When Margaret Doyle’s temper exploded inside the Virginia General Assembly a few weeks ago, a photograph of her being ejected from the state Capitol became a symbol of front-line resistance to legislative assaults on women’s reproductive rights.
Doyle, who is 53 and weighs 115 pounds, was so fired up that it took four police officers to restrain her. Other protesters also were subjected to the strong arm of the law.
Curiously to me, nearly all of the women were white.
I confess to rarely seeing a white woman as angry as Doyle appeared in the photograph, an image captured by Bob Brown of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. With teeth clenched, eyes ablaze, she stood in jolting contrast to the archetypal white woman — the privileged female ideal relentlessly promulgated in the media and deeply embedded in the American psyche.
The statistical portrait of the white woman in America certainly buttresses that image.
She has the longest life expectancy in the country and, through sheer numbers, dominates the demographic landscape. Her power at the polls is immense. Her risk of falling victim to street crime is low compared with the risk faced by black women. She’s rarely exposed to the AIDS virus, and breast cancer is no longer the death sentence for her that it is for so many others.
Relatively healthy, happy, safe and financially secure, she is the reigning queen of the “golden mean,” the norm by which other women are measured.
Given all of that, what does the white woman really have to be angry about?
Through the years, I have read much about the “angry white male,” the “endangered black male” and the “heavier but happy” black woman recently featured in The Washington Post.
White women, though, somehow elude such analysis. The Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood, both led by white women, have engaged in a dispute over funding that could result in the lives of thousands of low-income black women being put at risk.
No one wonders why the voices of the black poor are silent.
Perhaps the answer is obvious: the white woman decides who gets heard in such matters. By her own efforts, but also through her unique access to wealthy men, she builds institutions to support her causes. Other women may sit at the table, but she alone speaks on their behalf.
Whatever privileges come with being a white woman usually end up being cloaked by her emphasis on gender. Of course, with more than 123 million white women in America, characterizing her as a group would be especially difficult. But race and class will certainly tell you as much about her as some of the other labels used to define her, such as “Democrat” and “Republican.”
I find it quite odd that so much interest was paid to “The Help,” a book and movie about white women and their black maids in the early 1960s, and so little interest was paid to the racial divide that persists. Is it really possible that all remnants of the white woman’s deeply ingrained feelings of superiority over blacks have disappeared in such a short time?
Conversations with a variety of women, some of whose voices will be amplified in subsequent columns, provided clues to better understand this racial chasm — and the anger of the women on both sides.
Doyle was especially insightful.
“To be honest with you, we are rattled because just a few years ago this nation was brought to the absolute brink and we nearly lost everything,” Doyle said in a telephone interview. “If you were comfortable in your lifestyle, had your Colonial home with a picket fence and thought ‘this is my entitlement, I am supposed to have this,’ and then learn that it can all go away in a hot New York minute? And instead of creating jobs, helping us stay in our homes, improving roads and schools, these dangerous men are in the state legislature obsessing over our wombs.”
For the white woman, perhaps, it is the fear of losing the rights that she’d come to take for granted that has led to the explosive displays of rage. For the black woman, thwarted in her drive to win some of those same rights, fear of not getting what she deserves is probably fueling a silent fury that will soon erupt as well.
Imagine them with arms locked and in protest together. They wouldn’t be just resisters in a “war on women,” but more like freedom fighters in a war to save America from the tyranny of man.