Bette Midler, the 72-year-old actor and singer, angry about the Brett Kavanaugh fiasco, tweeted, “Women are the n-word of the world. Raped, beaten, enslaved, married off, worked like dumb animals; denied education and inheritance; enduring the pain and danger of childbirth and life IN SILENCE for THOUSANDS of years They are the most disrespected creatures on earth.”
USA Today reported, “Her post instantly sparked outrage, with many arguing it erases the struggle of black women and is blatantly disrespectful to the African-American community in light of social issues in our country. Midler’s post amassed more than 8,000 (mostly critical) comments and 14,000 likes before she apologized and her tweet was deleted.”
First of all, Midler was entirely right. Certainly, her remarks are more toward women of the world, and women throughout history, and while certainly women have not had it as bad here as they have had in countries like Pakistan and Nigeria, life here has been extremely hard on women.
Male African-Americans got the legal right to vote (though not the actual) in 1868. Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920. One of the greatest Supreme Court justices, Felix Frankfurter, was the first to hire an African-American in 1948, but steadfastly refused to hire a woman. The lists of discrimination go on and on, and with the threat of reversal of Roe V. Wade, women may find they have even less control over their own bodies than they currently have.
Secondly, the backlash against her is another aspect of the hideous evil of tribalism. How can anyone consider Midler’s remarks as “erasing the struggle of black women, and disrespectful of the African-American community”? Does saying the “tribe” of women has suffered and been discriminated against mean that the “tribe” of African-Americans has not? Is it either/or? Is it “us” or “them”?
It is high time for all of us to realize that we are all in the same tribe, that the suffering of one group is also the suffering of all groups. We should not get bogged down in “My group suffered more than yours.” That kind of divisive thinking serves to splinter us, when the times that we are in require us to be more together than ever.
Michael A. Kalm, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice in Utah. Through 40 years of practice, he has come to know his patients as people with far more commonality than they have differences.