Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best Feminist Picks of 2008

If you believe in celebrating human made measurements of time, then New Year's Eve is one of the most exciting days of the year. Beside the usual parties and rallies in the street, it's a time of reflection, when many take the opporutunity to do life inventory and take vows to better themselves, their lives, and environment.

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is to put an arbitrary measurement on feminist news; events or people that changed me or the feminist movements for the better. We all know it's not difficult to find the bad, so, I wanted to take the opportunity to showcase the brightest beams of light, the things that made a feminist smile wider this calendar year. There were many great moments in a feminist reviewed year, but here are my top three best feminist moments of 2008:

3. Beginning the Obama Era

There's no question that this campaign year was historical. Most of mainstream media focused on the fact that Barack Obama is the first president-elect of color. And while that certainly brings a rush of excitement to my cheeks, there are underlying hopes I hold for the next president that surge past the color of his skin or multicultural background. I'm more fascinated by his intellect and the possibility of having a president who reads and LISTENS to both sides. Who knows what might happen to the Global Gag Rule or the Hyde Amendment now that we may have a leader who may understands that the not all issues are black and white, and need to be analyzed with a compassionate ear toward ALL women.

I'm not conflating Barack Obama with a miracle worker. I believe that leaders of our communities - local and national - prove wise when their ears are open to all sides. So far, Obama has shown a glimmering promise to be an advocate for the people; someone who believes in comprehensive sex education and sees that spending 1.5 billion dollars on abstinence-only programs may not be the best plan
for preventing unplanned pregnancies and reducing abortion rates by first educating our youth.
The future looks slightly better with Obama in the Oval Office. Here's hoping.

2. VIVA LA Independent Media

There's nothing that spells awesome more than feminist driven independent media. If you want to take a look at 2008 and search for evidence of feminism going strong, look no further than this very foundation of B-Word that surpassed their goals and succeeded in their fund raising. Same can be said for In Other Words, a feminist bookstore in Oregon, which recently raised enough money to keep their doors open.

While their futures remain uncertain, one message is abundantly clear: when organized and in need, feminist media can not only survive, but THRIVE during economically difficult times. It begs the question: how and why is that? How in these times do these organizations push through and successfully fund raise?

Perhaps for US media consumers, times of financial crisis bring rare opportunities to recognize the valuable from the dispensable, the educational from the unnecessary. When push comes to shove, most feminist consumers of media identify independent media as a necessary and vital arm of the feminist movements. Without Bitch, ColorLines, Make/Shift and other independent publications, the stories of women are shoved further into dark corners. Emerging journalists, poets, and writers would have fewer opportunities to express and document the world from their fresh eyes without these outlets. Without In Other Words, Women and Children First, or feminist bookstores, the spaces for activists, musicians, community groups, and writers shrink even more. The tales of growth and sustainability of these independent publications and book stores give testimony that despite hard times, feminists support avenues of independent communication and want to hear the voices outside of mainstream media.

1. Melissa Harris-Lacewell

It's hard for me to pick just one, but if I'm hard-pressed, here's my opinion: the best moment for US feminists came from the undeniable Melissa Harris-Lacewell. If you're wondering who exactly this woman is, well, let me refresh your memory. Almost a year ago, in January of 2008, the year started off with a feminist bang in a debate heard around the world. Gloria Steinem, a pioneer of second-wave feminism and "icon" in mainstream feminism, dipped her toes in a political pool to go swimming with Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University, a powerhouse of legal and political vernacular. This debate was aired shortly after Steinem wrote an article in the New York Times entitled, "Women Are Never Front-Runners," in which she wrote about the limitations and division of Hillary Clinton's gender and the unifying effect of Obama's race. Steinem endorsed Hillary Clinton in her Op-Ed and called for unity:

The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be
uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be
careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility
that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to
win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed
when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that.

Harris-Lacewell - prepared, articulate, and calm - carefully and thoroughly challenged and ripped Steinem's arguments about race and gender and dismounted the feminist icon's with quotes such as this:

What I do agree with is that we ought to be in coalition. But I think
we’ve got to be in coalition on fair grounds. Part of what, again, has
been sort of an anxiety for African American women feminists like
myself is that we’re often asked to join up with white women’s
feminism, but only on their own terms, as long as we sort of remain
silent about the ways in which our gender, our class, our sexual
identity doesn’t intersect, as long as we can be quiet about those
things and join onto a single agenda. So, yes, I absolutely agree, we
must be in coalition, but it must be a fair coalition of equals.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell spoke more fervently and convincingly about the twisted agenda of mainstream feminism as any other feminist of 2008 (as I read or came across) in the US and brought to the table a voice so clear that it rocked the boat of feminists everywhere as they debated between Clinton and Obama. For that, and for the multitude of work she has done as a writer, professor, and advocate, Melissa Harris-Lacewell was the *best* moment and feminist for me in 2008.

Who or what moment made 2008 a great feminist year for you?

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