The history of feminism is black and white

Despite Black women playing an active role in fighting for universal suffrage, it was Black men and white women who usually led the civil rights organizations and set the agenda. In many cases, Black women were excluded from attending the meetings and had to march separately in suffrage parades. The first wave of feminism in the United States began with the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.  At that time, the nascent women’s movement was firmly integrated with the abolitionist movement.  Women of color like Sojurner Truth, Maria Stewart, and Frances E. W Harper were significant forces in the movement, working not just for women’s suffrage but for universal suffrage

But despite the work of women of color, suffragette leaders, Elizabeth Caty Stanton and Susan Anthony ignored the challenges and contributions of Black women advocated for the Fifteenth Amendment that passed in 1870  granting African America men the right to vote but were adamant that this right not be extended to Black women.

The lack of attention to issues facing Black women-led reformers including Harriet Tubman, Frances E.W Harper, Ida. B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell to form their own suffrage association, The National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC), in 1896, with the goal of uplifting Black women and the motto, was ‘Lifting as we climb.’ The NACWC campaigned for women’s suffrage, improved education, and fought against the Jim Crow laws.

While the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibited discrimination in voting based on sex, was ratified in 1920, many states passed laws that discriminated against African Americas until the Voting Rights act was passed in 1965.  In 1877, the Jim Crow Laws were introduced and prevented African American’s from voting. White supremacists used intimidation, literacy tests, and poll taxes to prevent African Americans from going to the polls. It was only after the marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in Selma, Alabama that President Johnson signed The Voting Rights Act into law.

1920 to 2020 – has much changed in the last 100 years?

The next wave of feminism emerged in the 1960s, catalyzed by the publication of The Feminine Mystique, written by Betty Friedan, which sold over 3 million copies. The Feminine Mystique focused on the systemic sexism that said that the women’s place was in the home. This movement saw the passing of The Equal Pay Act of 1963, married and unmarried women were given the right to use birth control, Title IX gave women the right to educational equality, and in 1973 Roe v. Wade gave women reproductive freedom. 

Black women felt alienated from this second wave of the mainstream women’s movement.  This movement was dominated by middle to upper-class white women.  Gaining the right to work outside the home was not an issue for women of color; for many, it is a matter of necessity. Reproductive freedom was important to black and white women, black women were more interested in stopping forced sterilization of people of color and with disabilities.

 This difference in priorities led to the birth of womanism coined by Alice Walker, the American poet, and activist, on realizing that feminism did not deal with the three levels of oppression facing women of color: racism, sexism, and classism.  In 1989 Kimberle Crenshaw authored an article calling for a new way of understanding intersectionality oppression of Race and Sex and that oppression looks different for different people, and they experience oppression along more than one axis. This, coupled with Anita Hill testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her at work, brought attention back to the inequities facing women.

These events sparked several women to run for office with 1992 being dubbed the Year of the Woman after 24 women won seats in the Hour of Representatives and 3 won seats in the Senate. Unfortunately, there was no central goal identified or organized movement to drive lasting social change.

Today fueled by #metoo, the push for gender parity is more diverse in its meaning. Diversity is queer, sex-positive, trans-inclusive, body-positive, and is being digitally driven.  Social feminism is so broad that instead of uniting women, it can often overlook the gaps, pain, and conflict between them.  It is difficult to generalize about so many people at once, and by doing, so you can ignore vital differences such as race, history, money, experiences, generational, sexuality, faith, education… the list goes on.  The women’s march on Washington in January 2017 was criticized for appealing only to white women.

Intersectional feminism stands for the rights and empowerment of all women. Taking seriously the fact that there are differences among women, including different identities based on radicalization, sexuality, economic status, nationality, religion, and language.  Intersectional feminism means not just focusing on breaking the glass ceiling but in raising the minimum wage as nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the US are women and fighting freedom of choice when many women can’t afford an abortion if they so choose.  Feminism can be exclusionary by marginalizing less powerful and less privileged women and allies – the very people who most need feminism today.

We do not have the opportunity to turn back the clock and change history, but we have a fantastic opportunity to be aware and inclusive from now on. Cultural norms are being challenged and rewritten every day as a result of the pandemic. And while the results on the economic and health crisis are disproportionately affecting women, especially women of color coming together as a united force of 50+% of the US population is non-negotiable, acknowledging that not all women are treated equally and calling it out. Adopting a stance that when we all womxn, black, brown, LGBTQ, and white achieve gender parity progress will have been made.

On this EQUALITY DAY 2020, we challenge you all to take a pledge to ensure we ALL achieve EQUALITY

Pledge: Make a pledge to support equality for ALL women.

As a white woman, I pledge to do better, and I challenge other white women to join me in learning what it truly means to fight for the equity of ALL women.   We cannot advocate and fight for just ourselves; our mission must be to advocate for all womxn white, black, and brown.  If we want a better, we need to do better. We know the stories of so many women of color have gone unheard and unpublished. One way we want to change this is to diversify our editorial team at Be Bold. We are seeking a Black, Latina or Native American female journalist student to join our team of volunteers to evolve the voice and content of Be Bold. If you’d like to join us please email info@bboldnow.com

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