The first time I gave any thought to feminism, I was 12. One day at lunch, I got into a discussion with a classmate about God. The classmate stated that God was a man who was all-powerful and all-knowing. I remember that statement didn’t sit right with me because it contradicted everything I had been told about God. I had been told that God wasn’t a human being but an unknowable entity.
Besides, why did God have to be male, anyway?
I came home from school that same day and took out our family Bible, where my mother recorded marriages, births, and deaths and read the first couple of books in the Old Testament. I noticed that God was always referred to as “he” and it bothered me.
When my mother came home from work that evening, I asked her why God was always referred to as “he.”
“God represents everyone. The pronoun “he” stands for everyone,” was her answer. The answer didn’t satisfy me. I am old enough to remember a time when it was still a common practice for teachers and the media to use the pronoun “he” to represent all people, but I felt it was bullshit.
How could a singular pronoun like “he” represent the entirety of the human race? Anytime someone used “he” to supposedly represent all people, I never felt included as I was a girl.
So I began my observations on how I was disenfranchised simply for having been born female.
I was raised to always be nice, not raise my voice, to always keep my legs closed, to be home when the street lights came on — while male classmates were encouraged to express their anger, were allowed to be wild, were able to take up space, and didn’t have a tight leash.
In my parent's marriage, I gradually saw how wives got a raw deal. I saw how little my father contributed to the running of the household outside of grocery shopping and laundry. He figured as long as he went to work every day and brought home a full paycheck, he did his job as a provider.
However, my mother worked outside the home as well starting from when I was in fifth grade because we couldn’t make ends meet on just my father’s salary from his retail job. Over time, he resented this as he felt emasculated but as a Black man in America with barely a high school education, there wasn’t much he could do as the deck was heavily stacked against him.
Many of the domestic chores fell to me as well as my sister as we were girls. What we didn’t do, our mother did. Classmates told me that they ran ragged doing chores around their homes while their brothers hardly did anything except take out the trash. And they’d complain about that. Which made me think that if I’d had a brother instead of a sister, chances were likely that I’d have done all the housework too as it was thought that a boy washing a dish or sweeping a floor was unmanly and might make him gay.
Even with my mother working, we were still barely lower middle class because she wasn’t paid fairly for her work. My sister became a teenage mother and eventually had four children. The fathers weren’t held accountable in the long run. As she wasn’t emotionally or financially prepared to care for her children initially, much of the caregiving fell to me, my mother and the paternal grandmothers. As she matured, everything fell on her.
Frankly, the constant caregiving and household chores that I was expected to do simply because of my gender were exhausting.
The double standards that I was subjected to every day angered me.
Learning about feminism while in college initially excited me and made me feel hopeful. It was empowering to hear that I should be equal to men and comforting to learn that women deserved to have spaces separate from ones dominated by men.
However, as time went on, the more I noticed that women who looked like me were often absent in discourse about feminism.
I came to see that white women were generally the face of feminism and that they often worked for the benefit of only themselves. Discussions of issues such as reproductive rights and pay equity often centered white women and did not include the unique circumstances that Black and brown women faced because of our intersection of race. They often did not consider that Black and women of color earned even less than white women, that it often took us longer to find employment in the first place, and that we did not have as much access to reproductive health care.
I was in my thirties before I discovered that revered white feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were actually racist and worked to deny Black women their voting rights, as eloquently stated in this piece, because they were incensed that Black men were granted the right to vote before white women.
Everyone knows that women were granted the right to vote in 1920. But that right was only granted to white women.
Do you know when Black women obtained full voting rights? In fucking 1964, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
I was born five years after the passage of that legislature. So it really wasn’t that long ago.
Suffice it to say that by my thirties, I became disillusioned with feminism as I didn’t feel that it was meant for me.
For a time, I didn’t even want to call myself a feminist. The term feminist has taken on a negative connotation of late partly due to men twisting the definition in an effect to perpetuate patriarchy but I didn’t eschew it because I wanted to avoid appearing “radical” or gay or whatever other BS reason.
Although I believed in many of feminism’s core principles, I disavowed the label because women who looked like me weren’t welcomed in mainstream feminism.
I wasn’t adrift for long, though, as I learned through my research that Black women were always at the forefront of women’s rights but most did not get the credit or the glory of the Susan B. Anthonys. In fact, Alice Walker, who in her frustration with white feminism, coined the term womanism, which aimed to be more aligned with Black women’s issues without ignoring the facts of racial and social discrimination.
Today, the term intersectional feminism is gaining traction.
The term intersectionality is defined as “ the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect”. In other words, it essentially means that discrimination doesn’t exist in a bubble — different kinds of prejudice can be amplified in different ways when put together.
Womanism and intersectional feminism make the most sense for me because they don’t erase my experiences as a Black woman.
They take into account that I face additional marginalization not only because of my gender but because of my race. Other intersections such as sexuality and class are taken into account as well. They don’t erase the fact that Black women are several times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. The fact that I am 50% less likely to get callbacks for job interviews is not ignored. The fact that I am twice as likely to be murdered by an intimate partner as white women is not dismissed.
My point is that you cannot claim to be a feminist who purports to fight for the rights of women but ignores those who don’t look like you.
Too many white feminists are feminists in name only. Feminism that does not champion or amplify the needs of Black women, women of color, disabled women, poor women, neurodivergent women or LGBTQIA women is a sham.
It will take a lot of work for white women to dismantle the privilege they hold under white supremacy to take up the causes for those more marginalized than them, but it must be done if all women are to have true freedom.