Feminist Flavorings: Origins and Future Directions for Multiple Feminism(s)
Feminism is often understood as the movement to end oppression of women while promoting social, political and economic equality of the sexes ( i.e. gender equality between men and women). Feminism traces the dominance of man over woman (via the system of patriarchy) to cultural, social, religious and pseudo-scientific ideas that embrace biological determinism, the inherent value in phallocractic rule and the “natural” order of male power, supremacy and dominion. Feminism espouses liberation for men, women and all “Others” who do not fit neatly into superficial/false gender binaries that divide us as a human species. Obviously, these categories, distinctions and reductionisms in the English language exist for their utility, clarity and ability to bring about communication; yet, they also arguably bring about violence when they punish, discipline, stigmatize and ostracize individuals who do not/cannot subscribe to societal conventions and strictly enforced genders norms; they, moreover, create ontological norms of what is/isnt, what should/should not exist and what is masculine vs. what is feminine. Gendered division of labor at the family, community and governmental levels can also be linked to problematic and stereotypical notions of masculinity (strong, confident, tough, loud, violent, rational, hard, rough, independent, aggressive, hypersexual/disciplined and tough) and femininity (dependent, weak, quiet, emotional, gentle, soft, sensitive, passive, nurturing, peaceful, virginal/sensual and submissive) in many modern and historical Eurocentric contexts. People of color, conversely, are often emasculated, hyper-sexualized and/or de-sexualized by racialized gender stereotypes in the media and by collective social memory.
Additionally, self proclaimed and closeted feminists, let alone their myriad ideological and philosophical feminism(s), have never been monolithic. There are many flavors of feminism, despite superficial and misleading portrayals of feminism(s) commonly depicted within film, television, radio, popular literature, and social media. These various feminist flavorings arise from what philosopher of science Donna Haraway terms feminist objectivity, epistemology of location, feminist positioning or feminist empiricism i.e. the belief that although all knowledge is socially constructed as “power moves, not moves towards truth”, some partial perspectives or visions are better able to capture the complexity, creativity and paradox of human existence (1988: 576). Hence, many feminist flavorings represent subjugated standpoints that “promise more adequate, sustained, objective, [and] transformative accounts of the world” (1988: 584). Yet, Haraway, Davis and other feminist scholars also argue that power circulates unequally and dynamically between various feminist perspectives, it is better to abstain from either relativism or totalization in feminist thought and finally it is useful to embrace splitting, contradictions, and other heterogeneous multiplicities within feminist thought. Thus, although I find liberal (integrationist) and now neoliberal feminism(s) that promote market capitalism and under-regulated global trade (traditionally represented by many privileged, bourgeoisie White women) anathema to my radical sensibilities, I acknowledge that it is important that women achieve, for example, equal pay for equal work in a legalistic sense. I also theoretically understand the logic behind separatist and lesbian feminism(s) that strive to create communities free of men. Where this praxis leaves a) women who choose to couple/struggle with men and b) poor women of color from the Global South without access to these well paid jobs that liberal feminists fight for, well, I am not sure……
In contrast, the intersectional and reflexive approach of Black feminism brings together multiple, shifting types of situated knowledges (inclusive but NOT exclusive to race, class, gender and sexuality) to address multiple systems of oppression that co-construct our social identities. Meaning, Black feminism gives me the lens to understand my neglected everyday experiences and embodied knowledge as a cis-gendered Black woman in Amerika who straddles multiple social classes. Black feminism also allows me to understand that ALL oppressions are just diverse manifestations of structural, systemic inequalities created by the nebulous force some call colonial capitalism, some call patriarchy and others identify as sin. Whatever the origin of oppression, Black feminist intersectionality, or “the interaction of multiple identities and experiences of exclusion and subordination” as coined by Black feminist scholar Kimberle Crenshaw (Davis 2008:67), allows me to center Black women’s histories and voices as an analytical starting point and productive force for initiating social change. It also allows me to stand in solidarity with all women while acknowledging differences among women. Which is why Black feminism, particularly womanism, so strongly appeals to me. Womanism acknowledges the particular strength and resiliency of Black women and our solidarity with Black men and the larger Black community. Womanism, as coined by author and poet Alice Walker, also centers Black women’s spirituality and connection to nature.
Moreover, there are arguably many other types of feminism(s) that influenced my intellectual feminist journey in addition to womanism. The unacknowledged feminism(s) of my mother, maternal great aunts and grandmothers taught me to be confident, resourceful, opinionated, argumentative, smart, sexually empowered and financially independent. The pop and trap/crunk/neosoul feminism(s) of Destiny’s Child, the Spice Girls and even Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim and Erykah Badu taught me to be brave in advocating for my own sexual needs, that it’s OK to call out Black male privilege and the importance of sisterhood (Girl Power!). As an undergraduate student at Spelman College, I learned about the gains made by women and allies during the 1st (abolitionists and suffragists), 2nd (women’s liberation, cultural and French postmodernist) and 3rd (women of color, eco-feminist, Third World, post-colonial, indigenous, etc.) waves of feminism. I wholeheartedly embraced the slogan “the personal is political, and the political is personal” in college after studying under Black feminist scholar Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall; in graduate school, I began to tentatively explore the views of marxist/socialist feminists and radical feminists that subscribe to the belief that only transformation of, not integration into, society (and global capitalist labor relations) can bring about complete liberation of all people. And finally, as a young adult and professional, I have fully embraced Black vegetarian eco-feminism as I understand that only an intersectional, non-essentialist, and environmentally conscious understanding of one’s situated knowledge can address social injustice, environmental racism, speciesism, climate change and all other manifestations of what Vandana Shiva terms the eco-apartheid state. And I look forward in the future to learning more about Christian feminist theology, queer feminism(s) and indigenous feminism(s) as I continue on my personal feminist journey, adding flavorings of understanding where needed.
So I ask: can a society that overwhelmingly promotes what social theorists/social justice activists Bell Hooks, Laverne Cox, A. Breeze Harper and others term cisnormative heteronormative speciest imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy ever bring about freedom, equity, choice, justice, happiness, or #life for All? We live in a day and age in which Democratic Presidential hopefuls on national television are asked to choose between #Blacklivesmatter and #Alllivesmatter, without a subsequent critical analysis of why it is a revolutionary act to even suggest that Black lives are valued, loved, important and beautiful. The visceral disgust, panic and fear experienced by some when they hear that #Blacklivesmatter attests to the inability of the USA, my country, to cope with the legacy of settler colonialism, Christian missionary work, African/indigenous enslavement and Jim/Jane Crow that set the environmental and socioeconomic conditions for the present day. The prison industrial complex, urban riots, rural industrial agriculture, spatial segregation, under-performing and under-resourced schools, modern day trans/homophobia, racialized, polluted environments, racialized and gendered poverty/health disparities, and disinvested/gutted neighborhoods (i.e. rampant social inequality) did not come about in an ahistorical vacuum. Perhaps as Haraway suggests,” our hopes for accountability, for politics, for ecofeminism, turn on revisioning the world as a coding trickster with whom we must learn to converse” (1988: 596).Perhaps then we will find the elusive justice and freedom for all.
Davis, Kathy. 2008. “Intersectionality as buzzword: A sociology of science perspective on what makes a feminist theory successful.” Feminist Theory 9(1): 67-85.
Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14(3): 575-599.
“Feminism.”The Basics of Philosophy. <http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_feminism.html>