I’m not a traditional feminist. Feminism has never been about, for, or in support of Black women yet feminism has always needed Black women.
I was watching, or really trying to watch, the Netflix original documentary, “Feminists: What Were They Thinking?” last week but couldn’t get past the first twenty minutes without getting distracted, closing the whole tab, and just going to bed.
Apart from the documentary being a total bore, it highlights the historical truth that feminism has never been for all women but was created by, for, and in favor of white women. On a surface level, there were like four women of color with speaking roles throughout the entire documentary and the remainder were white women portrayed as brazen artists/revolutionaries/activists, most of whom financially, socially, or politically benefited from the movement.
I wouldn’t go as far to say that the documentary is cancelled and brush it off completely, but it is representative of who feminism is for and I just didn’t feel like being reminded that I’m still on the outskirts of a movement supposedly geared to uplift those on the outskirts. That’s gonna be a no for me, dog.
Whenever I’m involved in conversations around feminism I notice this tactic of joining the historical issues of being not being white in America with the struggles of white womanhood, as if …they are similar. Take this picture for instance -
To some, at first glance this photo is representative of women standing up for women — declaring down the patriarchy! and yes to the revolution! until you look at it longer and see four white female celebrities, wealthy and famous, donning t-shirts that give the impression of a dilemma — to be a rebel or to be a slave. In reality these women, pretty much throughout all of time, have the opportunity of being rebels, Noras in their own doll houses. Contemporarily, this image mocks the fact that their are millions of women who are modern day slaves void of the option to rebel.
I stare at that image as a women who could have actually been a slave if I was born in America not too along. This is a prime example of modern day white feminism that belittles plight and ignores history, typically through catchy t-shirts most likely and ironically made my workers earning slave-like wages in a third world country. Welp.
While working on a Christian liberal arts college campus, and being an alum of the same environment, I’ve been greeted by well intended women with popular feminist ideals. Women often times from conservative evangelical mid-west households that may or may not approve of women in positions of power, who claim the main bullet points of third wave feminism as a personal and political doctrine whilst ignoring the very oppressive and exclusive history of the movement. I say well-intended because a number of these women have accepted the movement as hopeful revolutionaries, seeing it as the catalyst to major change in their and future generations. Likewise, they are well-intended because I see their hopes as basely naive.
I know it can be a harsh critique, mainly to non-women of color, but it’s hardly contemporary.
19th century HBIC, born a slave, originally reclaiming her time, activist Sojourner B. Truth asked a ringing question that’s still applicable in my day-to-day — Ain’t I a Woman? Don’t I deserve respect in the work place, at home, and in my place of worship wherever/whatever that may be? It’s the same question regular degular schmegular Black women ask when they are assaulted, harassed, or worse but their stories are not among the now colonized Me Too Movement.
It’s same question I ask myself when white women’s tears outbid and outrank my actual experience every-single-time.
It’s a question Black women face in our own differing communities. When we are murdered, raped, kidnapped, brutally tortured physically, emotionally, and metaphysically, but are still forgotten and belittled by Black men. I’m not talking about when Darryl from 79th decides to marry Nicole from Duluth, Minnesota, I’m talking about when Black men discount the humanity of Black women and perpetuate the stereotype that we’re all loud, all bossy, all got ourselves into our own messes, all Deliver Us From Eva situations, whilst those same Black women are the first to riot on their behalf.
It’s a question I’ve witnessed churches stutter in answering when women in the church are seldom in the pulpit but are typically in the back with the kids gluing scripture cut outs to bedazzled crosses or obsessing over the color schemes for the next revival, shuffling to bring pastor his glass of water, or mutely bearing the weight of whatever being a first lady means whilst trying to find meaning as a black woman in the church and in their communities. I didn’t come to preach but I might just give a word.
The history of the feminist movement, a majority of Black communities and churches, political systems, and America as a whole have answered Truth’s question with a resounding no. I’m not a woman to most, I am a number, I am a quota, I am a puppet.
The sensitivity of this topics is so complex and so intricate that it’s hard to think about it fully let alone write about it, and as a Black woman in America I tell myself it’s ok not to understand, maybe even healthy, not to think about it too much. I just ask that well meaning feminists don’t ask me why I won’t buy an ASOS feminist t-shirt or why I’m not at the next march. That’s like asking a native born Mexican woman why she’s not a Trump supporter - that system is just not for me and if I thought it was I’d be in a bigger ditch.
I started out by saying I’m not a traditional feminist because I’d rather live out my beliefs of equity and fairness among all genders, sexes, and creeds in what I write about, what I give my money to, how I vote, and in who I listen to.
It’s very easy to read the first few Wikipedia lines of what feminism is, realize the contrasting principles of this ideal and one’s own life — wanting so badly for the change to become real during one’s lifetime, but it’s harder to sit in the truth that the movement is erroneously, unmistakably, and regrettably very flawed and taking part in it regardless of its flaws isn’t helping anyone but the same people it was created for decades ago.
There’s a scene from Mary Poppins that reminds me a lot of a modern day feminism.
If you don’t remember it or if you’ve never seen it, Mrs. Banks returns home after a galvanizing suffragette meeting, excited at the change she is a part of and what it will lead to for women of the nation eagerly and ironically telling her house staff of the possibilities to come. Even then, in the context of the film, the suffragette movement was not geared towards empowering women of color but was for women like Mrs. Banks — white, wealthy, and upper class. The doctrine has morphed with time no doubt, but it says something that the face of feminism today reminds me too much of it’s late 19th century mother movement with women already in power, elated over possible change to come, asking other women why it’s taking them so long to join the party, never once considering that they were never actually invited.
Now that my generation has been more or less invited, I decline the invitation and instead live betwixt Black feminism, Womanism, expecting and demanding better when things are slanted. I don’t need a t-shirt for that when the doctrine is in my actions.