In considering the different types of feminism, and the distinct label "womanist," I got to thinking about the reasons why a new label was needed.

I know enough about feminism and womanism to know that the real need for a new affiliation came from the voices of black women in the feminist movement, and often outright racism. Black women (really, WOC in general) were marginalized in a movement that was supposed to be representing them. I've always accepted this reason because it does make sense and I also don't really like giving people labels they don't feel comfortable with.

But reading more about people's reasons for identifying as womanists rather than feminists (see here and here, for example) has really got me thinking lately. In any discussion about rejecting the feminist label, there is inevitably a big focus on the fact that the feminist movement itself was made up largely of white, straight, Christian, middle-class women.

So... what about labels for the women who aren't part of any of these demographics? There are women who identify as mujeristas, but I don't see that group getting much attention. Mujeristas also link their activism to faith, which some Latinas aren't comfortable associating with. And there aren't, to my knowledge, major movements that focus on the issues of only a particular class of women. And while there's the LGBTQI movement (and different combinations of those identities), is there one that's only focused on the rights of women within those movements? What about different religions? What about different age groups?

Now, I'm not saying that womanists (or mujeristas, or any other group) should suck it up and call themselves feminists.* I don't even think that they should all suck it up and focus on every issue, even ones they don't identify with.

What I'm considering is at what point do the different labels mean different things, and at what point do people who identify with more than one identity come together?

Does a bisexual Latina in the lower-middle class who does not believe in organized religion have to affiliate with four different groups (five if WOC as one entity also have a different group) in order for her voice to be fully heard? Or should she find one group that focuses on all of these? Or should she just forget these groups altogether and face the world, and her struggles, alone?

Are we going to get to a point where none of these labels mean anything because we're all in it together?

In her post about identifying as a womanist, Renee said:

I may not always correctly articulate my position but in all things my goal is to recognize our shared humanity. All people matter.

This means that each of the following are my issues: class, gender, trans rights, gay rights, disability rights, ageism etc and etc. Each one of these isms has the same foundation and they all work to ensure that a hierarchy of beings is alive and well in our society. When we refuse to speak out about the suffering of another, we degrade our own hope of achieving equality.

I can honestly say that I completely agree with this. And I know other people who identify as feminists because they agree with this too. And I know people who identify as womanists because they don't agree with this and only want to focus on their own race and gender identities.

What if there's another framework that we can start using, moving forward, that leaves all of the baggage behind and works on this one common goal? If we do that, do we need a label? Do we need a banner to walk under as we march for the rights of everyone? And, going back to the post on allies, in what way will our approach affect the people who want to join the cause but don't know how?

Goddamn it, what if we need to let feminism, womanism, and all these other movements implode? What if we need a whole new movement?

Oh, if I only had the answers...

*I'm actually not even trying to "pick on" womanism. I totally get why there was, and still is, a need for disassociating with feminism. I'm merely mentioning it because it was the thought that started this whole dialogue I'm having with myself.

12 comments:

At Wed Mar 04, 04:24:00 PM offourpedestals said...

Does a bisexual Latina in the lower-middle class who does not believe in organized religion have to affiliate with four different groups (five if WOC as one entity also have a different group) in order for her voice to be fully heard?

Okay, I think--I think I just realized what drives me nuts about these sorts of ruminations, and I want to stress that I mean "ruminations" as a loose category, and not so much "this particular post" or "you" or anything personal. But here and now is where and when it happened to leap out at me, so if anything I owe you major thanks for that:

There are women online who fit the descriptors you just listed. Why not ask them?

And no, you won't get a one-size-fits-all response, because duh! But you'd get, I hope, some responses, and that would start a conversation. It would take things out of the realm of the nebulous, you know? Because these aren't just abstract labels to the people who claim them.

 
At Wed Mar 04, 04:38:00 PM frau sally benz said...

Why not ask them?

Why, I think I will! Really, I just get so damn lost in my own thoughts that the obvious no longer occurs to me. I mean, I've been having versions of this post for weeks now before finally putting it all out there.

 
At Wed Mar 04, 05:27:00 PM Renee said...

I think that what we need to be open to is more individual determination of what a label actually means. I believe we hold fast to our definitions because of our modernist way of looking at the world. Things don't need to fit into neat little categories for organization. The point I believe to label is to establish a starting point to begin on the path to owning privilege and working in the cause of justice.

 
At Thu Mar 05, 02:48:00 PM frau sally benz said...

The point I believe to label is to establish a starting point to begin on the path to owning privilege and working in the cause of justice.

I think there's still value in that, which is why I keep going back and forth on the whole label issue. The problem I've found is when they start to do more harm than good and start being more about division than inclusion.

 
At Thu Mar 05, 06:18:00 PM Danny said...

The problem I've found is when they start to do more harm than good and start being more about division than inclusion.

Precisely why for now I have given up on the label system with activism. At first they seem like a great idea. A way for people to unite under a common cause...as long as you follow a certain hierarchy and ideology. After a while they become vulnerable to degrading into nothing more than "My activism is better than you!" cliques.


And then you have the pleasure of dealing with the melee of stupidity that ensues when these cliques take it upon themselves to define other cliques and what they are about while vehemently attacking anyone that does the same to them.

It's not worth the headache.

 
At Fri Mar 06, 11:33:00 AM Renee said...

@Danny I respectfully submit to you that the problem is not the label or the ideology but hierarchy. When we start recreating hierarchies we are recreating systems of oppression. What is needed is a reconceptualization of power so that all voices are equally represented and respected.

 
At Sat Mar 07, 02:20:00 AM Danny said...

I respectfully submit to you that the problem is not the label or the ideology but hierarchy.

I can dig that Renee. I was trying to say that the problem of hierarchy comes up when the ideologies of the members of a group do not line properly.

look at feminists. Most of the conflict that arises among them usually comes in the form of one contingent overlooking another (your own words of race relations among feminists can attest to this).

But you are right its not the ideology that is the problem (well most of the time) but what people do with the ideology.

 
At Sat Mar 07, 08:09:00 AM Chally said...

I've been thinking on this one. I don't know, Sally. Maybe you just have to harvest the bits that are good for you and go forth.

 
At Sat Mar 07, 04:31:00 PM Danny said...

My case in point here.

Why in the devil are people still going on about whether the murders of men of color by the police are a feminist? As if by declaring it to be a feminist issue gives it an urgency and validity that it didn't have before.

 
At Sat Mar 07, 06:49:00 PM Arwyn said...

If we can think of a name for the movement that fights the kyriarchy in all its forms, I want to be the first to sign up. I'll need to be (gently, I hoped) smacked down repeatedly, because I know I don't get it all right all the time, but in general, that's what we're all trying to fight against, sometimes just in the one or a dozen specific way(s) it impacts our lives (a la white straight middle class ablebodied cisgendered neurotypical feminists saying "it's all about the patriarchy! race issues to the back of the bus!"), sometimes in any form we can recognize it whether or not it impacts us directly (a la Renee and her Womanist Musings), but that's the name for the big baddy, the name for the very act of creating these fucked up hierarchies in the first place.

In the meantime, I am a middle class white feminist, and I get all squirmy and sad when I hear that feminism is just for whites, and fantastic persons of color are rejecting the label. Not that I don't see the issues, because God/dess how I do!, but rather that it leaves me completely conflicted over what label to claim myself. I believe in feminism, in the radical idea that woman are human, and do my damned best to not step on others as I try to dismantle the patriarchy and kyriarchy as I see it through a feminist lens, as a fat, queer, neurodivergent, Pagan woman.

So what am I to do? Cling to a label I'm being told (by those who know better than I) is too filthy with racism and transphobia etc to be redeemable? Or reject it, in favor of... what? I surely cannot co-opt "womanism", nor do I see any other labels conveniently lying around that I can get behind (see aforementioned plea for the creation of an all-inclusive anti-kyriarchy label), nor do I wish to abandon labels altogether because I DO see their use. Nor am I about to make a case to haul trans women or women of color back under the feminism label, thereby saying "your issues don't matter, get back in here and submit to my definition which I get to create and own my virtue of my privilege as a cisgendered white woman". So... what?

Obviously I don't have any answers, nor am I really expecting any. Just thoughts inspired by your last couple posts on this topic...

 
At Sun Mar 08, 11:21:00 AM frau sally benz said...

As if by declaring it to be a feminist issue gives it an urgency and validity that it didn't have before.

Thank you for finally putting what I've been feeling into the right words. Every time I read some argument about whether or not that's a feminist issue, something about it rubs me the wrong way, and I think that's it! Because it doesn't matter if it's a feminist issue or not, everyone should be concerned and everyone should be taking action. Anything else seems almost like splitting hairs.

Arwyn, thanks for your thoughtful comment! You've reminded me of a conversation I had with someone a while back about how much is too much re: the dirtiness of the feminist label. If we acknowledge that this dirtiness exists and see people we respect and admire drop the label because of that, are we wrong for keeping it?

 
At Sun Mar 08, 12:17:00 PM mistressmom said...

Does a bisexual Latina in the lower-middle class who does not believe in organized religion have to affiliate with four different groups (five if WOC as one entity also have a different group) in order for her voice to be fully heard?

I'm so glad that I found your blog! I've been dealing with a lot of identity questions lately, and when I read the above, it absolutely struck a chord. I'm a bisexual Asian in the lower-middle class who does not believe in organized religion, is a soon-to-be single mom by choice, and used to be a sex worker. Though I am comfortable with these labels, I understand that this is the case only becase I have dubbed them with my own understandings and have found a social network that acknowledges and validates these understandings; there are many gray areas associated with these terms, and I am not about to parse through them on a regular basis in order to determine where I lie.

What especially caught my eye about your query was not necessarily the multi-labeling of an individual, but the goal that was posed, that her voice be fully heard.

In my lifetime, I have been upper-middle class, I have worked on the corporate level, and I have experienced so much else that is seemingly-contradictory to my present situation. I have come away from these experiences with the feeling that it is not an individual's affiliation which precipitates that she be fully heard, but the open-mindedness of her audience. Our identities are made up of so many apparently-hypocritical and/or incompatible virtues, and what it takes to be fully heard is a public that appreciates and accepts this fact.

 

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