Feminism and Multiculturalism: the "Conflicting Loyalties" Argument
We should note in discussing feminism that feminist writers have been predominantly white
and middle-class. These feminist writers almost invariably are political liberals or radicals,
who argue and vote and act for the interests of oppressed persons generally, both women and men.
That is, white, middle-class feminists, in arguing against political and social oppression
generally, almost invariably support the interests of both non-white women and non-white men,
as well as children and disabled people. They support affirmative action, cultural diversity,
universal medical care, adequate public funding for education and job training, and even welfare.
However, as I mentioned in Section I. 2, non-white or non-Anglo women sometimes say their
unique experience of double or triple oppression on account of sex and race or
ethnicity and class cannot possibly be adequately represented or even understood
by white, middle-class women. They conclude that white middle-class feminists cannot speak
for them. Non-white women often see their primary allegiance to their community their
race or ethnic group. They say that allegiance forces them occasionally to take what appear
to be anti-feminist positions. For example, some black women oppose abortion because
they see that it is most used by black women to abort potential black persons, i.e.,
they see current abortion policy as genocidal. Many black women (a majority, as I recall)
based their support for Clarence Thomas more on the basis of black solidarity than the evidence.
The non-white woman says that the white middle-class feminist does not speak for her because the non-white woman has uniquely "conflicting loyalties", to her race or ethnic group and to her white sisters. The white middle-class feminist is assumed to have no such conflicting loyalties. Perhaps I am missing something, but what follows is a critique and an admittedly unscientific sociological analysis of this argument.
There is a lack of symmetry in the relation between white and non-white women. I would locate it not in race or class, however, since I think oppression of women cuts across race and class boundaries, i.e., I do not think that non-white women are, or have ever been, necessarily more oppressed than poor white women. I would say the never-mentioned asymmetry lies in the fact that white middle-class feminists, as I noted above, almost invariably fight for the interests of both non-white women and non-white men, whereas non-white and non-Anglo women typically do not fight for the legitimate interests of white men.
Who, then, is entitled to have divided loyalties? Obviously or so it seems to me the white middle-class feminist. She is far more likely to feel ambivalent about affirmative action, for example, since her husband or son or brother is most likely to lose out.
Now for the unscientific sociological analysis; I am interested in the social
and ideological fall-out of the non-white womans claim of divided
loyalties the "public relations" effect, if you will.
It seems to me that the "conflicting loyalties" argument, when given
by non-white or non-Anglo women, in fact serves to shore up the most
reactionary female role models, as well as the media stereotype of white middle-class
feminists as "lesbians and man-haters". It seems to me that the non-white,
non-Anglo woman often says she has divided loyalties in order to distance herself from those nasty,
shrill, pathetic, unnatural, frigid, pathologically serious, child-hating, man-hating
middle-class white feminists. (Maria Lugones, for example, prides herself on her
"playfulness". Clarissa Pinkola Estes, the author of Women Who Run
With the Wolves, says, "No Latina woman would be called Ms. thats an
invention of middle-class Anglo women. Latina women are proud to be called Mrs. That
simply means we have a family.") Like anti-feminists of the Phyllis Schlafly and Mirabel
Morgan stripe, the non-white or non-Anglo woman can play the role of the "real woman",
the "natural woman", the "playful woman". She possesses the secret
of joy. Unlike the white man-hating monster feminist, she is sensitive to the feelings of
her man and her community. She respects those ties; she respects her traditions;
she does not want to threaten solidarity or give offense. She works for change from
within the group, not by attacking it from without. All things considered, she feels
more compelled to stand by her men and her traditions, even if they oppress her.
Hence her divided loyalty. (It is hardly necessary to point out that,
while this "natural woman" stereotype might enhance some womens
self-esteem, it is nevertheless just as unfounded as the stereotype of the
warped white feminist.)
As I indicated above, the persona of the non-white woman here has much in common with that of some right-wing white women or feminist nuns within the Catholic church. And I think its clear that most women (even academics) have something to gain by disparaging white middle-class feminists. They flatter their men and their communities. They feel spiritually and morally and psychologically superior to those neurotic white feminists. They stand on the moral high ground; they stand for true femininity, loyalty, community. They preserve what little power they have. They dont rock the boat. But I wonder if these advantages are worth the price, because I can hardly imagine a more traditional and damaging and exploitable view of proper womens role.
I am not saying that non-white women, especially non-white feminists, want or intend to convey these reactionary ideas. I do think, however, that the "conflicting loyalties" argument should be used with care. It cuts both ways, since white feminists have divided loyalties too. Furthermore, it fosters absurd stereotypes that make it harder for any of us to be taken seriously.