Intersectional Feminism: Will You March for THAT?

This year is about women. Sure, with the seeming impending nuclear end of this planet at hand, some may ask if there are not more important issues.

Women too often receive the hardest hit from the blow that is oppression, particularly women who are consistently underrepresented: those who are transitioning, women of color, disabled women, young women. To continue the momentum of last year’s Women’s March, thousands of San Franciscans walked down Market Street on January 20th, holding creative signs and shouting that they’ve had enough. A wave of pink washed over Downtown, the crowd gleaming in the afternoon sun; at that moment, Oprah Winfrey’s words from the Golden Globes seemed ever relevant, “nobody will ever have to say Me Too again.”

It was during this walk where a young black activist held a sign which read, “Fuck your white non-inclusive feminism.” The young activist’s name is Derwin Deon Brown, and he is a double major student at San Francisco State, as well as an artist. Criticism of the feminist movement, and more recently the Women’s March, has pointed out the lack of inclusivity towards diverse and underrepresented groups of women. Activists such as Brown, used this year’s March as a platform to point out the intersections of feminism that often go ignored, leaving marginalized women without a voice.  

“Black women really save the country…on the back [of the sign] I talk about how 53% of white women voted for Trump,” said Brown. “Men and white women need to use their privilege to protect those women who cannot.”

When Brown talked about black women saving the country, he was likely referencing data which shows that 94% of black women voted for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential Election. More recently, black women have received credit for pulling a democratic win in Alabama during the special U.S. Senate election. The recent Alabama elections saw left-wing candidate Doug Jones go to head against controversial right-wing candidate Roy Moore, who faced scandal after he was accused of sexually abusing a 14 year old girl. In the Alabama elections more than 98% of black women voted for Jones, according to exit poll information.

The concept of intersectional feminism was given its name by Kimberle Crenshaw, a UCLA and Columbia law professor who wrote a seminal paper on the topic in 1989. Intersectional feminism explains that, while a white woman may be oppressed because of her gender, a black woman sustains two hits– one for being black and another for being a woman. Similarly, an Asian lesbian woman will face societal scrutiny for her race, gender and her sexual orientation.

“I think it’s so important to acknowledge the intersections of feminism, especially in society today…often times we just want to be a voice for the voiceless, when we just need to pass the mic,” said Brown.  

For some it can be off-putting, this idea that feminism isn’t shared and experienced equally amongst all women. This is a historical issue, however, with origins dating back a hundred-plus years. A quick look at the history of the Women’s Suffrage Movement shows women of color largely unwelcomed; suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony stated that she would rather cut off her right arm than “work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” Anthony’s statement suggested that she, along with other suffrage leaders who held her views, prioritized the civil rights of white women over those of black men and women. Congress passed the 15th Amendment in 1870, giving black men the right to vote fifty years before women would gain it,  igniting resentment among some white suffragists and division within the movement. While Anthony went on to become a champion for black equality, other suffragists pitted themselves against black women. As the National Woman Suffrage Association formed in the late 1800s, exclusionary ideas such as campaigning for educated women’s right to vote further marginalized African-American women who had extremely limited access to a formal education at the time. Frances E. Willard, an American leader within the movement and national president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, sought to unite women across the nation disputably at the expense of black women.

“[Willard] unhesitatingly slandered the entire Negro race in order to gain favor with those who are hanging, shooting and burning Negroes alive,” said Black American journalist and suffragist Ida B. Wells, in her autobiography, Crusade for Justice.

I think it’s so important to acknowledge the intersections of feminism, especially in society today…often times we just want to be a voice for the voiceless, when we just need to pass the mic

— Derwin Deon Brown

Wells was referencing an 1890 interview with the New York Voice, in which Willard refers to a local tavern as a “negro center of power,” where she said that blacks multiply like “locusts of Egypt.” Willard’s statement was used to unite white women over the fear of black organization, while also segregating the suffragist movement and putting the issues faced by women of color on the back burner.

This dissension and separation has loomed over feminist movement, as many women’s rights campaigns have been those issues that plague the cis-gendered white female. Agenda items such as breaking the corporate glass ceiling tend to outshine the following: Trans women’s rights to use whichever bathroom they prefer, protection for female sex workers, higher wages for women of color, the rights of immigrant women who live in the U.S. illegally. Even broader, the discussion surrounding problems that all women face–such as equal pay– is often drowned out in the larger picture. For instance, while cis-gendered white women make less than white men, should not we more loudly annunciate that women of color often make even less? The National Women’s Law Center reports that while women in the U.S. who work full time make 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, black women only make 63 cents on that dollar, Native American women make 57 cents, and Latino women make 54 cents for every dollar paid to white men.

UCLA gender studies professor Juliet Williams has done extensive analysis of this issue. She maintains that in the current political climate, now is the right time to address and embrace intersectionality.

“In times like this, there is a real danger that feminism itself can function in an exclusionary manner by marginalizing less powerful and less privileged women and allies—the very people who most need feminism today,” said Williams.

Williams seemed to get to the heart of civil rights activism, which is to consider the person who has the most to lose if the movement fails. Not just because they are someone who you know and love personally, but because they are someone in need.

“I need to march for my mother, my sister, my grandmother, for those women of color, those incarcerated, and those disadvantaged women who cannot protest today,” said Brown.

As this year moves forward, standing up for human rights, and making sure everyone gets to hold the mic seems ever more important.  Recall the unity at this years’ Women’s March, between women and men of all backgrounds. Protesters marched together with signs held high and songs belted loud, but will there be unification over policy? As we gear up for another voting season, will you consider the woman whose income is not like yours, whose sexuality is not like yours, whose needs are not like yours? In effecting change in a real way for all women, the progression of the new women’s rights movement could mean backing up your walk with your pen when it comes time to fill in that small oval on your voter card.

// Illustration by Hunter Hess

Intersectional Feminism: Will You March for THAT?
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