The crowd (and social media) goes wild.
AND then in her follow-up press interviews, Arquette continued on in this vein: “It's time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we've all fought for to fight for us now.”
It was, to say the least, a disappointing moment, an embarrassing moment, and I think a teachable moment in the challenges of thinking intersectionally. The fight for gay rights and black civil rights is not mutually exclusive from the struggles of gender equality but rather these struggles are connected. Likewise, not all women experience their gender the same way, nor do they experience structures of inequality in the same way. Ever since Kimberle Crenshaw’s groundbreaking work on the legal barriers black women workers faced bringing suit over both race and gender discrimination, scholars and activists have called attention to intersectional oppressions of race, gender, sexuality, and social status.
Women have played a prominent role in a variety of civil rights struggles throughout American history, but often found their critique of gender inequality marginalized. During the 1960s and 70s, women of color also found themselves alienated by a feminist movement that was not modeled on the way women of color experienced their gender. And there is likewise a long history of tensions and divisions between movements led by middle class white women and labor feminism, as women workers found themselves shut out by male labor unions but talked down to by middle class women activists and reformers. (ETA: And while we're on the subject, let's no forget the whole "lavender menace" business, the threat that lesbians supposedly posted to second wave feminism, leading to their marginalization and exclusion.)
My point here is that civil rights movements broadly conceived have historically not had a good track record of being intersectional. We need to keep that in mind when we continue to talk about where and how to define and direct our critiques and activism. This is particularly important, I would argue, when it comes to the issue of labor.
* * *
ETA: Interested in learning more but don't know where to start? Here are a few books and articles that shaped my thinking on these questions and that I drew on for my AAWR presentation and this post.
- Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise is part of an emerging field of scholarship on cultures of capitalism.
- Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America continues to have relevance over a decade later. To see why read the National Women's Law Center Report on Women in Low-Wage Jobs from 2014.
- Ehrenreich has collaborated with Arlie Hoschchild, author of The Second Shift, on global labor politics affecting women worldwide, Global Women: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy.
- For a more thorough introduction to some of the history and interpretations I mention here, check out Sarah Jaffe's 2013 essay on Tickle-down Feminism, which draws on a lot of this scholarship (including Moreton and Ehrenreich).
- Looking for a book-length history? Pick up copies of No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women by Estelle Freedman and Feminism Unfinished: A Short Surprising History of American Women's Movements by Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry -- both extremely readable histories of feminism with strong focus on labor.
- And make sure you also check out bell hooks' critique of the Lean-In campaign launched by Sheryl Sandberg from Feminist Wire.org, "Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In" and pick up a copy of her foundational work of feminist thought, first published in 1984, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.