Although I identify as feminist, there are times when I feel alienated from feminism—or perhaps I should say, some of the narratives of dominant feminism (even when those expressions don’t necessarily come from the mainstream organizations, spokespeople, or media that traditionally represent feminism). I feel like the Outsider in a movement that should feel like home. My view is that our expressions of feminism (and everything else) is intimately connected to our identities; that it is impossible to separate those various facets of identity from one another—that those parts of ourselves are indelibly integrated into a whole; that feminism is necessary for us and the world; and that blogs can be an effective way to parse out our conflicts with one another and bridge the gaps in understanding in order that feminism remain a viable movement for positive change. The key word in that last sentence being “can.” I had a couple of posts here from the last time around titled “Like A Natural Woman”, Part 2 and Part 1, written in response to other posts going around the ‘sphere at the time, and today I want to develop those thoughts a little more. Think of it as on-line, old-school consciousness raising. Not as accusations. That isn’t the purpose. The purpose is, to be real, to be whole, and to have a space to come together with other women on the path of feminism and justice. I want to hear you, and I want to be heard. I want to listen to you, and I want to be listened to. I want to know where we converge, diverge, and cross, in order that we build this movement together. So.
When do I feel this disconnect from feminism (or more accurately, its incomplete representation)?
the dominant historical narratives of feminism leave my ancestors out. A whole lot of other people’s ancestors, too. While the abolitionists, Quakers, and temperance activists are always mentioned in U.S. narratives, immigrant women and women in the labor and/or socialist movements do not receive the recognition they should. The effect of colonialism on women and the early feminist movement gets short shrift. What about women who fought against (even took up arms against) colonial masters—where are they? Partisan women? The indelible influence of indigenous culture (especially the Iroquois Confederacy) on the development of feminism in the United States. It’s as if feminism is being described to me as something that others did on behalf of my godmothers,* not as a movement that they also contributed to.
the primacy of a narrow definition of reproductive “choice” as meaning “the ability to choose to have an abortion,” rather than the more comprehensive phrase reproductive justice, that encompasses all facets of reproductive choice and parenting. See here for a description.
a dismissive attitude towards mothers and our struggles/concerns. The same dismissive attitude toward children. I perceive a certain assumption in some feminist quarters that women who are mothers have acquiesed to “the patriarchy” with our very bodies. I read/see/hear a lot of lip service towards feminist goals specifically pertaining to mothers and children, yet see little concrete action in that direction coming from mainstream feminist organizations. There are marches to maintain abortion rights; why are there not also marches to obtain universal childcare? School hours, especially in elementary school, that matches the typical work hours?
unaddressed classism. I cringed/cursed/growled/gnashed my teeth awhile back during threads like this one (and yes, I lost my temper during that one) that intimated that dependent-care deductions “incentivize” having children. Those deductions were a political coup won for all workers by the CIO back in the fifties. That is history that needs to be remembered by feminists. Where was that strong denunciation of welfare deform, that makes it that much harder for a woman on welfare to obtain her best chance at economic self-sufficiency—a college degree? Ask the average working-class woman what is the most pressing concern facing women, and you are likely to receive the answer making ends meet. “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.”
unaddressed racism and/or racialized marginalization of other women. I’m not seeing enough prime space devoted in feminist media on issues specific to or primarily concerning women of color—for example, how child welfare agencies work against the interests of mothers of color. How the portrayal of undocumented workers as dangerous criminals is affecting women in immigrant communities (not to mention the separation of families). I’m seeing too many examples of racialized shorthand for women’s oppression, as “hijab” is used to represent an extreme sanction of women, or “machisimo” is used to provide a contrast to the supposedly kinder, gentler white man.
the role of men remains unaddressed in most feminist circles. Feminism is in many respects a reaction of women to the increased presence of industrialization/colonization, and the anomie it engendered. It changed the landscape for men also. The labor movement did organize around issues important to men in a way similar to feminist movement (with the best of the labor movement actively coordinating both men’s and women’s struggles into a cohesive whole), yet the destructive impact of the oppression of the labor movement had massive repercussions for labor as a unified vehicle for justice. Why shouldn’t feminism move to bridge that gap? Men can also be co-authors of the movement for justice; men are also subject to oppression(s).
the momentum for integrating women into nontraditional fields has dissipated, and mainstream feminism seems to assume that the important battles have been won in that regard; the concerns of the remaining intrepid feminists are strictly minor-league. What happened? Why is this no longer in the forefront of feminist concerns?
too much gatekeeping of female sexuality and its various expressions. This irritating facet of antifeminist thought pattern has contaminated feminist minds as well (and how could it not, as we are inundated with negative, even conflicting, messages about female sexuality throughout our lives?).
assumptions that religious or spiritual practice/belief is necessarily “patriarchal.” Or inherently antifeminist. Again, yet another form of gatekeeping, or “will the authentic feminist please stand up?” Bah.
Now, those are just the critiques of one woman, though I’m sure I’m not alone in holding them. And those critiques stem directly from my intersecting identities; my history, my upbringing, my family of origin, my neighborhood(s), my chosen communities, my various educations and life experiences, and probably also some innate personality characteristics. I maintain that such influences can’t be parsed out or ranked in order of importance; they all come together in my unified Self. Some folks may think it’s telling that in descriptions of myself, I invariably list “Sicilian-American” first, but I don’t know that that particular part of me is the most important—it’s just the most handy modifier for the other descriptions that follow. It has the danger of introducing stereotypes and negative assumptions–some of which I may even be unaware of–yet it remains the best shorthand available for assuring a certain accuracy (even with the flaw of stereotype).
And why should those identities matter? Because like it or not, they do. I’m bringing my whole damn self to this table, and I’m sitting at this table, not standing in the kitchen (though I may be stirring the pot). I’m still determined to identify as feminist, though I may be viewed by others (with better credentials) as an obstacle to feminist movement, or as disloyal even, for having the audacity to talk out of class. I think it is important to maintain identification as a feminist, and to raise my voice whether in unison or in opposition as a feminist, within feminism. I plan to co-create feminism along with my sisters, and brothers. I may not fit a manufactured image of feminism—but then, who manufactured those images? And who owns feminism?
Questions: Do you identify as feminist? If so, why? If not, what would have to change within feminism to gain your full participation?
I now cede the floor.
*shamelessly stolen from Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, and used in place of “foremothers”
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