Monday, June 8, 2009

Are we glass half-full progressives or half-empty progressives?

A few weeks back, I had a conversation with one of my roommates that's stuck with me ever since. It was a beautiful day, he came home on his lunch break and we shared lunch in the sunlight on our front porch. Sooner or later (as it usually does), the conversation came around to feminism and women's rights.

"Isn't it so amazing how many advancements women have made?" He asked. "There's been a lot of progress regarding women's rights, but we still have a long way to go," I replied.

"Think about the past 100 years... I mean, 100 years ago, I could pretty much buy you to be my wife if I wanted."

"And that still happens in some places, internationally and in this country. I'm sure some men still consider women as property when proposing marriage, not to mention the way some people view women's bodies as commodities," I rebutted.

"Well, what about the percentage of women CEOs and in executive positions? That's increased dramatically in the past 15 years alone," he shot back.

"That's all fine and dandy, but it does a fat lot of good when white women make 77 cents, black women 63 cents and Latina women 52 cents to every white man's dollar, and the national courts didn't find it constitutional to rule against pay discrimination. It took an act of Congress to make pay discrimination easier to report, and even then it was a contested bill. How is that progress when we can't even get people to agree that women should be paid the same as men?"

"How about Hillary Clinton? She made a legitimate run for president. There's progress."

"But she DIDN'T WIN. And the media passed sexist remarks, articles and opinions as news on a daily basis."

We continued the conversation until he had to go back to work, but I thought about our conversation long after it ended.

In general, his tone was pretty optimistic - he thought American society had made a lot of advancements in regards to women's rights, especially if you consider it on a lengthy time line. Me, on the other hand, kept pushing back on his rosy outlook of women in society. It's caused me to wonder if I'm just pessimisitic on the feminist front, if I can't see the forest for the trees. I remember building or completing something when I was younger and proudly showing it to my dad, whose first comment was always something that needed to be fixed.

Maybe it's because I read so much on feminist blogs and pay attention to women writing about their lives that I know things aren't pie and ice cream all the time. Compared to my friend, who while he's knowledgeable and reads pretty much every Wikipedia page online, probably isn't as invested in keeping up-to-date on feminist/womanist/heterosexist/anti-racist/progressive news as I am. Do we report more bad news than good? Do progressive bloggers fall into a similiar "if it bleeds, it leads" mindset, posting on how shitty the world is as opposed to the good parts about our lives? Are we so caught up in defending Sotomayor from sexist and racist attacks that we're missing the excitement that she was nominated at all? Or are things really just that bad?

This half full/half empty mindset can be asked of all people with progressive outlooks. Can we truly celebrate President Obama when Oscar Grant lies dead? How do we negotiate our excitement for Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont in the face of Prop 8 and so many Defense of Marriage Acts? How do we hold Jennifer Finney Boylan in one hand and Angie Zapata in the other?

I think as much as people say it can't be done, we have to try to have it both ways. We have to celebrate our victories and joys while mourning our losses, in both people and politics. It's a rearview mirror mentality, in which we keep looking forward to see where we're headed but always one eye looking behind us, to see where we've come and what we've sacrificed along the way.

We have to be proud of what we've done without losing sight of all that we have yet to do.


Anonymous said...

It really doesn't matter if the glass if half-full or half-empty, as long as you are working to fill the glass in the end.

It does mean, however, a long and honest discussion of positions on issues - and by this I mean actual positions taken based on actual votes and quotes outside of the campaign season...when politicians believe the public isn't watching closely.

Example, we won't really have a valid discussion on SC Nominee Sonia Sotomayor's judicial track record for the simple reason that the GOP has already poisoned the discourse and you have a GOP-leaning MSM/SCLM looking for more ways to deliver infotainment without actually informing the viewers at home of the issues that affect the viewers.

Instead, we'll get soundbite journalism - and this contributes to the half-empty/half-full conundrum; there is too much information that has to be hunted down just to make a (hopefully) correct and sound decision.

In other words, the glass is empty.

Anonymous said...

I suspect it's more a matter of realistic appraisal and balancing out the differing sides.

Like, if (as you were) you're faced with someone focussing on the full half of the glass, we as progressives feel obliged to point out the other half. But I think the very same progressive who was pointing out the empty half, when faced with someone who focuses only on that half, will seek to balance it out by pointing to the full part.

I recall from "The West Wing" Toby Ziegler, when described by someone else as a "glass half-empty" person, retorted, "Well, can we at least agree that it isn't full yet!?" If we spend too much time looking at the successes we've had, we can lose sight of the fact that winning battles is good, but we have yet to win the war.