Category Archives: Tami Winfrey Harris

Geographic Scapegoating: It’s Not The Place That’s The Problem

Courtesy of Miakosamuio on Flickr

Courtesy of Miakosamuio on Flickr

When I told one friend of mine that my family and I would be moving from Chicago to the Indianapolis area, she asked worriedly, “Will you be safe there?” She, a liberal, white woman, was certain that a black family moving to the heart of a red state would be greeted by open hostility or worse. Her comment betrayed a flaw in the way society often thinks about issues of inequality, relying on geographic scapegoats to avoid addressing widespread, systemic “isms”.

In the United States, the so-called “flyover states” serve as regional boogeymen for a host of social justice issues. The South and the Midwest are the places that denizens of the coasts can smugly identify as the source of all the country’s racism, homophobia, sexism and transphobia. And while it is true that some places have unique histories of injustice and hostility toward marginalized peoples. It is also true that America as a whole has a unique history of injustice and hostility toward marginalized people–no city or burgh within our borders is immune.

In the case of my worried friend, her cartoonish idea of conservative Midwesterners, chasing black families with sticks and torches to the soundtrack of a cackling Rush Limbaugh, allowed her personal racism to go unchecked. More broadly, a national focus on the imagined rampant and open bigotry of geographic scapegoats allows real inequality, especially the less overt kind, to fester both in the flyover states and everywhere else.

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A Shift In The SBF Schedule

Hey, SBF community–

typewriter

First of all, thank you so very much for supporting our blog so far, even when our posts are late!

When we started this blog, we wanted to make sure that we gave you thoughtful–sometimes silly, sometimes saucy, but always going for thoughtful–posts about race, gender, sex and sexuality, class, dis/ability, and age, among other issues, as seen from our particulars views as Generation X feminists.

And we also know that those posts take time to write. Lots of time. And, between all of our life happenings–major life moves, day jobs and paying gigs, and families, among other things–we think it best to pare down our writing schedule in order to maintain the quality of posts you expect from Squeezed Between Feminisms. So, we’re going to post a regular writing on Fridays. If we have more posts during the week, we’ll definitely let you know on Facebook and Twitter.

See you next Friday, SBFers!

–Best,

Tami and Andrea

An Ode to Grown and Sexy Music

Customarily, we publish something a little heavier on a Monday morning. But this weekend, I stumbled on to an Anita Baker Spotify radio station that slayed me and gave me life again. It made me yearn for the 80s/90s era of R&B music, “quiet storm” radio, Crown Royal on ice, Southside Chicago lounges, smooth jazz–grown folks doing grown folks things. It was a time and genre that, but for Luther Vandross (RIP), black women owned. And it was the last gasp of seduction, before hip hop’s form of aggressive masculinity completely changed the game of love.

 

Anita Baker, “Body and Soul”

 

Stephanie Mills, “I Feel Good All Over”/”Feel the Fire”

 

Sade, “Smooth Operator”

 

Patti LaBelle, “Love, Need and Want You”

 

Toni Braxton, “Love Shoulda Brought You Home”

 

Whitney Houston, “Exhale”

MILFs, Perimenopause, And Silence: Miley’s Ageism And 40-Something Sex

Tami: So, Miley Cyrus thinks people over 40 don’t have sex…from the video, I suspect Miley may simply be taking the piss out of the olds–the ones she imagines have been clutching their pearls over her twerking skillz. I’m not sure she really believes what she’s saying. Whatever Miss Miley believes, the notion that sexuality ends at 40 is prevalent in our society and I knew we had to tackle it.

And before we get started, we should acknowledge that we are approaching this issue from the perspective of cisgender, straight women. I would like to hear more views in the comments and on Facebook.

Andrea: ::files nails:: I think because I’ve had a variation of such ageist dismissiveness directed at me from someone about her age–a young gay Black man–I wouldn’t be surprised if she meant every word of it, as pissy as it is. My point is that this kind of thinking isn’t confined to 20-something white women who are former Disney stars.

Hey, Deanna Zandt! Welcome to our freewheeling SBF chat! You know the topic. Go for it.

Deanna: Whee! Thanks for having me.

Tami: Andrea, when we spoke on Facebook, you mentioned the idea of “parent revulsion”–that’s it’s hard for young people to think of people their parents’ age as being sexual. I agree. Miley Cyrus is 20 years old. Often, at that age, quite a few people still haven’t begun seeing their parents, or people like them, as fully actualized human beings. Part of that evolution comes with getting into the workplace and spending days alongside people of various ages. But Cyrus’ “workplace” is awfully youth-oriented.

Andrea: But I think that her workplace is a distillation of this society’s fantasies and sometimes attendant morality plays.

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The Squeezed Between Feminisms Dialogue: How We Got Here, Where We’re Going, And Benedict Cumberbatch

The following conversation appears this week on The Feminist Wire. Here, Andrea and I discuss why we launched this website.

women of color drawing

Tami: You had to work Benedict Cumberbatch in here, didn’t you? I’m beginning to think you’re secretly a bigger fan than I am! I’m no stranger to Andrea shenanigans. We’ve known each other, what, five or six years?

Andrea: Sis, I know Cumberbatch is your catnip, so I knew I could get you here.

As far as knowing each other, I think so. I remember so loving your old blog, What Tami Said, where I committed a few shenanigans in the comments section. But I think that where we realized that we were both born and reared in the Midwest, that we looooved Duran Duran, and that we watched Hee Haw (word to Porter Wagoner, Minnie Pearl, and Dolly Parton).

Tami: And, of course, like all good things, Carmen (Van Kerckhove) Sognonvi is behind our really cyber-meeting. We were both contributors and, eventually, editors at Racialicious. I’m still there, of course, working with Latoya Peterson. I was a huge fan of your work as a Sexual Correspondent there. And we both spent some time writing for Change.org’s short-lived site focused on race.

Andrea: And as quiet as it’s kept, you and I didn’t meet in person until this past Spring. Yes, shenanigans ensued.

We actually thought about starting a blog together about a year ago, but I guess we weren’t at the point where we were ready to do it.

Tami: Two weeks ago, we did it. We launched Squeezed Between Feminisms (SBF). What motivated us is that we both realized our relationship with online feminism is changing as we grow older. You did some research, and it hit us that we probably weren’t alone. A lot of Gen X women are online, which makes sense as the web was emerging as a communications tool as we were coming of age. Still, we both agree that the presence of women our age is not reflected in the content of most popular feminist websites.

Can you explain how you feel online feminism meets or doesn’t meet your needs a black, 40-something woman?

Feminists of a Certain Age

Andrea: I feel like what I’ve seen online really speaks to the concerns and interests of 20-something and 30-something feminists. This makes demographic sense, as stats can support.

But feminism is older than that; at 44, I’m older than that. I remember when, say, bell hooks’ book, Ain’t I A Woman, arrived on the feminist scene. I remember when Making Face, Making Soul first came to my women’s studies classes. I remember the National Women’s Studies Association fallout. But I also remember the seismic shift from Second Wave to Third Wave feminism, not as contested canon, but as a lived contested event. As much as I love talking with and learning from my younger feminist homies, I also wanted a space where I could talk all of those things as lived experience, not just as something learned in college. I wanted a place to talk about the “Porn Wars” and its effect and how the Riot Grrls weren’t the only way to be a feminists–in fact, the Riot Grrls weren’t relevant to me. Lisa Jones was.

Tami: I agree, Andrea. As Gen Xers–and Gen Xers of color–we bring a different context to feminism, but because we are outnumbered, that contribution is often erased.

I have learned a lot from online feminism, but lately I have felt squeezed out of the conversation. Society has long rendered women over 40 invisible. Feminism shouldn’t do that. But I find that spaces like The Feminist Wire, which digs into race and gender and sexuality and class through a feminist lens and speaks across generations, are rare indeed. Jane Pratt is 50, but even her XOJane preferences the voices of 20-somethings. If Lena Dunham and Zooey Deschanel are the pop culture centers of online feminist conversation, then I think a whole lot of people, including me, aren’t getting their needs addressed.

For instance, I want to talk about reproductive health care and that includes birth control and abortion, but I also want to talk about perimenopause and sexual health post-35.

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Searching for Cicely: The Blanding of Hollywood Beauty

In the narrative surrounding the Emmys on Sunday, Kerry Washington was cast as a modern-day Diahann Carroll. But all the talk about the history of African American women in television, sparked a question in my mind: Who is the modern equivalent of Cicely Tyson, the dark brown-skinned, naturally coiffed sister who earned nine Primetime Emmy nominations and three wins? Is there room for such a woman–a black woman whose appearance defiantly contradicts the prevailing beauty standard?

My apologies to fans of Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling, but I swear I can’t tell those two actors apart. Andrea can attest that I refer to them as “the random Ryans.” To me, the pair are illustrative of a modern bland and homogenous entertainment beauty aesthetic.

When I was a little girl the 70s, Hollywood favored gritty realism. Studios intentionally cast actors as disparate in their physicality as Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino and Robert Redford; Barbra Streisand and Ali McGraw and Tyson. No one blinked at a show like All in the Family, starring two middle-aged leads, or its spin-off, The Jeffersons, whose female lead, Isabel Sanford, was more than two decades older than her TV partner, Sherman Hemsley.

But the age when actors like Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason could serve as headliners in films seems to be long gone, replaced by a narrower expectation of appearance–all hairless, bronzed and white-toothed. A Tom Cruise versus a Kris Kristofferson. If female, lithe and blonde and young–always the appearance of young, even for women who truly are in middle-age. Can you imagine a modern actress of any age volunteering to play aging and washed-up, as 42-year-old Bette Davis did in All About Eve? And if the way into the Hollywood spotlight has diminished, you can be damned sure that women of color will be left out in the cold.

If hyper-mainstream prettiness is paramount when casting, then where does that leave Black, Latina, Asian and Native women, who still struggle to recognized as attractive within the confines of the eurocentric beauty standards? Kerry Washington is beautiful and talented, but what of beautiful and talented black and brown women whose appearances don’t fit so neatly into the ideal–who aren’t young and petite and honey brown with long, silky hair. Would America still be shipping “Olitz” if Washington possessed a different look? If she were browner or nappier or closer in age to Tony Goldwyn, who is 53? (Some particularly odious Scandal fans and Olitz ‘shippers already shade Goldwyn’s real-life wife, Jane Musky, an accomplished production designer and art director, for looking her nearly 60 years. The logic goes that such a handsome man could never be truly in love with an older woman–even one who has stood by his side for 26 years. He must certainly be nursing a “thing” for the younger, more conventionally pretty, Kerry Washington.)

Viola Davis said last year: “I’m a 46-year-old black woman who really doesn’t look like Halle Berry, and Halle Berry is having a hard time.” When I look at the actresses who are cast and feted as up-and-comers, I don’t see many Marsha Masons, but I see even fewer Violas or Cicely Tysons or Esther Rolles or Isabel Sanfords.

The same can be said, incidentally, of a different sort of artistry–fashion. Forty years after American models of color turned out Paris, as part of a 1973  benefit to restore Versailles, one of those models, Bethann Hardison, has to lead a charge against designers who only want their supermodels super white.

Had Kerry Washington snagged an Emmy on Sunday night, she would have been the first African American woman to take home an award for lead actress in a drama–and for a role that positions her as one-half of an interracial couple, including the POTUS, no less. I suppose this is progress. But I can’t help thinking that in 2013, despite gains, Hollywood is an even more hostile place for women of tremendous talent, who would have once been celebrated.