Yesterday, author Paula Lee published a piece in Salon, “White women of publishing: New survey shows a lack of diversity behind the scenes in book world”. In the piece, we learn that at the executive level, publishing is heavily dominated by straight (89%), normatively able-bodied (96%), white (86%) women (59%).
Ordinarily, for anyone who works in the publishing world in any shape or form, that it is white-dominated is not news; it would be akin to informing them that water is wet. But the revealed demographics are as upsetting as they are unexpected, at least with regard to the extent of the lack of diversity in this industry.
Author and 2015 Man Book prize winner Marlon James had admonished the (UK) publishing industry last year, claiming that the industry “pander[s] to white women to sell books,” a demand that even writers of color have to face. The “reasoning” for this, some might argue, is that the market for fiction consumption is also heavily dominated by white women. My argument however, is that it is a more complex vicious cycle. Perhaps if more writers of color were published – regularly and not as exceptions – then more readers of color would make up a greater proportion of the market. In a time where people are ever-more concerned with seeing themselves in stories, one would think this is common sense. Still, the demographics that are present in the publishing industry bring about an important discussion of the “minority” status of white women, and the extent of the group’s marginalization.
There are roughly more women than men in the United States, although there are more men in the labor force. Research from 2012 shows that black women earn less than white men, but they also out-earn black men and white women, of which both groups, along with Hispanic men, have higher participation rates in the workforce.
As has been continuously said by people of color, the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action has been white women. A claim that is backed by research. But we also know that women in general only make up 14.2% of C-level executives – at least the ones in the S&P 500. As has already been noted, white women, like all women, earn less than white men, and from workplace inequalities to everyday sexism, it would be inaccurate to claim that gender equality has been achieved.
It is clear however, that white women have made greater progress than other historically marginalized groups. It is also clear that whatever inequalities white women face, women of color and sometimes men of color face them in greater numbers and more unfavorably. For example, poverty affects women more than men, but it also affects women of color more than it affects white women.
Currently the country’s president is black and male – a sign of racial progress, as many have consistently touted over the last eight years. To many cultural observers, it has also revealed the deep-seated racism that exists in the country. In the upcoming election, Hilary Clinton has a very real chance of becoming the nation’s first female president. One wonders were she to become president, whether she will face a gendered hostility as opposed to the racial one President Obama has endured, and whether it will be at the same intensity.
“Oppression Olympics,” as it is often called, is the idea that historically marginalized peoples (and even non-marginalized peoples) compete for who is worse off in society. Although that term is new, the idea is not new. The early suffragists often disdained that black men had received the vote before them. White women have come a long way from that time, still facing inequalities as women, but one can deduce that whiteness has been attached to much of the group’s progress.
As a straight, black woman, I can tell you that race is easily more salient to me than sex/gender. If you ask my opinion on most marginalization, I will cautiously say that as long as your marginalization is attached to whiteness, you still have a better chance, on average, of overcoming it in society. So, in the context of women’s progress in society, which in some ways has a long way to go, and in some ways there is great success, can white women still claim minority status? Or do we need to rethink white women’s marginalization entirely?
Of course intersectionality will always play a role in determining any one individual’s privilege and marginalization. But from where the country stands, and at least in comparison to historically marginalized groups or groups of “minority status,” it seems new language may need to be developed to determine the space of privilege and oppression that white women specifically occupy. A suggestion: matriarchy blanche.