Monday, June 23, 2008

The Removal of White Feminists


Earlier in June Linda Hirshman wrote a piece in the
Washington Post about
the feminist movement is fracturing
by paying too much attention to the "other", and that the movement
needs to focus. Hirshman writes,

A movement that uses intersectionality as a lens but banishes white, bourgeois, corporate older women might be a vehicle to glue what remains of feminism together, but it will struggle to achieve social change for women.
This piece resonates with me for three reasons.

First, historically, I like Hirshman's work. She wrote a book a couple
of years back titled, Get to Work about women, working,
gender and relationships. Looking back, I realize that she had
no critique of capitalism, but the book has it's merits as it is a
book about working and our ability to take care of ourselves

Second, I have been combing the internet for the last two days
for an article on Jstor about why there has never been a sustained
National Black feminist movement. I saw the article
last week, but for some reason I can't find it. However, I have
come across articles that mentioned how the Black Feminist Movement
suffered because it had a difficult time deciding what its agenda
would be and it also had to get over its own lesbianphobia to sustain
traction as a movement.

Thirdly, Hirshman's piece resonates because of a conversation
I was having as I walked to brunch with Fillthy yesterday. I mentioned
to him that I just learned about a non profit that is against the jail
that is scheduled to be re-opened in downtown Brooklyn. I had
the idea that the prison reform folks and the and anti jail folks may be
able to form like voltron.

Soon the wind would be let out of my sails when he mentioned that
he had already spoken to anti-jailers, as he had the same idea.
He concluded they were not anti-prison, they were just against
the opening of the prison in their neighborhood because of the impact
on their property values.

The anti jail folks were the classic Single Cause Activist (SGA's)

As Americans, I think we have a knee jerk aversion to
understanding and admitting how things are connected.

We would be better off as a humans if we acknowledged
and approached life from the perspective that everything is
connected or damn near so.

For example, Corn prices go up, beef goes up. Over-fish the
Salmon, salmon become extinct. Spend Trillions on a war,
less money for State infrastructure. Fewer jobs in post industrial
cities for teenage Black men, more teenage black men sell crack.
The analogies are crude, but you get the picture.

In thinking about the SCA's, I wondered how the notion
of SCA's related to Linda Hirshman's resentment of the in
"intersectionality" that she see's in some of today's feminism.

Is Hirshman advocating for Single Cause's Activism within feminism?

In response to the single cause activism in feminism,
bell hooks is clear that if feminism is a lifestyle choice, then it will not
mean shit to the masses of women and will consequently be
irrelevant to them as well. hooks critiques Barabara Bergs definition
of feminism which is " a broad movement embracing numberous
phases of womans emancipation.

In response to this definition, hooks writes,
This definition of feminism is almost a politcal in tone, yet it is the
type of definition that many liberal women find appealing.
It evokes a very romantic notion of personal freedom that is more
acceptable than a definition that emphasizes radical politcal action.
It is easy to make feminism a lifestyle as there is no commitment
to eradicating racial or sexual oppression in "a lifestyle". hooks
explains this when she writes in Feminist Theory, quoting French
feminist Antoinette Foque,
The actions proposed by the feminist groups are spectacular, provoking.
But provocation brings to light a certain number of contradictions...The feminist claim that they do not seek equality with men, but their practice proves to the contrary to be true. Feminist are a bourgeois avant guard that maintains , in a inverted form the dominant values...Since women are becoming men, in the end it will only mean a few more men. The difference between the sexes is not whether one does or doesn't have a penis, it is whether or not one is an integral part of a phallic masculine economy.
I kept the notion of a few more men in mind when I read Jill's response
to Hirshman. Jill gets it in when she discusses, with candor, the ways in
which whiteness operates within the feminist movement. She writes,
I am tired of a feminism that assumes to be built and maintained by middle-class white women. I am tired of a feminism that, when challenged, falls back on the same old excuses and knee-jerk reactions that men have long relied on when faced with feminist critiques.
But my main concern comes at the way the issues are split into authentic “feminist” issues and those “other” issues that those “other” women are trying to integrate into feminism. It’s a question of who feminism belongs to, and who is entitled to set out its goals and concerns.

And it seems to me that white middle-class feminists shouldn’t be doing the same thing that the white guys have always done: We should not be telling other women to forgo their issues for the ones we deem important. We should not be telling other women to wait their turn. We should not construct a movement that assumes “woman” to only represent one narrow construction of womanhood.

The question is whether the women in positions of greater power — women who tend to be white and middle or upper-class — are going to emulate existing power structures, or whether those women are going to recognize the diversity and richness of feminism and try to represent that by challenging the very structures that gave them power in the first place.
What appears to be operating the the crux of the conflict within
the Black Feminist
movement and at Linda's beef with
intersectonality, and Jills critique as well
is an inability to
agree on what being a feminist is.

I observed that Linda's working definition of feminism is
"social changes for women". Jill's working definition is
that "..feminism isn’t an issue —
it’s an umbrella
movement that should encompass and represent
interests". bell hooks says it best when
she that there is a difference between
saying that
you are a feminist and saying that you advocate of feminism.

Those who say that they are feminist tend to have more
leeway in terms of how the term affects their day to day lives.
Vague terms tend to have a vague impact. No Child Left Behind

In Feminist Theory, hooks offers a working definition
stating that those who advocate feminism are committed
to the eradication of sexual and racial oppression.
This covers Black, White, Latina, Asian families across class.

Approaching the issue from this point of view means having a
more clearer goal and a clearer strategy. There is no easy, or single
solution to how this looks on the daily. What matters, I believe,
is the daily struggle with how this issue lives in our lives,
the lives people that we impact and have the potential to impact.

Other Links

Brown Femi Power
Guns, Lawyers & $


BP said...

Thank you for this essay!It's refreshing to hear from a sista who actually discusses the need for feminism. hooks is right and many black feminists have made a similar case but also failed to come to terms with a clear agenda. There are several articles (i don't remember the website)that have been archived, writings by black feminists in the 70s and 80s. One title known as the Black Women's Manifesto. I can find it and send it to you.

Have you read Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins?

BP said...

What do you think about how Michelle Obama is being portrayed by the media?

Model Minority said...

Hi B,

Its good to hear from you.

I saw the manifesto. Arrg. Pat Hill...she's good but the WORDS HUURRRRRT.

Man Listen. Get out of my head. I have a post in my head about how trill it is to be a Black woman right now. Like. For real for real.
On some skin ish, some property ish, and some "she ain't feminine enough ish", its tre tiring. So yeah. Its on my radar.

Will to Love said...

you said "What appears to be operating the the crux of the conflict within the Black Feminist movement and at Linda's beef with intersectonality, and Jills critique as well is an inability to agree on what being a feminist is."

I don't have an answer to this question but I'm wondering if part of this tension may stem from the role that an analysis of patriarchy plays in defining what feminism is. For example, if white woman are only trying to be more like men as hooks asserts, is there any critique of patriarchy, or is it just a critique of sexism?

If we talk about intersectionality, I think we have to talk about systems, not just the symptoms of systems. Like sexism as a symptom of patriarchy and racism as a symptom of white supremacy. i dont know. just a couple thoughts.

M.Dot. said...

If we talk about intersectionality, I think we have to talk about systems, not just the symptoms of systems. Like sexism as a symptom of patriarchy and racism as a symptom of white supremacy.
I like that.

Its like that class part to whole argument shit in the law.

I have been playing around with this idea of choices being made within the realm of available options. So yeah.

Systems vs the symptoms rock.

BP said...

How do we go about discussing intersectionality? I think there is so much potential and usefulness to seeing these critical isms as symptoms of a larger systems of oppression that is connected to this racist, sexist, capitalist society. But how do we do it?

emma said...

hey, you should read "the cost of club work" by D. Gray White. discussion of the "costs" of intersectionality.

Winky said...

Ummmm "Intersectionality Costs"....says it like homer.

Thank you Emma.

Renee said...

As a WOC I think aligning ourselves with mainstream feminism is a mistake. To be clear feminism from its inception has never been about anything but improving the lives of rich/middle class white women.
I believe that it is important that we identify as womanist because it is clear that WOC face unique challenges that are clearly related race, class and gender. To that end we need to organize on mass and protest.
I don't believe in disavowing womens agency and advancement but I cannot own a label that seeks to consistently create me as other for the convenience of white women. It seems to me that many don't want equality for all women they want the equality to oppress bodies of color the same way that white men can. At this point ally status needs to be earned and not just granted.

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