What is Feminism?

Last year I went to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in San Diego, California.  While I was there I found out that you can’t fight against just sexism or just racism; if you fight against one system of oppression, you fight against them all.

Throughout the history of feminism, feminists have typically been white middle class women fighting for women’s rights, but have excluded the rights of brown, LGBT, and low-income women.  This was the case because many white women felt that their oppression was superior to that of others.

One of the most memorable quotes, in my opinion, was when Susan B. Anthony said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work for or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”  This highlights the fact that although this was an accomplishment for the black community, she felt that women were more deserving of the right to vote.  This also suggests that she was specifically fighting for the equality among white men and white women.

Feminism is supposed to be more inclusive than that.

Another example of the divide between white and brown women is Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.  This piece is supposed to be a representation of all of the accomplished women in history’s past, but in the piece there were only two women of color present.   Does this mean that the only important people in women’s history were white?  It surely seems so.

I cannot become too angered with these examples of our history, but I would certainly expect more in the 21th century.

The first feminism conference I ever went to was in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Barnard College.

Barnard Conference

Present, were a series of about 15 speakers and only a few were black.  Also looking into the audience there were only a handful of black people, including myself.  How could we say we have come so far in the feminist movement and if not all kinds of women are a part of the feminist movement?

As a young feminist, it is hard to feel as though I am an essential part of the feminist movement when I am underrepresented.

We are divided not only racially but also by age.  The people present at the Barnard Conference were White and Latino and in their 30’s or older.  With the SPARK conference, however, my classmate told me that there was only a handful of white people present and the majority of the people were 25 and under.  Why is there such a divide between race and age?

Despite what people may think, Occupy Wall Street is beneficial towards the feminist movement.  It is a fight for economic equality and women receive a lower income so the the ones in the middle and low-income classes.  Like the feminist movement, Occupy Wall Street is divided.

There are little to no brown people present at Occupy Wall Street, but are instead found in a movement called Occupy the Hood.  So when brown people want to make a difference, they have to be a part of Occupy the Hood instead of being included in Occupy Wall Street.

There is also inequality in age.  When a teenager wants to make a difference they must be a part of Occupy High School.  This is the same idea as first, second, and third wave feminism, when there is too much of a divide to make any real progress.  Pretty soon people will be saying, “Occupy Wall Street is still going on?  Why don’t they give it up already?”  Just like when people say, “Feminism is done, right?” and “There are bigger problems in the world.”

I have been speaking of “feminism” this whole time, but what does it really mean?

If we are just fighting for women, then we exclude men who are oppressed.  Is feminism inclusive of all people oppressed, or is it inclusive of all women oppressed? Does feminism mean fighting for equality between black women and black men? Or does it mean fighting for equality between black women and white men and then completely disregarding the inequality between black and white men?…I believe it would be more practical to fight for egalitarianism.  If feminism is exclusive towards men, than I believe “feminism” is hypocritical.

“Feminism,” since the beginning, has been divided by various identifications.  This is because, naturally, as people, we think the only way to win is if everyone else loses.  We must change this mindset and feel that an accomplishment for one person, even if it doesn’t benefit you directly, is an accomplishment for all.

6 thoughts on “What is Feminism?

  1. You have a specific point that you are trying to prove. At the beginning of the post, I could relate to what you were saying because I sometime feel the same way. However, when you said that ” “feminism” is hypocritical” I think that it is a little too harsh.

    At this point is it the fault of white that people of color are not involved the feminist movement. Because it is open to anyone. I feel like by criticizing a specific group you are generalizing the term “feminism.” And if people of color feel excluded, they can create their own movement like the white had done it.

  2. @Vickenchky131

    But the whole point of feminism is fighting together, brown people should not have to make a separate movement, they should feel included in terms of numbers. As a black student I’m not going to apply to a college where there are only 5 black students because I don’t feel welcomed or like I could be accepted socially there. There is also power in numbers and if everyone is making their own movement and we are all shouting different things at the public, we’re not going to get anywhere

  3. Throughout this trimester, I have definitely struggled with definitions of feminism, and what exactly the movement should encompass. I feel like we’ve spent more time in class criticizing the First and Second Waves than celebrating their accomplishments, and that saddens me. While the criticisms are valid and should be acknowledged, they don’t cancel out all the good. In the beginning of the trimester, when we were reading all the intersectionality pieces, I felt lost in terms of how to find my feminist identity as a white, middle-class girl; I felt somehow invalidated because I didn’t have as many oppressions to battle. That being said, I think feminism is fairly inclusive naturally. When we fight for, say, affordable child care, that is a battle that concerns lower-class women, both white women and women of color, and quite a few teenagers. Making feminism inclusive is important; talking about that inclusiveness at the expense of everything else can be detrimental.

  4. I agree when you talk about the divides we see in many places in our society. Personally, I hate labels. First wave, second wave, third wave, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy the Hood, white, brown: the only thing I see them doing is dividing us. These labels in their essence create a “them” and an “us” and I have never seen any benefit come from applying such a divide, especially when applied to a movement like feminism.

  5. It is interesting to see different points of view when discussing feminism. I liked the personal tone of your writing, and how you incorporated yourself and your own experience into the writing.

  6. The questions that you write about in the second to last paragraph are questions that I have thought about myself and I have come up with the same conclusion that you have. I definitely agree that “We must…feel that an accomplishment for one person, even if it doesn’t benefit you directly, is an accomplishment for all.” This is a very humanitarian notion that most people don’t think to associate with feminism. However, I think both are closely tied and I believe if more people saw feminism as what it really is, more of a humanitarian movement than anything else, I think we would have so much more supporters. That just means we need to spread the word and crush the misperceptions about feminism!

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