Feminism Without Feminists.

Ariel Levy writes a piece for the New Yorker criticizing Leslie Sanchez's book, You've Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary, and the Shaping of the New American Woman. In the book, Republican strategist Sanchez calls for: "No bra burning. No belting out Helen Reddy. Just calm concern for how women were faring in the world," and says feminists are of an "earlier and disruptive time." She also bristles at Gloria Steinem's critique of Sarah Palin as a woman who "shares nothing but a chromosome with [Hillary] Clinton." All this repudiation of the women's right movement from Sanchez to say she believes we should applaud and support Palin's candidacy ... because she's a woman.

After debunking the bra-burning myth, Levy places feminism in its historical context, noting the evolution from a fight for equal representation to a challenge of systemic sexism and misogyny. Pillorying the suggestion that it's enough for a woman, any woman, to have equal representation, Levy writes:

Identity politics isn’t much concerned with abstract ideals, like justice. It’s a version of the old spoils system: align yourself with other members of a group—Irish, Italian, women, or whatever—and try to get a bigger slice of the resources that are being allocated. If a demand for revolution is tamed into a simple insistence on representation, then one woman is as good as another. You could have, in a sense, feminism without feminists.

Aside from being amazed that Sanchez doesn't seem to realize she has feminism itself to thank for her ability to criticize the movement, I appreciate an acknowledgment from Levy that two-thirds of American families are either headed by women or have a woman as the co-breadwinner. For many of these women, "equal representation" isn't the point -- supporting their families is. And to go further, it's important to remember that 22 percent of black families are headed by women, as are 14 percent of Latino families. Too often, the lives of poor women and women of color are ignored in the battle over feminism's relevance. Not only are they trying to survive and feed their families, they're doing it in a country that's not just hard on women, but also hard on poor people and people of color -- these women need the support of feminism and feminists more than any group, even if Sanchez thinks feminists are obsolete. And maybe especially because of that.

--Shani O. Hilton