“For those of us white people not loudly proclaiming overt white supremacy […] we have a lot of soul searching to do. Our white liberal duck and cover strategies have been upholding white supremacy too. We may say that we abhor racism, yet we send our white children to that better whiter school. We may vote for gun control, but we invest in home security systems just in case. We may praise integration and diversity, though our homes, neighborhoods, and congregations remain lily-white.” – Mistress Syndrome
“This opportunity is to say how far have we got over a hundred years. And actually, surprisingly, the issues that they were campaigning on, that my grandmother and great-grandmother were campaigning on a hundred years ago, they’re still so similar today. You know, getting the vote didn’t resolve everything. So it’s up to this generation now to do as much as they can. That’s why we’re out here.” – Helen Pankhurst, granddaughter of British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.
So! Welcome to the brand new Intersectional Feminist Movement, where we are apparently upholding the same feminist platform our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did a hundred years ago. And what a lovely model they’ve bequeathed us. Respectability politics, centering mothering/caretaking, eradicating gender discrimination (but mainly in white collar industries, you know how it is)… No space to discuss how immigration, war, and political upheaval (often at the hands of the Enlightened, Developed & Democratic countries) disproportionately impact women. No reason to center women and femmes of color, or ever recognize racism’s role in gender-based violence and discrimination. No discussion of trans rights or how the LGBTQIA+ community’s interests may intersect with women’s. No room to acknowledge how the gender binary is literally killing some of us. No understanding or effort at understanding religious clothing choices, because we WILL free you from your oppressive religion! No support for sex workers’ rights to their bodies and their safety. No conversation about affordable health care and access. Sometimes a discussion about abortion, but don’t worry, if you want to outlaw it there’s still room for you here in our group!!! False equivalency is a beautiful thing and my does it keep us peaceful. And finally, here is a song about genital mutilation we present without any cultural context or translation, and without having once talked about genital mutilation during this show!
I’m beyond frustrated that this is the legacy being handed to me. I didn’t want to wear a pink hat and march on Washington, but I understand why some people felt that it was finally a way to step forward for women’s rights in this country. I didn’t grow up with a useful framework for this type of advocacy, and I still find myself frozen in place. It doesn’t ever feel like I can do enough, and I’m wary of being attached to movements and organizations that uphold the type of hollow, sparkly Intersectional Feminism that is not intersectional nor truly feminist. I am still trying to construct an understanding of a world that does not have heroes in the sense that I grew up believing, and it has left me skeptical and cynical about every big Movement (TM) in the past few years. Apathy and indecision do not serve me and do not serve the causes I care about, but sometimes it’s where I rest. I am a victim, I am a villain, and I usually don’t connect to the identity of heroine (yes, Amanda, I’m working on it, and thank you for pushing me).
I don’t care that Helen Pankhurst is the granddaughter of a Very Important Suffragette. In fact, if she believes in centering her family’s legacy and the type of platform they cared about, she probably shouldn’t be a leading voice in the current movements. The feminism of a century ago cannot continue to loom over the feminism of today. We need heroes to revere and model ourselves after, but they are not the Elizabeth Cady Stantons of the world. And even the heroes that we do choose should be scrutinized and peeled apart so we can see their layers of contradiction, violence, and flaw. The biggest disservice we can do to the future of the true feminist movement is to build up a choice few Great Women* and refuse to view them as what they are–people with good and bad days, complex and often upsetting or contradictory beliefs, people who should be challenged and questioned even as they are respected and heard.
*There is a really good but long read by HW Brands called “Founders Chic” that discusses the history of the Founding Fathers and how we have lionized them at different points in our history. It’s a valuable perspective on patriotism and the myths of American greatness, and how the Great Men who “created” the United States have become nearly untouchable and absolutely perfect in our current history books: paragons of every good American virtue, freedom fighters, great inventors, family men, brilliant orators, etc. It gets into the various complexities of our political system, but the overarching argument about political/cultural context shaping our understanding of our own history is worth the read.