Friday, June 14, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage, Feminism, and Women

Over at The Feminist Librarian, Anna ran a live-blog series on David Blankenhorn's book The Future of Marriage, in which he laid out his case against same-sex marriage (before he changed his mind, obvs).

Her whole series is a great analysis of the book, and I wanted to especially highlight Anna's postscript in which she examines Blankenhorn's treatment of male versus female scholars he disagrees with on the same-sex marriage issue. She provides a side-by-side comparison of the words and phrases Blankenhorn used to describe his male opponents compared to his female opponents.

As a few examples, he describes Evan Wolfson as "my friend," says that Jonathan Rauch "argues convincingly," calls history professor Stephanie Coontz "a prominent activist" with "Marxist" views who "rarely bothers with detail," and kinda mocks Judith Stacey:
 "...[Stacey is] formerly the Barbra Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California -- I'm not making that up -- Stacey is an activist as well as an intellectual. Her main project is to combine socialism with women's liberation."
It's perhaps difficult to tease out whether Blankenhorn was chiefly uncomfortable with his female opponents' gender, their leanings toward feminism, or their purported Marxist and socialist ways. Possibly it's all of these. Possibly it's none.

Nonetheless, regardless of Blankenhorn's intent, when I read his book I too noticed the dismissive, disparate way he treated the two female scholars compared to his relatively tame treatment of the male scholars, as he expressed near pain at having to disagree with the men at all, claiming of Rauch, "How I wish he were right!"

I find that many same-sex marriage opponents, especially men, don't deal especially well with progressive feminists, especially female ones. There seems to be a taking for granted of the "fact" that feminists, and feminist arguments, are irrational and thus not worth fairly addressing. Earlier this week, I noted Mark Regnerus' treatment of progressive (especially) female scholars in his same-sex-couple-smearing opinion piece over at The Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse forum.

The approach to "dealing with" progressive feminist-leaning scholars, among some same-sex marriage opponents, seems to be to emphasize their real or imagined "socialist" leanings so as to passive-aggressively red-bait and discredit the entirety of their work, respond to caricatures of their arguments, mock their scholarship and titles of their works and seminars, and suggest that they are activists and therefore that their scholarship is suspect.  Unlike, I suppose, the work of Evan Wolfson. You know, the attorney and founder of Freedom to Marry, that organization that campaigns for the legal right to same-sex marriage. 

As same-sex marriage becomes more of a winning cause in US politics, and as more conservatives ally themselves with the cause, I think it's going to be important for feminists to remain vigilant about the potential non-feminism and anti-feminism of these new allies - allies who are often themselves threatened by feminist critiques of marriage's history of inequality and female subordination. Being a new supporter of same-sex marriage, indeed being gay, doesn't mean that one will also be a supporter of, or even receptive to, feminism.

The most prominent national conversations about same-sex marriage are, with the exception of Maggie Gallagher, largely also same-sex conversations among (white) men often talking to other (white) men, but sometimes also to the American public, about the topic.  Jonathan Rauch. David Blankenhorn. Brian Brown. Evan Wolfson. Dale Carpenter. John Corvino. Robert George. Andrew Sullivan. Dan Savage. Peter LaBarbera.

I know that many people are doing important advocacy work in less prominent ways that don't get them attention, recognition, and credit. Yet, it's problematic to me that I can think of no feminist progressive women of the prominence and platforms of any of these men, even though what, like 96% of feminist progressive women likely support same-sex marriage?

I'm also personally appreciative of Elizabeth Marquardt, of Blankenhorn's Institute for American Values (IAV), invitation to me to blog at the IAV's Family Scholars Blog (FSB) about a year ago.  The issues I raise in this post are also largely why the IAV's decision to abruptly close the blog with little explanation or engagement with its invited guest bloggers has, quite honestly, stung.

Not I only do I feel I'm missing some backstory there, it's a rare thing for progressive feminists, especially queer ones who support LGBT rights, to have the opportunity to engage with a somewhat conservative, largely non-feminist audience whose exposure to feminism is largely filtered through non-feminist, often-conservative interpretations, such as Regnerus' and Blankenhorn's treatments of feminist scholarship. Indeed, I often felt that some of the most contentious conversations I was involved in at FSB were feminist ones, rather than pro-gay ones, as I found myself even arguing against  other gay people and those who were otherwise supportive of same-sex marriage.

The voices of progressive feminist women remain marginalized, appropriated, and often mocked in the national discourse, even within conversations about a purportedly liberal/progressive issue like same-sex marriage.

At the same time, my support of same-sex marriage is deeply tied to my feminism. Even as I critique the history of marriage for what it often meant to women, my position is certainly more nuanced and thoughtful than to be hand-waived away as irrational or dismissed as "socialist" or "radical" without its merits being addressed. I think that's true for many feminists.

And, I further think the same-sex marriage movement is indebted to many other movements, including feminist scholarship, the civil rights movement, and queer/gender studies.  Many in the movement do not seem aware of that as they assume a non-intersectional, gay-centric approach to the issue. Many do not understand complementarist arguments against same-sex marriage. They don't always understand why some people believe all children need a male and female parent. The movement, on the outspoken pro-gay non-feminist side, often seems bizarrely, simultaneously all about gender while also being nothing at all about gender.

So, when I think about how progressive feminist women are implicitly and, oftentimes, explicitly treated as less authoritative and credible than male advocates on the issue, I have to admit that these new shifting alliances, these new friendships between former opponents of same-sex marriage and prominent gay men, give me pause.

For, "if your revolution doesn't implicitly and explicitly include a rejection of misogyny and other intersectional marginalizations, then you're not staging a revolution: You're staging a change in management."

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