Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I Am Not A Feminist

I am not a feminist. I can declare this boldly without fear and with a certainty of will.   I believe unequivocally in women's rights and the equality of all beings but have found after various years of interaction, that feminism has no room for women that look like me or have similar experiences to me.   I cannot knowingly participate in a movement that claims to be open and yet daily either appropriates or minimizes my struggle for the gains of others. 

I am a heterosexual, black, disabled mother.  I am many things to many people and my life though simple in its nature, is worth something to me and the people that I love.   Daily I live with the legacy that was bequeathed to me from my mothers womb and I cannot in good conscience spit upon my inheritance by owning a label that seeks to privilege others.

The name of this blog is Womanist Musings for a reason.   Womanism not only speaks to who I am as a person but to who I aspire to be each and everyday.  It is not housed in academia or based in privileging whiteness or class advantage.   It lives and breathes because women of color continue to struggle for even the most basic form of recognition that is the birth right of a privileged few on our little blue planet.

I have seen the discussions between radical women of color/womanist and feminists referred to as a war.  At first the term war seemed inappropriate until I thought about the length and breathe of this conversation.   Indeed it is a war, a war of attrition to be accurate.   Though we are told that we have come so far because a black woman is now first lady, even that honour is appropriated as whiteness seeks to claim Michelle Obama by comparing her to women like Jackie O and alternately defiling her at will by calling her angry when she displays any form of agency.

I am not a feminist because I have seen how white feminists are routinely offered opportunities that are denied women of color and yet we are asked to support their efforts to succeed because it apparently benefits all women.   How many times must our work be stolen without recognition or our critiques ignored?  No, it is not okay to write a book about the experiences of women and then use women of color as anecdotal evidence or simply explore our experiences through a white lens.  It is not okay to explore our lives through a discourse of victimology as though we have won no battles, or survived a brutality that is almost unspeakable.  The vey blood that flows through our veins is a testament to our ability to survive.

It is not okay to hold us to a completely different standard than you hold yourselves up to, constantly moving the goal posts to ensure that we are forever on a quixotic quest to achieve any form of  social change.  We are mammy when you need comfort and angry harridans when you need someone to blame for your own short comings.  We are Jezebel to your Ruth; the perfect foil to your constructed fragile beauty and perfection.   We are the eternal other, moving through the world bruised and battered from the whips of oppression that continually lash at our tender flesh.

So greatly are we discounted that when men rail against the critique of women, they routinely ignore the womanist perspective.  We are understood as so irrelevant that countering our position is deemed unimportant.  All  women are lumped into one group as though we experience gender oppression in the same way.  To be erased from existence is worse than  the vicious vitriolic attacks that patriarchy aims at feminists.  Feminists are attacked because even at the most basic level patriarchy recognizes a threat to its existence whereas; women of color are already understood as conquered and colonized beings. 

I am not a feminist and could never be one because it does not speak to who I am as a woman.  There can be no sisterhood as long as women of color continue to be silenced and ignored.   For feminism to really be inclusive those that own the label must commit to relinquishing their privileges.  Feminism must make room for all voices to speak openly without fear of chastisement.  We have different histories and different lives but we can be sisters if we stop allowing whiteness, heterosexist, abelist, cisgender and class privilege to come between us. The monolithic woman is our true enemy.



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