Racism—and Sexism


I've spent a large part of my career looking at the relationship between the security of women and the security of nation-states. In fact, my co-authored magnum opus on the subject was published earlier this year. One of our assertions is that how men treat women becomes the template for how all difference is treated--whether that difference be ethnic, racial, religious, national, or whatever. You cannot have a stable, secure, healthy, or prosperous society when women are treated poorly. My co-authors and I were able to show that it's just not possible.

Today a couple of things arrived in my inbox that clicked. (That's one of the benefits of reading a lot and reading widely.) The first was one of those prompts that academics get to take a look at another scholar's paper that they might be interested in. It was a paper from 1999, from one of my favorite feminists in my subfield, but I had never read it. So I took a few moments and read it quickly. Near the end of the paper, the author says this:

"[F]eminists are better able to theorize domination between as well as within groups. I can only note briefly here how separating gender from, for example, race is a problematic claim. [G]ender, in practice, is inextricable from manifestations of race/ethnicity, religion, class, etc., and a claim suggesting otherwise is both ontologically and politically suspect . . . [Gender] continues to speak, I believe indispensably (but not exhaustively), to the symbolic register of conflicts between (heterosexist) identity groups. That is, even though the empirical ‘mark’ of oppression and group conflict is not that of sex difference, the naturalization – read, depoliticization – of that oppression is inextricable from heterosexist ideology and its denigration of the feminine. Specifically feminist critique is imperative for deconstructing this – all too effective – naturalization of intergroup conflict . . . Through conventional – and even many critical – lenses, heterosexism is not the most visible or apparently salient aspect of political identities and their potential conflicts. I have argued, however, that its foundational binary is relentlessly productive of hierarchical difference and, especially, the naturalization of hierarchies through denigration of the feminine/Other." (emphasis mine)

Now, to see the value in what the author is saying, leave aside for one moment her use of the term 'heterosexism' to denote something harmful. What she really means by the term is "a society constructed around the male-female binary where male and female are viewed as a hierarchy, with male superordinate and female subordinate." (Of course, we can imagine a society constructed around the male-female binary where the male-female couple is viewed as a diarchy. Indeed, that is what the Restored Gospel teaches us is the order of Heaven itself. But the author has never seen such a society here on the fallen earth, so please do not blame her for equating heterosexuality with hierarchical difference.)

What the author is saying is that racism is modeled on sexism. Sexism exists prior to racism and is the template for it. You treat someone who is "different" from you in terms of race, religion, etc., the same way that the First Different One--woman--is treated. In practice, what that means is if a society works hard at getting rid of sexism, racism will simultaneously evaporate--but sexism will not vanish simply because racism has. One can imagine a society in which everyone is the same race, religion, and ethnicity--but which is nevertheless a sexist society. (Indeed, there are plenty of those in the real world today.)

Next in my inbox was a striking comparison of femicide figures among racial groups in the US:

"According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, black women have a homicide rate of 4.4 per 100,000 women. Only indigenous American women come close, with a homicide rate of 4.3 per 100,000. Asian, non-black Latina and white women are killed at the rates of 1.2, 1.8, and 1.5 per 100,000 respectively. 76.6% of the murdered black women were in an intimate relationship with the individual who killed them. The likelihood of a black woman being murdered went up while pregnant or within a year after giving birth."

Might US problems with race be tied, in more than a coincidental way, with levels of violence against women? Is it possible we will never solve our country's race problem until we take seriously our country's high level of violence against women? Food for thought on a Saturday night . . .