sexism or patriarchy?

I’m terrified about the galvanization of power that could result this November.  If there’s one good thing about how candidates have been framed in this election, it’s that the response has become very clear and articulate.  The analysis that Rebecca Hyman applies to the election and the cultural back-and-forth about Palin, Clinton, and gender that has come with it in her article Sarah Palin and the Wrong Way to Battle Sexism is really good and it articulates why the calls and campaigns for tolerance in a community like Bloomington seem so weak-sauce.

There’s a big difference between identifying sexist acts and undermining patriarchy, the system of power and privilege that reinforces and grounds particular stories about how men and women should behave, how sex and gender should be expressed, about who is rational and who is emotional, who’s a “fighter” and who’s a “babe.” These narratives are refracted and reinforced by the media and by people speaking from podiums, most certainly, but they aren’t the work of a few bad eggs.

To equate feminism with the fight against “sexism” is to imply that the work of feminism is that of changing or eliminating those individuals who perpetrate these sexist acts. If we could just stop the Chris Matthewses and the Norman Mailers, the Maureen Dowds and the Phyllis Schlaflys, the story goes; if we could just get people to stop watching FOX News, or write another letter to MSNBC, then somehow, someday, women will be treated with respect. And it’s the idea that feminists focus on individuals, rather than systems of power, that grounds the conservative caricature of feminists as a cardigan-flapping bunch of prudes, censoring a couple of good fellows who were just making a joke.

If all it took to free women, or African-Americans, or immigrants, or the poor, from the stories that make them seem “different,” menacing, irrational and emotional was “recognition,” then feminists should be spending their money dropping educational pamphlets from the skies. But these ideas about masculinity and femininity, sexuality and race — ideas that make the joke of the New Yorker cover instantly comprehensible, no matter what you think of the joke — are entrenched and crucial to the ways we in America have made the world make sense.

reason #4 to vote: the myth of America vs. the reality

I’ve been posting on the Defiance, Ohio website about why I’m voting for Barack Obama in the upcoming presidential election and why I think that people who connect with the content of Defiance, Ohio songs should vote, and vote for Obama.  I think there are limits to the power of voting, but I think punk people’s aversion to voting represents “a chilling disconnect from reality” and I want punk to be something that is connected, accountable, and malleable to as much of the whole world as possible.  I’m writing here about some more reasons why I’ve found myself feeling so invested in this election.

This article in Time about Obama, Palin, and American myth and reality is pretty amazing.  In his article, Joe Klein says:

The Democrats have no myth to counter this powerful Republican fantasy. They had to spend their convention on the biographical defensive: Barack Obama really is “one of us,” speaker after speaker insisted. Really. Democrats do have the facts in their favor. Polls show that Americans agree with them on the issues. The Bush Administration has been a disaster on many fronts. The McCain campaign has provided only the sketchiest policy proposals; it has spent most of its time trying to divert the national conversation away from matters of substance. But Americans like stories more than issues. Policy proposals are useful in the theater of presidential politics only inasmuch as they illuminate character: far more people are aware of the fact that Palin put the state jet on eBay than know that she imposed a windfall-profits tax on oil companies as governor and was a porkaholic as mayor of Wasilla.

So Obama faces an uphill struggle between now and Nov. 4. He has no personal anecdotes to match Palin’s mooseburgers. His story of a boy whose father came from Kenya and mother from Kansas takes place in an America not yet mythologized, a country that is struggling to be born — a multiracial country whose greatest cultural and economic strength is its diversity. It is the country where our children already live and that our parents will never really know, a country with a much greater potential for justice and creativity — and perhaps even prosperity — than the sepia-tinted version of Main Street America. But that vision is not sellable right now to a critical mass of Americans. They live in a place, not unlike C. Vann Woodward’s South, where myths are more potent than the hope of getting past the dour realities they face each day.

I grew up in a community very invested in the Republican party’s mythology of America that  Klein describes.  As a multiracial person growing up at the time that I have,  I didn’t feel too much of the overt racism, harassment, and blatant discriminaton that my father faced (and many others still face), but I felt strongly that there was no place for me at the forefront of the mythical America that my community loved and longed for.  That America, regardless of the power of its myth, is dead, and the myth will die too, though I suspect its demise will be a more painful, destructive affair.  I feel like, in the space of the election, and the work that we can do in its wake, there is a possibility to try to change the structures of power in America to reflect a reality that includes me, and Barack Obama, and immigrants, and people of color, and women, and even those that huddle beside the death bead of “Main Street America.”  Otherwise, I fear that we will see an ugly transition from one mythic America to another and I fear that while this new myth, its heroes, and villains will be very, very  different than the old, and hopefully a myth that I find it easier to believe in, and envision myself in, but that its existence will be hard-fought enough that it will be written with the exclusion of so many others.