I dare you to come up with the name of an American woman in politics who’s more admirable or more impressive than Barbara Jordan — that leader of civil rights and feminism. So how good is this news: Viola Davis has announced that her new production company will adapt Jordan’s biography in a new film, starring Davis herself.

Due to Jim Crow laws in Texas, Jordan could not attend the University of Texas, so instead graduated from Texas Southern — where she became a champion debater of the first rank. After developing a law career in Houston, she became the first African American to be elected to the Texas State Senate, and the first Black woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives from the South. Her speeches remain masterpieces of American literature.

I can’t imagine what she must have experienced as a Black woman in Texas and national politics during an era when most white men had no problem expressing their racism and sexism openly.

One time I met a professor in Texas who had known Jordan. They were close in age had something else in common: they were both gay. Jordan never came out publicly about her sexual orientation — according to this guy she believed it was too soon, even in the 1990s, for gay rights to gain traction in the public eye. Yet some of her eulogies in 1996 made mention of her life partner, Nancy Earl, such that it has become common to speak of her as a gay woman in the intervening years.

Now that’s what I’m talking about: Viola Davis uses her newly rising Hollywood star to make a film about a groundbreaking Black gay woman. Am I dreaming?

The Double X Shuffle

1 April 2010

If only it were an April Fool’s joke.  A week after Slate’s XX Factor featured the pro-Goldman Sachs article by KJ Dell’Antonia telling working mothers to give up on a humane work schedule, now it’s got Angie Kim blaming feminists for demise of the mommy track. (In the meantime, their editor Hanna Rosin asked first and foremost on their Double X Gabfest whether The Three Weissmanns of Westport, the new book by the eminently smart and literary author Cathleen Schine, is “chick lit.”)

Of course the real question is why I keep picking this scab — why can’t I leave Double X alone, if all I get is a schizophrenic antifeminism under the guise of “what women really think”?  

When it launched on May 12, 2009, Double X posted such self-consciously provocative stories as “Why I Am Bored With Feminism” by Terry Castle (Terry, why?) and “Yes, Virginia, Feminism is Really Dead” by Susanna Breslin. Subsequent stories would state that feminists don’t understand Muslim women, while Christina Hoff Summers claims that men are now the “second sex”—propounding the newly popular line that there is a new “gender gap” for boys. As Breslin chirps about feminism, “I mean, didn’t we kill it already?” 

I think the reason I can’t leave it alone is because the Double X writers’ antifeminism indicates a particular generational malaise about the subject.  A site created by smart, educated, cosmopolitan women, many of whom are in their late 20s or 30s, seems to feel that in order to appeal to female readers, it needs a straw feminist to bash around—schizophrenically claiming that feminists are malicious, irrelevant, boring, or dead.  Apparently, the readership they anticipate looks exactly like them — coastal, highly educated, highly privileged, mostly white women who’ve already established themselves professionally and benefited as much as possible from the feminist legacy.  Now if only they could recognize that feminism might hold strong relevance to someone besides them.

There are a lot of reasons to feel exasperated by such a perspective (not least for its logical inconsistency).  I think my frustration with this perspective comes from living and teaching in Texas, a place that Molly Ivins (of course) described best. In Texas, she wrote, “the cultures are black, Chicano, Southern, freak, suburban and shitkicker. (Shitkicker is dominant.) They are all rotten for women.”

Maybe because of the rampant machismo here, Texas has long featured strong, outspoken women leaders from Ivins to Barbara Jordan to Ann Richards — and I’ve begun to see a new resurgence of feminism by young Texas women and men, as witnessed by the upcoming Feminist Action Project, among other efforts.  If Double X wants to succeed, its editors should recognize not only that feminism is relevant outside their small hothouse, but that many young people today who may not call themselves “feminists” nevertheless share frustration at the easy sexism and cheap homophobia appearing with such regularity and with so little check from media, politics, workplaces, and families.    

Take back the F word not merely from the Texas bubbas who still like the term “feminazi,” but from the women at Double X who moved up the ladder only to kick it out from the younger generation trying to move up.