The Day Feminism Broke Apart
Two weeks ago, I posted my thoughts on the deep friendship between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin. Election aside, to me, it has been an uncelebrated glimmer of hope in the discouraging and deep rift that exists between women of diverse ethnicities, age groups, religions, and socioeconomic statuses.
I wrote :
“When have we ever seen two women, at this level of power, riding together like we’re watching a politicized version of Set It Off?
A white woman and a woman of color.
A Christian and a Muslim.
Baby Boomer and Gen X.
Bonded through the tragedy of cheating husbands, public humiliation, the worst election ever.
The senior supporting the junior and saying “you are capable despite the fact that your personal life is falling apart.”
Never revealing each other’s secrets.
Oh, the beauty in this. I want it for myself and for every woman…
Over 1700 women said hell yes! Most men preferred to use this an opportunity for partisan commentary. I responded to only one. Edward. His initial comment was that both women had been “done in by wieners” to which I responded, in essence, that women being done by weiners and bravely pushing on is nothing new. He responded with three words.
Feminism is dead.
The women on the thread went off, telling him he was wrong, demanding to know how he, a man, could possibly make a declaration about feminism, especially this one.
His words were triggering, for sure, and awakened a knowing in me that wasn’t fully clear, until now.
This year has been a difficult one. I suffered the great loss of the people who held the outermost circle of wisdom in my life, the most painful being my grandmother. When she died, for the first time in my life, I felt untethered as a woman and questioned more deeply than ever what the feminine required of me in my family and in the world.
So I went in search of the answer and what an enlightening and disappointing ride it has been.
I immersed myself in communities of women, committed to transformation, hoping to feel the embrace of sisterhood. To a large extent I have found it. But I have also been disappointed seeing women of color in these communities celebrated for their energy and physicality, but not for their thought leadership and minds. I have been treated as invisible, an anomaly, and a curiosity.
Sisterhood has fallen short.
Last month, I stood up in a crowded room and told a well respected spiritual guru and feminist leader that I was feeling called to play a role in healing the intricate rifts within the women’s empowerment community. I expressed my desire facilitate dialogue across racial lines and asked her what would be possible if women were able to truly come together. Despite my hope for her insight, she became flustered. Instead of answering my question, she told me that she could not understand my concerns personally because I am “an African American whose concerns — criminality, and prison reform…” are outside of her experience. Yes. That happened. This feminist could not see me as a partner. She could not speak to my vision. She only saw a race different than her own and made the usual maddening assumptions about who I was and what I cared about.
Her discomfort polluted her wisdom.
This election cycle, I have been one of few diverse voices in several feminist groups. These women are the ones in the trenches, doing the work. Still, some women argued with me, asserting that white privilege does not exist among women. “Liberal” women have refused to acknowledge their role in the oppression of minority groups. Educated women did not seem to understand why 1920 wasn’t the brightest milestone for me as a woman of color. Nate Parker has been thrown in my face to shut me up as if my blackness makes me complicit in a black man’s alleged decision to rape a white woman. I’ve spent hours and hours arguing and educating women who refused to acknowledge that intersectionality matters, or that it exists at all.
Denial denies us progress.
As a Black woman, being unseen by feminist leaders, let down by feminist peers and marginalized by the movement overall, my guard was up.
But then, “grab them by the pussy” happened and I watched as women from all walks of life came out and came together over our experiences of sexual abuse. I thought we had it.
I thought there was a common call for women and that feminism had turned a corner.
Then Tuesday, as red began to cover the electoral map, my body knew I was wrong. I felt myself collapse inside. In my cells, I knew what was happening. Perhaps I’ve known this would happen all along.
On Wednesday confirmation came. Fifty-three percent of white women chose Trump.
I’ve spoken to some of these women. Several are my friends. Some are the nicest people you could meet. And to them, their reasons, grounded in personal values, are justified.
That part is water under the bridge.
What’s alive for me is that to make the choice to support our elected administration, the majority of these women have shown that they can secretly find tolerance for hate.
This is not water under the bridge. The waters are only rising.
They did not choose me, or any woman or person who was and is a target of this election’s divisive rhetoric. They did not #pairup over lines of race and religion and sexuality. The bottom line is that we were left behind. Because we naively believed in a union and commitment between women, we didn’t see it coming.
Some of these women do not care about feminism or women’s empowerment. I am not writing to you.
But if that choice was made by women who consider themselves feminists, we have much to discuss.
You see, Edward was not right.
Feminism is not dead, but it is wounded, and hemorrhaging at a rate that will kill it quickly if we don’t get our shit together.
Historically, and despite its significance, feminism has in many ways been its own worst enemy. It has embraced feminist thought leaders who have not explored their own relationship to diversity and intersectionality. It has been so naive that it assumed that all women believed in its value and point of view. It has been so insecure about its identity that is has rejected all allies that were not white and female. It has been so selfish that it sold us the flawed notion of trickle down justice. It has been so blind that it thought women of color would accept its scraps. It has rejected the belief that equity for women, for any woman at all, requires that it stand for equity for all. All of this to its detriment and seemingly, to its impending demise.
The fourth wave of feminism died on election day. Game over.
And it can only be resurrected when we, as individuals, are willing to be part of an inclusive us. When we listen to what it is calling forth.
It desires healing and requires unity to rage against the machine of inequity with force and focus.
It is not pure, it is ugly and hard but it is also hopeful and life-giving.
It requires a sisterhood that is diverse and intersectional and rejects the pressure to make us scatter and turn on each other.
It cannot avoid the hard conversations and silence the voices that need to be heard.
It cannot chase comfort when it is being challenged to fight.
Sisters, we are sitting at the foot of an opportunity for change. We can heal. We can move beyond right now. There is enough social justice for all of us.
We can and should answer the call to build something stronger, more solid than a wave. After all, waves are fleeting and as we see, destined to crash and break apart on the shore.
Perhaps what’s next is the First Feminist Stand.