In praise of "identity politics"?

The brouhaha over the racially charged attacks on black Republican pol Michael Steele for not being “authentically” black has led John Cole and Jeff Goldstein to criticize “identity politics” (a term, nearly always used as a pejorative, denoting political demands, political committments and political activism based on group identity such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.) In response to John’s comment that “this brand of politics will lead to nothing but rancor and should end now,” Ampersand (Barry) comments at Alas, a Blog:

Yes, because what good has identity politics done so far? I mean, aside from ending Jim Crow, bringing voting rights to minorities and to women, creating a nationwide network of rape crisis and battered women’s resources, removing laws against sodomy, vastly increasing Deaf rights, changing homosexuality from a sickness to an orientation, making much of society more accessible to the disabled, wage equality laws, giving married women the right to own property, and a thousand other changes that have helped the disabled, the non-white, the queer and the female, when has identity politics ever done anyone any good?

John’s right – putting every social improvement this country has made in the last century aside, identity politics leads to nothing but rancor.

I think Barry rather oddly and sweepingly conflates social and political equality movements with “identity politics.” The leaders of the civil rights movement did not say, “We should be allowed access to public facilities, the voting booth, jobs, and housing because we’re black”; they said, “We should be allowed equal access to public facilities, the voting booth, jobs, and housing because we’re human beings and American citizens.” The feminists who won equal property and employment rights for women did not ask for special gender-based privileges; rather, they challenged gender-based restrictions on their rights. The same goes for gays who challenged anti-gay bigotry and discriminatory laws. A demand for simple equality is the opposite of identity politics.

Identity politics, on the other hand, has given us far more questionable phenomena. In the area of race, it has given us things like demands for an “Afrocentric curriculum,” the resegregation of blacks on college campuses via black dorms and minorities-only freshman orientation sessions, the lionization of a wife-beater and murderer as an African-American hero and an alleged victim of white persecution, and sundry other things including Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton. In the area of gender, it has given us “scholarship” that repackages old sexist stereotypes (e.g., women are less logical than men) into “women’s ways of knowing” and activism that demands female privilege rather than equality in such areas as child custody. (For an excellent account of the destructive influence of identity politics on women’s studies, read Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women’s Studies by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge.)

Since Barry specifically mentions battered women’s resources, I will add that while feminists have certainly done a lot of good in bringing public attention to domestic violence, identity politics, in my view, has been the fatal flaw of the battered women’s movement. Because of identity politics, many domestic violence activists have downplayed the plight of battered gays and lesbians (which doesn’t fit into the feminist paradigm of oppressed women abused by patriarchal males) and have reacted with active hostility to any attempts to bring up the issue of female violence toward men, or to recognize the role of mutual violence in domestic abuse situations.

Since Barry also mention “Deaf rights,” let’s not forget the militant “Deaf Pride” movement which opposes efforts to find a cure for deafness as well as existing remedies such as cochlear implants, on the grounds that deafness is not a disability but a “different” cultural identity to be respected and cherished. (My 2002 column on the subject can be found here.) There are deaf parents who, in the name of such cultural “pride,” have denied their congenitally deaf children implants that would enable them to hear. It’s hard to think of a more grotesque excrescence of identity politics than that.

Also, let’s not forget what brand of “identity politics” Jeff Goldstein and John Cole were discussing: the use of racist slurs by blacks against other blacks whose political views don’t conform to presumed group ideology. What good, exactly, has this kind of identity politics ever done?

Update: Excellent post on the subject at Heretical Ideas, differentiating between “identity politics” and “equality politics.”

27 Comments

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27 responses to “In praise of "identity politics"?

  1. Jack Roy

    All due respect, but I don’t think you’ve actually identified a qualitative difference between your so-called “equality movements” and mere “identity politics.” Just describing some social reforms as “special” rights or privileges is conclusory; there’s no analytical distinction that doesn’t disappear depending on where you put the baseline.

    An example: Probably the greatest example in American history of affirmative protection of a political minority’s rights, by affirmative acts (sorry) that explicitly singled out a class of persons for rights not to be extended to all other citizens generally, was Reconstruction. The second greatest was probably the Voting Rights Act (states with a history of discrimination were watched very carefully, and watched esp. with respect to black voters).

    The reason for this is that it was pretty obvious that Southern whites during Reconstruction needed an eye kept on them and, for a time, the direct supervision of federal troops. And there was never any mystery about why; the Radical Republicans took Southern blacks’ status explicitly into account when crafting their remedies, because that’s where the need was.

    Now I don’t suppose you’d throw in Reconstruction with the Farrakhans of the world. So I think your case doesn’t quite hold up; the definition of “identity politics” either is going to include what you don’t mean to include, or else it’s going to rely on revisionist history that doesn’t accurately reflect what actually went on. So I think the definition needs to be reformulated.

    Because I don’t think you intended to say something so slight as “social reforms I like are ‘equality movements,’ and those I don’t like are ‘identity politics.’” I don’t doubt that a real distinction can be found—well, let me remain agnostic on that point—but I don’t think you’ve located it.

  2. Richard Bennett

    All due respect, but I don’t think you’ve actually identified a qualitative difference between your so-called “equality movements” and mere “identity politics.”

    The Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and 70s sought integration, but the racial identity movements of today seek segregation.

    That’s a difference of kind, not of degree.

  3. ampersand

    You wrote: A demand for simple equality is the opposite of identity politics.

    I think that conservatives are using some very strange definition of identity politics that wouldn’t be very recognizable to any lefty who actually practices identity politics – in other words, what you describe is more identity politics as conservatives caricature it, then it is identity politics as anyone practices it. I think Wikipedia’s definition makes more sense:

    Identity politics is the political activity of various social movements which represent and seek to advance the interests of particular groups in society, the members of which often share and unite around common experiences of actual or perceived social injustice. Such groups argue that they are in some way socially or politically disenfranchised, marginalized or disadvantaged relative to the wider society of which they form part. These movements seek to achieve better social and political outcomes for the members of such groups. In this way, the identity of the oppressed group gives rise to a political basis around which they then unite.

    By this definition, I think I was quite correct in including civil rights and feminist movements as identity politics movements.

    You’re right that there are specific aspects of all these movements that can be criticized; I posted a link on my blog agreeing with your comments criticizing feminists who supported the “satanic panic” scare, for instance.

    However, I never said “identity politics movements never do anything wrong,” so I don’t think you’ve said anything here that contradicts my position.

    I was saying that the statement “this brand of politics will lead to nothing but rancor…” was mistaken, and I think my examples more than support that point, and your counterexamples don’t really contradict it.

    You also suggest that perhaps the person I was criticizing was talking about just a certain kind of identity politics (is this another made-up conservative division, like “equity feminism” versus “gender feminism”?), and not identity politics in general. If so he should have said so explicitly; the distinction you refer to was simply not made by him in his post.

  4. Revenant

    I don’t think you’ve actually identified a qualitative difference between your so-called “equality movements” and mere “identity politics.”

    The difference is that between “all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are” and “some people should be treated better, because of who they are”. The former belief was the primary motivating force behind the various equality movements; the latter is the primary motivating force behind the people and groups Cathy identifies as representing “identity politics”.

    I’m not sure what rights you think blacks were given during Reconstruction, and by the Voting Rights Act, that other people weren’t. What groups are you claiming the Voting Rights Act didn’t cover?

  5. Revenant

    I think that conservatives are using some very strange definition of identity politics that wouldn’t be very recognizable to any lefty who actually practices identity politics

    Which groups that practice identity politics *today* are conservatives unfairly describing with “their” definition? You cite lots of alleged examples of good identity politics, but they’re all a generation old or more.

    It seems to me that when every group practicing identity politics today is guilty of the behavior conservatives associate with “identity politics”, it is not unreasonable to include that behavior in the definition.

  6. Anonymous

    It is the difference between who you are and what you are.

    By lumping yourself in with a group of superficially similar others, you are essentially stereotyping yourself. It is alot harder to be bigoted and discriminate against individuals than a stereotypical group.

    B Moe

  7. Ampersand

    Revenant, paraphrasing what contemporary I.P. groups allegedly say, wrote: “some people should be treated better, because of who they are”.

    Revenant, who says that? Please back it up with a specific, documented quote.

    Gay rights groups, pushing for marriage rights, are asking to be treated like straights – not better than straights. But they’re often accused of practicing identity politics.

    I suppose you could claim that affirmative action is treating some groups better than others – but that’s not how supporters of AA see it. Support for AA is premised on the idea that AA is reducing unfair white advantage, thus bringing us closer to genuinely equal treatment. And anyway, AA-like programs have been supported by civil rights groups for decades, so you can hardly claim that’s a new thing and different from what folks like MLK were asking for.

  8. Anonymous

    B Moe,

    I really wish it were that simple. Unfortunately, often times it is other people doing the grouping and the stereotyping, whether you want them to or not.

    For example, in the late 90′s I had a job where I would have been fired if I was honest with many of my fellow employees about the fact that I was romantically involved with a woman(as a woman). This had happened to someone else two years before. It didn’t matter how I labeled myself. How they labeled me made all the difference in my continued employment.

    Z

  9. Richard Bennett

    some people should be treated better, because of who they are”

    Reparations for slavery and affirmative action are two examples of preferential treatment based on identity.

    You can argue, Amp, that these preferences are justified in some way, but that doesn’t alter the fact that they are indeed preferences.

  10. Anonymous

    Z said:

    “I really wish it were that simple. Unfortunately, often times it is other people doing the grouping and the stereotyping, whether you want them to or not.”

    I realize this, and I condemn such behaviour. And grouping with similar people to advise and support is probably worthwhile. My point is there comes a point where you can lose your individual identity to the group and only add to the problem and hold yourself back.

    It is probably more obvious to me because as a white rural appalachian male, I was in a group that was discriminated against somewhat when I entered the “real world”, but didn’t get much sympathy because of it, lol. You had the choice of either accepting the redneck group identity, revelling in your ignorance and blaming others for your stagnation; or you could learn to speak properly, educate yourself and find your niche in the world. Before I get nuked here, I realize it is MUCH harder for other minorities, but the lesson I think is still valid.

    B Moe

  11. Anonymous

    B Moe,

    As a Southern white female in the mid-west, you would have had my sympathy. :)

    I see your point and I know that sometimes does happen to people. For some people, it is just a phase. Others seem to be blind to any progress. Maybe their anger gives them a sense of purpose. Maybe their own experiences were so bad, they can’t move on. I don’t know.

    Granted, there still is racism, sexism, and homophobia. I certainly have seen numerous examples of this in my lifetime (and I’m not that old). But sometimes I just want to tell people to calm down! It is getting better!

  12. Revenant

    Revenant, who says that?

    The most obvious examples would be people who, for example, support race-based affirmative action programs, or who demand “women’s resource centers” on college campuses but abhor the establishment of ones for men.

    Please back it up with a specific, documented quote.

    If I do, will you concede you’re wrong? If not, I see little reason to bother. In any case, quotes in support of the policies I mentioned above are easy to find.

    Gay rights groups, pushing for marriage rights, are asking to be treated like straights – not better than straights. But they’re often accused of practicing identity politics.

    I’ve never heard gay support for gay rights cited as an example of identity politics. Conservatives typically apply the term to gay activists of the “if you’re gay and not a leftist, you’re a traitor” variety — i.e., most gay rights activists.

    But in any case, gay marriage isn’t about equal treatment, it’s about superior treatment — married people are given more rights than other people are, and married gays want in on that. As a single person, I can’t get enthusiastic about it; it is an argument over whether married gays will be treated the same as me, or better than me. The egalitarian solution would be to stop giving special government benefits to married people at all.

    I suppose you could claim that affirmative action is treating some groups better than others – but that’s not how supporters of AA see it

    You favor treating some people better than others based on nothing other than their skin color. You don’t “see it” that way, fine, but to me that only illustrates people’s capacity for denial.

    And anyway, AA-like programs have been supported by civil rights groups for decades, so you can hardly claim that’s a new thing and different from what folks like MLK were asking for.

    Martin Luther King held contradictory beliefs about how people should be treated. But he’s remembered as a hero today because he said that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. If he’d gotten up at the podium and said “I have a dream, a dream that one day dumber black kids will be admitted to colleges while smarter white kids are turned away”, there wouldn’t be streets named after him today. We remember him because of the egalitarian beliefs he promoted, not because of his support for institutionalized racism. The things that were good about the civil rights movement no longer exist today, for the simple reason that they’re no longer needed; the dream of equal opportunity was realized long ago.

  13. Anonymous

    Revenant said ‘the dream of equal opportunity was realized long ago.’

    Things are a lot better, but that is really overstating it. I have personally witnessed discrimination against black people based on NOTHING BUT the color of their skin, within the last 10 years. Now mind you, I’m white. So I don’t have that much opportunity to see it. And, in case your wondering, I live in the mid-west, not the south.

    In the first instance, I overheard an employee tell a manger after he interviewed me, “Hire her. At least she’s white.”

    In the second instance, I was inquiring about some property over the phone. The woman on the other end of the line asked me if I was white, and then said, “Good. We don’t want black people in this neighborhood.” Of course I know of a lot more than this, but those instances are second-hand.

    Revenant, I think you need to examine your own denial. Things are a lot better, yes, but not equal.

    All of us, with a libertarian bent, really want to believe we live in a meritocracy. For the most part we do, but it certainly is a flawed one. The older I get, the more I see that it isn’t always how smart you are and what you know, but WHO you know that grants you opportunity. I have benefited from that. So have friends and family members of mine. But at the same time, I recognize that the poor, particularly the poor and black, are at an automatic disadvantage in the who-you-know category. I am not sure that affirmative action is the best way to address the issue, but I think it is silly to just assume there isn’t a problem and walk away from trying to solve it.

    Z

  14. Cathy Young

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. I’ll have to be brief (deadline beckons).

    The Reconstruction, as far as I know, was aimed at ensuring that blacks had the same rights as other citizens, and was aimed to remedy and prevent very specific oppressive and discriminatory policies.

    As for the Voting Rights Act: I do think that in some aspects, it crosses over into identity politics (the carving out of districtly specially designed to allow black voters to elect black candidates). I think it leads to all sorts of problematic effects, including racial polarization and the radicalization of black politics.

    Barry: I have to say that until I read the Wikipedia article, I had never seen the term “identity politics” used in a positive sense.

    To me, applying the term to movements that seek an end to the unequal treatment of particular groups makes no sense.

    I don’t agree that the “gender feminism/equity feminism” distinction is “made up,” though I do agree that sometimes conservatives and men’s rights advocates use the term “gender feminist” simply to mean “a feminist I don’t like.”

    However, I think there’s a real distinction. In 1994, I appeared on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Barbara Ehrenreich to debate feminism, and at one point Terry Gross asked each of us to define what feminism is. I said something like “the belief that people should be treated as individuals, regardless of gender.” Ehrenreich said, “Solidarity with women.” I think that’s a real disctinction.

    Of course you can argue that as long as a group is subjected to unequal treatment, solidarity (against injustice) is an appropriate response. But it seems to me that to emphasize solidarity, rather than equity, is a dangerous track to take — since it can easily lead to (a) pressure for groupthink and (b) demands for solidarity even when the group’s demands are no longer for equity, but for unfair advantage.

    Another defining feature of identity politics is the notion that only members of a group are properly qualified to speak on matters pertaining to that group. (In fact, I think that’s exactly what John Cole was addressing in his post, wasn’t he?) Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t see that mindset in the civil rights movement, or in the movement for women’s equality.

    By the way, you ask for instances in which “identity politics” has taken the form of demanding better treatment for some groups than others. I think domestic violence is a pretty good example. The same feminist groups that demanded mandatory arrest for domestic assault quickly changed their tune when mandatory arrest laws resulted in a dramatic spike in arrests of women, and began to demand policies specifically aimed at reducing the arrests of women. Child custody is another example.

    Finally, like revenant, I have never seen the movement for same-sex marriage characterized as “identity politics.” In fact, the leading advocates for gay marriage — Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch come to mind — have been in the forefront of criticizing gay “identity politics.” As I recall, until recently it was a fairly common position among gay activists that gays should not try to tailor their lives to heterosexual norms of pair-bonding and monogamy, and that freewheeling sexual self-expression should be celebrated as a key element of gay identity. That’s an attitude I would describe as “identity politics.”

  15. Revenant

    Things are a lot better, but that is really overstating it. I have personally witnessed discrimination against black people based on NOTHING BUT the color of their skin, within the last 10 years.

    I didn’t say racism had been eliminated. I said that equal opportunity had been achieved. By that I meant that there are no longer any legal barriers to achievement based on race, gender, etc. Institutionalized racism now exists only in its anti-white, anti-Asian form.

    Individuals still discriminate, but it is their right to do so; a person who refuses to sell to blacks makes less money, and a business which refuses to hire blacks loses competent employees (and, if the policy is discovered, customes).

    You are correct, though, that I believe that American society is largely meritocratic. But in any case you don’t move towards a more perfect meritocracy by treating inferior people better than superior people because the inferior person’s skin is the right color or the superior person’s skin is the wrong color. That sort of racist nonsense is what made our society unequal in the first place. You’ll never eliminate racism by making innocent people victims of racism; you’ll never encourage a formerly oppressed minority to pull itself up to equal status if you rig the laws so that they don’t have to.

  16. Ampersand

    Barry: I have to say that until I read the Wikipedia article, I had never seen the term “identity politics” used in a positive sense.

    My guess is that’s because your primary experience with left-wing ideas is as a critic, rather than working with actual leftists trying to make political change.

    Leftists are not evil, nor are we stupid; we don’t wake up every morning going “how can I help give black people and women greater rights today, without any regard to equality and fairness?” But that seems to be how many right wingers think we think. (I don’t deny that similar distortions happen in reverse).

    To me, applying the term to movements that seek an end to the unequal treatment of particular groups makes no sense.

    I agree that it makes no sense, given the right-wing definition(s) of the term. But I don’t think your definition has much to do with real life.

    I’ve actually worked with people active in gay politics, trans politics, feminist politics, and racial politics, both in college and in post-college activism and friendships. I’ve never seen anything in my life experience with lefties to convince me that there’s some massive movement of these folks to say “we should have special rights compared to folks who aren’t us; we should get into college or jobs merely because of who we are” and the like.

    As for gender feminism, it’s interesting that your definition of gender feminism here – someone who emphasizes “solidarity with women” – isn’t how Christina Hoff Sommers defined it when she coined the term: “The gender feminists (as I shall call them) believe that all our institutions, from the state to the family to the grade schools, perpetuate male dominance. …They must convince us that the oppression of women, sustained from generation to generation, is a structural feature of our society.”

    For you, it’s about solidarity with women; for CHS, it was about believing in structural sexism. In my observation, it’s a term that conservatives use to criticize the feminist target of the moment, whatever that may be.

    By the way, you ask for instances in which “identity politics” has taken the form of demanding better treatment for some groups than others. I think domestic violence is a pretty good example. The same feminist groups that demanded mandatory arrest for domestic assault quickly changed their tune when mandatory arrest laws resulted in a dramatic spike in arrests of women, and began to demand policies specifically aimed at reducing the arrests of women. Child custody is another example.

    You’re confusing double-standards with flexibilty of tactics. Feminists believe (correctly, imo) that in cases of severe intimate violence, the abusers are largely men and the victims largely women. Over the years, different tactics have been tried to help victims. Mandatory arrest was a tactic that looked good in theory, but in practice led to battered women being arrested. So the tactic was dropped by many.

    If a politician seeking to raise revenue at first favors a tax on mansions, but then changes her mind when it turns out a mansion tax actually loses revenue, that doesn’t mean she has double-standards. It means that she has a consistent belief (revenue should be raised) but is willing to alter tactics depending on what works.

    As for child custody, most feminists I know who have given much thought to the issue favor the primary caretaker standard, a standard that rewards actually taking care of the children, regardless of sex. Anti-feminists tend to say that fathers should always get 50% of custody, regardless of whether or not the father has spent any significant time having actual contact with his children. To me, that sounds like feminists favor equal standards, and anti-feminists favor special treatment for fathers.

    As I recall, until recently it was a fairly common position among gay activists that gays should not try to tailor their lives to heterosexual norms of pair-bonding and monogamy, and that freewheeling sexual self-expression should be celebrated as a key element of gay identity. That’s an attitude I would describe as “identity politics.”

    That has nothing to do with saying that straights aren’t allowed to have opinions on gay rights issues; or with saying that gays should automatically be given jobs or college entrances because they’re gay; or anything else that has previously been identified as having to do with “identity politics.”

    With all due respect, this supports my impression that “identity politics,” to conservatives, is a fluid term which means whatever they need it to mean at the moment. Frankly, I think the Wikipedia definition is better; it’s more consistant, and it would be recognizable to the people who actually practice identity politics.

  17. Revenant

    Mandatory arrest was a tactic that looked good in theory, but in practice led to battered women being arrested

    For attacking their battered husbands.

    The problem, then as now, is that the major players in the feminist movement based their ideology on a “men vs women” mindset in which men were always and in all cases the aggressors, attackers, or transgessors and women always the victims. Concern over battered women grew out of this. The fact that many domestic violence cases consist of mutually violent couples or violent women and victimized men did not it in with the “men evil, women wronged” worldview.

    Anti-feminists tend to say that fathers should always get 50% of custody, regardless of whether or not the father has spent any significant time having actual contact with his children.

    Who are these alleged “anti-feminists” who favor awarding custody without regard to whether one parent or the other has neglected the kids? Oh, I’m sure they exist, but so do feminists who favor eliminating the male gender entirely. That wouldn’t make it honest for me to say “feminists tend to favor the complete elimination of men”.

  18. Ampersand

    Revenant, father’s rights activists frequently cite the percentage of women who get custody after divorce as evidence of unfair treatment of fathers – as if that fact alone, without any reference to who actually took care of the kids pre-divorce, is enough to establish injustice. See this page and this page, for example.

  19. Cathy Young

    Barry, interesting points — will reply later today.

  20. Revenant

    Revenant, father’s rights activists frequently cite the percentage of women who get custody after divorce as evidence of unfair treatment of fathers – as if that fact alone, without any reference to who actually took care of the kids pre-divorce, is enough to establish injustice.

    You’re moving the goalposts. First of all, “father’s rights activists” and “anti-feminists” are not identical sets, nor is one a subset of the other. Secondly, the belief that the huge disparity between male and female custody indicates discrimination is not equivalent to the belief that absentee fathers should get custody half the time.

  21. Ampersand

    First of all, “father’s rights activists” and “anti-feminists” are not identical sets, nor is one a subset of the other.

    You’re right; point well taken. I should have said “father’s rights activists” in the first place.

    Although they’re not identical sets, in my experience there is an enormous crossover between MRAs and FRAs. YMMV.

    Secondly, the belief that the huge disparity between male and female custody indicates discrimination is not equivalent to the belief that absentee fathers should get custody half the time.

    Again, point well taken. However, the huge disparity between male and female custody almost certainly, in my opinion, reflects the huge disparity between who does most of the childrearing work pre-divorce. (Plus, the disparity becomes less huge when only contested custody cases are considered).

    Personally, I do want to see child custody move a lot closer to 50/50. But I think the place we should make the change is in how tasks are split up before the divorce, rather than just paying attention to what happens post-divorce.

  22. Ampersand

    Oh, and regarding if SSM is an “identity politics” issue, I certainly think it is (in the Wikipedia sense).

    Furthermore, I’ve heard opponents of same-sex marriage refer to it as an identity politics issue, using the right-wing sense you prefer. See, for example, this anti-SSM essay (“What gay people are asking for is not equality or freedom, but rather a big public ceremony that endorses their deviant activities. Gay people are saying “we are victims, we are a minority, therefore we deserve special privileges.” It’s just typical liberal politics at its worst”). And this one, as well (“We refer not to nationalism, which is about society as a whole, but to what could be called “group nationalism” but is usually called “identity politics.” [...] The debate over gay marriage, for instance, is ultimately about gay rights, not individual rights”).

  23. Ampersand

    Whoops! Sorry, Cathy, I don’t mean to spam your comments, but in my previous post, I accidently left the essential sentence out of the first essay I quoted.

    The quote should have said: “What gay people are asking for is not equality or freedom, but rather a big public ceremony that endorses their deviant activities. Gay people are saying ‘we are victims, we are a minority, therefore we deserve special privileges.’ It’s just typical liberal politics at its worst. The libertarian does not believe in this sort of group identity politics.”

  24. Revenant

    However, the huge disparity between male and female custody almost certainly, in my opinion, reflects the huge disparity between who does most of the childrearing work pre-divorce.

    That doesn’t necessarily make it just, however. For example, take families with fathers who work and mothers who stay home to raise the kids. The father is making an immense sacrifice already; he would almost certainly rather be home with his children than working in some office. But courts typically *punish* such men in custody hearings. They are told “the reward for your years of sacrifice is many more years of even greater sacrifice”.

    And, yeah, we’re told “well, it’s what’s best for the kids”. That’s pretty much a crock. What’s best for the kids, in almost all cases except those of alcoholic/abusive spouses, is for the divorce to not be allowed in the first place. The extremely minor harm involved in having a child be raised by a father who had typically held a job instead of staying home is trivial compared to the harm the divorce itself does. There is something highly questionable about the proposition that it is ok for a parent to significantly harm the kids by obtaining an unnecessary divorce, but unacceptable for a parent to trivially harm the kids by raising them in a manner slightly different to that which they were accustomed.

  25. Cathy Young

    Barry, I’ve been extremely busy with blogging, work, and other things, so I haven’t had a chance to reply to your post. I’ll try to be brief.

    You say:

    Leftists are not evil, nor are we stupid; we don’t wake up every morning going “how can I help give black people and women greater rights today, without any regard to equality and fairness?” But that seems to be how many right wingers think we think. (I don’t deny that similar distortions happen in reverse).

    Well, of course not. *G* I don’t think anyone, except in bad melodramas, wakes up in the morning saying, “Let’s see, what evil things can I do today?” I’m sure that, for instance, most men who resisted the demands for equal rights for women did not see themselves as oppressing women, either — they believed that traditional arrangements provided women with the best protection.

    I do not disagree that when some groups are systematically oppressed and denied equal rights, one inevitably pays attention to their group identity while seeking redress.

    I still think that it’s possible to make a meaningful distinction between “equality politics” and “identity politics,” the latter being defined by (1) group solidarity including pressure for groupthink, (2) the demand for identity-based special rights (many feminists, for instance, explicitly repudiate the goal of equal treatment and argue that instead, feminist jurisprudence seek to either promote “female values” or the redistribution of power from the oppressor to the oppressed, and (3) the insistence on seeing people’s individual experiences as defined by identity-based oppression, even if such oppression is not immediately apparent.

    I’d rather not get into a child-custody debate right now, but I will respond to this:

    You’re confusing double-standards with flexibilty of tactics. Feminists believe (correctly, imo) that in cases of severe intimate violence, the abusers are largely men and the victims largely women. Over the years, different tactics have been tried to help victims. Mandatory arrest was a tactic that looked good in theory, but in practice led to battered women being arrested. So the tactic was dropped by many.

    I would say that it led to violent women being arrested, whereupon many feminists began to argue that all these violent women — solely because of their gender — were really victims. A rather stark demonstration, IMO, of “identity politics” at its worst.

  26. cherry

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    Thanks cherry

  27. Anonymous

    Why did this country need a war in order to embrace the “United We Stand” slogan? Can anyone answer that one? Do you think that possibly identity politics could have maybe had JUST A LITTLE to do with it? I think it did. Then again, I say that keeping in mind a few basic truths:

    1. If ANY PERSON starts out in poverty or somewhere below the median in this country and earns their way to financial security, they will likely be insulted to be told that they, as an individual, attained their status by way of privilege.

    2. There are no double standards in equality. Therefore you can not alleviate discrimination by giving it to another group.

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