FEMINIST ANGER – WHY I FEEL IT'S JUSTIFIED
Merriam-Webster defines feminism as: “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” It also lists a second definition: “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”
It’s worth pointing out that dictionaries lack nuance (rarely do they mention anything about power dynamics), but I think most reasonable people would agree that an equal and just society is worth pursuing. Imagine a country with an equal playing field, where everyone has the same or at least a similar start in life. There are no cheat codes given to some over others, and there is no discrimination on account of race, gender, sexuality, etc. Consider the heights we’d reach if everybody was able to make optimal use of their talents, not only for their own fulfillment but to help better society.
Since such a Utopia doesn’t exist, we wrestle with generations of injustice inflicted on women and other groups, knowing that we won’t live to see all of those wrongs corrected. And some injustices, such as slavery, the institution upon which The United States was founded, can never be reversed. The best we can hope for is to learn from the past, understand its connection to today, and continue to educate ourselves so that it isn’t repeated.
Feminism is fine by me, but like all social movements, it isn’t without its flaws. While it’s true that most women will experience challenges by virtue of being women, not all of those challenges look the same. It’s a triple whammy to be black, a woman, and bisexual, and this forces me to navigate the world differently than a white, heterosexual woman (or man) would. I can function in just about any circle, but in certain contexts, I have to be aware of how I comport myself, what I say, how I say it, and whether I say anything at all. Sometimes, it’s best to bite my tongue, lest I incur consequences for saying something incendiary. Moreover, in the interest of peace of mind, I refuse to debate my humanity for any reason.
My mother and I attended the New York chapter of The Women’s March in 2017, shortly after the election of President Trump. My sign said, Hell Hath No Fury like a Woman Scorned, while my mother’s mentioned something about Trump’s collusion with Russia. As I looked out at the sea of signs and pink pussy hats, I was moved. Galvanized. We were making it clear that we emphatically rejected this new president. We all heard his odious remarks about women and Mexicans, as well as the tape of him boasting about grabbing a woman by her genitals without her consent. Our unanimous disgust seemed to transcend our differences, if only temporarily.
My Google search brought up articles which explained in great detail why some kinds of women decided not to attend the first batch of marches in 2017, or the second batch in 2018. Some didn’t care for crowds or had responsibilities at home or work. But others who didn’t enjoy the privilege of being born white or cisgender thought it would be a monumental waste of time. Jenna Wortham, author of Who Didn’t Go To The Women’s March Matters More Than Who Did, zeroed in on a photo taken of a black woman at one of the marches, holding a sign that read, “Don’t Forget, White Women Voted For Trump,” while three white women stood behind her, happily taking pictures of themselves with their pussy hats on. The black woman wasn’t wrong- “53 percent of white women voted for Trump, while 94 percent of black women voters cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.” Wortham noted that “while black women show up for white women to advance causes that benefit entire movements, the reciprocity is rarely shown.” In Alabama, when “63 percent of white women” voted in favor of Roy Moore for the Senate, in spite of his history as a sexual predator, black women blocked his way by giving his opponent, Doug Jones, “98 percent of the vote.” We clean up plenty of messes, but it’s a thankless task.
I came across an article in The Huffington Post called, Why This Black Girl Will Not Be Returning To The Women’s March. The writer, S.T. Holloway attended the Los Angeles chapter of the march in 2017, bearing a sign that said, “Not My President. Sincerely, A Nasty Woman and member of ‘The African America ns.’ The sign earned Holloway compliments from “nine or ten white women,” but they all zeroed in on ‘nasty woman’, while seemingly ignoring the part about African-Americans, even though it was “equally bold and visible” to the eye. The only ones who bothered to remark on the reference to blackness were women of color.
I think feminism has evolved since The Women’s Suffrage movement, but the disconnect between black and white women continues, often accompanied by distrust. All these years later, women of color still have to strain their vocal cords to have their struggles heard. This is tiring, hence why some of us have given up fighting for a place at the table, in favor of building our own. My friends are diverse, but there’s something special about being in the company of other black folks. We can uplift one another and carve a niche for ourselves in a country where whiteness is the default.
If you have even a rudimentary understanding of The Women’s Suffrage Movement, you’ve likely heard of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two of the leaders who worked tirelessly to secure the right to vote for white women. But have you heard of those who laid the groundwork for the liberation of black women, such as former slave, Sojourner Truth? Does Ida B. Wells ring a bell? What about Mary Church Terrell, who dedicated much of her life to advancing racial and gender equality? Her work was highlighted by Tammy L. Brown, in, Celebrate Women’s Suffrage, But Don’t Whitewash The Movement’s Racism.
Terrell gave a speech to the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NWSA), “forcing powerful white women attendees to reflect on the compounding oppressions and systemic violence that black women endured during slavery.” Brown mentioned, and I think rightfully so, that “the history of women’ s suffrage is not nice or neat, because the impact of white supremacy is broad and human nature is messy. Furthermore, a nation built on stolen land from Native Americans and stolen labor from African slaves is flawed from the start.” It’s important to keep this in mind when discussing sexism, racism, and other forms of institutionalized discrimination because most intersect at some point.
In November 2018, during our most recent midterm election cycle, women flocked to Susan B. Anthony’ s grave and covered her headstone with “I Voted” stickers, just as they did in 2016 when it was widely believed that Hillary Clinton was bound for The White House. Anthony’s a heroine to white women for obvious reasons, but I’m less enthusiastic. Even though she was an abolitionist, she clearly had reservations about extending full freedoms to black people. “I would rather cut off this right arm of mine,” she said, “before I will ever work for or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” This, as Ama Ansah highlighted in, Votes for Women, Means Votes For Black Women, “separated women and African Americans into two groups, overlooking the presence of African American women and their desire for the vote.” There’s also this telling tidbit from The Revolution, a newspaper that Anthony helped establish: “The old anti-slavery school says women must stand back and wait until the Negroes shall be recognized. But we say, if you will not give the whole loaf of suffrage to the entire people, give it to the most intelligent first. If intelligence, justice, and morality are to have precedence in the government, let the question of the woman be brought up first and that of the Negro last.”
When I hear ‘feminist anger,’ I think of the frustration I feel reading these sentiments from Anthony and her colleagues, and my discourse with a sizeable amount of white women over the years. They don’t understand that their skin grants them immunity that we are denied, and when it comes time to use that privilege to affect real change, they drop the ball. They think “All Lives Matter” is profound when that slogan serves no purpose other than to deflect from black trauma.
If you want to flock to Susan B. Anthony’s grave every election cycle, go ahead, but count me out. Show me the final resting places of Truth, Terrell, and later figures like Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to be elected to Congress. Because if I’m to leave stickers on headstones, it’ll sooner be theirs.