Reading Michael Kimmel’s The Gendered Society. His argument is that the genders aren’t unequal because different, but different because unequal. The inequality is always justified on the basis of difference, but the inequality itself makes the genders different.
What’s different over the past thirty years – now forty: the book was published in 2000 – is making gender visible.
We now know that gender is one of the central organizing principles around which social life revolves. Until the 1970s, social scientists would have listed only class and race as the master statuses that defined and proscribed social life. [p 5]
Gender became visible because women became visible. That was the “radical” in the radical feminism of the 70s. In that sense I am a radical feminist and always have been. But are the women who oppose “radical feminism” really opposed to that? The visible ones, I mean? It’s hard to believe they are, given how visible they are themselves. It’s rather like Schlafly, out there speaking up in public and being intellectually active about it and all that – all in the name of keeping women subordinate to men. Hmm.
In a seminar on feminism in the 80s, Kimmel observed a black woman and a white woman talking about what they did or didn’t have in common.
The white woman asserted that the fact that they were both women bonded them, in spite of racial differences. The black woman disagreed.
“When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do you see?” she asked.
“I see a woman,” replied the white woman.
“That’s precisely the problem,” responded the black woman. “I see a black woman. To me, race is visible every day, because race is how I am not privileged in our culture. Race is invisible to you, because it’s how you are privileged. It’s why there will always be differences in our experience.” [p 6]
Privilege or its absence determines what is visible.
Mind you, so do other things. Strangeness, for instance – being a foreigner in some way. It’s possible to be privileged as a foreigner while still being foreign – an outsider – not the norm. But still the idea seems like a useful heuristic.