Posted by: Ophelia | May 1, 2008

Well, that isn’t feminism

There’s been some negative response in feminist blogs covering Sean Bell. Apparently, this isn’t a feminist issue. Feminism is supposed to be about women, therefore only stories directly involving women should count. I suppose Sean Bell didn’t have a wife, mother, or daughter, either. I also suppose that issues affecting minority men can’t possibly affect women of that ethnic or racial group. Furthermore, I suppose that race and ethnicity do not factor into the lives of women in any meaningful way, and it is gender that supremely affects their lives.

I find it odd that I am not welcome to include the struggles that affect my life in feminism. If feminism is about me, aren’t the things that hurt me part of feminism? Racism, sizism, ableism, homophobia, etc. are all prejudices which are more than capable of coexisting with sexism. In fact, the system is sort of designed that way. No one exists only as a gendered entity. Well, unless you’re a heterosexual, ablebodies, neurotypical, of an accepted BMI, and white. So, here lies the rub. They want feminism to be neutral and by “neutral” they mean about their lived experience. To this end, they will define my experience for me, tell me that my race has nothing to do with my experience as a woman. Sorry, but that’s bullshit, and it’s been bullshit ever since the idea that non white women are worth less, and more promiscuous than white one has been created and promulgated throughout the culture. Sorry, but our experiences aren’t the same, nor will they be by virtue of you ignoring mine.

Perhaps I’m biased because this blog was founded on intersectionality. I posted about Sean Bell not even considering that people might not think this was a feminist issue. It seemed to me that unquestioned violence against the black community is something that harms women as well as men, and on a baser level; how are women meant to feel when officials are able to kill their brothers, fathers, husbands, etc. with no repercussions? Seems to me that that’s a tangible harm to women.

I was just describing to someone this afternoon how easy it is to cast members of the community aside in order to fight the good fight. No time to discuss sexism, we’ve got to fight for civil rights. No time to fight for racism, we’ve got to fight for suffrage. No time for you, because you don’t have a single identity.Does addressing the cross section of inequality in the lives of many women somehow slows us down? Does acknowledging them in a world that refuses to really divert us from our mission?

How far is this narrowing going to go? Can we only talk about media produced by women? Is there a certain number of women that must be on a show before its okay to speak about? Or is it just that if it doesn’t affect the average white feminist, it isn’t worth discussing? I think it’s the latter. In any case, I try to make the connections within my posts for those who might also be asking “What does this have to do with feminism?” It’s okay to ask. It’s okay not to get it. It isn’t okay to try and define my experience and furthermore, tell me my lived experience isn’t good enough for a movement supposedly dedicated to women like me, as I’ve said in comments to the “Fetch the smelling salts” post.

That’s as it should be, I mean being a feminist doesn’t mean a free pass for all other social problems, but it can open eyes to problems that previously seemed unrelated–the problem comes when people think that their cause is the only one and truly no one suffers as they do so they can’t focus on anything else until their problem is solved. It’s called multitasking and it seems incredibly disingenuous that in a movement meant to help women that the problem of women doesn’t include all women, but only some. Being ignored and cast aside isn’t something women of color should be experiencing in a movement that claims to accept them–as if there isn’t enough of the same shitty attitude outside the movement from racists and misogynists. When feminists are too busy calling women angry and “engaging in negative dialog” to listen to the points being offered by other women–are they really feminists or simply dedicated to a movement that has been sympathetic to their personal struggles alone? I think there’s a difference.

I never used to understand why some women refused to self identify as feminist, but these really narrow ideas about gender being propagated make it a bit easier to understand. I wonder if they’ve ever questioned the raced nature of gender–but I guess to them, that has no place in feminist discussion.

Latoya addresses this issue at Racialicious, so does Jack at Feministe.

When feminist theory uses race as starting point for analysis it allows for a more concrete understanding of women. Just as we cannot point to one WOC as a representative for her race, we cannot construct a monolithic woman to represent all women. (Womanist Musings)



  1. That kind of feminism isn’t feminism, it’s me-ism. “IT’S ALL ABOUT ME!!!!! I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T AFFECT ME DIRECTLY!!” You know for a fact that earlier civil rights and feminism movements had no problem with throwing other people or identities under the bus to get what they want, and some people stick to the same principals. They’re mixing up “By any means neccesary” with “Exclude everything else”.

  2. Great post, ophelia.

    You know, I never thought twice about the “place” of a post about Sean Bell on a feminist blog until these sorts of posts started showing up.

    I guess the first step is acknowledging that race effects lives – women and men. Then from there, it would be easy to understand why discussing Sean Bell is a feminist issue. But I guess that can be a hard lesson to learn when the effects of race are invisible to you.

  3. The narrow definition that some have come up with leave no room for anyone who is discriminated against for anything but being a woman, but where does that leave the rest of us?

    I never thought that the intersection of race is a particularly difficult concept considering that women of color exist, but for some, the fact that a man was murdered negates the message given to that racial community–and therefore its women. I just don’t get how it’s so easy to be so short sighted, but I do. And I don’t think these people would hold these opinions if they too were subject to intersecting prejudice of gender coupled with any number of things that make you vulnerable to attack.

  4. It seems like every time I post on a social justice issue that isn’t on its surface a ‘feminist issue,’ some reader complains – almost always from my personal sphere rather than from the blogging community. Usually my father will say something like, “you mother tells me you wrote a good post on rendition. How is that a feminist issue? Are you not a feminist blog anymore?” Apparently, as a woman and a feminist, I should not write about women’s husbands and sons being disappeared to other countries to be tortured – since the woman is not the primary victim, it can’t impact her can it? Men own this issue, let them talk about it. Argh.

    Repeatedly, I have to make a similar case as you do at the top of this post- social justice issues are feminist issues, because they impact women’s lives. Because being a feminist is to assert that women have the right to participate fully in society and work to right any injustice we see. It is about tearing down the narrow confines of the ‘women’s sphere.’ Women noticing injustice, speaking about it, and being empowered to help right it… what is more feminist than that?

    Keep posting, please, about Sean Bell – there is so much about the case I don’t understand (like – the accused waived the right to a jury… did the Bell family get a say? How are the laws different for police, ’cause to shoot an unarmed man – it front of witnesses… it seemed a clear case? Does this ruling indicate that the police only need any suspicious behaviour to to be justified in killing? Who defines suspicious behaviour… and does it include being black?) This is why blogs exist… you can’t count on the mainsteream media to keep discussing this issue in depth – it will be too controversial, or too much work, or an ‘old’ story that won’t sell papers.

  5. People claiming that cops shooting a black man isn’t a feminist issue really need to step back. It’s about a police officer abusing his power, and using stereotypes for justification. I may be wrong, but haven’t cops in the past also been caught sexually abusing the women they pull over? Cops abusing their power is a problem that affects everyone, directly and indirectly.

  6. I may be wrong, but haven’t cops in the past also been caught sexually abusing the women they pull over? Cops abusing their power is a problem that affects everyone, directly and indirectly.</blockquote.

    Yeah. Walkill in New York was under a state consent decree because the officers harassed women. Several officers in another upstate New York agency used to force women to strip to their underwear and walk home carrying their clothes.

    There’s plenty of cases of police officers sexually assaulting women while on duty or coercing them to have sex in lieu of arrests.

    Cops abusing their power is a problem that affects everyone, directly and indirectly.

    True, but apparently not enough to be considered a feminist issue, which is too bad.

  7. May 20, 2008

    Hello there,

    I’d like to invite you to join in an online discussion we are having at my blog, BLACK WOMEN BLOW THE TRUMPET!, about “Examining The Hurdles For Black Feminists and White Feminists”.

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

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