Where Feminism Falls Short

Womanist Musings posted yesterday about feminists persistently neglecting to come to the defense of any woman who is not white, able-bodied, or class-privileged.

If someone so much as gives the side eye to Hillary Clinton, one can be certain that it will appear on feminist blogs repeatedly. Hillary is continually championed and this is deemed a necessary action to help fight sexism. Even Sarah Palin, who is clearly no friend to progressive women, has been defended by feminists. I have no worry that when it comes to White, able bodied, class privileged women who appear to be gender conforming, that feminism will rush in with a battle cry of vengeance, against those who would dare challenge their right to participate. My concern is for women that fall outside of this very narrow category. When I wrote about the overt sexualization of Michelle Obama by Tracy Morgan, I knew that Womanist Musings would be one of the few blogs to do so. Despite claiming that fighting sexism is a concern of feminists, attacks against Michelle Obama continually get ignored. It is left to women of colour to point out the link between sexism and racism that combine to oppress her.

Hearing about sexism aimed at Hillary Clinton does not rile me up or encourage me to wage battle, because I know that she will be defended ad nauseum — instead — it causes me to think about women that are daily being erased while promoting the idea of female unity. Until feminists can dedicate as much time as they spend defending Hillary Clinton, to women who exist on the margins, I see no reason to feel inspired. This is not to say that the sexism aimed at Clinton is not harmful, but the erasure of the experiences of multitudes of women needs to be recognized, otherwise we are simply continuing the marginalization and oppression of women, based on a desire to uplift a small elite group. How can marginalized women be expected to continually rush to the defense of this small elite, when daily we are erased to promote the idea that we all experience sexism in the same way?

Feminist history in the United States is infected with overt racism. Racism and other -isms in US history aren’t particular to the feminist movement, but considering the purposes for the existence of this movement, it is especially shameful. White suffragists used racist arguments to fight for the right to vote. The reproductive rights movement with the agenda of eliminating through compulsory sterilization those who were seen “unfit” to have children–basically poor women, women of color, and women with disabilities.
No doubt that there’s more. There’s probably an inconceivable amount of untold stories and frantically buried histories, because it’s certainly something to be ashamed of. I’d like to say that history is history and we’ve moved on–but we haven’t. Marginalized women in the feminist movement may not be fought against as actively today, but what’s almost as alarming is that for the most part they are silenced and erased, but are conveniently pushed to the front when the validity of the movement is called into question. We may still be struggling to define what feminism is today, but the silencing of underprivileged voices and women in marginalized bodies is absolutely inexcusable.
I can’t explain the frustration I feel when a non-Muslim woman, claiming to be a feminist, tells me I’m not as familiar with my own religion as she is, and then proceeds to explain for me using her own terms. The first time this happened, it amazed me. It took all my self-restraint to keep from telling her to shut the fuck up and sit the hell down. We live here, in the US, with a history that tells us that white women began the feminist movement, worked hardest in the feminist movement, are here to thank for the feminist movement, and are ideal icons of feminism–when in reality, not only was this achieved by actively shutting out Other Women, but there are countries, with women of other religions and other histories, who actually fought for their rights before American women, and obtained those rights even before the existence of America.
You did not invent feminism, white American women. You hijacked it. It already existed, and you didn’t join it, you took it.
It hurts me to write this, because I’m categorizing myself in a way with which I don’t identify–saying that I’m not white implies that I am something, and I don’t want to be anything that I feel is useless as an identifier. But it doesn’t matter if I don’t identify with a race, because race doesn’t concern the individual. Race erases the individual. People actively look for a race when they see me, and as long as they must have it it won’t matter what I say. When the rest of the world pushes me into a category, it doesn’t matter.
I hate talking about race. I am so sick of it. But I have to live in this world, with other people, and Womanist Musing‘s post is a reminder that racism hasn’t left us. I’ve experienced it in my life, subtly, but until I read this I didn’t fully realize that that’s what it was, because it felt ridiculous to wonder if the reason I didn’t feel that those with whom I am acquainted in real life don’t rush as quickly to my defense, or that even if they know me well enough to know that my daily pleasures are dreaming and long walks and long showers and nothing any different from how they spend their time there is always a degree of suspicion, because I don’t look like them, either with not being white or not being the model minority. That would just be me being paranoid right?
Except this can’t just keep being a coincidence.
It’s so subtle that I rarely pick it up. It exists in the subconscious without any real applied occupation.
But I wish it were gone entirely.

8 thoughts on “Where Feminism Falls Short

  1. I was trying a new system for a couple of days and finally decided against it. Consequently all the new comments were removed as I removed the system.There will be less chaos. =P


  2. almostclever

    Hey, just wanted to let you know that whenever I try posting a longer comment, I get denied. Seems to be a blogger thing, I've had it happen with a few other blogger peoples. Or maybe it is my WordPress, I'm not sure.


  3. This is a comment from almostclever, because blogger sucks:"The assertion that feminism began with white women only proves to me that eurocentrism has done an excellent job of erasing black women's contributions. We talk ad naseum about Susan B. Anthony and the white women who started Hull Housebut what about Ida B. Wells? Jane Edna Hunter? Mary Mcleod Bethun? Josephine Baker?"Women of color began the feminist movements in America, and when whites became involved there began a split. white middle class women who were well off enough to volunteer and not work – had issues and concerns far different from women of color who were working full time when it was looked down upon for women to work, and so white women began to crusade for issues without women of color in mind, and as you said – at the expense of women of color."Today I think the issue remains when white feminists are more concerned with the privileged status of Hilary Clinton."Feminism has gone off track for a while, in my mind. Feminists are still concerned with women being allowed to run naked if they so choose, and have failed to see how bamboozled their minds have been."I've contemplated dropping the term all together, but what would that solve?"


  4. I agree with everything you've said, except I strongly believe there's a point to be made about being able to run around naked if we choose. =XI've never considered dropping the term, because I feel that it's something I am in my soul, and because despite all the malfunctioning there's much good from it. Also, it would feel like surrendering or giving up–this movement belongs to me, I'm not going to let it be taken over by those with privileged statuses.


  5. almostclever

    Yes, true, but I would go so far as to say our undressing has become our chains.I would also beg to argue that there is no movement anymore, not in any real sense – but I would love to be proven wrong about this, in fact I hope I am.I would love to know your thoughts on that (or if you already have a post on it, I would love to be pointed to that post) :)


  6. I get that. I feel the same way about undressing as I do about hi'jab–sick about the subject, convinced there are bigger things to discuss and impatient for them. But whether or not I'm tired of it, it does tie into larger issues, and it's significant that we still have to fight for it at all–it shows how much there is to accomplish.I feel that there is a movement. I feel that when we do make progress we just don't hear about it, because most of the concentration is centered on defensively preventing sexism rather than actively attaining equality. But then there are things like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was only passed in 2009–and that is certainly monumental. There's still so much work to be done, and while I can understand that it feels like there isn't a movement in any real sense, I don't think we'll know until we actually look back because we are progressing in increments.



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