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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Did Susan B. Anthony Have a Chip on Her Shoulder? Ask the Susan B. Anthony List

The Susan B. Anthony List is a US organization whose professed goal is to increase the ranks of prolife women politicians. It links itself to the prolife stance of early feminists, including its namesake, Susan B. Anthony.

However..among other problems...the organization's blog, suzyb.org, does not appear to be a place where cries for justice for anyone but the unborn and their conservative white female defenders are well-received. Indeed, on at least three different recent occasions, such expressions of valid anger were dismissed as gratuitous, ridiculous, mere products of a "chip on the shoulder."

--The blog effuses uncritically over Sarah Palin's profession of advocacy for the disabled. But when I questioned what that meant for the lives of disabled Americans generally, and pointed out that the ideology of "government waste" often amounted to treating us as disposable humans (hint, hint, like the unborn), I was told by a commenter, "Gee, Marysia, I think you need to knock that chip off your shoulder".

--The blog mocks National Organization for Women members for being "angry" and "spiteful" feminists and wearing it on their t shirts...no mention of what might be behind that purportedly gratuitous rage. You know, stuff like, oh, violence against women, and unequal pay for equal work.

--The blog exults in Michelle Obama's recent lack of public visibility in her husband's campaign. A commenter says outright what the post does not in so many words: "Voters have recognized that she is a woman with a 'black' chip on her shoulder, and her harshness was not going over well. I think they're hiding her!" Was this commenter perhaps the same Anonymous who told me to get the chip off my shoulder? Whether it was the same person or not...same diminishing and silencing technique applied to "troublemakers."

But such dismissive stereotyping of people who challenge the powers that be is nothing new. Indeed, it can be found in the very same herstory that the Susan B. Anthony List lays claim to in its very own choice of name.

As Lynn Sherr documents in her wonderfully eye-opening Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words, Susan B. Anthony was routinely dismissed as a "vinegar-visaged virago," "stiff," "cold," "aggressive," "constantly howling," "laboring under strong feelings of hatred towards men.” Yet, as Sherr points out abundantly, Anthony was actually "selfless, diplomatic, elegant, charming, generous, friendly, determined, polite, curious, open, amusing, self-possessed, and, once again, selfless."

I don't know if Anthony's era actually talked in so many words of chips on shoulder, but it's clear that they had the concept, and deployed it for the same minimizing purposes. The book behind Nonviolent Choice, ProLife Feminism Yesterday and Today, Second Expanded Edition, substantially documents the awfully familiar-sounding stereotypes levelled against early feminists in general...as well as Anthony's own stance against abortion.

I would like to ask the SBA List and its supporters: did Anthony and her peers have chips on their shoulders?


hrsgurl said...

I believe Susan B. Anthony did have a "chip on her shoulder" so to speak. It was her determination to get women the right to vote!

A few problems with your post. I hate to see the slaughter of innocent unborn babies whether they be black, white, Chinese or African. You accuse the commenters on the blog ( I am not Anonymous) of being racists ("conservative white females"). I think that is an unfair assessment of our intentions.

Michelle Obama has the biggest chip on her shoulder. Her statement about "being proud of her country for the first time" because her husband was well on the way to being the Democratic nominee... please! If I were the campaign I would keep her in a closet too.

Furthermore, when you post on a public blog especially one as widely read as the suzyb you are apt to get criticism as I am expecting so here. Don't take it personally. Different points of view should always be welcome but not everyone sees it that way.

Marysia said...


I don't believe in censorship. And believe me, I get criticism all the time. From all manner of folks. Don't believe for a minute that I am not a tough specimen. I have been out here in public with difficult issues for decades. just look through this blog at the discussions and debates.

However, when someone says I have a chip on my shoulder for standing up for disabled people like myself and my grandson, as I did on the suzyb blog, that's not just an expression of disagreement.

That's a personal attack. it's not a response like, "I disagree with your beliefs about government," but more like "Sheesh, what are *you* whining about?"

And a response belonging to a species well-documented for its use in silencing and dismissing people from marginalized groups that the status quo doesn't want rocking it. And so I name it as such.

While the SBA List may not express racism and in some senses be for equality...on the other hand, it has the very strong look and sound and feel of a space that is not inviting to people of color.

That may not be the intention. But a lot of racial/ethnic bias or exclusion is not about the conscious, intentional malice of individuals.

It is institutionalized and unconscious or half-conscious. Part of the problem is that it cannot see itself for what it is, that it can lodge firmly in the hearts of otherwise well-intended folk.

I speak as a white individual who has spent a lifetime trying to recognize and unlearn the unconscious racist attitudes I harbor, same attitudes that most people in this culture get steeped in.

now, it's not any one person's fault that he or she harbors unconscious racist ideas. Guilt tripping and personally attacking someone for simply harboring these ideas is not productive or humane.

but...he or she *is* responsible for where to go next after these ideas are challenged into consciousness...whether to defensively cling to the bias or let go of it and move onto something better and more humane.

And it is in this spirit--not as a personal attack--that I invite you to consider the following.

I want to make sure that you and likeminded folks are, in the fullest and deepest senses you can become, allies not simply in affirming the right of kids of color like my grandson to escape abortion...but in creating a world that is fit for him and all children. not irrespective of race, but *including* rather than obliterating differences.

it is up to you whether and what any of the following applies to you. I am simply inviting you to think about it.

I myself do not originate from the same place Michelle Obama did, and I cannot speak for her, but I live in close enough proximity to notice some things.

Namely, i suspect that the country in which she grew up may be far more difficult and oppressive and crying out for justice than the country you know (whatever that is).

Not all americans are born into the same country. and when black folks criticize the america they know...it is in a spirit of wanting to correct injustice. it is not hatred or anti-patriotism.

it can sound very shocking and bewildering to white people who do not hear and listen to such words every day, but it is not what it sounds like to those unaccustomed ears.

i hear this sort of loving, angry criticism of america from black people who love their country enough to do/have done things like fight for their educational and work opportunities, register voters, challenge gang violence, treat substance abusers, mentor young black men, minister to pregnant teens, fight for the rights of people on medicaid, feed the homeless...and countless other acts of love for country and the public good.

also, there is a long history of attitudes to the effect that black women--even more so than white women-- are not behaving "appropriately" unless they are meek, silent, all-sacrificing. i think at some level michelle obama ruffles some white feathers because black women are not "supposed" to be outspoken and outraged.

And..she is poised, elegant, accomplished. Some white people feel, whether in the front or the backs of their heads, that this isn't "appropriate" for a black woman either. There is still a lot of resentment around towards 'successful" black people.

Could it be that Michelle Obama has just as much right to her purported "chip" as Susan B. did to hers!

If you and anyone else at the SBA List are interested in looking further at these issues, I would highly recommend:

--Checklist for White Allies Against Racism

--White Anti-Racism from the Teaching Tolerance Project.

--Common Stereotypes of African American Women

--anything black women bloggers have written about Michelle Obama!