Don’t Call Me A Feminist
With our newfound president busy making America “great” again, the feminist movement seems to be at an all time high. Although women have been fighting for justice for decades, women near and far are coming together more than ever to join forces to seek the equality they so desperately deserve. While it sounds ideal, and while I’m all for equality and justice for women, the title of “feminist” isn’t so simple. What I’ve grown to realize is the term feminist is pretty difficult to relate to depending on your own personal experience. And as a Black woman I’ve witnessed this movement geared toward inclusion and equality for women publicly exclude women of color in the process, making the authenticity of their motives questionable.
If you take a look at the history of the feminist movement, it’s clear it lacked inclusion from the beginning. Dating back to the 19th century and the iconic Women’s Suffrage Movement which changed women’s rights forever, this movement was never in full support of Black women. In fact, Susan B. Anthony, one of the most pivotal voices and leaders of the movement, was said to casually hide her racism in her passionate pursuit of gender equality. The proof? This infamous quote: “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”
While this was in response to the passing of the 15th amendment which gave Black men the right to vote, Anthony must have forgotten that “negros,” much of whom were Black women, were also in support of her efforts, but I digress.
Since its inception, the feminist movement focused primarily on the issues of white women and their deserving inclusion and, fast forward over a century later, women of color are still being excluded. Throughout the years this has stirred up great controversy among modern day feminists or, in this case, those who believe in equality for all women yet don’t feel the current movement accurately lives up to the term.
As of 2013 a majority of women were no longer considering themselves feminists for these exact reasons. Whether it be the vague definition or the inequities feminism ignores, self-described feminists are now few and far between throughout the country. Studies show only 23 percent of American women consider themselves feminists. Shocking.
But why, decades after its birth, does the feminist movement remain so problematic? Because its leaders, in the simplest of terms, refuse to acknowledge not all women have the same problems. In other words, inequalities don’t simply exist between men and women but among women as well who are caste based on race, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more.
We may all be women but our everyday experiences are vastly different, making our everyday hardships different as well. The problems of a white woman vary greatly with that of an African American. A disabled woman may be faced with different problems than that of a homosexual. Our individual lives say a lot about the needs of women as a whole and reducing those issues to the few that mostly affect the thin white and blonde does us all a disservice.
The feminist movement by definition aims to bring social, political and economical equality to both sexes, but it’s important that we understand as women our social, political, and economic status are not always one and the same. What the feminist movement has always and still does lack is intersectionality.
Intersectional feminism, coined by civil rights advocate and law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, focuses on the life of every woman and her individual identity. While the regular feminist movement often generalizes women as one, intersectional feminism focuses on the differences of each woman’s individual background and how she is faced with oppression because of it. These individual identities vary from sexuality, race, social class, age, disability, privilege, and the list goes on. By understanding each woman’s individual problem, intersectional feminism allows for us to have a better chance at finding a solution suitable for all.
Women are complex, unique individuals who deserve equality based off their own individual needs. The feminist movement lacks inclusion and I can’t support a women’s movement that excludes women. There is no “one size fits all” type of woman; therefore there shouldn’t be a “one size fits all” type of feminism to defend us. I will always fight for women’s rights, I will always defend equality, but the title of “feminist” without “intersectionality” is one I can’t answer to.