Upon reading the title of this article, you may have had a few different reactions. Some of you may have thought, “Well, yeah, feminists are crazy! Of course there’s a problem,” but since this is, after all, the Women’s Center Blog, the majority of you reading may have felt uncomfortable or become defensive of the movement that you all, myself included, have advocated so much for. Maybe a small amount of you wondered why “problem” wasn’t pluralized, as there are many problems that come with feminism. However, I think all of these issues boil down to a centralized one: mainstream feminism has failed, in many cases, to be inclusive.
Today, I would like to talk about one aspect of feminism’s exclusivity, which may be one of the biggest, that I had begun to think about more after reading an article titled “Why I Don’t F*** With Feminism, Even If It’s Intersectional” by Jaimee Swift. I was immediately made uncomfortable by the title, as I did not understand why any woman would not want to call themselves a feminist. I mean, this movement is for our benefit… right? For some of us, maybe.
In Swift’s article, she explains why she cannot call herself a feminist, and she summarizes it quite nicely with this statement:
“While I want equality for all women, all men, and all people of all races, as a Black woman, I cannot align myself with a women-centered movement that refuses to be inclusive of racial inequities and gender disparities. I am weary and will no longer advocate for inclusion in a white-female oriented space where I, and countless other Black women, have been constantly rejected… I’d rather disassociate myself from feminism altogether to be at peace in a Womanist space that was created for my Blackness and my womanhood than advocate for a white, feminist paradigm that is so pervasive that intersectionality is revered as an afterthought.”
After pushing through my initial discomfort and checking my privilege, I realized how much sense it made. When we talk about the women’s suffrage movement, we think of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but we don’t think of Sojourner Truth or Ida B. Wells (and we definitely don’t think of the fact that Anthony and Stanton perpetuated white supremacy.) When we talk about wage inequality, we think about how for every dollar a man makes, we make 77 cents. We don’t think about the 64 cents Black women make in comparison. We talk and we think, but only to a certain extent. The mainstream feminist movement has a default woman in mind, but she is not representative of the women in this country that experience marginalization disproportionately. Why would a woman who doesn’t fit the default “white, middle-class” requirement want to be a part of a movement that only makes her a component – or, like Swift said, an afterthought – of feminism at best, and excludes her entirely at its worst? This is where Womanism emerges, a movement that centralizes Black women’s value in the fight for equity,
To reiterate Swift, some white feminists/intersectional feminists will cry separatism or segregation at the fact that a Womanist movement has developed that allows Black women to have a voice in their own space. Instead, I would urge you to read Swift’s article, become educated, and try to see her point of view. But regardless of whether or not the Womanist movement is accepted and understood by white women, I think it’s important to at least consider why this movement has come to be in the first place. The feminist movement has excluded Black women so severely that it is not considered a safe space by many, and it is incredibly disappointing that the mainstream movement thinks it can continue to “liberate all women” when it is not actually fighting for the women who experience domestic violence, state violence, poor representation, poverty, and several other issues at a disproportionate rate.
Feminism, for many of us, may play a huge role in our lives, but for it to stay useful, we need to prioritize our issues more carefully. This may mean, for example, changing violence intervention framework to address the fact that Black women are three times more likely than white women to experience death as a result of domestic violence and put this issue at the forefront of the feminist movement, instead of making the fight to show our nipples on Instagram one of the most widely-recognized feminist movements. The problem(s) with feminism will never go away completely, but by becoming more educated and learning to prioritize, we can make this movement a more inclusive one.