Read: Kirsten Gillibrand and the Al Franken fury
Kirsten Gillibrand can give as good as she gets, but the response to the tweet was so overwhelmingly negative, and her political ambitions so large, that she decided she needed to walk it back—to about 1957. She went on CNN to have a talk with Van Jones, during which she employed the one number from the Hillary Clinton repertoire that just about everyone hates: She performed a kind of innocent-woman routine, shocked about the misunderstanding and eager to set things right.
Gillibrand told Jones that all she meant by the tweet was, “Please include the ladies in the future, because they’re not really included today.” Please include the ladies? Was she trying to kick-start the revolution or get a better tee time for her foursome at the country club? Maybe she was attempting to invoke Abigail Adams’s “Remember the Ladies,” in which case she really needs to get a better grasp on the realities of the cable-news audience; on the fact that our “Founders”—and, presumably, their wives—are now understood by many progressives to have been white supremacists; and on the simple truth that kicking off a female-dominated future with an homage to a woman born in 1744 is like going from Tomorrowland to Frontierland: an exercise in theme-park feminism.
But if the huge audience for the tweet was unfamiliar with “The future is female,” the concept of intersectionality flew so far above them, they didn’t even see the contrail. “Intersectional?” a snappy Fox Business Network host named Trish Regan said. “That’s a new one. I haven’t heard that one before.”
Intersectional feminism, which a small but vocal minority of people cares about passionately, and everyone else—even the host of a news program on national television—hasn’t heard of, is the most happening, most urgent form of feminism today. While its adherents often speak of the value of a collective, postcapitalist society, intersectional feminism is actually grounded in a rejection of the Marxist premise on which the modern women’s movement was founded.
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It proceeds from the sound notion that all women do not, in fact, constitute a single class, and the idea that the personal gains of—for example—a wealthy white lawyer with an expensive education and piles of ready cash will somehow trickle down to poor black women living in an urban slum is absurd. At this point, the only major feminist issue that equally affects rich and poor, white and nonwhite women is abortion. Other than that, American women occupy a variety of classes, which are growing more rigid than ever.
As a philosophy, it’s valid. As something that a middle-aged, hyper-successful white woman such as Gillibrand can play around with, it’s a hand grenade that’s going to explode in her mittens. When she told Jones, “It’s worrying that the top three presidential front-runners are white men,” she clearly assumed she could slice off one personally advantageous piece of intersectional theory and use it to wedge her way into the pack at the top. She’s used to feminism being a jet pack that she can fire up any time she needs a boost. Not this time.