By Amanda Ahadizadeh
In addition to our blog, another aspect of this organization is a weekly discussion group over academic articles, essays, and/or current events relating to social justice. Last Sunday we discussed an article by Maxine Baca Zinn and Bonnie Thornton Dill entitled “Theorizing Difference from Multiracial Feminism.” The authors offered a rather critical perspective on feminism as an all-inclusive group. According to the article, race transcends gender.
“So much feminist scholarship assumes that when we cut through all of the diversity among women created by differences of racial classification, ethnicity, social class, and sexual orientation, a ‘universal truth’ concerning women and gender lies buried underneath.”
Zinn and Dill make the argument that race affects everybody, while differences based on gender vary according to race, class, nationality, etc. There is no “singular or unified feminism.” For example, though I am a woman, all I truly understand is what it’s like to be a middle-class Iranian American women, and nothing further. During our discussion on Sunday, we wholeheartedly agreed that race and gender, and other factors, importantly interact and that their intertwining is often overlooked. We challenged, however, the idea that race totally transcends gender, that there is no universal aspect of feminism. Feminism, defined most simply, is the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. More particularly, feminists fight for the right to choose.
We came to this conclusion after a brief debate between two female students. On one hand, we as Americans tend to assume our way is the best way. Our nationality affects every aspect of our opinions. We see things like genital mutilation as completely and entirely wrong. However, in some cultures mutilation is involved in a highly respected ritual. On the other hand, undoubtedly it is wrong if a girl is subjected to mutilation against her will. This, we all agreed, was an anti-feminist phenomenon. The “we” I’m referring to included both men and women, white Americans, black Americans, Middle Eastern Americans, one Indian American, one Hispanic American, and two international students, one from Uganda and the other from Burundi. Although we were of entirely different racial backgrounds and even nationalities, we concluded that there is a singular feminism. It may be broad and it may be relative, but it exists.
We also discussed cross-cultural feminism and debated whether or not our “western” feminism differs (and to what extent) from other regions around the world. There is something to be said of the differences in every day trials when discussing cross-cultural feminism. While we are fighting for equal pay in the U.S., mothers in poor villages are struggling to find food for their children. What is feminism like there? While we question the demonization of female sexuality, women in some countries of the Middle East are forced to cover their heads with hejabs. And still, many women chose to cover themselves, receive hatred for their choice, and deserve the right to do what they want and not be disrespected or submitted to violence for it. The problems of women elsewhere in the world should be recognized–not because we plan to pull a George Bush and go over there and fix it–but because we all need some perspective. That being said, we can certainly aim to fix what’s right in front of us. Although our problems here in Norman are far less severe, that does not make them any less worth fighting for. The discrepancies in oppression across the world are significant, but the same power structure is used to dominate them. Attempts at controlling women’s clothing is certainly different than domestic, radical violence. However, both contribute to the devaluation of women cross-culturally.
Within the demographic of American females, race certainly has major effects. Female black Americans have the lowest unemployment rate of record. A black woman is paid 55 cents for each white man’s dollar. Race and gender interconnect, and the experiences of people from different backgrounds will differ. But when we fight for equal pay, we’re fighting for the equal pay of ALL WOMEN. When we fight for the right to choose, we’re fighting for ALL WOMEN. While each individual does and should identify as more than just a women, whether it be a white woman, a black woman, or a poor woman, their similarities lie in gender. And although they don’t match up identically, their commonality matters. Our discussion concluded that while race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality are all hugely important within feminism, they do not transcend its definition. Instead, we must ask ourselves to recognize women for their many facets, understand that different groups of women face different issues, and work toward a good that doesn’t exclude select groups of people.
The discussed article is posted below! Please read it and let us know what you think. Does race force wedges between women, or is gender the trump card?
“Theorizing Differences from Multiracial Feminism”