A crazy day in the blogosphere—many great comments, and criticisms that have us thinking. One point in particular, related to the Jezebel back and forth, we feel we should address: feminism and race. As the bloggers over at Girl Drive put it, “In the 3500 words total that Newsweek devoted to the future of feminism this week, amid the 10 people who are quoted in these pieces, not one woman of color shows up. Seriously.”
The bloggers continue, “This happens constantly when the mainstream pubs try to cover feminism. It happened in a CNN news segment last June, where the network’s definition of feminism was Angelina Jolie, Hillary Clinton, and Gloria Steinem. It happened at a highly publicized Planned Parenthood even a few months ago called “Voices on Feminism,” which consisted of, yep, three white women.”
All of this is true, and race as it relates to the women’s movement—both in the 1970s and today—is one that we’d like to give a lot more thought to (and plan to, right here). But as it relates to the Newsweek piece, it just wasn’t something we could have explored with an appropriate amount of depth. The story, as it was, ran at roughly half the length it originally was written. We had to take out whole ideas, arguments, and sources (including multiple people of color). We cut based on the same criteria we normally use: using the strongest quotes most relevant to the piece. We didn’t think about the racial makeup of our remaining sources—and maybe we should have.
But for better or worse, Newsweek is a mainstream publication, writing for a mainstream audience, so we have to assume our readers aren’t as entrenched in the inner workings of feminism as we, or some of our readers, are. In that sense, it’s only natural that we would use mainstream sources—many of whom, yes, are white. But beyond that, the second-wave women we interviewed were all directly involved in the suit (Pat Lynden, Lucy Howard, Lynn Povich), worked for Newsweek (Nora Ephron), or wrote a book about the case (Susan Brownmiller, Gail Collins). The other people we spoke to all had recent books, pieces of journalism, or recent studies directly related to either women in the workplace (Barbara Berg), women in media (Susan Douglas, Ariel Levy), or women in the corporate world (all the folks from the World Economic Forum, including Saadia Zahidi and Herminia Ibarra, both women of color. (See our piece on that here.)
We should also note—and this was one of many things that didn’t make it into the final piece—that the women of color at Newsweek didn’t sign onto the suit in 1970, for various reasons. That’s a whole other story that would be interesting to explore. It’s particularly interesting because after months of searching, with nobody willing to represent them, the white women who sued found themselves a fiery, pregnant black ACLU lawyer—now DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton—who told them to “take off their white gloves,” and went on to become the head of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. To clear up any of the confusion, she’s the one pictured above, along with the all-white Newsweek organizers.
Our colleague Raina Kelley, who frequently writes about race and feminism [add: and who has been an incredible supporter and ally of this piece from the very beginning], puts it like this: “I wish there was a fascinating history of black women at Newsweek, but there isn’t. And that’s because in 1970, black women were seen as mammies, not dollies, consigned to the kind of work where collars are washed, not given cute hued names … Our time would come just a bit later.”
Whatever your take—and we want to hear it here—the most important thing is that we’re talking about all these issues. Regarding Jezebel, we’re going to hand this particular fight off to Raina. Take it, lady!