Last week, the Washington Post posted a rant by writer Courtland Milloy (hand-to-god, thought that was the name of a toilet paper company) stating, in short, that “angry white women” have become the predominant face of the newly re-heated reproductive rights movement, and that this is every shade of wrong because minority women are more greatly impacted by the issues at hand. Milloy asks, quite pointedly, “what does the white woman have to be so angry about?” His position is this: considering that the typical white women is rich, has access to all the healthcare she can handle, and needs to put down the picket sign and go enjoy her pampered ass life.
The next day, black women’s journal Madame Noire ran a response by Brande Victorian basically backing up what Milloy wrote.
Before I get into the thousand and one reasons why this line of thinking is offensively racist and infuriatingly counterproductive to the cause, let’s cover the obvious: race and socio-economic status are issues that undoubtedly have their place in the debate on healthcare, especially in terms of women, reproductive rights, access to information, and a generally well-rounded ability to care for themselves in the way that they best see fit. There is no doubt that a mostly-male, mostly-white, governing class of individuals has — and keeps — contributing to an environment across the country where women of color have the most difficult time taking advantage of these rights and meeting their healthcare needs. It’s crappy, there’s no doubt. And we should be talking about the role of race in all of this, not only on a reproductive women’s health level, but across the range of aspects of American society that still put minorities at a disadvantage in some areas. Maybe Milloy was trying to do something kind of like that, but just, ya know, in the dumbest, least-productive way imaginable.
Okay, disclaimer over. Now let’s talk about the raging idiocy of this Washington Post article.
Making the assumption that all white women are comfortable creatures with rich, white boyfriends to take care of them and thus, really don’t need to worry about healthcare, is as egregiously racist as saying that all black women have a bunch of illegitimate babies by different fathers who are all going to grow up to be crime-committing drop-outs. No, really, it is the same thing — making unfair judgments about an entire group of people based on statistics, which Milloy uses to paint a laughably harsh, one-sided caricature of the “typical Caucasian woman.” And then — because he’s not being enough to a douche — he uses that broad generalization to dismiss white women’s need to be concerned about the lady healthcare bills du jour. Oh, and then he tries to get minority women to divert their anger from misogynistic lawmakers to their fellow women.
Is this dude without ovaries for real? Or did I just forget my place as the white man’s pet?
Let’s talk about me now. I’m young-ish, white, uninsured for my entire adult life, and have been using Planned Parenthood as my main source of reproductive healthcare for nearly the past decade. My boyfriends have all been poorer and less motivated than me, based of the fun generational condition of being raised by strong working mothers who ingrained the expectation in them that there would always be a woman around to take care of them. It’s only because of organizations like Planned Parenthood that I’ve ever had a pap smear or mammogram, had access to birth control, and been able to have regular STD screenings. Honestly, the fine PP lady doctors are the only ones I’ve seen in the last decade. I would probably be a steaming pile of unwanted babies, chlamydia, pre-cancerous cells, and anxiety without them. As would millions of other women — including young white things like myself — all over the country.
So, does that mean that there aren’t spoiled, well-taken care of, annoying-ass white women out there spending a man’s money? Jesus god, no. They are certainly out there, and they bug the hell out of me too. But just like I wouldn’t allow crime statistics to make me immediately assume that every young, black male is going to pull a gun on me and steal my purse (ha, he would be in for a sad surprise there. Picked the wrong white chick, sucka! Enjoy the $2 in dimes, crusty mascara, and “Insufficient Funds” ATM receipt), I expect to be judged personally and not statistically. I thought that was, like, kind of understood at this point.
And hey! It’s not like being a white woman is without challenges of its own; we’re frequently torn down and told that we have less of a need to fight for our rights based on… the color of our skin? Yes, Washington Post and Madame Noire, let’s combat racial inequality with racism, especially in the face of an issue that should unite us all for once. That makes sense. Let’s do that. (I’m being sarcastic, FYI; we should not do that. I feel this is too important to risk being unclear. I am normally wholeheartedly against actually saying you’re being sarcastic. See, Milloy? Now you’re taking away my right to fight and my writing smoothness. We are not friends, sir.)
Now this: I’m going to put it out there, ladies, that maybe the moment when the regressive, patriarchal, lawmaking suits in this country are attacking our personal liberties with renewed vigor is not the best time to be going all cat fight on each other. I’m not usually a big “let’s all stick together because we have VAGINAS!” cheerleader, but this is not a goddamn joke: there are laws on the table right now that make it okay to lie to you about what’s happening in your own body. Funding is being cut from some of the only places we non-rich chicks can even see a doctor. From every angle, your access to reproductive healthcare is being strangled, and your freedom to decide the course of your body is being chipped away at violently. This is beyond serious. There are undoubtedly still horrific racial inequalities in this country, and that sucks to no small degree. I’m with you that we need to address that. But right now, we need to address these issues, together, because they affect all of us. ALL OF US. And – just so there’s zero misunderstanding here — screw anyone who tries to tell any woman that she doesn’t have just as much of a right as any other woman to be enraged and terrified and appalled at what’s happening right now.
The big, fat bummer is this: this country is, for the most part, still run by institutions that are essentially old, white, boys’ clubs. As a result, the US remains a nasty sh-tshow where it is still more difficult to get ahead if you’re a minority. That difficulty increases if you also happen to be born with a vagina. We all like to think that we’re slowly-but-surely evolving past that, but then lawmakers across the country start trying to control the eggs in our baskets, and suddenly the fight seems exhausting again. I get it. We do need to address the underlying conditions that make it so that women of color are more heavily impacted by these limiting pieces of legislation. But invalidating the position of white women who are outraged right along with you doesn’t help the case against racial inequality, and it stands to severely weaken the case for sane, adequate, fair, unbiased women’s healthcare. Milloy and anyone who backs his point of view on race and reproduction are injecting the kind of dividing, self-destructive energy among women advocates that could fracture and destroy our side.
And another thing: if white dudes in Washington don’t have a history of being on the side of women, they really don’t have a history of being on the side of minority women. The Madame Noire article questions if having “black and Latina women as the true face of this issue… would ever garner as much attention as it currently does,” and honestly, it probably wouldn’t. I don’t think any women involved in the debate would say that it’s fair that a predominantly white-led movement holds more weight in the eyes of lawmakers than a mostly-minority campaign. That fact is very telling a continuing condition in this country of white people simply being paid more credence than non-white folks. And that’s undeniably just… bad. Obviously. But hey! Hey, girls, hey! What if — just this once — we just, ya know, go with it? Yes, those evil dudes proposing liberty- and resource-stripping laws are extra terrible because they’re probably racists on top of being sexist and classist, but if the frontlines of advocacy in this case have a mostly white face right now, and white faces get paid more attention to by lawmakers, why don’t we just stop fighting with each other for a minute and let racism work in our favor for once? Isn’t it more important to keep our eye on the ball, focus on the end goal — retaining our rights to choose the course of our bodies and lives, and keep funding and access to life-saving reproductive and preventative care — and then proceed to tackle the underlying racial and class issues? We would certainly be giving ourselves a stronger foundation to work from. Trying to solve every problem at once is traditionally a good way of rendering yourself ineffective at accomplishing anything at all — especially when focusing on one issue serves only to oust supporters from a more imminent cause.
The more time we spend debating whether or not white women have a right to be outraged over the infringement on reproductive rights (it never stops sounding ridiculous to me that we’re even debating that, by the way), the less energy we’re pouring into advocacy for the real issues. If you think taking away access to adequate and fair reproductive care is an attempt by the white, patriarchal powers-that-be to further disempower minorities and women (and make no mistake — I agree with you there), imagine the damage we’re allowing them to do by turning us against each other in this fight where we’re all really in the same side.