Thursday, November 03, 2005

Feminist of the Day: First Ladies Edition

I'm too tired to blog tonight, but here's a feminist of the day that I wrote when I was deciding whether or not to do the future. It's a special 'feminist of some other day' edition.

Eleanor Roosevelt
First lady, UN representative, human rights advocate
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

I was dithering about Eleanor Roosevelt. She’s one of those people you find impressive at school and it’s hard to shake that feeling. For a first lady she’s got a lot going for her. She was on the left of her husband, and had no problem disagreeing with him (for example, when he decided that locking up anyone who was a bit slanty-eyed was a good idea). She was a long-range catalyst for he formation of the National Organisation of Women. Plus whatever I think of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she wasn’t the ones arguing for men’s human right to be paid more than women (that was the beloved first Labour government of New Zealand).

But then I read her feminist of the day quote and I got angry. According to Eleanor Roosevelt “no-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Wow – isn’t that deep meaningful, and about as empowering as a Lemon Bundt. Maybe, just maybe, if you’re the beloved niece of the president, become first lady, and can do pretty much whatever you want (except coming out), then no-one can make you feel inferior without your consent. But for the rest of us, it’s not that simple, and this sort of victim blaming doesn’t make it easier for anyone. If you’re being harassed at work, or in an abusive relationship then withdrawing consent doesn’t do much good, because people have power over you.

While I’ll accept that she was a feminist – she’s not really my sort of feminist (she beats Abigail Adams hands down though).

Conclusion: Well she’s certainly on the 99th percentile of feminist white house inhabitants, which isn’t saying that much. Her life makes a pretty cool feminist story: get treated like shit by your husband and respond by claiming your freedom and fighting for others. It’s just not enough for me. It’s not that she was privileged (I don’t come from a deprived background), it’s that she doesn’t seem to have recognised her privilege (plus I’m not that into social democracy).

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