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Against the subjugation of women? Resist both infighting and selling out

Disagreements about how to end injustice, and specific injustices, are as old as injustice itself. Whether one is considering the injustices of colonialism, racist domination, oppression of women…in each and every one of these areas, those who can agree in broad general principle have often found themselves disagreeing over specifics, including some major ones. To make common cause does not magically bring about harmony.

When Gandhi fought to escape the injustices of British rule, he was opposed by people who resisted his ideas about throwing over caste distinctions. When Mandela picked up arms to fight apartheid, many withdrew their support from his movement. When King sought to expand his conception of civil rights to include equal access to economic opportunities, former and potential allies turned against him.

None of these examples of fights for justice  achieved perfect justice, no more than the Civil War achieved a perfect Union. But I do believe that the U.S. Civil War achieved a more perfect union. Likewise, I believe the India of today is a far more equitable place than the India of one hundred years ago, that the South Africa of today, like the U.S. of today, has achieved within the past fifty years enormous strides toward racial justice.

My own dream is that within my lifetime, I see the progress toward the good of justice for women that Gandhi, Mandela, and King got to see the toward the goods of justice they pursued in their lifetimes. They managed to see results in their pursuits even though each had to learn when to resist pressures from people who genuinely shared their vision and when to resist the lure of becoming subservient to those who offered only short term funding and enrichment rather than truly shared commitment.

Now, even as I write this, millions of men and women are freshly galvanized to make it a reality that all the world comes to see women’s rights as human rights, to see woman as just as much the paradigm representative of humanity as man, and therefore to see a woman’s rights as indistinguishable from any human’s rights. With all that energy comes passion and motivation. But with it comes too friction and infighting. With it too comes the willingness by some to give up the chance to speak truth to power in order, perhaps to gain power, but nevertheless at the sacrifice of a chance to speak without fear of offending.

I believe that at the end of every day, and at the start of every morning, a person needs to be able to reflect upon herself or himself, and address these questions to herself or himself: if I am fighting for justice, am I making choices that do not compromise my integrity? What can I tolerate in allies even if I cannot join wholeheartedly in every step they take? Can I broaden my toleration without selling out my convictions?

Especially in the fight against the subjugation of women, men and women must ask themselves these questions, because one of the hardest obstacles to achieving progress toward the good of justice for women is the tendency toward infighting on the one hand and selling out on the other. Fighters for the empowerment of women tend to care about all sorts of injustice and obviously have some very basic differences, including differences in sex, race, and class. These differences can lead to fissures and cracks that can render the fight for justice for women, for justice for people, very tough going. But the common interest in justice for all must be used to resist the fissures and to repair them, when possible. What cannot be repaired is selling out. Certainly, one person’s “sell-out” may be another person’s “reasonable compromise”. Personally, I believe in the necessity to question one’s own choices in such matters very closely, because it is very tempting to see oneself as the reasonable compromiser, the unifier, the one who moves beyond “unnecessary” partisanship rather than to recognize in oneself the more natural tendency in human nature toward selling out.

For my own part, I prefer to err on the side of sticking to my convictions rather than losing them in a process of mollification and conciliation. If enough other people join me in those convictions, then they and I will not have to mollify and appease: we will ultimately have coming to us those who would now have us coming to them. We will be numerous enough and bonded together strongly enough in the fight for women’s rights – the fight for human rights – to the point where will we have the upper hand, both ethically and tactically.

For my own part, I would rather take ten million baby steps toward the good without losing my footing in conscience than take a great leap and risk losing my moral compass. I will march with as wide a cohort as I can – even when we disagree on some things – in the name of reaching my goals. But I will not join ranks with those who are able to take heady leaps that gain them a seat at the local powerbroker’s table or a grant of some that powerbroker’s money at the price of their integrity.

If ten million or twenty million or fifty-one million people choose to baby step along with me and I with them, we will, together, make the same rate of progress as those who choose to go it more or less alone. In the fight to beat misogyny and sexism, in the fight to achieve proper representation and empowerment for women, I expect great changes. I demand great changes. I will work toward great changes. But I know the greatest shifts toward justice take years to accomplish. To stick it out, every step forward must be appreciated and celebrated (e.g. Senator Clinton’s name placed in nomination even at the admitted charade of a free and open Democratic Party convention) and every step backward must be condemned and resisted (e.g. the retention of a speechwriter for the President of the United States of America who participates in boorish, distasteful and sexist party shenanigans.) Time is on the side of those who fight for justice, so long as those who fight for justice do so with patience and tenacity, and resist the parallel temptations toward selling out or excessive infighting.

Cross-posted at Heidi Li’s Potpourri.

42 Responses

  1. “I believe that at the end of every day, and at the start of every morning, a person needs to be able to reflect upon herself or himself, and address these questions to herself or himself: if I am fighting for justice, am I making choices that do not compromise my integrity? What can I tolerate in allies even if I cannot join wholeheartedly in every step they take? Can I broaden my toleration without selling out my convictions?”

    This I try to do but have never worded it that way. Thank you for a very thoughtful post.

    (Now I’m off to join the facebook protest.)

  2. Scrubs,

    Are you serious about the Facebook protest? Do you have a facebook group to post a breasfeeding pic on?

  3. I think most of us have decided to take that route or we wouldn’t still be here. I have zero tolerance right now and feel exactly as you do, Heidi. Thank you.

  4. Puma-SF,

    I totally agree. Zero tolerance! As Taggles said the other day, I am way beyond compromising at this point. Yes, we have to live in the real world, but I’m not going to overlook sexism period.

  5. We ;have all sacrificed so much – family, friends, sleep – for our principles and our integrity .and I am sure that our sacrifices will have purpose.

  6. If nothing else, it has made me feel better about myself. I think it’s important to stand up for what you believe and not hide your desire to be treated with respect. No one likes to be dismissed and put down, but plenty of people accept it because they are afraid to do otherwise.

  7. Yes, in fact, I feel vindicated in the fact that I am not alone. I have always been this way. I am an open book that has been read many times before. Most conversations start with “you’re not going to like this but…”

  8. Brava!

  9. Did it really snow in Seattle today?

  10. I’m glad I sorted out the posting issues. PUMA-SF – you get it!

  11. I’m glad too, Heidi Li. I was just making a comment down below and suddenly I got a message “not found.” But then I found you again up here.

  12. Thanks, Heidi. I hope you know how much I appreciate all that you do. You are a gem. I would like to ask you a question. During one of the Blog talk radio shows you said that you were a “tall” person. May I ask how tall? You know what they say about curiosity.

  13. I’ll bet she isn’t as tall as I am. I am 5’11-1/2″.

  14. Whoa, that’s awesome. I know your voice but I never thought you were that tall. I think she must be at least 6 feet. I used to be 5’6″ but I think I’m shrinking but only on the outside.

  15. If I start using FTS it means “fuck that shit”.

  16. Nowadays there are a lot of young women who are even taller than I am. But when I was in 9th grade and almost 6′, it was pretty unusual. You can imagine what that was like.

  17. Puma-SF – I am a petite 5′ 9″. What, you ask, does that mean? It means that many people meet me and believe that I am 5 feet tall. But then I point out that I am 5’9″, just a petite 5’9″. Of course one of my very dearest friends took years to absorb the fact of my true height…kept babbling about refusing to surrender his grip on reality…blah blah blah. If you met me on the street, you might naturally think I’m 5 feet tall but then when I politely said, oh no, I am tall, a petite 5’9″, well, I think you would catch on! (smile, smile, smile)

  18. bostonboomer, you are correct – even at 5’9 I am not as tall as you.
    Good night west-coasters and night owls. I’m yawning myself to bed.

  19. Yeah, that must have been tough. I hate to ask by what year were you in 9th grade and what kind of school did you attend? i started in public then went to catholic and back to public for my 9th grade. I think I was 14 and it was 1964.

  20. Heidi then I can see why you said that you were quite tall. Always having to defend your true height cannot be easy.

    I’m off to bed as well. Pleasant dreams.

  21. I think I it would have been 1962. I might have been that tall in 8th grade. I grew several inches in one year. I went to public school in Indiana.

  22. Good night all. I need to get some sleep too. I hope I can. With aging, comes insomnia–at least for me.

  23. Beautiful post Heidi.

    Is anyone else concerned about the continual movement towards a one-party system?

    I agree with Sophie on the previous post that it is top down, rather than left/right.

    Sometimes I feel creeped out, by this and by the state of the media, and of the new media, by sites such as facebook, and by google laundering itself.

  24. I’m very disturbed by the new top-down political movement. Although we’ve talked more about class in this election, we haven’t had a serious discussion because the media are in one class and the rank-and-file are in another. They’ve done nothing but mock and ridicule us. When an upper-class type comes to our defense, they’re pooh-poohed or ignored.

    Thanks for you article, Heidi. I, for one, need to be encouraged to continue to fight the good fight, year after year.
    Words to live by from Heidi Li.

    “If I am fighting for justice, am I making choices that do not compromise my integrity? What can I tolerate in allies even if I cannot join wholeheartedly in every step they take? Can I broaden my toleration without selling out my convictions?”


  25. I agree Jean Louise. NO ONE besides some PUMA groups and Anglachel’s Journal have written a lot about the class divisions in this election. I think Anglachel wrote the most during the primary and you should read some of the stuff in her archives.

    The media will completely ignore it because those who are represented on television are getting paid multi-million dollar salaries. The only people willing to talk about this are regular bloggers and possibly unknown journalists somewhere in Arkansas who still live with the rest of us. It’s a lost cause I’m afraid until groups like The New Agenda get their act together to make a bigger impact on mainstream society.

  26. Gandhi realized perfectly the absolute necessity of overcoming the top down problem – he did not believe Indians could achieve social justice simply by achieving independence from British Rule; he thought that democratic self-determination required social and civil egalitarianism.

  27. Jean-Louis, DV: one reason I am working so hard on 51 Percent is because I *know* it can and will be used to talk about overcoming the top-down mentality as well as the command-and control mentality in politics and political activism.

  28. Well said, Heidi Li. This is where I am torn in putting forth what little energy I have toward what I value most. I have a strong commitment to women’s rights. I see our country veering away from basic democratic principles. Without a democracy, I don’t see anyone’s rights being protected beyond the well connected.

  29. If you believe that in this country, women as a group are among the most subordinated (especially given that they constitute a majority of the population), then to fight for their rights IS to fight for democracy. That’s the Gandhian insight.

  30. Good point. As Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler said, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”


    One more quote:

    I was told that whistling wasn’t ladylike, but I knew even then that women were simply not supposed to be that happy. ~Anonymous, quoted in Kindling the Spirit by Lois P. Frankel

  31. Ouch! I just looked at the ad google automatically generated for the page on feminist quotes. We surely do have a long way to go.

  32. I have read all the postings and have a quick question: How do we fight the sexism from our own sex? I have heard so many women denigrating other women in a totally sexist manner; like Palin is a beauty queen or calling other women bitches. I actually lost a friend a few weeks ago, when I told her if she did not like someone, fine, but that I would no longer tolerate the use of the word bitch in my presence. She said I was being rather bitchy.

    Also, are we being women bashers if we get all over women who use their beauty as a means to get ahead?

  33. Good question. Sounds like material for a thread of its own!

  34. TheRealKim, on December 22nd, 2008 at 10:19 am Said:
    Also, are we being women bashers if we get all over women who use their beauty as a means to get ahead?
    Physical appearance and “success” is not limited to women.

    The long and short of it?
    Plain men earn 15% less
    Plain women earn 11% less
    Tall men earn 5% more than average men and 10% more than short men
    Fat women earn 5% less
    Fat men earn as much as slim ones


  35. I believe we can quite honestly protest women getting ahead simply for having a pretty face. If that’s all they have to offer, IMHO, it ain’t enough. But if they are all the other things that we want women in the public eye and in politics to be then hell ya, take advantage of everything that you have going for you.

  36. Oops, didn’t mean to italicize everything.

  37. I have heard many women give someone a hard time for working at somewhere like Hooters. I have known many single moms who work there to pay for tuition. My thoughts have always been, if the fool is willing to leave a $100 tip, its his loss.

  38. KM – I kind of think women should use whatever they can to get ahead, as long as they are not coming off as if they’re selling their bodies.

    For example, Sarah Palin looks great, but she was very classy in her wardrobe and presentation.

    A lot of times, women will start out by using their looks to get a promotion or a job, but then will go on to earn their stripes and more. Sigh.

    Maybe it should be on a case-by-case basis…

  39. TRK – That’s what I think. If Hooters is her best option, then Hooters it is.

    What a sad thought that is, though.

  40. When I was young and pretty, I turned down Hooters- type jobs but I know that sometimes male supervisors in my other jobs were nicer to me than they were to unattractive women. It always made me nervous. When were they going to ask for repayment? Some did and had to be wrestled. Some didn’t. It was a constant strain, though.
    The problem went away as I grew older, chubbier and more powerful in the company. I could’ve done without the older, chubbier part! :))

    The bottom line, in my view, is you gotta eat before you protest.

  41. […] stopped packing when I read Heidi Li’s beautiful entry at No Quarter and the Confluence Especially in the fight against the subjugation of women, men and women must ask themselves these […]

  42. Heidi, thou art always a precious gem and the clarity with which you express your thoughts is a message in itself.

    So many fine posts here today in response–all worthy of comment, all filled with salient points. It is said that only two things exist in this world: Fear and Love. One is operating out of either one or the other, and all things can be factored down to one of these two concepts.

    That being said, these are dangerous times for everyone–emotions run high, and anger can so easily trump dignity, calm resolve and civil discourse, but I support your initiatives and your ideas 100%. We must retain our civility and keep the focus on what we share in common: the desire to achieve gender parity, accountability, and truth in government and media.

    Comforting to me are, in addition to your essays, are the concepts embodied in our Constitution, our Federalist Papers and many of our forefathers. Yes, there were not female writers or signers of our Declaration of Independence or our Constitution, but bemoaning that cannot change history. All we can do is recognize the brilliance these works reflect, and move together to support one another in our Movement for women’s rights.

    Again, so many thanks to all of your for such thougtful comments. You all remind me once again that we share salient common goals and have all demonstrated our willingness to fight for them. It is only by committing ourselves to doing this while showing respect and maintaining civil discourse among ourselves that we can hope to attain these goals.

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