Feminism, Womanism, and Intersectionality: Understanding Change
What is feminism? Feminism, defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and/or “organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.” It seems almost contradictory that it could be for the “social equality for the sexes” and in the same breath be “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests,” right? Well, if someone has a scale and one scale is heavier than the other, and the goal is to balance the scale, then, logically, the focus of trying to balance the lightest scale. It’s the same with feminism. Men have certain privileges in society. Men make up eighty percent of congress and are six of the nine supreme court justices, despite the population of women and men being relatively equal (give or take gender non-conforming people),a. And, the numbers in Congress and the Supreme Court are, unfortunately, the most diversity that’s been seen there, ever. What that means is that men are the majority in deciding a woman’s right to contraceptive, a woman’s right to an abortion, a woman’s right to use her body as a commodity to get by, whether what a women experiences is rape or not, and other modes of womanly bodily autonomy along with how much money she makes, etcetera. Meanwhile, nobody is telling men when, where, or how they can use their bodies. So, there’s two ways to go about it: One, men could have their bodily autonomy policed in the same way as women and have their rights stripped, or -and this ideology is the ideology of feminism- women could be given these same social, political, economic freedoms. If men and women are given equal social freedoms, then the scale is balanced and that is the more equitable way to go about things.
Unfortunately, Feminism is not perfect and doesn’t operate in the way it’s meant to a lot of times. If I ask someone when women got the right to vote, nine times out of ten they would say, “1920” or something to do with the Nineteenth amendment but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It wasn’t all women that got the right to vote, it was white women. Native American women played a crucial part in the women’s suffrage movement but once the legislation passed, they were snubbed by the amendment because Native people were not considered citizens until 1924 but even then laws passed in many states like; for example, literacy tests where Native American and African-American voters were given more complicated tests than their white counterparts, poll taxes that were unaffordable for Native American and African American voters who suffered from job discrimination and criminally low sharecropping wages, and grandfather clauses which explicitly stated that anyone whose grandfather wasn’t a freedman could not vote, an explicitly racist target towards black people. Along with being blatantly turned away at the ballot, African American and Native American voters were intimidated away from the ballot and would not see the right to vote until 1966 when the Supreme Court struck down poll taxes as unconstitutional in the case Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections. What’s worse is that despite the work of activists Susan La Fleshe Picotte and Sarah Winemucca, both profoundly impactful Native American women, one doesn’t see either mentioned in many history textbooks but you constantly hear the names of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony -renowned and praised so called “feminists”- despite their overt racism and abuses of the plights of women of color who fought for the same rights. Asian American women didn’t see the right to vote until 1952, after the United States denaturalized Japanese-Americans and put them in concentration camps during World War II and numerous activists like Patsy Mink and Yuri Kochiyama fighting for their rights, names most of the readers have probably never heard before. Womanism, coined by activist and poet Alice Walker from The Color Purple, rose from the ashes of injustice towards women of color. Womanism separates itself from the transphobia of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), homophobia and second-class citizenship for women of color etched in the history and execution of feminism.
That’s not to say feminism is inherently evil or bad. Feminists who have heard the voices of the women of color, trans women other LGBTQ+ women have tried to reform the movement to make it inclusive and have labeled themselves Intersectional Feminists. This movement was meant to be a “come to jesus” moment for white feminists who dominated the feminist movement, centering it around themselves. Still, many minority women haven’t jumped at this reformist movement for a multitude of reasons that readers can read here. Nevertheless, all women must find an intersection of shared interest but since feminism cannot fight and has not fought for all women, the interests of women will continued to be fractured.