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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Who are the real "Invisible Women?"

About three years ago, a woman emailed me describing herself as a young white college student writing a school paper on the invisibility of black women. She had come across my blog and wanted to know if I could provide some insight on the subject. I pointed her to some sources, but really didn't go into the matter in depth, feeling inadequate to do so. Actually, at the time, I thought it was presumptive of her to think that any black woman must somehow feel "invisible," much as it would have been presumptive for someone to expect a black person to know what it is like to live in the inner city. I'm always resistant to an assumption that a group of people must share a collectivity of experiences.

Still, I thought about that email today as I began reading a Newsweek article highlighting the Clinton campaign and what it supposedly means to the boomer generation of white women who were at the forefront of the women's movement. In the piece entitled "Hillary and the Invisible Women," author Tina Brown approaches the article from the perspective of a third party traveling with the press corps and provides some interesting behind-the-scene events including one that hit my ick factor when she recounted the press corp being forced to work in a men's bathroom right next to the urinals.

Brown patently and unapologetically co-opts the term "Invisible Women" from Ralph Ellison's novel and then tries to make a hollow argument that the plight of today's white 50+ middle-class woman is somehow comparable to that of the misbegotten Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of Ellison's tale of social disenfranchisement, racial intolerance, and blinding self-destruction. This harkens back to the label given to John Edwards by his wife, who asserted in another Newsweek article that her husband was disadvantaged for being white and male (an assertion that still causes me to blink rapidly).

Maybe Brown, a former British citizen who became a US citizen in 2005, really doesn't seem to understand the implications of her assertion:

"In 1952, Ralph Ellison's revelatory novel, "Invisible Man," nailed the experience of being black in America. In the relentless youth culture of the early 21st century, if you are 50 and female, the novel that's being written on your forehead every day is "Invisible Woman." All over the country there are vigorous, independent, self-liberated boomer women—women who possess all the management skills that come from raising families while holding down demanding jobs, women who have experience, enterprise and, among the empty nesters, a little financial independence, yet still find themselves steadfastly dissed and ignored. Advertisers don't want them. TV networks dump their older anchorwomen off the air. Hollywood studios refuse to write parts for them. Employers make it clear they'd prefer a "fresh (cheaper) face."

Yes, let's all cry for the new "Invisible Women" who suffer from being vigorous, independent, self-liberated, financially stable, with demanding jobs - but who find themselves "dissed and ignored" because they're no longer seen as young and relevant by Hollywood or news managers. Brown also goes on to get a dig in against Oprah (taking a cue from Roseanne), whom Brown suspects "abandoned" this core group because Obama presumably appeals to a more "desirable viewer demographic." Brown mistakenly assumes that the demographics of age should have somehow bound Oprah to her main viewership, who just happen to be 50+ middle-class white women. Brown and Roseanne and any number of women who feel "betrayed" by Oprah fail to account for all of their non-collective experience. Oprah has her own experiences which prompts her decisions. And judging by some of the comments to the article, not every boomer white woman feels this "sisterhood" for Hillary. In Oprah's case, she might have simply chosen the candidate she thought was the most viable, regardless of race or gender.

Given the cluelessness of this article, I offer an apology to that young woman I so easily dismissed those years ago. Because she did understand something that Brown seemingly doesn't - that "invisibility" has much more of a social cost than just ego-bruising. Yes, in a fair society, we all would get our due. But when you compare the cost of invisibility that Brown is promulgating to that of women, who because of color or class, can't even get or maintain those "demanding jobs," or who do not have the luxury of self-liberation or financial independence, the parallelism is insulting.

So Hollywood doesn't give Meryl Streep more projects? Well, you have actors of color who even in their 20s can barely make scale. You want to know a truly invisible woman? Think of Edith Rodriguez who was allowed to bleed to death in a substandard LA hospital waiting room, while hospital employees walked over her dying body, all because she had inadequate insurance coverage. You want to know the real invisible women? Think of the scores of missing women of all races who don't rate the nightly news because they aren't the right shade of blond or tan. Think of the many women of all colors who are presently in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure because they were offered suspicious mortgage deals. Empty nest syndrome? Think of those women who can barely afford child care, let alone get their kids into college so that they can actually leave the nest. So, you see it's one thing to feel dissed or ignored, which is awful, I'll admit. But it's a whole other level of invisibility when you lose your job, your home, or your life because you are considered dispensable by society on the whole. The comparison just doesn't rate.

This is not an anti-Hillary screed nor a dismissal of the plight of women who feel disenfranchised for whatever reason. This is simply a response to the casual comparison of the "plight" of those monied and privileged few who suddenly find themselves politically ignored with those who not only have been socially and politically ignored for years, but who have had to struggle just to have their humanity acknowledged.

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Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 3/09/2008 08:58:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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