Monday, January 26, 2009

Who Owns Feminism

Once again the comment section of this blog has provided the inspiration for a post.  I wrote about the legalization of prostitution in Nevada and the following is one response that I received.

An active choice to assist in the marginalization and subjugation of their entire sex? I cannot believe you don't see the ramifications of this legislation on all of womens' rights and our (or, I suppose, my) efforts to remove valuation of women purely for what we offer to men, sexually, as shown through every aspect of how women are viewed in society... This so-called "active choice" is in fact an acquiescence to every identity-less box any woman has ever been placed in, and it is a betrayal of the efforts of women like Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Anthony and more, who sought equality for women...

I am going to leave the question about legalization and or decriminalization for the other thread and just deal with the obvious erasure of WOC in this statement.  Without even realizing it, this commenter created feminism as a white owned, white run, social justice movement  If you will notice that amongst her list there was not one single mention of a WOC, though we have have been involved in feminism from the very beginning and continue to work hard to advance womens rights.

I assume she meant for women of colour to fit into the “and more category”, and this continues to be one of the major issues confronting modern day feminism.  I have written many posts regarding the ways in which feminism continues to primarily privilege the position of the upper/middle class white women, and this particular comment highlights the ways in which our erasure is ongoing.  When this commenter thought about feminism, she did not for one moment recognize that her understanding of it was based in whiteness.  To often WOC are created invisible and are only invited to participate when a photo op is needed or  coffee needs to be made.  When it is convenient for mainstream feminism to decide that we are also women, suddenly our femininity is validated.

White women of privilege don’t own feminism.  Despite all of the pearl clutching, and denial, feminism is a movement to advance women and men of all races, creeds, and ethnicities.  Erasing our contributions only serves to splinter the movement and encourage hostility.  To this day black women have not forgotten the many betrayals of the first and second wave and if we hope to move forward, the mistakes of the past cannot continue to be repeated. 

White feminists continue to be baffled about why so many WOC are openly hostile towards feminism. They cannot see that by privileging themselves and excluded women of color, our participation on these grounds would be  tantamount to  embracing the masters tools.  Many WOC choose to own the label of womanist to avoid collusion with a movement that has historically deemed us to be little better than chattel.  WOC want equality in all phases of our life and not simply as it relates to gender.  If race continues to stigmatize, no matter what gains women make, WOC will continue to occupy the bottom of the race and class hierarchy.  Changing our oppressor to white women and white men will not change our living conditions, only equality on all grounds will.

When I look at feminist blogs and anthologies I still continue only to see token inclusion, as though our life experiences are somehow not relevant to the feminist cause.  There are many that still question why it is necessary to even take an intersectional approach, preferring instead to wallow in their privilege and present a monolithic woman.  The ironic part is that this stance still excludes some white women.  If one is poor, or disabled, or a lesbian, feminism has difficulty making room for you as well.

If the goal is the emancipation of women from patriarchal domination, that will not be achieved by allowing some women to break through will the rest of us continue to struggle for a seat at the table.  While certain constructs will necessarily be age, race and class specific the reality is, if even one woman is devalued, we all are.  Having the same ability to oppress as the white heterosexual male of class privilege only reasserts hierarchy and assures that some women will forever be in a state of servitude.  

I understand that this society privileges individualism, but as it is practiced in feminism it is narcissistic.  The desire to privilege your life, or your experiences over that others means that privilege is never confronted or dismantled.  Feminism as practiced this way, is not a social justice movement, it is a Quixotic quest for power.  If we decide that power is what is desired then equality can never be achieved, because the nature of power is to oppress. In their desire to control the movement, many white feminists are often authoritarian adopting practices and theories that they would find demeaning if aimed at them with the same regularity and zeal.

As we wrestle back and forth struggling to decide who controls feminism, patriarchy continues to exploit us for gain.  This internal fissure must get healed. If it is an issue for one woman it is an issue for all. It is time for a change of power.  No one has the right to decide that another is or is not a feminist to maintain their privilege.

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