This morning, I read Hendrik Herzberg’s article, “Exhilaration” in the comment section of the New Yorker, in which he describes the historic primary battle between Barack Obama and Hilary Rodham Clinton. In general, it’s a pretty fair treatment, but he sure needs a more nuanced history of gender and race in the United States. According to Herzberg:
“Competitions among grievances do not ennoble, and both Clinton and Obama strove to avoid one; but it does not belittle the oppressions of gender to suggest that in America the oppressions of race have cut deeper. Clinton’s supporters would sometimes note that the Constitution did not extend the vote to women until a half century after it extended it to men of color. But there is no gender equivalent of the nightmare of disenfranchisement, lynching, apartheid, and peonage that followed Reconstruction, to say nothing of “the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil” that preceded it. Nor has any feminist leader shared the fate of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Clinton spoke on Saturday of “women in their eighties and nineties, born before women could vote.” But Barack Obama is only in his forties, and he was born before the Voting Rights Act redeemed the broken promise of the Fifteenth Amendment.”
Now, there may be some truth to this, but I find there are two things wrong with this paragraph:
1. He assumes all women are white — what about the African-American women who faced the threat of rape by white men, who would go unpunished since all black women were considered “sluts” and “temptresses” who deserved what they got, even if they were five years old? Or the Native American women who were forced on a death march to “Indian territory” by Andrew Jackson, only to be thrown off that land half a century later?
2. I would consider the English common law practice of “femme covert” or legal death of women upon marriage to be equivalent to debt peonage at the very least. Women lost control of their property, their children, and even their bodies. Also, until women were denied access to many educational and professional opportunities, until the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and Title IX. Women who fought for suffrage and equal rights were imprisoned, labeled “insane,” and trivialized, even by men on the left.
Anyone else care to contribute?