Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Real Division In Feminism

Kids are at the park and all is calm in my world for a few minutes.  I thought, perfect time to celebrate the calm with green tea and slate magazine.  After reading, "We Need To Talk", screaming kids somehow seems like a welcome diversion.  The point of the Slate article is that the true division that has become obvious due to the failed Clinton campaign is the generational rift between 2nd and 3rd wavers in feminism.  Mothers can simply not support their daughters choice to vote for Obama after all of their sacrifices. Yes Lithwick tells us, "If there is any reconciling to be done at this point in the Democratic primary, it's between women and other women. The worst of the intergenerational bickering of the past months has resulted from a failure of empathy; a breakdown in our capacity to acknowledge that the experiences of others are as compelling as our own. In a sense, we have simply been doing battle over whose stories are more legitimate—the second-wavers or their Pottery Barn daughters— or whose perceptions of gender discrimination are more accurate." Clinton has shown us that we don't respect our mothers struggle, and they don't accept our autonomy.  This is the lesson learned after months of struggle, bickering, angst, and tears.

Guess what Lithwick, I'm not buying your argument.  In fact I am irritated by it. Feminism as you define it means WHITE WOMEN. Oh my God, the white women are upset.  Everything must come to a halt while they work out their issues, and regroup. Feminism cannot possibly go on while white women are going through such emotional angst. How will they survive? They have barely gotten over Oprahs betrayal, her support of Barack Obama, and now Clinton finally had to concede defeat.  But Valenti of feministing fame is quoted as saying, we should work towards a "better, more forward-looking feminism."... really does that mean that women of color will start to be more than an occasional blurb on your blog....Or that our issues will actually be treated with a measure of respect and seriousness?  I'm not holding my breath, my children still need their mama.   I still remember Feministings acknowlegement of the Bell verdict, announce it and move on quick.  Of course the fact that his mother was dealt an emotional blow that day was irrelevant.  She was only a black mother, so no need for any serious analysis of the effects of police brutality on black women.

Reports like like this one at Slate magazine explain why so many WOC are sick and tired of feminism.  Despite the fact that as women we are subject to sexism, rape, domestic violence, (the ultimate) glass ceilings etc feminism continues to make it clear that we do not have a place in it.  Reading this article describing the fissures in feminism that erupted due to the Clinton/Obama divide, one would believe that black women were not placed in a unique position wherein we had to ponder both race and gender.  We were never pulled in two directions, despite the fact that race and gender equally impact our lives. No the election was not used as some sort of litmus test of our loyalties. Weren't you listening the problem with feminism is WHITE WOMEN and the AGE DIVIDE.  WOC weren't going through anything at all.  Feminism in no way creates white woman as the monolithic representative, and this slate article isn't narcissistic  in its approach. I am just one crazy, venom spouting woman of color who has lost her mind.  Is there some sort of special door that WOC should be knocking on to be recognized as women? Some secret handshake that we neglected to learn?  I thought having a vagina and or identifying as female was enough to be counted as one..apparently not.

Watching Michelle and Barack stand on stage and together in unity meant so much for people of color.  We have been afraid to dream for so long.  We have been told don't push, things will come in time.  Barack dared to dream, he had the audacity to hope and beyond our wildest imaginations a significant part of our dreams were fulfilled.  The next morning I was able to tell my child, baby you can be anything you want to be, and truly mean it.  Not only did black men get an excellent role model in Barack, black women got one in Michelle.  You see WOC never forgot about her.  What would a black first lady mean to us?  We who have been stomped upon, abused, marginalized and silenced?  But then our reasons for voting for Barack are unimportant, because we don't represent feminism. How can we represent feminism when we are barely acknowledged as women? 

The more whining and simpering that I read, the more incensed I become.  I want to ask these Hilary supporters who claim victim status, what does it feel like, because you know we WOC certainly cannot identify with what it means to be marginalized or made to feel invisible?  All you young third wavers who voted Barack while barely acknowledging what his candidacy meant for people of color, it amazes me how you never fail to make yourself the center of any story.  Both sides are narcissistic .  Both sides make me sick.  You can keep your feminist label because it is clear, it was never for, and never will be for women like me.  I will embrace womanism, because in that discourse I am a woman equal to all that surround me.  Perhaps one day when you can see beyond your own myopic needs and desires feminism might actually represent women for the first time ever, won't that be a historic moment worthy of celebrating.


lynn said...

You are right, and I understand the sense that we don't get it. I mean I want to understand and it isn't a sense. I should edit that- but I think it makes a point to leave habitual we are. The kinds of words we use without thinking. How very patronizing they are as well, but of course if you pointed that out I would say I didn't mean it that way. Tell you to lighten up. And so it goes.

You know when you really spill it- and then have somebody blink and say 'Well I can understand why you FEEL that way but..." and then proceed to take your words and throw them onto the "aren't you touchy" pile?
I'm not valid, I'm just touchy. Sorry to interrupt. Nothing to see here.

We will NOT admit that we do this. We just won't.

On covering the Bell case:

Are people worried about being seen as not caring, as opposed to, you know- caring? People are very worried about this "feminist career" thing these days and their good names with respect to being challenged on their topics.
I have also heard this as well: "Just because I don't talk about ____ does not mean I don't care. Of COURSE I care!"

See you should take it for granted that the concerns of women of color are important because...well, you are told they are. Good enough. Don't be so touchy. And don't annoy the commuters with some display about the verdict. And did I mention you should move on?

I once talked to a feminist blogger about this and I kid you not- she said that she has to consider her readership. The topics that are in their comfort zones, where they feel confident with dialogue. She also throws in some fashion stuff, you know, keep it hip. Is this audience the Pottery Barn daughter?

There is also a class issue to this- but thats yet another tangent. People wonder why "privilege" comes up so much...

On Obama:
I have been thinking about the conversations I have heard/read about the "symbolism" of the "first woman" and I can't help but hope there is something different about these "daughters", more to it. I don't agree with this idea of ingratitude that comes up a lot or this idea that we somehow take the struggle for granted... Some of these daughters are asking their mothers: why do you say that we should focus on character, then tell us to support Clinton no matter our reservations- because she is a woman? Isn't THAT a slap to what they have achieved?

And why do you insist that a "black man is unelectable" if you believe in the forceful power of symbols? Why not do everything to show that nobody NOBODY should be written off? And gee- sorry he exceeded your expectations and you can't bring yourself to be happy about that. He did something that even Clinton did not think he could do... he did have the audacity to hope. What nerve.

See there is something that this 'wave" (or this generation, or whatever) wants to examine about this. Or so I hope???

Now I am not minimizing the significance of either of these achievements, but I find it odd that a breath after talking about merit we are told not to consider it and be loyal to the "cause".

I like Obama because of the war, because of some differences I see between them, because I think he will be a better leader.

Isn't THAT the kind of decision making, the kind of process our mothers fought for?

Renee said...

Honestly I hope for change. I am so damn tired though of either being ignored, silenced or marginalized. I want to have the audacity to hope. Just those three words spoken mean more to me than I can ever articulate and yet politically obama is not left enough for me. He and his family are more of a symbol of what is possible if each person could be recognized as a human's about potential.

I think that is the part that saddens me the most about feminism, the lost potential. So much could be achieved if we could all just attempt to recognize the struggles of someone else. While I talk alot about race, I had to confront my class privileges to learn to take an intersectional approach to issues. It was a very difficult thing for me to do. There were so many things that I had to "un-learn" and yet I did it. If we all could make just that same kind of effort, what feminism could accomplish is boundless. Yet feminism seems to only want to concern itself with a small group of people. I could not bring myself to relinquish my hope in women and so I will call myself a womanist. Perhaps one day we will cut out this bullshit and get some real work done.

Lynn said...

I hope so- I think that when we work toward a more rights affirming society that we will also be working toward a society where potential is less restricted. When we say a scenario could never happen, hope is cut short, stopped in its tracks. Who the hell has the right to do that to another? To predetermine a person's destiny?

I think when we do see changes, even small changes, that it reminds us of what can be accomplished when we don't turn our backs. That is what keeps me involved in certain fights, the small changes.

There are some real challenges in every movement, and these tensions often push away the allies we need.

I don't think that we will ever have that single unified voice that some ask for- I don't think we should. I think we have to find a way to see a movement of collective interests and concerns- each with their validity.

One thing that stops this from happening is that in every movement, people cling to certain leaders whose views constitute the voice, they become the "face". We need more diversity in our writers, speakers, etc. instead of driving people away. We have to get honest about the barriers that shut people out.

professor what if said...

Great analysis of how feminism still hasn't fully taken on bell hooks call to make 'feminism for everybody...

I find it problematic how the word 'woman' is assumed to mean 'white woman' (I posted about this on my blog ProfessorWhatIf).

In regards to Slate article, I can't believe they used the phrase "pottery barn daughters" to refer to 3rd wavers. Yeah, all 3rd wavers are middle class shoppers...

I also find the article problematic in it upholds the 2nd/3rd wave divide in a way so much feminist work of late does... We have more in common than we do in contrast -- unfortunately, as you point out, one of the things in common is the failure to move beyond a white focussed and disseminated feminism.

Renee said...

Professor, thanks for pointing out the class element in this article that I failed to notice. You are quite right in that it assumes all women that advocate from a so-called third wave perspective operate from a middle class location. It is something I completely missed.

Anna said...

Wow - I have so much to say - but it boils down to this. I am a "white feminist of privilege" - I guess - so I am told - because of my education. I know that feminists of color don't like me on principle. Believe it or not - I do understand this & don't take offense.

HOWEVER - I am a feminist who teaches feminist ideas to college students of all colors & both sexes. I actively incorporate non-white culture into my courses - even when the textbooks don't. In my own way I strive at all times to give a voice to all women in the face of white male written textbooks.

As for calling myself a feminist - yes I am - on my own terms. I gave up years ago trying to be anyone's definition of a feminist except my own. I live what I believe to be a feminist lifestyle that embraces all - men & women of all races etc.

If I tried to BE a feminist based on other people's definition I would lose my mind & my identity.

Renee said...

Anna it is not a case of don't like, it is a case of don't trust. White feminists have done much to abuse the trust of womanists. When we have reached out in solidarity we have been ignored. Many women feel exactly the same as I do. We want to embrace feminism as we realize that there are events in our lives that occur simple because of our gender but until the multi dimensional nature of WOC's experience is valued it would be naive of us to identify as feminists. That said I am always actively seeking out allies. I don't believe that it is a lost cause. There have been white women who have given me reason to hope. I know that sometimes the squeaky wheel gets oiled and maybe it is time for WOC and our allies to start yelling to get heard. This fissure is repairable. We just have to dedicate ourselves to honoring each others experiences.

Anna said...

Renee - there is such a disconnect between what I read on the web & what I experience in my own world - academia. This division goes back generations & is openly discussed amongst we fems in academia - both white & WOC. I have been privileged to work with colleagues - WOC - who openly identify as fems as we continue to discuss our separate & joint feminist issues in mutual support. I do not mean to idealize us - no - but we are not as divided in my experience as it would appear on the web.

As it so happens - I am actively researching & writing about a WOC playwright who has been overlooked for years by academia. I teach this woman to my students. Please recognize that many of us white fems get it Or are at least trying to get it & have been for quite some time. I'm not trying to score points by this personal info about myself - no - but I honestly do champion this playwright's voice as a feminist voice of color from which all we fems can learn by recognizing our similarities & disimilarities to her unique voice of experience.

As I said - I am a feminist on my terms - nobody else's. I encourage all women to do the same. Embrace the term & make it yours. We feminists are never all going to agree. Not humanly possible. No group of people - democrats - republicans - for example etc - always agree. What is important is to have a shared goal. Quite simply - the valuing & championing of ALL women. That is feminism to me. No borders. I also believe men can be feminists too - of any color, creed, etc.

A final word - we fems need to be mindful of how we are depicted as being perhaps more divisive than we really are by the media. The sexist media. Let's not let the media divide us.

And - btw - it's nice to meet you, Renee & to share thoughts & ideas with you. Thanks for listening - again. Really.

Renee said...

Anna thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. I don't share many details about my life but I will say that I have had my fair share of exposure to "academic" feminism. I feel the need to qualify my experience as it was a small mostly white university students, and profs. In my experience I was always expected to play the role of "representational black". It was very frustrating to me. It made me yearn for a more multi-racial experience. Black feminist authors were certainly taught however none of anti-racist theory was truly internalized. I say this because students repeatedly made comments that could be construed as nothing but racist and nothing was ever done about it. You see they were just expressing their opinions and I being a WOC was obviously biased. So even if the work is taught, it does not mean that it is taught in such a way that students learn to reconceptualize their understandings of power, race, gender and class.
I say power first, because they don't have a true understanding of power. Along with not owning their privilege they refuse to understand that they stand in a position of power vis a vis WOC. They have so bought into the victimology discourse that considering themselves as anything other than that is counter to their understanding of feminism.

I agree with you when you say that feminism should be on your own terms. I still strongly advocate for women, I just refuse to call myself a feminist until the movement becomes more inclusive. Theoretically I am a bit of everything really, post structuralist, anti-racist, with a little bit of Marx thrown in,( yes I know that PS and Marx are not a happy equation). I am always open to envisioning the world in new ways, but I will not live in denial about its present state.

Tina said...

Brand new reader, lurking quietly, learning an enormous amount. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Renee said...

No, thank you Tina for taking the time to read and compliment my blog.

Anna said...

Hi Renee,

Don't mean to clutter up your comments!

A few brief things - first of all - times are changing in academia. The power structure you refer to is now being openly discussed - at least in my classroom. Profs such as myself are openly discussing the different reactions of students of color & white students to the same dramatic lit. I talked to an African-American woman colleague about this recently - sharing ideas about how to own the differences & make them educational as bridges to understanding. Is academia perfect? Hell no. Not by a long shot. But it will NEVER change until we make it change - & many of us are adamantly committed to this. But unity of purpose is needed to bring this about in our life time.
Some days I am more hopeful than others - some days I get angry & despair. I teach at a southern college that is predominantly white. Makes me so angry I could scream. We have so far to go in the US with respect to race & opportunity - a fact we like to ignore - much to our shame.

As for "womanist" - please don't take offense - I know it is well-intentioned, but it always strikes me as a divisive term. I know - historical pot calling the kettle black (no pun intended) BUT feminism - whatever you want to call it - the cause of women - is divisive enough already because it is already being sliced & diced to the point where it is meaningless. The same will happen to "womanist" if it becomes the latest term & therefore a target of attention.

This is why I define feminism my own way. I am in solidarity with ANY woman brave enough to claim the term - even if I do not always agree with her or share her life experience - YET I am not allowing their personal definition to define me. Feminism is personal, it is individual BUT it is also potentially unifying if we have the guts to make it so.

I am a feminist. It defines me as I allow it to define me. People who meet me & get to know me or read my blog learn about what feminism can be through me - I hope. If I turn away from the term then MEN win. No women win. The male power structure WINS! We lose. They will then have successfully turned it into a 4 letter world. They've been trying for decades.

This past semester I had two female students - one white one African-American. Both did research projects on an African-American feminist playwright. Both students claimed to have felt a sense of identity with their chosen playwright - each student from her own unique racial perspective. It was fascinating reading their papers. Bridges amongst women can be crossed towards a measure of understanding.

Thanks for listening. I should do a post about this on my own blog instead of tying up yours. Sorry!

Take care.

Renee said...

Anna, as I said I can only speak to my experience of womens studies at my particular university.

I see womanism as a term that embraces all of the feminist ideals that I cherish. Feminism as I see it has betrayed and continues to betray WOC. I want no part of any movement that seeks to create me as 'other'. That said I advocate womanism because it gives WOC a positive space to not only express themselves but to achieve some sort of equality. Taking a position as a womanist allows me to honour my culture and my political views as a woman without compromising my ideals. That is something that current state of feminism does not allow for WOC.

Don't feel that you are cluttering up my comment section. This blog is a place to have open and extensive conversations. I welcome your commentary.

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