I was in college when the question of whether or not I was a feminist was posed to me for the first time. I remember, a few close girlfriends of mine (Sarah, Gail, and Kirsten) were hardcore, muscle-flexing, protesting, voting, debating Feminists. We often engaged in rants on something someone said, some article in Bitch or Ms. magazines, something we’d heard in class or experienced at work.
But, at the end of the day, what did being a Feminist mean to me?
Prior to coming to college, I had never heard the term Feminist used to refer to black women. Black Activist (Blacktivist), Afro-centric, Freedom Fighter, Martyr, Political Prisoner, Pioneer, Revolutionary, etc. etc. — but never the term Feminist.
Upon initial examination of the movement, I didn’t (or couldn’t) identify, but remained empathetic to its root cause — which was equality for all women, everywhere — regardless of race, color, class, religion, age, etc. In my mind, anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear could and should understand why the equality of men and women of all races and classes is paramount to the survival and development of our community/culture. But, does the ability to rationalize the movement and empathize with its cause make me a Feminist?
Sure, I am female, but where I grew up, it was typically a woman that was working three or four jobs, raising kids, cleaning house, paying bills, and all just in time for church on Sunday anyway. Black women weren’t so concerned with equality amongst black men, because for the most part, the black woman — at least in my experience — had been keeping it together since slave days. Black women — and men — knew and respected this. It was not merely an opinion up for debate, but rather a raw, circumstantial reality with which black communities across the country were are all too familiar.
My college experiences with those three lovely ladies (with whom I am still in contact to this day), launched a larger, deeper journey into the Feminist movement, particularly what it meant to me.
Am I a Feminist?
Is there room within the larger dialog of revolutionizing the patriarchy for someone like me? Someone who comes from a culture where women have been holding the family together under extreme conditions for generations? Someone who comes from a culture where the men are often emasculated and demonized, so much so that healing is more the focus than upsetting their patriarchal standard? Someone who sees that patriarchy in action, but recognizes it more as white male patriarchy than patriarchy propagated by any other race/ethnicity? Someone who embraces sexual freedom and freedom of sexual and gender expression?
Is there room in this discussion for someone like me?
Before writing this post today, I actually posed the question of Black Feminism to some of my fellow African-American, female bloggers/artists/thinkers/activists to gain a little perspective. I enjoyed their responses, and am sure you will, too!
Click on their pics to visit the personal blogs of today’s contributors.
I never really thought about where I fit on the feminism scale. I am pro-feminine rights; does that make me a feminist? I am a Black woman of direct African and Caribbean descent; does that make me a Black feminist?
I identify with the radical feminist view that there needs to be a cultural change away from patriarchy. I’m not anti-porn, but I do believe that suppressing sex (art, education or the act itself) is an issue that most affects women. Equal sexual & erotic rights would make me a happy camper. A world without a double-standard. If women take control of their sexuality, they have control of their life. Without sex, there is no life.
As a Black woman, I seem to be an anomaly in my sexual freedom. It is often misconstrued as promiscuity. When it comes to sexuality, Blacks try hard “not to be white” that we end up stifling ourselves, instead of acting on individual preferences. Free love, the naked yoga, being topless in public – things I’ve participated in – are more considered a “white” thing. Whites are the only ones allowed to be free? Are they the only ones in touch with their sexualities? The complexion of my skin, the shape of my body adds to the perception of a “hot to trot” Black woman.
Being a Black feminist means fighting until being referred to as sexual isn’t a negative. Sexual shouldn’t equate “hoochie” or “hoe” or “Hottentot”. Sexual means sexual.
The right and power to initiate sex or the right and power to allow a man to “steal” a kiss should be every woman’s right. But until there is a cultural shift in thinking that won’t happen. Black feminists who fight for that right, I support. Perhaps I am one of them.
I’m a woman who expects to be treated like a lady. I like when a man holds open doors, takes out the trash and kills mice. I don’t consider it oppressive behavior. Are Black feminists allowed to be damsels in distress? Can you be feminist yet appreciate and reward chivalry?
Because of religion, I’m a feminist.
Equal pay for women? Yes, that fight is in round 46 and isn’t over yet.
So where do I fit on the Black feminist spectrum? I want women to have equal legal rights yet be a housewife if they so choose. I want Black women to educate themselves with facts on sex, sexuality, reproductive health and let go of Old Wives’ Tales holding us back. I’m a Black woman with the ability to think like a Black woman or a White woman or a Black man or a White man which highlights the differences in views and leads to a better understanding of my womanhood. I don’t let being Black dictate what I enjoy and believe a woman, Black or not, should do/be. As a Black woman artist, I have more of an impact on cultural views.
I’m a Black woman – not a double negative but twice as powerful.
One of my great-grandmothers was deserted by her husband leaving her to raise 4 girls and 1 boy alone. She instilled in her girls a sense of independence that was passed on to later generations. It is because of her that I believe I don’t need a man to do anything for me.
I get a kick out of seeing women in male dominated careers. Truck drivers. Scientists. Engineers. Mechanics… A woman with a tool belt? Yes! That’s hot!
I will raise my kids without gender roles. My girls will have toy cars and my boys will have baby dolls. They will be free to be themselves, whomever that may be.
I believe women should have the right to do what they want with their bodies. If they choose to end a pregnancy, they should have that option. However, I do think that both parties that came together for procreation have rights.
I feel in my heart that women are still paid less, that we are still overlooked for promotions, that we are still seen as inferior. But I’m not sure this makes me a feminist … Does it?
I think it is misused and causes confusion.
Feminism, in my opinion, is the focus on empowering women through bashing, tearing down, destroying, and hating all things masculine. And ironically enough, many women lose their “femininity” when becoming feminists. Feminism and misandry do not look different in my eyes. When I see feminists, they are usually angry, bitter, and only half correct. I think many of them have the right intention, but the movement of feminism was not a movement that benefited black women. In fact, it has done much damage to the black community. Black men and black women are horribly divided, and feminism has done it’s part in that. This is not to take away from misogyny, patriarchy, male chauvanism, etc. Those things did their damage, as well.
Feminism should not be about revenge and doing to the men what was done to us. We still need each other to bring forth life and continue our existence. We should appreciate and love one another.
This is why I prefer the term womanism. Where feminism is about gender separatism, womanism is about true empowerment and elevation of the feminine. It empowers women, yet does not separate women from men. It isn’t about revenge, bitterness, etc. It’s about equality, justice, fairness … Womanism is about embracing our femininity. Feminism has a tendency to crush other women, as well. If a woman chooses to embrace “traditional gender roles,” she is looked down at by feminists. Womanism is about the choice. A woman should have a choice of how she wants to express her femininity.
Feminism, as a body of discourse, consists of various intellectual stances on womanhood, society, sexuality, race, gender, and class. It is difficult for anyone to call himself or herself a feminist and on face value, have anyone understand the title.
Personally, I tend to shy away from calling myself a feminist for that reason. Instead, I simply state what I believe. I am pro-woman, sex-positive, and embracing of every individual’s experience of womanhood regardless of race, gender, sexuality, and class. To put it in short terms, I want every woman to be empowered physically, emotionally, intellectually, sexually, financially, etc.
At times, I feel like people get lost in titles and academia. We need to get back to the core of our beliefs and that starts by illustrating them concretely. Say what you believe, even if you do identify with the title of being a “feminist.” People have become too quick to identify with an intellectual collective without acknowledging that numerous beliefs within aren’t shared. Feminist, womanist, or whatever. The title doesn’t matter to me.
What do you believe? Are our beliefs aligned?
That’s where real change is born. And that’s where I want to identify.