By Susan Gubar
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Extra resources for Critical Condition, Feminism at the Turn of the Century (Gender and Culture)
Whether glum or cheerful, most participants in the enterprise would agree that feminism has undergone astonishing modifications during the turn of the century, that it cannot be judged “divorced from public matters” and moribund, as Time magazine claimed, although (as I hope to show in the pages that follow) it must begin to deal directly with the charges of irrelevance leveled by Elaine Showalter and Martha Nussbaum. When, in a television show subsequent to the publication of the Time cover story with which I began, a baffled Ally McBeal experienced a minatory vision that someone was trying to make her into an icon of the death of feminism, the episode reflected the ways in which the popular arts imitate journalism in postmodern spin-offs many of us watch with amusement.
A sort of shorthand on the detriments of twentieth-century racial paradigms is provided by two brilliant paintings by Faith Ringgold. As its title suggests, We Came to America () addresses the melting pot ideal many of us were taught as children (see illustration ), the fairy tale that told us most folks came to America in boats, though the vessels varied. Some people paid for their tickets in first-class cabins, while others were purchased as cargo—but hey! once on these shores, we immigrants were all equal.
Just as suddenly the scene slid from everyday color to black and white. Elder said his mouth went dry. The two whitemen turned away from the unconscious Negro woman sprawled on the pavement. . He never got the sight of that whiteman’s fist in that colored woman’s face out of his mind. Whatever he felt about her trade, he thought about her, prayed for her till the end of his life. (emphasis mine, –) Everyday color-vision causes Elder to identify with the respectable men against the streetwalking woman, but the raced-perspective of black and white leads him to ally himself with the hurt Negro woman against the abusive whitemen.