OTI Online
Fall 1996

Reader Feedback
Fall 1996

"NOW got dragged into this discussion and was made to look like the villain. What about all the damage to coalitions we built?"

David Friedman, Palm Springs, CA NOW (excerpt)

Editor's note: We received an unprecedented outpouring of letters and e-mail about our summer cover story, "Can We Talk?", an OTI Dialogue with Julianne Malveaux and Tammy Bruce. Readers had a range of reactions-all of them strong.

O.J. as a Symbol

Malveaux is right on target with the O.J. issue. It is time to stop using black America as the stage upon which white America acts out all its social pathologies, and Bruce needs to recognize that. Intent and impact are two different things. Bruce may not intend to contribute to the demonization of black men, but that is certainly the impact. I am deeply committed to race and gender issues, and I don't believe that I can choose one over the other. We must demand our leaders do the same.

Beverly Kenworthy,

While reading this article I felt a range of emotions from guilt to outrage. My comments are focused on the discussion of the O.J. case. O.J. Simpson is a black man but he is also a batterer and he is a celebrity and rich. I do not think the case was highly publicized because he was a black man. This high-profile case was an excellent opportunity to bring up the issue of domestic violence, since it was related to the case.

I believe that O.J. may be guilty of murder based on the history of violence in the relationship. The cycle of violence escalates over time if there is no intervention. I believe that I can feel this way without being racist. I have very strong feelings about violence against women, and I think any opportunity to bring this issue into public view should be used regardless of the perpetrator's color.

In response to Malveaux's comment that women cross the street when they run into a group of black men hanging out, I will cross the street if I see any group of young men hanging out. At times I will cross the street if one man, black or white, is hanging out. I have been raised to be cautious and at times paranoid; this is an accepted way of life for women today. Women have numerous daily rituals to ensure their safety, and it is not solely due to a distrust or fear of African American men.

Vanessa Yingling, M.S.

Bias Watch

As an African American progressive woman living in Los Angeles, I initially gave Tammy Bruce the benefit of the doubt. I considered her a sincere advocate for women whose outbursts in the wake of the O.J. verdict were unfortunate but innocent. Then I began listening to her weekend radio talk show. It quickly became apparent to my ears that Bruce has deep disdain for black people and anyone else who has compassion for the concerns of black people.

The views she expresses are consistently anti-labor, anti-immigrant, and anti-poor. In fact, perhaps with the exception of her stance against domestic violence and homophobia, there is nothing to distinguish her from the other right-wing zealots who dominate the talk-radio industry around the nation. I am not a member of NOW, but I believe that the organization demonstrated leadership in admonishing her despite the criticism that it was sure to engender.

Eleanor Brown, Los Angeles, CA

As with every issue of your mag, I was taken through all emotional ranges. However, being a white male, I am getting almost as sick of hearing about the "poor black male" as I've grown about the "poor white male." I agree with Tammy Bruce: If a person abuses another person, decry it in any possible manner, and hold them up to public view. I am sick of overrated sports figures abusing women and getting away with it because of their popularity.

Bill Angell, Arlington, TX

NOW's Side

As a long-time member of NOW and a civil-rights activist even longer, I read with interest your interview between Tammy Bruce and Julianne Malveaux. I found it lively and for the most part truthful. I have only one major complaint. NOW got dragged into this discussion and was made to look like the villain.

I saw only one side of the NOW issues-Tammy Bruce's side and even a testimonial by Toni Carabillo. What about the rank and file NOW people who had to pick up the pieces of what Bruce did in our own areas? What about all the damage to coalitions we built and the lost memberships from African American women and men, toppled by Bruce's statements? Did any one from your mag ask for the other side of the story?

David Friedman, Palm Springs, CA NOW

Hidden Agendas

The subtext of this putative dialogue is that black women and white women are enemies who cannot overcome the divisiveness bred by racism. The hidden agendas at work are painfully obvious. Bruce: As a radical feminist, I don't have to be thoughtful about race. Malveaux: I am going to punish her for being a white radical feminist. Merle Hoffman: Great, this will sell a lot of magazines.

Tammy, every time it has come up in my experience, black women say their racial oppression is harder to deal with, more soul destroying, than any sexism they've encountered. This is their life experience, and we white feminists have to know that and figure out how to deal with it.

Julianne, can you seriously expect any feminist to soft-pedal the Simpson case? It has roused strong, difficult-to-handle emotions, but the upshot is a green light for woman beaters and wife killers. And a lot of women of all shades will suffer and die because of it. Merle, could you really not find a black woman and a white woman who like and trust each other, to talk about this stuff in a thoughtful way, without getting into personal attacks?

Mary C. Heller, Cranford, NJ

Mind Control

The cover story in the summer 1996 issue, "Can We Talk?", was a near-perfect example of exactly why some things are so hard to talk about with those most passionately concerned. Both Ms. Malveaux and Ms. Bruce are ardent spokespeople for their issues, but neither can effectively listen to the other without getting defensive (and becoming offensive in reaction). I am, however, incredibly glad that you published this confrontation ("discussion" hardly seems descriptive), because until and unless we can see what divides us, we will remain not only puzzled and distraught about the divisions, but less than effective at eliminating them.

It is not a mystery to me that each should feel her primary and most powerful commitment in the arena that represents her lifework. Why on earth should either of them feel compelled to forfeit her priorities and substitute someone else's? It is out of the working of many strands that the whole fabric gets woven; they each have hold of a different part of the design-why should that be unacceptable? Is it so strange that white women don't significantly modify their causes to make fighting racism against black men their highest priority? Or, that black women don't identify very closely with the (mostly white) feminist movement and its priorities? Why is this not all right? Why is it not, in fact, absolutely wonderful that there are passionately devoted workers against both racism and sexism? Why does there have to be one right way? It is the fanatic who is dangerous-anyone who cannot see herself, in all humility, as having a limited perspective. We all have limited views.

The reason these women can't talk civilly to each other is that they each came to convince the other, and took umbrage at being unable to do so. Neither is adequately prepared to admire, respect, and support those whose beliefs and passion take them on a different route. I admire both of them, but I wish they were better listeners and more tolerant. I honor them both for being willing to expose this conflict for all of us to read about and learn from.

Sheila Quinn, Seattle, WA

Where Women Are Talking

Fortunately, even in my small, predominately white, and very conservative community, there are white women, whether they identify themselves as feminists or not, who are making genuine efforts to talk and to listen to women from different racial and cultural backgrounds. And there are black and Chicano women in my community trying to do the same. Far from the charged airwaves of talk-show land, far from the realms of celebrity encounters, American women are talking and listening to each other in ways in which Bruce and Malveaux (though Malveaux made a respectable effort) are unable to do.

Claire Garcia, Colorado Springs, CO

You Can Talk, But Can You Listen?

Does anybody listen? This question occurred to me after I read Can We Talk? in the summer "96 On The Issues. Certainly Ms. Malveaux and Ms. Bruce are dynamic, articulate women, but the tragedy of their discourse was the frequent inability to listen. These women have Listeners, but like most of us they fall short of the most crucial part of communicating. They lead you to their reservoir of knowledge, but they do not allow you to drink its nourishing waters. They do not drink and are not nourished by listening. They just pour out talk and get empty responses.

Listening is a tremendously important and powerful part of communicating. It is the glue that connects the mind and bonds the heart. Listening is the principal catalyst for change personally, and globally. Unfortunately Ms. Bruce and Ms. Malveaux deliver to their audiences their sometimes regressive and sometimes maladaptive listening skills. The oppression they have not completely addressed is their own, (not sexism or racism) but adultism used to oppress them in their youth. Children are oppressed in a profound and disturbing manner that has damaging consequences on many Americans.

Primarily, children are treated as if they do not count. More often than not, children are treated disrespectfully through: put downs, deception, invalidation, omissions, physical attacks and over controlling their reality. Perpetual lying by adults to children results in their later being vested in domination of others in conversation. They have learned to attack and invalidate others rather than listening to them with empathy and understanding. Most of us re-enact our powerlessness as children by attempting to dominate a person who needs to be heard as much as we do and attempts to dominate us. This is revealed by Ms. Malveaux when she attacks Ms. Bruce when she said, This isn't worth being angry about. You're not that important. This is a clear message that she was treated as if she did not count by some adult in her life. Ms. Bruce had discounted and invalidated her opinion before she finally felt the anger of this hurt enough to make this statement. Clearly, the tension between can be attributed to wounds from adultism and not from their internalized racism or classism.

This is demonstrated with such regularity, I was overwhelmed and saddened when Ms. Malveaux commented to Ms. Bruce that they were not friends. Every response starting with NO or anytime either of them were demoralized and deflated enough to defend her position was a re-enactment of their earlier victimization. Neither women had their anger validated the other, which is this less than human treatment they experienced repeatedly as a consequence of the oppression of youth by adults.

Most importantly, we tend to blame are inability to be heard and to listen on the most salient difference in the other person. In the case of Ms. Malveaux or Ms. Bruce it was race. Both may believe that it is this difference that causes their feeling of being rejected, discounted or unheard. Fortunately, they both have far more in common than the differences manifested by their race, sexuality or class.

Tammy and Julianne if they equip themselves with respectful and caring listening skills, their ability to communicate with anyone will be phenomenal. These incredible women wanted to be heard and their messages understood. Rudimentary validation skills would have accomplished this end in part. Ms. Bruce was able to validate Ms. Malveaux in the course of their discussion and intelligent and thoughtful communication ensued. At one point Tammy validated Julianne by clarifying that race is a more pertinent issue than gender to Julianne when she makes a decision about which candidate she will support to represent her. Julianne was able to elaborate that the under-representation of African Americans in government. Further, upon being validated Ms. Malveaux was address the demonization of African American males. This is a relevant issue, it brings to light the striking similarities between media portrayals of a certain group and the covert and overt sanctioning of violence against this group. The parallel to domestic violence would be drawn between these two women if they had the ability to listen respectfully to one another. Race and gender issues are grave and important to address because the injuries from which the continued oppression occurs starts in the formative years of many of our lives. The inability to listen is a consequence of oppression that is tremendously virulent to the spread of violence in America.

I hope Ms. Bruce and Ms. Malveaux can understand my point of view. I have just communicated an important issue, I hope someone was listening.

Cindylee A. Giner, M. Ed., Toledo, Ohio

I am outraged at the sensationalist cover on your Summer 1996 issue, showing Julianne Malveaux and Tammy Bruce in a lock, with an accompany story discussing, for the umpteenth time in the press, the TV show commonly called the OJ Garbage by those of us who read books and rarely watch TV. The OJ Garbage had nothing to do with fighting racism or sexism, and everything to do with making money. The biggest profits were made by the TV stations who carried the OJ Garbage, but all parties, the attorneys and some jurors also made money. When the verdict was announced in our law office, I was one of two people who refused to watch the TV (and I never watched any episode of the OJ Garbage; reading about it was enough). The other was an African American secretary, who expressed concern for her family in LA. I showed my sympathy by stating that the $7 million the County of LA spent on this tv spectacle would have been better spent on the county health care system, which at that time, had to beg the US taxpayers to save it, which we did. The OJ Garbage created needless tension among us workers.

As to Malveaux and Bruce, neither are radical, and the article was a waste of time.

Lee Heller, San Francisco, CA

Editor's note: Just after the summer OTI went to press, Tammy Bruce resigned as president of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW and cofounded with Denise Brown (sister of Nicole Brown Simpson) a new national organization, Women's Progress Alliance. For information: WPA, 8391 Beverly Blvd. #290, Los Angeles, CA, 90048; 213-653-6331.

Do Feminists Need a Party?

Your interview with Tanya Melich [Election '96: Don't Stay Home, summer] was both challenging and revealing. When OTI's Julia Kagan asks about a woman's party, Melich replies: "I think a women's party is stupid."

After her years of experience as a faithful, hard-working Republican, does Ms. Melich continue to believe that the male-controlled republicrats will ever voluntarily relinquish or share power and admit that women are people who deserve respect and a voice in governing the fragile planet earth? War against women is not a recent development but has been ongoing globally for centuries and in the United States for at least 220 years. Melich herself states that Clinton and Dole would prefer not to talk about women's issues directly because in both parties these issues create tensions they don't want. So much for one half of the human race. In 1996, every issue is a women's issue.

In 1989, delegates to the national conference of the National Organization for Women voted unanimously to organize a new political party founded on feminist values and priorities, but the Party for the 21st Century did not materialize. Although I belong to Emily's List, Fund for the Feminist Majority, and NOW, my head and heart tell me it is time for American women to have a party of our own. After the elections in November, if hundreds of women's-rights organizations decide to work together in one strong political party, please let me know. I'll send money.

Genevieve DesJardins, Grand Lake, CO

Why is it that liberal women like Tanya Melich will ignore sexist, unethical behavior by liberal men but are always outraged if it is a conservative man? I see no difference -- a pig is a pig. I will not vote for Clinton. He is a disgrace. If abortion is the only reason to vote, then I wonder why Ms. Melich didn't support Republican Packwood? He was just as much a jerk as Bill Clinton plus pro-choice -- a perfect man for Tanya Melich.

Sally O'Leary, Minneapolis, MN

Mouth Off or Bite Your Tongue

As usual, I both loved and hated your most recent outing. I relished Teresa Yunker's rant on street trash [When Street Harassment Gets Nasty , summer], and I really commend you on getting such a wide range of responses to the situation (Why is it that Henry Rollins can never speak in anything but simple sentences? You'd think he'd have heard of semicolons by now).

Leigh Fullmer (noell@rain.org), Santa Barbara, CA

As a self-defense instructor, I found Teresa Yunker's article as well as the "Talking Back About Talking Back" article on street harassment to be rather problematic. They both implied that there were only two responses to harassment: You can either mouth off or bite your tongue. Biting your tongue, a more passive approach, is problematic because potential rapists target women whom they feel will not resist. By not responding, you can give the impression to a potential attacker that you will not fight back, and thus put yourself into even more danger. Mouthing off, or a more aggressive approach, is problematic because it can unnecessarily anger the potential assailant and escalate the conflict. However, there is a third approach, an assertive response where you state your objections to the harassment in a firm but nonhostile fashion. You might say calmly but firmly, "You must stop your harassment now. These comments are an insult to me and to all women." If the person continues to harass you, you simply tell this person, "Stop harassing me," repeatedly like a broken record until the harasser gets bored. As Linda Fairstein correctly notes, no approach works all the time, but this one lets the harasser know you will defend yourself, without unnecessarily escalating a conflict.

Andy Smith, New York, NY

Inside the Meat Farms

I hope that Sue Coe's skillful and gruesome exposure of the hideous suffering we inflict on other species so that we can eat them [An Artist Takes Stock, Portfolio, summer] will visually shock people into realizing their complicity with every hamburger bite. If an ethical concern to stop this abuse is not enough, perhaps the threat of a child's suffering the terrible torture (and possible death) from E. coli or salmonella poisoning or mad cow disease will push the button that motivates a family conversion to a delectable and healthful vegetarian diet. The earth, the animals, and healthier human bodies will give thanks.

Polly Strand, Gualala, CA

Sacred Ground

I am a new subscriber and happened to see the summer issue at the bookstore before I received my first issue. I bought it because of Julianne Malveaux on the cover, along with the promised story on "Raising Sons." I am a 46-year-old lifelong feminist. I am Jewish, have a 13-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter, have been happily married to a black Catholic physician for 25 years, and am proud to be an occasional member of NOW and CARAL, a clinic-defender for Planned Parenthood, and a former problem-pregnancy (abortion) counselor and trainer for the Women's Crisis Center in Ann Arbor back in the early '70s.

I began my journey to feminism at the tender age of 7 when I was told that I couldn't be a member of the choir at my (conservative) synagogue because girls weren't allowed on the bima (stage). The die was officially cast when I was 10. My brother had a wonderful Bar Mitzvah, a sit-down (kosher) dinner for 120. At the time, I was going to Hebrew school and eagerly anticipating my own Bat Mitzvah. My mother pushed me "over the edge" when she informed me that I would not have a similarly posh celebration. Instead, they would have an open house, because "after all, you'll have a wedding." When I protested that my brother would also have a wedding, my mother replied (and I must admit, it was certainly true, in 1960), "Weddings are really for the bride." I did the only responsible thing -- I quit Hebrew school. I couldn't be a party to such blatant sexism, even at 10. I never had a Bat Mitzvah. The saddest part is that as a college freshman at the University of Michigan, I attended Rosh Hashanah services in the fall of 1967 and I had internalized enough of the sexism that the service, which was led by a woman, didn't feel like a "real" service, and I felt dissatisfied, like I hadn't really been to services.

I write this preamble to explain the visceral response I had to Phyllis Chesler's article about the women who seek to pray at "the Wailing Wall" in Jerusalem [Claiming Sacred Ground]. (I was fortunate. I managed to be married by a rabbi in Detroit. It is now next to impossible for a Jew who is marrying a non-Jew to find a rabbi to perform a Jewish ceremony, at least here in the Bay Area.)

I also love to listen to Julianne Malveaux, on To the Contrary and on KGO. As the feminist mother of mixed kids, not only part black but also (part) Jewish, I find almost all the issues your magazine deals with pertinent to my day-to-day existence. My husband, by the way, is a gynecologist, and a feminist in the very best sense of the word.

I enjoyed this issue very much. It is so wonderful to read the writings of feminists. As a community we are so spread out that our magazines must continue to connect us. Thank you for doing your work so well.

Sandra Baseman, sandaze@ix.netcom.com

The Politics of Orgasm

I am a heterosexual male and I am glad that you published the piece on the politics of orgasm [How Orgasm Politics Has Hijacked the Women's Movement by Sheila Jeffreys, spring 1996]. I wish we could all be equal in our relationships. It should not matter if we have sex with men or women as long as we are treated with love, kindness, and respect. Sometimes we forget that we are all in this together and we need to help each other and make life as good as we can for each other without exploiting anyone or thing.

Spinfresh, island@sisnet.com

Real Men Don't

Rape prevention in America still amounts to telling girls and women where not to go and what not to do; in other words, how to avoid being raped. How about we tell boys and men not to rape! To that end, I created the "Real Men Don't Rape" campaign. I raised money in my community, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, to pay for 8-by-13-feet billboards throughout the county for six months. The program was sponsored by Berkshire Business and Professional Women and endorsed by Berkshire County NOW.

The boards carried the slogan "Real Men Don't Rape." They were featured on the evening's TV network news and covered in the local papers. The feedback has all been positive. I sent resource material, lesson plans, and handouts to all school superintendents, principals of private and parochial schools, and college presidents in the county to facilitate students' processing the message.

I firmly believe that if more effort went into rape-prevention programs directed at the rapists -- the perpetrators -- instead of the victims, we'd have less rape-crisis counseling to do.

Harriet Vines, Ph.D., hvines@cbcc.bcwan.net

In the article, What Justice for a Rape Victim [winter 1995], it is stated that Major Rhonda Cornum was raped by her Iraqi captives and that they broke both her arms.

In her book, "She Went To War", she states that her arms were broken during the helicopter crash. She also states that she was molested but not raped.

Do you have solid information that differs from her first person public account? If not, I must seriously question every fact and detail in the entire article.

Paul Laughton, Paul@laughton.com


My article "Attack of the Morally Challenged" (summer) stated that under the Americans with Disability Act employers may request the medical records of a disabled employee asking for reasonable accommodation. While employers may request a statement by a physician or rehabilitation expert, they may not have access to an employee's medical records without the employee's consent.

Fred Pelka, Northampton, MA

Dead Man Talking

Death Row can be a very dark and lonely place. As a condemned person you are automatically deemed too dangerous to be placed with the general prison population, and are isolated from all the other prisoners. This isolation can go even further, for many condemned men and women eventually lose contact and/or are abandoned by their own families.

How do I know this? It's because I'm a condemned man myself, on Connecticut's death row. But I'm one of the lucky ones. I still have contact with some of my family, and I have several pen pals even one in Canada and two in Ireland!

In prison, letters can be that ray of light and hope to someone who might be totally alone. The experience of writing often has a profound on effect on the individuals involved on both sides of the correspondence. Those persons on death row who feel connected to support on the outside are less likely to waive their appeals and volunteer for execution. Those persons on the outside learn that to know just one prisoner can dispel some of the misconceptions and fears about prisons and those locked away there.

For the name and address of a condemned man or woman, write to: Rachel Gross, Coordinator, The Death Row Support Project; P.O. Box #600; Liberty Mills, Indiana 46946; (219) 982-7480.

Michael B. Ross #127404
Death Row NCI, P.O. Box 665, Somers, CT 06071

See also:

Letters to the Editor

FEEDBACK (published summer 1996)

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