And where one would think that these people should have been the loudest advocates for marriage equality, they too skirted the issue for fear of losing the election.

Let's not make this mistake again.


Because the distance between straight "Feminists for Obama" protecting their families and LBT women protecting our families is just a child away.

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Why is marriage the only way to conceive of honoring LGBT families? Many LGBT folks and many staright folks live in significant relationships that are not embedded in marriage as an institution. Grand parents rasing their grandchildren, "golden girls", best friends supporting each other are some of the examples of multiple kinds of families.

In my opinion we should decouple benefits from the institution of marriage, and honor the many flexible kinship networks that people create. That would be a true democratic platform!

I agree with the long contested struggles within "feminist"/ "womanist"/LBT movements around racism and white priviledge. As an Queer immigrant I stand in solidarity with women/ trans and queer folks of color, and am keenly watching how we will navigate the race/gender rehtoric of this Fall's election.

With all of the infighting and marking of territory, the feminist community reminds me so much of the LGBT community.

talkstocoyotes | August 24, 2008 4:51 PM

Going into DNCC 2008, "Feminists for Obama" face not only the expected infighting classic to the feminist movement, but they also face, with the current backlash to feminism, their own struggle for legitimacy. And a woman who benefited from the all the feminist movements - past and present - and could be important to their cause is not a feminist: the Democratic presidential nominee's wife, Michelle Obama.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, there was an endless, simpering parade of women with good jobs or their own businesses who made a point of coyly pointing out that "they weren't women's libbers". Of course, none of these women would have been where they are today if it weren't for women who weren't afraid to stick their necks out, even if it meant the fate-worse-than-death of being referred to as (send the children out of the room!) feminists.

The drumbeat that feminism was an irrelevant, embarrassing dinosaur was insistent during the primary campaign, but that hasn't stopped Obamabots from trying to bully female voters into falling into line with dire predictions that McCain will "overturn Roe v Wade." This from the very same people who confidently asserted that feminism was irrelevant because all the battles have been won. Different decade, same tiresome gimmick.

With her disdain for the "F-word", Michele Obama is acting within a grand, hypocritical tradition. Thank God for third parties.

Absolutely. I get so pissed off when people say they believe in equality but they're not feminists. How can you be a person and not be a feminist?

I hear all of you on this issue. As a male bodied person who identifes as gender queer and continues to be inspired by Feminist movements of all times, I cringe when people reduce feminism to "man-hating, bra-burning" stereotypes!

I do want to point out that there are several women across the globe, across different time period who have not settled for what their society and time dished out to them. I am reminded of my mother in India, and grand-mother and grand aunts who went to college, chose their careers and fought side by side of their male counterparts for India's freedom. Now if you ask them if they are feminists, you might get different answers. My point being that feminist conscioussness comes in multiple shades and languages, and my brand of feminism embraces them all.

I am keenly waiting to see the Tuesday/Wednesday I think when the DNC will have a day of honoring women congress members.

Slightly unrelated, I just saw the film "The Bible Says" and absolutely loved the Rev. Irene Monroe's voice in it. More power to you Rev!