Posted by: clunythescourge | October 8, 2007

Feminism as identity: Is this enough?

In Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives by Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim, bell hook’s essay, “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression”, is a long awaited cohesive and insightful analysis of what has been lacking in the direction of the feminist movement in the contemporary United States. Hooks begins the essay by saying that “a central problem within feminist discourse has been our inability to either arrive at a consensus of opinion about what feminism is or accept definition(s) that could serve as points of unification” (McCann and Kim 50). She draws from her experiences as a black woman and a black feminist scholar and activist by pointing to the lacking in mainstream definitions of feminism as a movement that seeks to make women the social equals of men. Her example resonates as we recall that first-wave feminism sprung out of Reconstructionist era white middle-to-upper class context blatantly excluding black women (and black men for that matter) and women of color from both theorizing and constructing what equality might look like. Further, hooks asks: “since men are not equals in white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to? Do women share a common vision of what equality means?” (McCann and Kim 50). Using this framework to answer the questions of what is the nature of women’s oppression and what should the goals of feminism be, our analysis can be more inclusive of the perspectives of women as a diverse group of individuals, seeking to include and empower the goals of all women and men who are seeking to deconstruct power, privilege, elitism, domination, and oppression, with the ultimate goal being collective empowerment.

Therefore, bell hooks has helped us greatly in establishing an inclusive, anti-racist framework by illuminating the nature of women’s oppression as the structures of domination, power and subsequent inequality that were created and are maintained through white supremacy and racism, capitalism and class systems, patriarchy and gender divisions, expectations and sexism, and imperialism and elitism.

One of the barriers that I believe which continues to characterize feminism as a single-issue platform separating feminism from other struggles against oppression, is what bell hooks calls the lack of a concrete definition of what feminism is and who it should be for. In addition, there is a severe lack of introspection into white privilege as well as the complicity that this has created in many white, middle-to-upper class feminists as they maintain this privilege and use it to inform what the direction the feminist movement should take, thus maintaining and perpetuating the inequality which we seek to de-construct.

Hooks believes that in order to truly achieve a societal revolution through feminism, we must each “acquire a critical political consciousness based on ideas and beliefs” (McCann and Kim 51). In order to do this, we must each fully examine our individual situation as a woman, and then develop “a sophisticated understanding of our political reality and its relationship to that of women as a collective group” (McCann and Kim 51). We must get past the focus on “man as enemy” (McCann and Kim 52) and move towards advocating and enacting feminism in our daily lives, instead of using it as merely an identity or a source of community. We need to understand that there are many different goals of feminisms and that there is not one clear direction, but structures which oppress one group of women, or people for that matter, oppress us all for hierarchies are maintained. As long as there is one group that dominates, oppresses, and divides us all, we are isolated, separate and conquered. Hooks would suggest valuing all life experiences, struggles, and goals equally and putting theory into action, by centralizing those whose voices haven’t been heard, acknowledged or valued in theory, or whose efforts have been marginalized and ignored.

Moving away from dualistic and competitive thinking towards how each of our individual actions can positively affect the collective good, we can begin to enact feminism as a political commitment and resist the emphasis on the privilege of a few on merely identity and lifestyle (McCann and Kim 54). Developing theory that includes the opinions and views of all the diverse voices of feminists, we can then begin to structure what action we can take to release the chains which oppress us all.

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