These days, I find myself internally cringing when I hear any WOC refer to herself as a feminist. See my beef with the feminist movement as a whole started back in college. As a political science major, whose concentration was political theory, I studied feminist theory. It wasn’t much for me to see its flaws, holes, and apparent contradictions.
Feminism has an old history but it’s role in the United States rose and fell in waves. To sum it up, the bases for the movement focuses on establishing and/or defending equal rights for women. From there the movement breaks up into a plethora of feminist schools of thought. For example, there is post modern feminist who feel as though sex and gender are social constructs. Socialist feminism ties oppression of women to labor. Liberal feminism seeks equality through policy reform. Radical feminist aim to overhaul and rebuild the entire institution. And those named are just a few. As seemingly different as these schools are they all have one thing is common.
They are exclusionary.
It’s common practice for people to subscribe to an ideology without a full understanding of it or its history. I see it happen all the time. Just take a look at our political and religious institutions. However what I can’t wrap my head around is how women of color can be so quick to fall in line with a movement that was never intended for us.
First wave feminism, which began in the early nineteen hundreds, mainly focused on a woman’s right to own property and vote. Neither of which applied to Blacks, we were just barely coming out of slavery at the time. Furthermore, this first wave of the feminist movement was blatantly racists towards WOC. The second wave of feminism bloomed in the 1960’s and was when feminist theory really took off. This wave focused on equality for women’s in a variety of fields such as the workforce, politics, education, etc. Though this second wave of feminism was more expansive than the first it catered to upper middle class White women, excluding WOC.
Now we’re in what’s called the third wave of the feminist movement which started in the 1980’s and has continued into the present. Much of the third wave focuses on addressing what wasn’t in the first two waves. This is where one will see ideologies such as Womanism, Third-world feminism, standpoint feminism, and transnational feminism. What all these have in common is that they are feminist theories centered on WOC. As interesting as these ideologies are, when you dig beneath the surface you will see that they are simply different versions of White feminist theory repackaged for WOC. Essentially there is no such thing as Black feminism, it’s simply an extension of White feminism. I also must point out that Black feminism is also exclusionary, with many of its subscribers also being biological essentialist (a philosophy that certain properties of a group are universal i.e all woman are born with a vagina). A philosophy that completely excludes trans women from the movement, and thus equality.
In addition to its hypocrisy and contradictions one needs to ask if feminist theory is applicable. When I examine it critically I can’t really say that it is. Gender and sexuality are extremely complicated subjects. There are so many social, cultural, economical, and political reasons behind gender and sexual oppression. As a result any movement based of either is going to be a messy affair. This is the reason why there are so many schools within the feminist movement. All agree on equality for women, none agree on exactly how that equality should be obtained.
I’m all for equality. As an activist I would never say that a fight for equal rights is not necessary, However, I could never knowingly subscribe to an ideology that excludes someone such as myself or decrees equality for all while excluding another group. I will always mobilize for women’s rights but I will never call myself a feminist.