Monday, February 13, 2012

The Confusion of FEMINISMS

Many women in this society do have choices (as inadequate as they are); therefore exploitation and discrimination are words that more accurately describe the lot of women collectively in the United States.  
- bell hooks, In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center
I remember a while back when I first created my Twitter account, I tweeted to the world know that I was a feminist. I had been reading a lot of books by my favorite gal, bell hooks, and I was like “Right on, girl!” I prematurely took on the identity of something that I had not studied in depth simply because I shared the same experiences with one feminist (also a cultural critic) writer and I understood what she was implying about the power struggle within the relationships between femininity and masculinity. At the time, I aligned myself with a movement that I understood partially. To make matters worse, I also mentioned that I did not hate men and was not a lesbian in the tweet since those were the two erroneous stereotypes about feminists. By making such a statement, it was obvious that I was not prepared to really be a feminist. I have no desire to recant my statement, but I would like to rephrase it. But before I get to that, let us talk a little bit about feminism.

Feminism was first coined in France during the 1880s as fĂ©minisme from the combination of the word woman, femme, and the suffix –isme, meaning a social movement or political ideology (Freedman, 2002; Tandon, 2008). Loosely put, feminism is the fight to end women’s oppression. People most commonly aware of feminism in North America occurring in waves. In the 1800s, first wave feminism, also known as “the women’s movement,” was mainly concerned with attaining suffrage rights for women (Freedman, 2002; Tandon, 2008). Second wave feminism, also known as “women's liberation,” took place around the 1960s to the 1980s and was more focused on attaining equal rights for women in relation to social laws (Tandon, 2008). Finally, third wave feminism occurred from the 1990s up to today because second wave feminism was deemed a failure (Tandon, 2008).

Black Feminism: Feminism's Exclusion of Non-White Women

Feminism excluded scores of minority women and none were more excluded in that movement than the African American woman. So when people ask me if I’m a feminist I proudly say no, though everything about me screams feminist.  
- The late Dr. Cheryl Hardison-Dayton
Merriam-Webster defines the term feminist as “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (“Feminism”, n.d.). Feminism sprang forth as a separation from the patriarchal society that many women found themselves having to deal with. The difference between the white feminists who usually come from privilege and the Black feminist who usually doesn’t come from privilege is the amount of struggle faced. For instance, for some feminists the only issue is deciding what can and can’t be done over one’s body and personal life choices. For others it is the fight to be seen as human and non-inferior along with the other issues already mentioned. The dynamics of struggle are quite different and socio-economic status, race, and other factors have to be taken into account when persons use the term feminist so loosely.

History of Feminism in America

In 1848 the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY (Let it be noted that not ALL women were invited, nor were the needs of ALL women addressed) (Imbornoni, n.d.). By 1869 organizations such as the National Woman Suffrage Association sprang forth because of persons like Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Imbornoni, n.d.). By December 10 of that year the first women’s suffrage law was passed (Imbornoni, n.d.). (whoop dee doo...if you were WHITE!) Due to clear and evident ostracism from the movement, the National Association of Colored Women was formed in 1869 by women like Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (Imbornoni, n.d.). In 1920, the 19th Amendment of the Constitution granted women the right to vote (Well some women anyway) (Imbornoni, n.d). From then on numerous groups sprang forth and feminism continued to exclude women of color in the movement.