Discussion Recap: 2/1/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

In honor of Black History Month, we will be discussing articles particularly related to racial equality for the next few meetings. For our first meeting of the month, our members read the Combahee River Collective Statement, which was written in 1977 by a group of Black Feminists in Boston. The Combahee River Collective was actually a Black Feminist Lesbian group named after the guerrilla action led by Harriet Tubman in 1863 in Port Royal, SC.  These women formed out of the Boston chapter of the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO), an antiracist AND antisexist group. They built their identity around their social status as the most disadvantaged group in society: “…being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world.” Just fight the world, no big deal. (scoff)

The defining characteristic of Black Feminism, especially in the 70s, was utter lack of privilege. These women did not have the male privilege of Black men, nor could they share in the racial privilege of white women. As for white men, “Black women have always embodied, if not only in their physical manifestation, an adversary stance to white male rule…” Black women are basically the arch nemeses of white men. The bane of their existence. The Harry to their Voldemort (it’s funny because Voldemort was so pale). Black men, according to the statement, reacted negatively to Black Feminism, which relates to what we discussed last week in the white privilege article. “They realize that they might not only lose valuable and hard-working allies in their struggles but that they might also be forced to change their habitually sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing Black women.” Basically, Black men felt like the success of a Black feminist movement would take away any sense of supremacy they had. How sad! The statement also points out that while “eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do,” the progress within the white women’s movement reveals an awful negligence on their behalf. It was as if white women only had enough energy to fight for their rights specifically. They couldn’t be bothered to take a stand against racial discrimination, even though their cause is basically invalidated by condoning oppression of any kind. But I guess they didn’t realize that.

In our discussion, one of our members pointed out that Black women’s cause should be fought by all women, because, as the statement points out, the success of their movement would mean the “liberation of all oppressed people.” Because Black women are the most disadvantaged demographic, their deliverance would mean the deliverance of everyone less disadvantaged. It may be Black women’s cause, but it should be all women’s concern.

Interestingly, the Combahee River Collective also offered an economic stance.

“We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialist because we believe the work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses.” Stick it to the man. Hell yeah.

This brought up a discussion among a couple of our members about economic structure and oppression. Someone pointed out the more left-leaning economic structures of Western Europe and correlated that with seemingly less oppressive societies. Another person said that economic success, in whatever structure, is the foundation for social liberation. Many prominent members of society make their voices heard by financial means.

So what do you think? Does economic structure hurt or help oppressed groups? Or is the economy irrelevant? And as for white/black/male/female, what responsibilities do you think each demographic has for the others?

As always, here’s the link.

History of Feminism: First-Wave

By Alice Barrett

The history of feminism is long, nuanced, often unrepresentative, and misrepresented.  In this series, we will look at the popularized conception of feminism in the United States.  By no means will the posts following this topic be detailed enough, fully appropriate in perspective, or historically superior to the many articles and histories online.  This is, however, an attempt to introduce our readers to what most historians generally categorize as the three waves of feminism.

Feminism today is a word associated with controversy and unease.  People think of the radicalism of the 1960s and 70s and begin to fear a world where women treat men as men currently treat women.  This thought process is dumb, of course, ignoring very basic definitions of equality and submitting itself to availability heuristic.  Feminism seeks the economic, political, and social equality of women.  The end goal is not to be rid of men.  People who do believe this, while definitely responsible for the outlandishness of their perspective, hold these views almost understandably.  A movement possesses less merit and credibility when written off as extremist, unnecessary, and foolish. Popular culture and people with power want to tell us that feminism embodies those three characteristics wholly.

Later posts will discuss how feminism became associated with radicalism and absurdity.  For now, I will discuss the first-wave of feminism, during which suffrage was sought.

Most historians mark the beginning of feminism in the United States as the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention.  During this convention, some 300 women and men discussed the role of women in society and debated and perfected the ideas of two prepared documents, one of which was the Declaration of Sentiments, a shocking yet reasonable compilation of the ways men held/hold irrational power over women.  Some of the sentiments include:

  • “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.”
  • “He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce, in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given; as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of the women – the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of a man, and giving all power into his hands.”
  • “He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.”

This convention, in addition to making actual progress, also symbolizes the dynamics of early feminism.  Much of what women believed they deserved–the right to speak in public, to vote, to choose their own futures and beings–was viewed, even by other women, as too radical.

While these demands for equality appeared extreme at the time, in reality early feminists were typically conservative or moderate.  Many, including most of the members of the American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA), felt that they would need to use the political system in order to make gains; additionally, they believed that they must focus on the concrete, realistic goal of suffrage.  While suffrage and abolition coincided ideologically in many important ways, criticism of first-wave feminism centers on its limited definition of women.  Early feminists sought suffrage for white women and often, although generally supportive of abolition, ignored the plight of black women.  Still, many black women, including Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells, made important philosophical and tangible contributions to early feminism.  In Sojourner Truth’s 1851 “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech–during which, according to my Women and Gender Studies professor and relating to the delayed written transcription of the speech, Truth actually said “Aren’t I a woman?”, only to have her words changed to suit how leaders wanted her presented (uneloquent, charming)–Truth challenged conceptions of women’s place with her rousing, unrecoverable elocution.

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, because Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him…. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they are asking to do it, the men better let them.”

First-wave feminism is most basically associated with the suffrage movement.  It contained different ideological groups: the AWSA, which was more conservative, and the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), which was more radical and resembled the future second wave of feminism.  The NWSA focused on gaining a federal amendment for women’s suffrage and had broad, societally-implicative goals, while AWSA worked to gain suffrage on a state-by-state level and employed as its strategy lobbying, delivering speeches, applying political pressure and gathering signatures for petitions.  Many historians cite the first wave of feminism’s end with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 which gave white women the right to vote.

Discussion Recap: 1/18/15

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”