Following Up

Slate has this response to the link in my previous post, regarding the dearth of women on the literary pages.  While the response itself is intelligent, it suffers from placement: it’s not on Slate’s main page, you see, but rather DoubleX, its space for women.

It’s common practice amongst disadvantaged groups to create these spaces; boys’ clubs predominate, so why not develop some girls’ clubs?  And to a point, that’s useful.  But it’s not enough — it’s never enough, so long as the channels of power and authority are the provenance of straight white men.  Radcliffe was a nice space for women to learn — and it offered more opportunity than many other institutions designed for women — but it wasn’t until Harvard opened its doors to women that there was any genuine equality of gendered opportunity in Cambridge, Massachusetts (at least for the white and well-off).  It’s why Barack Obama’s election was so symbolically powerful, and so threatening to so many white conservatives.  What these changes represent is the same threat embodied in the rise of China as a world power: the loss of the presumption of privilege, the recognition that competition is fierce and comes from all quarters, that simply being a member of the club may no longer be enough.

But, back to Slate: by relegating their reportage on this issue to DoubleX, they’re not issuing any kind of direct challenge to the patriarchal power structures to admit their own bias.  They’re only preaching to the choir.  It’s not that spaces like DoubleX, or organizations like the NAACP*, have no place, but unless those havens also serve to issue challenges to institutions and institutional power, their only function is to console, not to change.  

*I’m not equating the role of DoubleX — women’s pages on a popular website — with the NAACP, an active political and advocacy organization with a long timeline and thousands of members.  The fact that the NAACP has been so dedicated to agitating for change is precisely why the likes of FOX News loathe it so deeply, but it is a force that — unlike DoubleX — cannot be easily dismissed, and that is a mark of its power.

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