from the Ann Arbor Argus, March 28 — April 11 1969 courtesy of Reveal Digital Independent Voices

On the long history of a specious analogy (or how white feminism is built on co-opting blackness)

Michelle Moravec
4 min readOct 18, 2017


Tweet by Clarkisha Kent capturing since deleted Mcgowan tweet

On October 15, as part of #MeToo, actor Rose McGowan tweeted an analogy between women and the ’N’ word.” Clarkisha Kent was quick to reply on Twitter and then in a longer piece on The Root.

Given the history of white feminism in the US, the appearance of this familiar specious analogy was all too predictable. While the most famous parallel drawn between race and sex may be a 1972 song, the crappy comparison circulated earlier among white movements on the left [i.e. The Student as N*gg*r by Jerry Farber (1967)].

White feminism’s reliance on racial analogies has its roots in the emergence of the nineteenth-century woman’s rights movement in the US (and even further back in the origins of white feminism as a reaction to white male Enlightenment thought).

In the 1960s, white women’s justifications for their own liberatory movement drew on both Black consciousness, an “identity based on African American heritage” and Black Power, “building social, economic, and political institutions” as phrases like “consciousness raising” and “woman power” attest. At the same time, white women appropriated metaphors of blackness, even as they sought to emulate or mimic, depending on your perspective, Black movements, and particularly revolutionary Black women. Black women resisted the most extreme appropriation — “women as n*gg*r” — and responded with their own analyses of “double jeopardy” that emphasized the historical legacy of slavery.

In 1968 “a ‘conversation’ put together from various comments made by women and men on the subject of women’s liberation” that appeared in the widely circulated Notes from the First Year (1968) described wives as “house n*gg*rs.” Similarly, a well-known manifesto from that same year, “Toward a Female Liberation Movement,” argued that women were destined to become “some man’s n*gg*r.

The bad analogy reached a broader audience as women’s liberation made inroads into the mainstream. See for example Gayle Rubin’s “Woman as N*gg*r” first published in the Ann Arbor Argus, but reprinted in the mass-market anthology Masculine /Feminine: Readings in Sexual Mythology and the Liberation of Women (1969), Naomi Weisstein “Woman as N*gg*r” in Psychology Today (October 1969), and Marge Piercy’s “The Grand Coolie Damn,”(1969) a often-reprinted piece on leaving the New Left in which she described herself as “a house n*gg*r in the Movement.”

screenshot of results from Reveal Digital Independent Voices

The invidious comparison became quite commonplace. A search of digitized periodicals in Reveal Digital Independent Voices collection locates an editorial for Aphra (Winter 1970) in which the author argues we have all been house n*gg*rs in the mansion of man.” An excerpted chapter from Shulamith Firestone’s famed Dialectic of Sex that appeared in Notes from the Second Year describes the housewife as a woman who has been “promoted to “housen*gg*r” (142). The use spread to occupations: “Woman as University N*gg*er” appeared in the University of Michigan Daily Magazine and “The Secretary: Capitalism’s House N*gg*r.” As Jo Freeman pointed out in 1975, “For a while, ‘woman as nigger’ was one of the most popular short ways of describing how women’s position in society was perceived” (Politics of Women’s Liberation, 28).

Pamphlet Poor Black Women by Mount Vernon Black Women’s Group and Patricia Murphy Robinson from Women’s Liberation Movement Print Culture , Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, Duke University Libraries.

Unsurprisingly, Black women largely steered clear of this analogy, while protesting white women’s cooptation of it. As early as September of 1968 a group of Black women from Mt. Vernon wrote

“we were the real n*gg*rs in this society — oppressed by whites, male and female, and the black man too”

While Black women pushed back against white women’s cooptation of “n*gg*r,” their analyses of Black women’s oppression were more likely to emphasize the historical legacy of slavery.* Frances M. Beal described black women as a “slave of a slave.’” Maryanne Weathers in No More Fun and Games (February 1969) invoked the “sick slave culture.” In both Weather’s and Beal’s writing, Black women’s oppression was tied directly to the legacies of slavery: Black men are still parroting the master’s prattle about male superiority.”

Fifty years into contemporary white feminism, it’s time for white feminism to give up the specious analogy. As Linda La Rue pointed out in 1970

“any attempt to analogize black oppression with the plight of the American white woman has the validity of comparing the neck of a hanging man with the hands of an amateur mountain climber with rope burns.”



Michelle Moravec

Historian doing corpus linguistics, Feminist writing about politics of women's culture, historying digitally #writinginpublic