Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Solidarity Gone Awry

File it under yet another "Unbearable Lightness of Being Center-Left." Or perhaps just "The Unbearable Lightness of Analysis at Slate."

Whatever the case, Emily Bazelon's recent article disappoints. Me, at least.

Charitably, I can see how hard it is to watch a woman flub on the national stage and worry that we've all been set back some (well, all us feminists, but more importantly I suppose, women and specifically women feminists especially -- Wom Fems?). It is, similarly, hard for me to watch black people make a fool of themselves (See: All Wayans family members post-1995ish -- and no, it doesn't matter to me that they're suppposedly funny or just pretending, minstreling is minstreling, aiight? Though yes, it would be worse if it were a national politician.*) So I guess, just in this instant thinking about that, I can sympathize with her position.

But the thing is, Slate is not (nominally) a confessional -- it's a news outlet for analysis and debate and reporting. And while reporting the embarrassment wim-fems and their supporters might feel about Palin, she does seem to fail to engage much beyond that. Just as I don't believe Hillary Clinton did all that much to advance feminism or women's issues -- just being a woman close to the presidency was an important symbol, but one without substance, she being hardly a Shirley Chisholm or Ruth Bader-Ginsberg or Joan Williams, i.e., feminists I respect for their actual ACTIVISM and not just womanness -- I don't know how much Palin is taking away from it. It is, after all, institutional sexism as much as anything else at this point maintaining male dominance, and institutionalized discrimination relies much less on the outward symbols and prejudices that make up much of the substance of historical discrimination (which in turn allowed present discrimination to occur more discretely, once the institutions to maintain it were set up on discriminatory foundations).

Perhaps I'm wrong -- perhaps I'm underestimating symbolism. I sometimes/often do. But it shouldn't require me to ask Bazelon to do her job -- which is not just to sound agonized, indecisive and inactive (which I SWEAR, must be the Slate house style these days, except when they're being decisively smarmy) but to ANALYZE things. Get to the MEAT of it. Bazelon's lack of engagement in the deeper structures of sexism is nigh-unforgivable -- similar to the media's coverage of Iraq. Because I ask you, what would be more valuable to the American people -- coverage of the play-by-plays of politics in the Iraq war, and the body count, or actual substantive coverage of the HISTORY of Iraq, a major undertaking in educating the public about the culture and people of Iraq, such that we could responsibly interpret what's going on there? Or, to the point, a responsible history and analysis of sexism and progress in the US and, hey I know, it's crazy to even ask for it -- other countries (many of whom have already had female heads of state and so maybe could shed some light on... oh, never mind).

I'm not saying such an undertaking was ever likely to be in the offing in the US MSM; I'm just saying, people like Bazelon are smart enough to know it should be, yet so rarely use their pulpits to even CALL for such an undertaking; and if they do call for it, they would certainly do it in the best spirit of the Slate political gabfest and call for someone ELSE to do it...

Uggghhh, I'm spent.

(*I'm not sure if I'd count, say, Alan Keyes. He's horrible, but he's obviously intelligent -- just IN-SANE. So I guess I don't have a ready straight parallel to Palin in mind... though is that because I can't think of any, because there are more black "embarassments" in entertainment than politics, and/or because there aren't ENOUGH blacks in US politics to have much of a diversity of them...? Oh, actually, there was William Jefferson...)