I’ve been busy with school and moving, so I haven't had a lot of time to post here. But school is going well and I'm taking a feminism course called Comparative Black Feminisms. We’re in mid semester and were asked to write about our thoughts on feminism at the beginning of the course and where we stand now. As many people know, I have a contentious relationship with feminism. In the past I have posted about this quite a bit: http://chesyaburke.livejournal.com/12260.h
I’m surprised to find that this course has allowed me to think about a few things and put them into perspective. I’m not sure where I stand, but I have grown a bit because of this course. I think that’s a good thing. So here are some of my thoughts in random order:
Upon starting this course, I felt I knew a great deal about feminism and the corresponding “waves” that had happened since its initial introduction. I had taken a women’s studies course and written about the subject in many different forums. I’d also had (and continue to have) run-ins with people who call themselves feminist but place labels on who should and shouldn’t be represented within the title. Of course, for those people, the “accepted” group was always middle class white women and their particular problems were always at the forefront of the movement. Any time a person of color discussed their own struggles, being both women and minority and often poor, they were told not to “cloud the issue” or that being minorities weren’t real “women’s issues.” Because of this, I chose to consider myself a womanist as opposed to a feminist because there is still so much racism/classism, etc. from second-wave feminism and I didn’t want to align myself with that kind of passive, self-serving activism.
In my initial personal reflection on feminism I said: “Feminism to me is about social justice. Feminist should be concerned not only with the plight of all women but with class, racism, gender relations and any and all human interest topics. The term, as it stands, is not encompassing for me.” As I did here, I underlined “all” because it was important for me to acknowledge the ongoing struggle within feminism and that many women still feel rejected by the current feminist “agenda.” I am one of those women.
Class discussion has not completely changed my mind, but it’s helped me to focus my own ideology. It has also caused me to think, and solidify my positions on many things that I had not previously entertained thoroughly. In going back over my initial personal statement, I realize that my views were heavily influenced by the people I had previously encountered in feminism. More importantly, I had based my statement (and feelings) on the negative feminist only. For every white feminist who felt black women should leave behind their blackness, there was another who supported my views of equality within the group. Every time I lambasted a “feminist” for their racist/homophobic/ablest ideology, I found comradery from another within the same crowd. I didn’t ignore these people, of course. I simply felt discontented and tired of all the infighting so it was easier for me to drop the label and move forward. At this point, I’m not sure what the term feminism means to me, but this class has allowed me to think about it more than I was willing to before.
In class we talked a lot about the many titles within the umbrella of feminism (womanism, Africana womanism, STIWANISM, etc.), and again “clouding the issue” was repeated. I wonder, though, if the titles are not as much of a problem as the people concerning themselves with others creating titles for themselves. For me it’s important for people to define themselves however they like. To name something is to give it power and it allows the person naming it to formulate their own ideas and even their own identity within the title. People are complex beings and they are not static. They are always evolving and moving, thus creating more broader names and identifications for their ideas is only natural. I don’t believe that this takes anything away from the original title of feminism and I wonder if the people who insist that it does, have a vested interest in maintaining the racial/class status quo while only changing the gender one. I do not suggest that everyone in class who said this feels this way, I simply wonder the harm in having as many definitions as people choose that fit their own lifestyles and identities. Concern of “clouding the issue” is only important, as I see it, if one believes there is only one issue to muck up instead of a vast number of them. In other words, for me, if you talk about clouding the issue, then you must believe there is only one issue. I do not believe that this is the case due to the diverse nature of all the women within the world.
I still believe that feminism should be “concerned not only with the plight of all women but with class, racism, gender relations and any and all human interest topics.” I also still don’t think the term is very inclusive, evidenced by the many many people trying to redefine it for themselves. I think there’s weight to the argument that we should not simply give the title over to the people who choose to varnish it by limiting its scope. Of course there will always be minority people who call themselves feminist, so I don’t think this is a problem. Also, I’m not as concerned with that as I am with the possible implication of not allowing people to name themselves. Historically, this has never ended well for minority peoples and this would be no different.
In the end, I still don’t know where I stand. I’m less angry at the title feminist, having learned that so many women argue over its meaning and its value to them. It was a convenient scapegoat for me to blame and channel my resentment, I think. But I’m still no more willing to take on the title for myself. I don’t relate to it, nor feel any kinship with it as I do the term coined by a black woman: womanism. Of course, they’re both just titles and as I mentioned before, I’m not static and I’m constantly evolving, so in the future I may return to the title feminism, or invent my own which I feel encompasses my identity. I reserve that right.