March 14, 2008

Lawprof Patricia Williams is giving a talk called "Moaning in America."

Now, I'm at the feminism conference here at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and Pat Williams is giving the keynote speech. She begins with the image of a "twinning doll" – an image she used in this column in The Nation.

She's looking at "3 narrative models": 1. the "neo-kumbayan moment" (denial, cynicism, Ward Connerly... "just stop talking about it"), 2. the "neo-biologizing moment, through the discourse of DNA," 3. economic choice ("I want to engage with the Law and Economics movement").

She's talking about the Democratic primary, the toxic identity politics. What can we do?

Pat is very interesting and funny talking about multiracial families: Angelina Jolie and her mixed race brood and a woman who is suing because a medical mix-up led to her giving birth to a partially black child.

What would Barack Obama look like if he were a woman? Would he look like Susan Estrich, Geraldine Ferraro, or Oprah Winfrey? When Oprah endorsed him, "race rushed in."

UPDATE, next morning: I have to apologize for not conveying more of what Pat said last night. It is extremely hard to convey the sense of what she says without giving long quotes, which I can't do in real time, because she also speaks very quickly and continually makes surprising connections. She has a beautiful voice and brings in a lot of detailed stories and images. This is mesmerizing, and I enjoyed listening closely, but I could not bring it to you convincingly. I don't want you to think this was because she wasn't saying anything. She was saying too much. This was not, however, an extemporaneous speech. She was reading. So go read some of her columns. I've linked one.

AND: Scroll down on this page and you'll find capsule descriptions and links to many of Pat's columns, some of which were the basis of the talk she gave last night. There is, for example, this one:
The March 22 [2007] New York Post offered a fascinating study in the contradictions of our culture. The top half of the front page was consumed by "a stunning mother-child portrait" of Angelina Jolie with her newest adopted child, or as the Post put it, her "Viet man." The lower half of the page was given over to a more lurid headline ("Baby Bungle: White Folks' Black Child") trumpeting "a Park Avenue fertility clinic's blunder" that "left a family devastated--after a black baby was born to a Hispanic woman and her white husband."

The story about Jolie's magical mothering of her rainbow brood was a fairy tale of happily ever after. The bungled baby story, meanwhile, was considerably less heartwarming: Long Islanders Nancy and Thomas Andrews had trouble conceiving after the birth of their first daughter. They employed in vitro fertilization and baby Jessica was born. Jessica is darker skinned than either of the Andrewses, a condition their obstetrician initially called an "abnormality." She'll "lighten up," said that good doctor. Subsequent paternity tests showed that Nancy's egg was fertilized by sperm other than Tom's. The couple has sued.
That column is old enough that you have to subscribe to The Nation to read the whole thing, but there are many others available in full, and I realize I've been remiss in not reading them and blogging them on a regular basis.

Here's her piece on Oprah and Obama. Excerpt:
[T]heir particular form of raced celebrity enshrines the notion of American mobility at a moment when it is--in reality--sorely vexed. ... Obama radiates a kind of hope that crosses the immigrant epic with a romantic desire for rainbow diversity. Similarly, Oprah is the black, female, Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches story of our day. From her humble beginnings as a traumatized little girl, albeit pluckier even than Orphan Annie (we Americans do love "pluck"), Oprah reinvented herself by sheer will and rose against all odds to the very top of the phantasmagorical bubble machine we call the entertainment industry. There's a general fear of, as well as attraction to, that bubble. Is the celebrity a platform or a dog-and-pony show? Is it serious debate or entertainment? How easy the purchase of cynicism.

But if we're lucky, maybe something enduring comes of artfully imagining our ideals.

36 comments:

rhhardin said...

Frankly, what I found most unforgivable about Senator Biden's recent remarks...

hmm

Call me irresponsible - call me unreliable
Throw in unforgiveable too


It's so hard to please moral theorists and women.

dbp said...

It is Friday night! The start of a weekend, for goodness sakes.

I am hard-pressed to think of any place I would enjoy less, on a Friday evening, than a feminism conference.

OTOH, if I was liveblogging...it might be a source of comedy gold.

If any of the participants says something which hasn't been said already 20 years ago--that might make good bloggeage, otherwise I say look for the humor angle.

Ann Althouse said...

It's really not something to make fun of, dbp.

Pat Williams is quite brilliant and interesting. You can go to a bar and get drunk any night you want. When do you get a chance to hear a brilliant mind spin out ideas? And what better thing is there to do in life? I think nothing.

Trooper York said...

[THIS POST WILL BE GRADUALLY LENGTHENED.]

You know I say that all the time but my wife never believes me.

Sorry for the comedy. Back to the feminism.

Ann Althouse said...

Oh, Trooper...

dbp said...

No plans to get drunk, just going to watch television with my wife and have some quiet time now that the kids are all in bed.

It just seems to me like there hasn't been a new idea to come out of the movement in decades. Whenever I dip into the literature, they are still trading on debunked myths like pay disparity & etc.

If you are willing to sit through a session of preaching to the choir on the off chance of hearing a new tune; I admire that I really do, I certainly don't envy it though.

Middle Class Guy said...

She's talking about the Democratic primary, the toxic identity politics. What can we do?


There is toxic identity politics in both of the parties. What can we do? Demand better. Our politicians are worse than a bunch of kindergarteners. My own teenager has more sense than most of these morons.

It is time that we, the people, told both of these parties to cut the crap and get their acts together or we form other parties.

The hatred has caused a gridlock in our government to the extent that nothing meaningful can get accomplsihed.

rhhardin said...

The toxicity is from the stuck narratives, and the stuck narratives are from the audience that the media business model can attract regularly, and feminism probably isn't going to help with that problem, namely soap opera women as arbiters of everything.

Feminism has its own somewhat overlapping narrative.

Derrida has (received) feminism's progress as marching in place. It has not advanced a bit since it began. It expresses an essential truth.

Say it calls nagging progress, because it sounds better.

You have to keep after men, is its truth. But with no actual man in mind, so it doesn't produce anything but the truth itself.

Sofa King said...

The hatred has caused a gridlock in our government to the extent that nothing meaningful can get accomplsihed.
Good!

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"She's talking about the Democratic primary, the toxic identity politics. "

This is a redundancy.

john said...

"When Oprah endorsed him, "race rushed in.""

Ann, if this an example of Pat Williams "quite brilliant and interesting" talk, I think dbp is right about getting drunk.

And is "Moaning in America" the complete title? Where's the obligatory colon followed by the second (free) title? There is a real Trooper-like opening here to fill in.

MSG - gridlock is not the worst thing to happen in DC!

Simon said...

Would the Parents Involved court ("the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race") fall within her "neo-kumbayan" rubric?

somefeller said...

Pat Williams is quite brilliant and interesting. You can go to a bar and get drunk any night you want. When do you get a chance to hear a brilliant mind spin out ideas? And what better thing is there to do in life? I think nothing.

The two aren't mutually exclusive. I did both at last weekend's Texas ACLU conference, and had lots of fun tonight before making a pit stop at my computer before bedtime.

Still, I'm not a huge Patricia Williams fan. I've read her work elsewhere and I haven't been blown away, and based on the short descripton of the three models that Ann has mentioned that Williams talked about, I'm still not blown away.

That having been said, I think the feminism conference at UW sounds interesting. I certainly don't side with Paul A'Bilge, who dismissed the whole thing on another thread.

Steven said...

"She's talking about the Democratic primary, the toxic identity politics. What can we do?"

Stigmatize even the benign-seeming forms of identity politics, as they are the precancerous growths that turn into toxic identity politics. Start by, say, publicly denouncing feminism, which by its nature focuses on sexual identity and public policy.

Ann Althouse said...

Simon, I think yes, but the talk never got around to this area as far as I could tell.

Richard said...

YOU are at a feminism conference? Oh, Ann. You're better than that. You really are.

ricpic said...

They used to be called ditzy broads. Now they're called deep thinkers. Times change. They certainly do.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Focus on feminism in 2008 is so post-seasonal ... rather like attempting to plant tomatoes in late October.

Feminism's next gains are to be expected sometime around 2055, and not much before. Between now and then the trends will move progressively the opposite direction. Read Strauss & Howe's 'Generations' and 'Fourth Turning.'

Middle Class Guy said...

john said...
MSG - gridlock is not the worst thing to happen in DC!

Well, let's see, corruption, prostitution, identity politicas, personal politics, prostitution, corruption, hatred, prostitution, corruption, Legislative corrupt perks, prostitution and corruption...

Did I mention prositution and corruption?

dbp said...

John Said, "Ann, if this an example of Pat Williams "quite brilliant and interesting" talk, I think dbp is right about getting drunk."

Hey, Professor Althouse is the one who brought up the getting drunk thing--I haven't done that since college. I am staying home with the wife and kids tonight.

I do appreciate the lower-casing of my initials, that is the way I like to write them.

dbp

Middle Class Guy said...

When Oprah endorsed him, "race rushed in."


I thought that Rush raced in!

Middle Class Guy said...

Focus on feminism in 2008 is so post-seasonal ... rather like attempting to plant tomatoes in late October.



Oh, I am going to get in trouble. Big trouble. The kind of trouble that one cannot get out of. I will probably be banned for life from here. But, hey, WTF, it is humor and all in good fun.



Focus on feminism in 2008 is so post menopausal. There. I could not resist. It was too easy.

Eli Blake said...

Ann:

Whatever you are saying, just keep in mind that 100 years ago, had you been invited to attend a conference at a major American University at all, you'd have likely had to sit in the gallery and taken notes. If it was fifty years ago, you'd be allowed on the floor, but you'd be one of perhaps 5% of attendees who were women, and most of the men would take you, even with a Ph.D., about as seriously as they'd take a typical graduate student.

Without feminists who put everything on the line to make a better world, things would still be pretty much that way (as they are in many countries.)

As for the assertion that when Oprah endorsed Obama, 'race rushed in,' I don't see that. Most of the votes Obama has gotten (certainly most outside the deep south) have come from Democratic liberals (like myself). While I've expounded ad nauseum on it elsewhere, I believe that in most cases, race (or gender) has not entered into the calculation. I made my decision (after Bill Richardson, who I had been for dropped out) based on the fact that Hillary's voting record was too much like Joe Lieberman (her vote on the Iran resolution last year sealed it for me, that she was too much of a hawk) while Obama, who was against the Iraq war when it started, has a lot more credibility when he says that he will get us out of there. Truthfully, most of us liberal don't really care about what a person's race or gender is, we just want to see a President who reflects our values.

Eli Blake said...

middle class guy:

Focus on feminism in 2008 is so post-seasonal

Not.

Not when we live in a country where women still don't earn as much as men do for the same work.

Not when we live in a country where even a woman's body-- doesn't necessarily belong to her, and there are still those who want to be allowed to hijack it.

Not when we live in a country where it is still assumed that pregnancy is the exclusive fault of the woman, and that therefore the father should face minimal responsibiiity.

Not when we live in a country where even at the highest levels women are still underrepresented (though it is worth noting that virtually the ENTIRE Democratic majority in Congress is due to Democratic women; there are about as many Republican men as Democratic men in the house, and more Republican than Democratic Senators-- and as a liberal I am thrilled that my female fellow-thinkers have stepped up and given our side the majority.)

We live in a country where there are still men who have the same 1950's attitude that I alluded to in the last post-- they just don't say it out loud anymore.

We live in a country where there are millions of rapes, assaults and other violent crimes committed by men against women every year.

We live in a country in which many a girl still taught that the ultimate goal and happiness she should aspire to in life is to marry a modern day prince who will carry her off to his castle where she can happily keep his house and raise his children while he is out slaying dragons (all those Disney Princess movies are still very popular, especially with young girls.)

We live in a world where women are portrayed in an unrealistic and unhealthy way, in which if a woman doesn't look like Barbie the popular culture suggests (if ever so subtly) that she is too fat, too ugly, or too worthless.

We live in a world in which some females are still killed at birth just because of their gender, stoned to death for the smallest of transgressions, burnt to death if their husband becomes dissatisfied with them, mutilated at birth as well as later in life, or forcibly married to already married men many decades their senior.

So yes, there is still a need for feminism in 2008. As I said last night, I have two eleven year old daughters (one of whom is extremely interested in politics and is annoyed that she can't run for precinct committeeperson until she is eighteen). I take every opportunity that I can to remind them of the opportunities they do have available today because of feminists.

Jim Howard said...

"Not when we live in a country where women still don't earn as much as men do for the same work."

Nonsense.

Eli, I feel sorry for your daughters , having a whiner of a father giving them the excuse that The Man is responsible for all their problems.

Michael_H said...

"Pat Williams is quite brilliant and interesting. You can go to a bar and get drunk any night you want. When do you get a chance to hear a brilliant mind spin out ideas? And what better thing is there to do in life? I think nothing."

Lemme get my deconstructionist scissors and tape out of the drawer and give that paragraph a tune-up.

There. This is a bit better, and should appeal to many of this evenings bloggers:

"Pat Williams is quite brilliant and interesting. When do you get a chance to hear a brilliant mind spin out ideas? You can go to a bar and get drunk any night you want. And what better thing is there to do in life? I think nothing."

Synova said...

Eli, I don't think that most of those things are even true. Oh, they're said often enough but I don't see the evidence of them.

And some are self-contradictory.

Not get the same wages? Why not? There's a whole lot of very good stuff out there that might explain the differences. Mostly, choices made by individuals. How much of your life do you want your employer to own?

No one is hijacking a woman's body. No one. Rape is rape. Choice is choice. It's one or the other.

Women are now *over* represented in colleges and most certainly in law schools and even medical schools. In some fields they are under represented. Why? Why should women be forced to *want* to go equally into all careers?

And crime is inequality? Why? Because more MEN are victimized by MEN than are victimized by women? Maybe if more women victimized those around them we'd be better off?

Longing for a "Prince" is the equivalent of what? A man longing for a beautiful wife? It's sex, mostly, and wanting a family, and men most certainly long for this fulfillment as much as women do. We *want* a mate. Men and women both. Why is this wrong?

And if you can figure out how to get people to not care how they look... well... that would be a trick. Do guys really not ask out fat chicks because of sexism? Or is it because the human animal looks for health and attractiveness in a mate?

About the only thing I really agree with is your last two paragraphs... about the world.

Too bad most feminists are too busy hating Bush to care about the world very much any more. Maybe they'll bother to condemn Iran and other countries for cultural and systematic abuse of women when their *higher* priority isn't so much of an issue any more.

Beth said...

Maybe they'll bother to condemn Iran and other countries for cultural and systematic abuse of women when their *higher* priority isn't so much of an issue any more.

This is an tired old canard. Feminists, first, are not a monolithic breed. Among their ranks are many individuals and organizations that not only condemn abuse of women in Iran and other fundamentalist Islamic systems, but actually work to improve their lives, in any number of arenas. Feminists in Iran are doing that for themselves, as well.

Synova said...

Oh, I know everyone isn't the same.

And honestly, I don't think it's feminism so much as multi-culturalism and the need not to ever condemn someone else's culture. It's too bad though.

For a while I read an "independent women's" blog... they were sponsoring business women in Iraq and got attacked for it by those feminists who didn't like their politics, which were libertarian.

Proper political thinking seems to be very important. I think it's sad.

George said...

One of the completely unanswered questions of the 2008 Presidential race is why Oprah Winfrey supports Sen. Obama. More specifically, what would she expect from him upon his election?

She's a billionaire media tycoon with who knows what holdings. Like all billionaires, her favorite color is green.

Is there certain legislation favorable to her interests that's hung up in Congress? Are there federal agencies that she would expect him to realign for her benefit?

You can be sure that if a white Sen. Obama were from West Virginia and he was backed by a white billionaire mining tycoon, the press would be all over it like a bug on stink.

rhhardin said...

Where is the Althouse summary of this talk? I got up late and there's nothing here.

rhhardin said...

And honestly, I don't think it's feminism so much as multi-culturalism and the need not to ever condemn someone else's culture.

There's no satisfaction in nagging Iranians.

Trooper York said...

“We live in a country where there are still men who have the same 1950's attitude that I alluded to in the last post-- they just don't say it out loud anymore.”

Eli it might not be such a bad thing if your daughters married 1950’s kind of guys. Those are the guys who go to work everyday and bring the paycheck home. They eat dinner with the whole family at the table and sit in their chairs and watch the TV while reading the paper. He might have a big mouth and bluster and yell but he loves his wife and family and will do anything for them. After the news his wife will come with him as they walk the dog together as they hold hands and put out the cat and go to sleep and do it all over the next day. Think Fred Flintstone.

Now your 1960’s guy is smoking weed and going to concerts in upstate New York to have sex with hippie chicks in the mud. His liver is failing and he donates his sperm so he could have kids all over the place. Think David Crosby.

Your 1970’s guy is always listening to disco and wears an open shirt with a gold chain and is always going out to dance and is never home to talk to his wife because he is always “practicing” his “dance” moves. Just when you think everything is ok he is involved in some druken bimbo jumping off of the Verazano Bridge. Think John Travolta before he got locked in the bakery.

Your 1980’s guy is wearing a fancy suit and is always working on mergers and acquistions and getting more and more money because greed is good. Then he is going to hook up with a crazy broad who is going to sneak into his house and boil a bunny on the stove. Think Michael Douglas before he got so bloated. Or Donald Trump as is.

Your 1990’s guy will mouth all the right attitudes about women’s rights and the virtues of feminism. Then an intern will snap her thong at him and the next thing you know you find a lot of bills for new blue dress from the Gap on the Visa bill.
Think of, well you know what to think.

The 2000’s guy has a lot of tattoos and is always on My Space and blogs and dosen’t even look up enough to notice if his wife is there or not. He is emailing back and forth with lots of “friends”. What’s that all about? He is still a stoner but is more focused on video games than in listening to his wife. Think Seth Rogan before he knocked up the girl.

All in all, I don’t think a 1950’s kind of guy is so bad. But that’s just me, because I think of myself as a 1950’s kind of guy. I guess that makes me a neanderthal. Yabba dabba do.

dbp said...

From American Pie

Patricia J. Williams

"at a time when the disastrous Bush presidency has left our economy ruined, our international reputation a shambles, NASA in the hands of people who don't believe global warming is a threat, our soldiers mired in a "pre-emptive" war, the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg codes violated, the Justice Department gutted."

Maybe she is better in a live setting, but this looks like standard issue left-wing boilerplate to me. Hell, the above reads just like any average comment by someone like Doyle or AlphaLiberal.

Take Colorstruck by Patricia J. Williams.
I couldn't read the whole article, but other than race being a factor in the couple discovering that their child was not related to the father; how is race relevant to their complaint? If the baby looked just like the parents, but say blood typing revealed it to be unrelated to the father, they would have had just as much reason to complain.

rhhardin said...

Althouse has not made very clear what appeals to her in this.

rhhardin said...

She has a beautiful voice and brings in a lot of detailed stories and images.

Of course that's something. I've heard the usual complaint about henfests that some meetings become, that there's a longing for a male voice eventually, even among the enlightened.