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Push(back) at the Intersections: How About Some -isms with Your Feminism?

What do Mary Daly, Margaret Sanger, Nellie McClung, Martha Griffiths, Gloria Steinem, Geraldine Ferraro, Julie Bindel, Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Janice Raymond, Sheila Jeffreys, and Beth Elliott have in common?

You were going to tell me they're feminist icons, weren't you? Awww, how cute.

That's actually the wrong answer.

All of these 'leading lights' of the feminist movement are contributors to a long and not very proud history of dragging -isms into the feminist movement. Racism. Ableism. Transmisogyny and transphobia. Classism. In celebrating the undoubted contributions of these women to rights for nondisabled, white, cis women, people conveniently erase their more problematic contributions to feminist thought and ideology.

Today, the 90th anniversary of women's suffrage in the United States, I am reminded that racist arguments were used by white suffragettes to lobby for their right to vote. This is far from the only example of blatant racism, or other -isms, in feminist history.

Let me be blunt. I was going to write a series of detailed posts documenting the extremely lengthy and problematic history of -isms in feminism, but instead, I'd like to turn the tables. I'd like to challenge you, Bitch readers, to find challenges to the dominant narratives when it comes to talking about feminist icons.

I suspect you're going to have some trouble. Margaret Sanger's discussions about eugenics, for example, are going to be tricky to find. It's not because they didn't happen—it's because people are ashamed of them, and would prefer to focus on her more sanitized accomplishments. It takes some serious digging to uncover some of the dirtier facts, especially about early figures in the feminist movement, although others of our 'sisters' in the modern movement are proud to fly their prejudices from the highest mountain for all to see.

This does all of us a big disservice. I'm not really a fan, generally speaking, of re-writing history to erase its more unpleasant bits, but in this particular case, the problem goes beyond that. Many feminists are unaware of the deeply embedded racism, ableism, classism, ageism, and transphobia in the feminist movement. As a result, they don't comprehend why some people feel alienated by and uncomfortable with feminism.

It's because of the memories. A lot of the attitudes that prevailed when feminism was openly rife with -isms are still there, they are just buried beneath the surface. And, in a lot of cases, they have been internalized. Even as feminists struggle to resist social conditioning and turn to feminism to challenge dominant narratives, they absorb equally problematic narratives, but because they have a shiny new feminist covering, they're swallowed without a qualm.

Take the reproductive rights movement, for example. It's about bodily autonomy, right? Wrong. Actually, the origins of the movement lie in preventing poor women from breeding, protection of 'racial integrity', and prevention of disability.

In 1920 Sanger publicly stated that "birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit [and] of preventing the birth of defectives." (source)

Margaret Sanger, photographed in 1916.

Sanger also supported euthanasia and compulsory sterilization, incidentally. Is there any wonder that disabled women are alienated by the reproductive rights movement? Especially when it continues to include classist narratives such as the policing of women who have "too many" children? And ableist ones such as righteous outrage about doctors lying about prenatal diagnoses 'because women might be forced to have disabled children' or horror at the thought that disabled women might choose to have children?

Is it any wonder that nonwhite women and women of color aren't celebrating the Pill? And have serious doubts about the narratives that surround reproductive rights, since those narratives tend to center the concerns of a different group of women?

Yet, the voices of people in marginalized bodies are silenced when it comes to talking about the history of problematic attitudes within the feminist movement. We are supposed to shut up and celebrate all that these 'icons' did for women, even as they actively oppressed some women.

I hear it claimed that anyone who works against the rights of women is not a feminist. Well, by those lights, none of the women listed at the beginning of this piece should be considered feminists, because all of them have a history of agitating against the rights of women.

Until we start talking about this, until we start exploring the roots of the feminist movement and the origins that lie behind some problematic feminist thought, we cannot even begin to hope to create a truly intersectional feminist movement. Because those of us standing on this side of the intersection are well aware that you on the other side have run us down before, and you'll run us over again if you get the chance.

Why does this matter when we're talking about responses to feminist critiques of pop culture? It matters because the history of silencing people like us, telling us to wait our turn, telling us to celebrate people who advocate(d) for our deaths, plays a direct role in the silencing of our critiques of pop culture. Every time a nonwhite woman, a trans woman, an older woman, a disabled woman, a poor woman, a woman of color, a teenager, a queer woman talks about pop culture and is silenced by women in a position of privilege in the feminist movement, it's a repeat of a very, very old pattern.

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Comments

72 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Your blog post

Thank you! Excellent piece, raising important issues. I think another way this dynamic operates is that feminists often privilege gender oppression as the "worst" or "most fundamental" type of oppression, leaving other forms of oppression out of their analyses.
For the record, I AM a feminist! But they don't make it easy sometimes...

Great post! What about ism-less early feminists?

I see one thing in common across those early feminists in particular: middle- or upper-class. Hence using discourses of exclusion around race, ability, sexuality and class to win their battles around suffrage and reproductive rights. You're absolutely right. I'm wondering about the legacy of socialist feminism -- thinking Emma Goldman and Rosa Luxemburg -- who saw struggles around gender intersecting with class and ethnicity and truly liberated sexuality. Are there other examples from the long history of feminism?

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" speech should be required reading for every human, IMHO. (It knocked white Suffragette's socks off at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention... several of whom wrote out a transcript of it in an exaggerated and racist Southern slave dialect, even though she was from the North and her first language was Dutch.) Regardless, is it the bomb.

a bit about Emma Goldman

Though there are a lot of great things about Emma Goldman, I was pretty sad when I found out her attitude about Helen Keller.

"Goldman viewed Keller as a novelty but never a political ally, even though like Goldman, Keller was actively anti-capitalist and feminist."
from http://still.my.revolution.tao.ca/

And apparently there's some debate about her promotion of eugenics. There may be other things. It's still good to keep learning.

And this is still a conversation that needs to go on in many quarters -- thank you for the article!

Right on

This is why I do not support the movement. I am for true equality under law. Laws that support all people no matter what color or anything about them. We all deserve that protection and those rights to be supported by law.

Indeed

This post rocks, s.e., thank you so much for writing it. You are 100% right that we need to own the horrid parts of feminist history (and present day). Know where I learned about Margaret Sanger's BC as eugenics bent? From some awful super-conservative anti-lady website. When we don't own our history and use it to educate ourselves and move forward, then it becomes fodder to discredit feminism as a whole.

We also need to work harder to reflect on and draw from the myriad experiences of women. For instance, the U.S. was sterilizing native women without consent into the 1970s (http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/american_indian_quarterly/v024/2..., http://www.ratical.org/ratville/sterilize.html). Now that may not be feminism's fault, but it's a fact we need to address when talking about reproductive rights.

You don't have to go back that far

Children with disabilities and trans people - men and women - are still regularly forcibly sterilized, by their parents in the first instance and by law in the second.

Thank you

Thank you so much for bringing this up, Anna.

http://dailyuw.com/2007/10/12/forced-sterilization-shows-inhumane-treatm...

A journal article on how forced sterilization is too difficult to acquire these days: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071584/

Thanks for this post! I

Thanks for this post! I totally agree-- learning more about the "-isms" in the movement, how the "great feminist leaders" also carried prejudices that most everyone else carried at that time they lived could help us question ourselves and make us examine how we, too, could have absorbed oppressive behaviors even without realizing it.

Let's fight to abolish feminist altogether once we're at it!

First of, I acknowledge being at the same time privileged and oppressed, as a mid-30's, cis-womyn, educated but not in gender studies, white, lesbian, butchy, on the bigger side, unemployed and raised on welfare by my loving dad.

Second, I want to say that I share the anger of this contributor, for all the reasons mentioned in this article.

Third, I am francophone, so I'll do my best to express my thoughts in English.

So here I go.
I find this article extremely destructive. It's important to criticize and get pissed off at the feminist movement, historically and in the present days. Yes. But this piece does more than that. It attacks the whole movement without any kind of nuances. It makes me wonder if the author just took some gender studies classes and never actually organized in a political feministish collective. The article negates completely the work that womyn of color, transfolks, queers, differently abled womyn and all the people on the margins of these intersections have done, sometimes with great success, to rethink, rebuild, rewrite feminist and to take part in the feminist movement with critical analysis of all of it's internal fuck ups. Not to mention the work of allies. We're not all united and we shouldn't be. I don't want to ally myself with rapists, racists, transphobic, ableist, capitalist and sexist people, womyn or not. I don't give a fuck about equal representation in politics. Sarah Palin and Condoleeza Rice are not my sisters. And so on...

But I am very much preoccupied by this new wave of attacks on the feminist movement, by people who don't seem eager to create a really anti-oppressive, intersectional feminist movement. We won't win if we don't fight, weither it is within our movement or when we fight the big bad systems of oppression.

I'm in for it.

Let's fight for equality between womyn and men and folks, between womyn themselves and between the peoples. Let's discuss, debate, argue and create together, and sometimes appart. But let's fight!

Love&Rage

So, you don't think that

So, you don't think that discussing the history of -isms in feminist is an important part of creating an intersectional feminist movement? Because I most definitely do, and a major stumbling block for a lot of people living at the intersections of multiple oppressions when it comes to engaging with feminism is the movement's resolute refusal to clean house.

I'm not quite sure how this piece is 'destructive' given that I'm doing exactly what numerous people who have gone before me have done: Talking about the problems in the feminist movement and asking people to confront them, rather than sweeping them under the rug. The fact that we still have to do this decades later shows you that not a lot of progress has been made.

I'd also ask you to focus on what I've actually written, rather than speculating about what I do/do not do; I don't need to trot out my feminist street cred to write about feminist issues and if you've bothered to read any other posts in Push(back) at the Intersections, you will see that the entire series is a discussion about building an intersectional movement.

I don't necessarily think

I don't necessarily think that your piece is destructive, but I'll try to voice what I took from the original commenter (and your response, as well as what I thought on first reading this piece): You're saying you're doing what others before you have: pointing out the -isms within the feminist movement. But I think the problem is that this is frequently where it stops. You're doing what others before you have done, frequently, but no more than that. We continue to point it out and point it out, but the conversation doesn't seem to go much further. I'm not saying this is your fault or that you're responsible for making it go further. Merely that what you're bringing up in this post isn't new. In the least. I received my degree in feminist theory 10 years ago and my whole course of study was centered on the intersections of oppressions, bringing various -isms into the movement, recognizing the problems in earlier feminist movements. If we want to talk about it, we have to start talking about it, not just iterating over and over that it happens.

On a slightly different note, because I received most of my feminist education in the late 1990s, I've recently realized that there's probably a lot in the world of the feminist theory that's new. I would LOVE some reading recommendations from people about new articles/essays/books in the feminist theory world. (For example, the phrase cisgendered was not in use when I was studying, or at least not in any way widely).

If there is a broken record

If there is a broken record effect it's not at the hands of the oppressed, but rather the way in which -ism fail has been woven into all institutions (including feminism) and there is a lot of resistance to change, particularly from those who view change as a loss of power or status.
____________
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"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Vonnegut

There seems to be a lot of

There seems to be a lot of demand for s.e. to trot out ou's credentials and prove ou's worth as an activist and prove that ou has done the proper amount of work to back up what has been written here in this post in order for it to be taken seriously, which is too bad. First of all, I don't see that happening any time soon, and I would recommend your friend and mind, Google, if you want proof that s.e. doesn't just talk a pretty game about what's wrong with feminism. Second, there is always room for more critique, especially in the feminist movement, and that is what this series is for.

If we don't talk about it, then we have things like mainstream feminist sites singing praises to Mary Daly without a word about the damage she did to trans people during the course of her work and no accountability from those sites. That was damaging to both the feminist movement and young, ignorant feminists who didn't know any better. If we don't talk about it, then we have things like dismissals of the way the Third Wave was co-opted by White Women.

If so many people think it is so destructive and so repetitive, then maybe more of those people, other than those of us working in the margins, should do something other than stamp their feet and demand more work of us trying to engage in dialogue about these issue (like requesting reading lists you could easily Google). Something, I dunno, like engage with us about these issues.

You can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don't find easy, or learn an awful lot very fast, which is what I tried to do. ~ Jane Fonda

You can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don't find easy, or learn an awful lot very fast, which is what I tried to do. ~ Jane Fonda

These are all good points,

These are all good points, and for the record, I don't disagree with what the writer is saying in the least. I don't think I articulated myself very well.

As far as my requests for reading recommendations go, I did Google it, and looked in several local library catalogs. But I really wanted some personal recommendations. Sorry, perhaps it was insensitive of me to ask.

thank you

This article was actually very heartwarming to me. I'm a trans woman of mixed race and some of the people who've treated me the worst and hurt me the most were so called feminists, anarchists and anti-racists who actually turned out to be very second wave and essentialist when I was transitioning. They say that you'll lose most of your friends, but I never believed that my closest friends and collective members would suddenly find my actions totally unforgivable once I was wearing a skirt and had a female name. Wow. So, really, to the author, thank you so much. I agree with the commenter that knowing this history and discussing it is part of building a new, intersectional, cross-generational feminism.

As for the poster who's asking for up to date readings, here are a few that I love that deal with some of the complexities of queer and trans feminism and co-optation of movements:

Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times
http://www.amazon.com/Terrorist-Assemblages-Homonationalism-Directions-S...

Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity [Paperback]
http://www.amazon.com/Nobody-Passes-Rejecting-Gender-Conformity/dp/15800...

also,

That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation [Illustrated] [Paperback]
http://www.amazon.com/Thats-Revolting-Strategies-Resisting-Assimilation/...

I disagree

I don't think talking about the history - or current reality! - of feminism-as-a-movement in terms of how it's treated women of colour and non-white women, women with disabilities, poor women, lesbian women, and trans women is destructive.

I think that the feminist movement not talking about that - and accepting that there is both a past a present filled with these things - is what is destructive.

Correction...

@Anna
If that what my comment conveyed, than I didn't write it well. Wish you could all read French...

I totally agree with what you wrote Anna.

I do read French! :)

Although probably not with enough nuance to understand what you're really going for, I'm afraid, and my grammar is terrible.

Your comment (link for

Your comment (link for reference) characterised this piece as 'destructive' and included a line about 'waves of attacks' on feminism, along with a snide remark about my feminist street cred. That seemed to be conveyed pretty clearly.

Allow me to quote:

'I find this article extremely destructive.'

'It attacks the whole movement without any kind of nuances.'

'The article negates completely the work that womyn of color, transfolks, queers, differently abled womyn and all the people on the margins of these intersections have done, sometimes with great success, to rethink, rebuild, rewrite feminist and to take part in the feminist movement with critical analysis of all of it's internal fuck ups.'

'I am very much preoccupied by this new wave of attacks on the feminist movement, by people who don't seem eager to create a really anti-oppressive, intersectional feminist movement.'

If you meant to convey something other than that and would feel more comfortable writing en Francais, please do so! There are Francophones here who can translate for those who aren't as comfortable reading/writing in French.

esl

s.e., I understand why you object to some of the wording there, but I think the person was trying to say that language difficulties prevented her from making the point with the proper words. "Destructive," for example, might seem blunt, but I can see that it might be literal translation rather than intent that's the problem here that's worth recognizing. I don't know what kind of experience you've had with people writing in English as their second language, but translation issues of this kind - where the speaker appears too blunt or harsh - are very common.

And I don't think it's replying to you other than in kind - the "Awww, how cute" line in your post does seem to invite blunt reponse.

Without knowing if this is what the commenter meant, I do agree, if this was her/his/ou's point, that it makes sense to push your point somewhat further than the post. Centreing internal critique may indeed be important to pushing feminist forward, and so a post like this that highlights bad history (or hell, bad present) strikes me as valuable. That said, I do think there's some meat to the idea that internal criticism isn't useful if it doesn't give birth to some kind of action. Not to say that you haven't been engaged in that, I'm familiar with your work on the internet at least and I'd say you have engaged in some of that.

But I don't think it's necessarily oppressive to push the analysis further and ask, "So what?" If the movement had/has issues, where do we go from there? Isn't that the important question here?

I hope you understand that I am offering this not as criticism but as a further effort in construction.

Thanks for the

Thanks for the assumption/lecture, Michelle, I am actually quite familiar with people who are not native communicators in English, since I am one.

I have no problem with bluntness, and that is not what is under discussion here. What *is* under discussion is the points that appear to be being made: this piece was characterised as an attack piece with 'no nuance,' using an argument that seemed to suggest that I was claiming no one had examined the problems with -isms in feminism before and that examination was futile--that it is, in the commenter's own words, an 'attack' on feminism and intersectional feminism in particular. I responded to the points being made because I can't respond to point that haven't been made (a problem a lot of commenters on this post seem to be having, either that or they are reading a different post and responding to that).

I find it simply *fascinating* that many people are dismissing this piece with the argument that I'm not 'activist enough' to be qualified to criticise feminism, or that I'm a women's studies major and thus know nothing about feminism, or that I'm not a women's studies major and thus know nothing about feminism. What all of these attacks on me do is neatly dodge the point of this post, which is: Feminism has some problematic history. We need to confront it. People have been asking that it be confronted for a very long time, and no one is paying attention. It is extremely difficult to take meaningful action in a movement that can't even be bothered to clean house.

I wasn't aware that I was required to provide people with a primer on the problems with feminism and write up a neat laundry list of solutions to them. What I was doing with this post was asking people who are unfamiliar with the history of -isms in feminism to think about that history, and to think about how it might contextualise some historical and current reluctance on the part of marginalised classes to get involved in feminism.

The people who are perpetuating the -isms are responsible for the action on them. Not the people who are experiencing and fighting them.

Last response was deleted.

Not really sure by who or why, but let's assume it's a glitch and try again. I've blogged at this site before; I swear I am not a troll. I did not make any kind of personal attack, certainly none more personal than the one I responded to. I'm no commenters' rights activist, but I don't see what was objectionable about the comment.

I did not say half the things you conjectured I did, s.e., and I find your response unfair. I did not question your cred as an activist; I did not dismiss your post; I did not assume your familiarity with esl issues and in fact stated I had no idea what your familiarity with them was. I saw a certain limited amount of truth in the proposition being advanced by the commented, however awkwardly, and I said so. If you think there's nothing rescuable in it that's fine, but again, I didn't say half these things, or even close.

I agree about the responsibility of the people perpetrating the isms, really I do. On the other hand, I always thought one of the few rescuing themes of talking about the isms from the margins is working on giving people the
power to speak of them and to thus start to reframe the discussion on
proper terms. Which is a limited power, I'd agree, but it's what's available, and it can be enormously empowering.

I guess what I'm doing is advancing a more postmodern version of power than the top-down view you seem to be applying here. In that view power is somewhat diffuse. Obviously it is still asymmetric, obviously there are still people holding the keys, and they do not tend to be in the margins. But it seems to me that saying that only the ism-perpetrators can fix this problem is reinstating the same original problem: it puts young white able-bodied etc women in charge of everything, and appears to limit the power of everyone else to critique, and sitting around waiting for the white ladies to clean up their act.

I should say I doubt you think that exactly; I doubt I am saying anything you don't know, because you speak from the margins. But what I'm saying, or was trying to say, in my original comment, is that it does seem worth asking, even in small ways, where one goes from mistakes like the ones you highlight here. I'm not doing to old, "If you don't teach me how can I learn?" routine - I'm saying that the issue of how to build a more inclusive movement is a question that flows naturally from what you've said here, and I think it's appropriate in any event to keep asking it.

How is this article destructive

How is this article destructive at all? It's constructive criticism. The author is very much seeking to create an intersectional feminism. That's the point of critique, to point out a movement's failings in order to redress wrongs. I'm really not sure where you're coming from with saying this isn't about creating intersectional feminism. The whole series is about that.

I am a 59 year old Second

I am a 59 year old Second Wave feminist. In the past I have met and spoken with Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan. They are and have been my contemporaries in Second Wave feminism since at least 1969. It is true that in those early days of Second Wave feminism, we struggled to define what feminism meant to us. However, over time, as more women from diverse cultures and backgrounds joined us, we began to realize that the inherent forces driving sexism, were the same that drive racism, abelism, homophobia, transphobia, and etc. But, neither Steinem or Morgan were or are inherently racist, abelist or any of the other labels you are attempting to pin on them or the other women on your list.

Regarding the women of the First Wave feminism, they were as informed by the contemporary culture and understandings of their day, just as we are informed by our culture and understandings today. I find it quite negatively misinformative that you have not taken that fact into account.

For example, when I say that Margaret Sanger was a trailblazer, I'm not saying that I agree with the racist, abelist philosophy of eugenics that she embraced. But I am saying that her view that women should not be slaves to the monthly biology of reproduction was groundbreaking. So much so that the dominant culture rose up against her via the powerful censorship role of the U.S. Postal Service at that time.

Much has changed since the First Wave of feminism and most of those changes have come about as the result of the hard work of dedicated Second Wave feminists. It may be hard for a Third Wave feminist to understand what life in the U.S. was like for women in the early to mid part of the 20th century. What was bad for white women was worse for women of color and horrible for those who were differently abeled. This was a time in which information on birth control was hard to obtain, abortion was a back alley reality, equal pay for equal work was never enforced, sexual harassment (which is not mentioned) rape and assault were life's little dirty secrets (including domestic violence/rape), and title IX was not yet reality.

All of the women you have listed have been trailblazers. Were it not for their actions, hard work, and willingness to work in coalition with others, many of the "rights" now guaranteed via legislation would not be in existence.

I strongly agree with our need to continue the work of ensuring equal rights and justice for all, for this work is critical. But, I am not going to dis those whose work laid down the foundation for what we do now.

Just so you know,

Just so you know, 'differently abled' is a term many people with disabilities find deeply offensive in any context other than self identification, and it's not a term I like to see in my comment threads.

Also, it is possible to celebrate the contributions people have made while also recognising the harm they have done. What this post, and this series more generally, is about is getting people to stop erasing the harm that has been done. Most discussions I see about Margaret Sanger, for example, elide any mentions of her racism and ableism.

And I don't accept the excuse of 'they were shaped by the time they were in.' Anti-racism and anti-ableism were both active movements at the time that Margaret Sanger was working. Not only that, they were a part of 'contemporary culture' and a topic of discussion and debate.

i found so much respectful

i found so much respectful reverence in this piece. i appreciated your work fully. critique is a huge part of the feminist lens. and i love the continual broadening of this lens, is that not what feminism intends to do, create social justice by becoming more and more open, fluid and holistic? as a former graduate teaching fellow this topic was constantly discussed in our classroom...this allowed and invited all to engage with the texts and topics. we critiqued our text book for its tokenism and dug a reverent critique of the "white supremacist capitalist patriarchal" apparent in both past and present women's studies and feminist curriculum and practice.

i appreciate discussing the -isms within feminist history and feminism, this is the exact practice of a "claimed" women's studies education.

love.

The excuse that racism and

The excuse that racism and ableism etc shaped the culture of the time and so therefore folks writing during that time are outside critique(?) on those points also to me pretty clearly implies that ableism for example isn't still currently shaping folks. And that's busted. What shall we say about contemporary work created in a culture built on and soaking in racism, ableism, transphobia, sexism, classism, etc...?
At some point folks gotta deal with the stuff they put out there. Seems to me that articles like this add to the critique, keep shit honest.

Also

Not everyone who had a national platform, like McClung for example, used it to write long articles about the evil yellow menace who brought in the evil drug trade.

Also - how come we praise these women for going against the dominant narrative that women shouldn't run for office because women aren't people (see: The Person's Case), but then pretend that they were just being influenced by the dominant narrative on everything else. Do we really think that white able-bodied women can't think of anything other than their own oppression?

However, over time, as more

However, over time, as more women from diverse cultures and backgrounds joined us, we began to realize that the inherent forces driving sexism, were the same that drive racism, abelism, homophobia, transphobia, and etc. But, neither Steinem or Morgan were or are inherently racist, abelist or any of the other labels you are attempting to pin on them or the other women on your list.

Unfortunately, women on the margins have always known their struggles and it's bit disingenuous to suggest once white feminists were made "aware" of the plight of marginalized women they were quickly folding into the flock. They weren't; that's why ou wrote this piece! It's an issue that still fractures feminism and it's an important discussion to have. I feel exactly as ou does w/r/t some of the "trailblazers" of the movement. There is a complicated history and rarely have there been spaces where marginalized folks can have heartfelt and painful conversations regarding their relationship to the movement. In order to come together and heal wounds, examining the unsavory aspects of the movement's history is in order.

It's very frustrating to want to fully embrace/understand feminism (and it's complicated history) with the condition in place that folks aren't allow to fully unpack its problematic past.

Excellent piece, S.E.!!!

____________
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"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - vonnegut

But Trans Women Were In The Movement in 1969

Sylvia Rivera was loud and proud at that time... it's not as though Gloria Steinem didn't know trans people existed... rather her work is consistent with the reaction that Germaine Greer had to trans women: Knee-jerk, and phobic, and then constructing words around the hate to make it look like theory.

History

While many in the mainstream feminist movement are quick to distance themselves from these histories - while still celebrating our "foremothers", of course - they don't seem to be going out of their way to bring attention to the women in the past who did fight from the margins for their rights. When I see a feminist historian (rather than a disability historian) or a feminist site (rather than a disability-related site) write a post celebrating the work of Alice Taylor Terry, for example, I'll sit up and take a bit more notice of our "foremother's" achievements. Until then, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do - feel grateful that people no longer want to legislate that certain classes of women shouldn't be allowed to have children? (Oh, wait, I can't even do that.)

I think

It's really great to see this article at Bitch!

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

But of course praise isn't

But of course praise isn't what the author was asking for... And abashedly it took one of the very women Feminism marginalizes to remind me, oh yeah, the author WANTED something out of us...

So, are we going to do some homework, and find out for ourselves the less touted aspects of our foremothers? Or leave this as it is?

The easiest target is Janice Raymond, I mean, The Transsexual Empire, right, everyone? Mary Daly, Gloria Steinem, Julie Bindel, Robin Morgan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.... I can name issues with each. But I'll admit there are a few that I have no idea what bullshit they each did, specifically. So... I'm going to do some Googling. And I'll report back.

Anyone else?

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

suffrage

to help refocus this, i'll share some stuff i was reading today about the suffrage movement, as today is the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment. this post on african americans and suffrage from the southern poverty law center says it's aimed at 6-9th graders, but i certainly never learned about the active exclusion of african american women from the suffrage movement. here's a choice quote:

[White suffrage supporters] pointedly reminded White southerners that giving women the vote would prevent Blacks from gaining too much political power, since there were more White women in the southern states than Black men and women combined.

Germiane Greer

Well said, Abby Jean. So, as an Australian who isn't necessarily celebrating the anniversary of American suffragette movement, I had a look at the history of your only Australian, Germaine.
Now, I like Germaine. Feminism is struggling in Australia at present, so it's hard to 'denounce' an 'icon' like GG. Trying not to be cute here lol.

But seriously, Germaine has completely lost me with her treatment of another Australian, Dr. Rachel Padman, renowned physicist, who happened to be born a man. And was up for admittance into Cambridge (England) college for women.

And this is the problem- Germaine showed herself to be completely whacked when it came to her feminist understanding of transgender/transxual women. Her argument was that Rachel should not be admitted to the college because she was, legally, in fact a man.

So unfortunately, Germaine is inherently discriminatory towards women-identifying people that aren't biologically female. And this was a shock for me.

Do we then ignore the positive achievements of these women? Or are they tainted by association with views that to a lot of us are reprehensible?
Perhaps this is part of the Fourth Wave (are we there yet?). A deeper reflection of what it means to be part of a movement that is more than simply a singular feminism? I don't advocate ridding ourselves of the ism. We'd spend another 100 years arguing about the new name! :)

And here's what I found...

I had a well organized comment with blockquotes and embedded links but it kept triggering the spam filter? So sorry for no links...

First up, Nellie McClung, someone I had never heard of. Apparently, like so many of the first wave feminists, she had major issues with race:
"Valverde focusses on the tensions within the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (in which McClung was active) between an evangelical discourse on salvation and a scientific discourse positing innate racial characteristics; she concludes that the Christian emphasis of such organizations "had the potential to view all people, whatever their race, as potentially useful members of society" (19) but also tended to equate spiritual purity with the white race and with Anglo-Saxon culture...after reading her persuasive analysis, one can never again interpret McClung's many references to "the race" as innocent of racist implications."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martha Griffiths (the latter being one I knew nothing about previously):
"It is well-documented that white women suffragettes became infuriated when the black male was granted the vote ahead of them with the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. Feminist leaders were incredulous that their white skin did not afford them the clear advantage over black men previously held as slaves....This perspective was again articulated almost 100 years later by a leading white Congresswoman in the debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In an attempt to undermine passage of the act, white Southern men led the move to add the category “sex” to a legislative proposal that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion and national origin. Concerned that white women would be the last to be hired if sex was not included in the bill’s language, Michigan Congresswoman Martha Griffiths used specific racial appeals to make her case"

I find this second piece of information especially interesting given the stuff Gloria Steinem and others said during the last Presidential campaign. Looks like some of us are still not remotely learning the lessons of our past, eh?

In a similar vein, I was reading in a past make/shift issue yesterday and it had an article in it which made me think about this article, and about why our knowing the "dark side" of our feminist foremothers is so important: so that we can root out racism, ableism, transmisogyny etc. from our movements once and for all.

This article was about the Chicago Women's Health Center. Sounds like a wonderful place for poor, white and cis me, but not so great for my WOC and/or trans sisters... Though it is one of the oldest feminist health clinics in the country, having been around since 1975, they only JUST have gotten around to making sure they have people on staff who can speak Spanish, and have started reaching out to Latina communities and they do not provide any care for trans women. The board member interviewed stated that "it would be us adding an entire program" and that "it's really about anatomy. If someone has a cervix, they need gynecological care." (Yes and if they have BREASTS they need breast check ups too, does doing THAT require adding a whole new program?)

These legacies are important because they are the foundation of our movement, we can't just keep building on a foundation that's rotting, or this is what we will continue to get...

~whatsername~
aka thejadedhippy

~whatsername~

Jeffreys

Thank you for the redirect, jadedhippy.

Sheila Jeffreys' characterization of transvestites as "men adopting the behaviours of a subordinate group in order to enjoy the sexual satisfaction of masochism": http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/jul/02/gender.politicsphilosophyand...

and FTM Transexualism and Grief : http://www.feminist-reprise.org/docs/jeffreysftm.htm

Ableism

Don't forget about Elaine Showalter. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elaine_Showalter#Hysteria_and_.22modern.22_illnessess]

I don't think it's out of

I don't think it's out of date - not at all. I used to be a regular commenter at Jezebel, but one of the many, many reasons I no longer spend much time there is the inability of many of the white feminists who comment - and who post! - to move their politics outside of their framework of white, middle-class, cisbodied, heterosexual feminism. I mean, do you have any idea how many times I saw the same arguments about racism unfold? It was repetitive and so embarrassing to watch.

Maybe intersectionality is making headway in more academic realms of feminism, but as far as it is practiced on the ground? It's still got a long ways to go.

re

I've worked across the spectrum with disadvantaged marganilsed girls and women and have come from a background similar to them, right up to academic circles and I stongly think that women from all backgrounds working in the grass roots (so to speak) to women within academia from all backgrounds (who are deeply dedicated to trying to work out how to create access points for marginalised women) are strongly committed to creating an inclusive movement across the board. I think in fact it's in the cyber and media realm that 'feminism' appears to be dominated by white middle class women - hence a lot of people commenting here are in fact reading blogs and online magazines and not books, articles or going to events etc. I think in the electronic information realm white middle class women and men are at an advantage - they have higher rates of literacy and more money to by fast computers and broad band etc etc. However, the author clearly does not have her finger on the feminist pulse or she would not make this ridiculous and unfounded assumption. There are so many ordinary women (and some men) out there doing great work which is not always visible to online eye - you can't always access it through a blog (although it has to be said it's not that hard to see if you look a little bit futher than what's right under your own nose). What is being silenced in the polemical article is the huge breadth and variety of wonderful women out there who are really committed to full inclusion principals and practices. Why?

Derailing at the cross-roads

Merryn, is there a particular reason why you keep insisting that s.e. smith is just uneducated and has never done anything but read blogs? Because it's getting tiring, especially when others in the same comment section are arguing that ou is obviously living in some ivory tower someplace and doesn't have a clue what's going on on the ground. It's almost like there's no basis to either argument, but that it's a derailing technique to make the discussion about ou's credentials rather than about the problems wrt intersectionality in feminism-as-a-movement.

Also, "she" is the wrong pronoun, but I assume that's a mistake and not deliberate on your part to have a go at ou.

Seconding...

Yes, what Anna said. s.e.'s credentials are not up for debate here. Ou is a guest blogger for Bitch--we have reviewed ou's credentials and found ou to be more than qualified. Disagreements and respectful arguments are welcome here, but attacks on someone's qualifications are not.

Please keep the conversation on track, everyone. We're getting into some mighty derail-y territory up in here.
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re

'uneducated and has never done anything but read blogs' - actually I never used these words at all and my comment about a lack of research and a limited scope of reading has absolutely nothing to do with 'education'. Also, the article itself presents a critique about the 'media' and does not engage in the VAST amount of painstaking research that has gone on over the last 3 decades that actually does conduct deep analysis of feminist epistemology. I am not against the articles points about feminisms roots, what I am trying to critique is a) that feminists haven't acknowledged these issues in a thorough and meaningful way across the board and b) that feminists haven't considered these issues, are tackling them head on and are really trying very very hard to engage with them. If this article is saying that feminism is dominated by white middle class feminists that do not care, or are attempting to silence and not engage with other women of whatever background and circumstance then yes, I think that is a real falshood and an unfounded and poorly researched statement. I think if you dig around you find so many feminists, white and middle class included, that are really very concerned about injustices between women and work long and tirelessly to bridge those injustices. I am not saying that all of them do, sure there will be a percentage that don't, but I do not think these are in the majority and I think it's really an easy thing to say - are hard thing to prove - and a poorly considered statement to make. I am not defending white middle class feminists at all, what I am saying is that I don't believe in the current feminist climate that the authors critique is warrented. For this reason I think it reads like an lazy and sloppy 1st year undergraduate essay, an argument that is all based on unsubstantiated accusation that doesn't stand upto to scrutiny

Yeah...

Having been in both academic and grassroots feminisms I have to completely disagree. In my experience internet feminism, academic feminism and grassroots feminism all suffer from the same issues s.e. is addressing here. Yes, there are some groups which really are intersectional and really do know their shit, but THEY are by far the minority, not the other way around.

Especially when I have WOC classmates telling me that not one but two of the big women's studies departments have made them uncomfortable, or feel tokenized, or have had racism amongst their fellow students go unaddressed in the classroom... And when we still have widespread "women's" services that are CLEARLY centering white cis women in their practice... (for just two examples) Yeah, sorry, I am just not buying your argument.

If whatever groups you have worked with don't fall into this pattern, that's wonderful! But that doesn't make anything of what s.e. said wrong.

~whatsername~

~whatsername~

Margaret Sanger's personal history

Another reason behind Margaret Sanger's support for birth control came from her own family history. Her mother gave birth to 11 children, and conceived 18 pregnancies, before dying from cancer at the age of 50. To write off Margaret Sanger as only being motivated by eugenics isn't completely a fair picture, and makes me think the author has been reading a lot of anti-choice literature on Sanger and Planned Parenthood, who often argue PP shouldn't exist because of Sanger's eugenic ideology. For balance, I recommend reading Alex Sanger's (Margaret's grandson) blog "Beyond Choice" http://blog.alexandersanger.com/ I think he is really representative of how the pro-choice movement has evolved in the last century into a more inclusive and pro-civil rights.

It's Always More Complicated

I hate that in order to talk about the rampant ableism in the pro-choice movement, I have to start out by flashing my pro-choice creds, but whatever. Just so no one goes along implying that I'm some anti-choice ringer just out to make everyone feel bad, I'm 100% pro-choice in 100% of any cases for whatever reason at whatever point, and I've spent most of my adult life fighting for that to mean something in my country, since at this point it means "If you can get to one of the very few abortion clinics, or if you can find a hospital that doesn't give out anti-choice propaganda instead of medical information". Abortion-on-demand is only a reality if you can get an abortion when you demand it, so it's not a reality in my country.

And I still find that the pro-choice movement makes all sorts of ableist arguments and assumptions. Some of which s.e. linked to in the article, but here's another one.

I understand it's frustrating to have people who are 100% pro-choice say things like "the narrative about abortion & disability is shitty and ableist and we should stop buying into that narrative", but you know what? I'm tired of my fellow-advocates turning their back on me and mine. Exactly how much more support should I be giving people who think that a child like my husband is a tragedy, and that the best thing we can do as a couple is ensure that we don't have children that could be just like him?

much appreciation

I've found this whole series very timely as it relates to the way my own feminism has evolved in recent months. I've been aware of the way oppressions intersect for a long time, thanks to my involvement in the world of feminist zines, but it became foremost in my mind after watching the same arguments and the same dynamics unfold, over and over again, between feminists of color and white feminists. And then it got worse as I found myself reading through the more popular mainstream feminist blogs and feeling my eyes glaze over from boredom after reading the same conversations about airbrushing in fashion magazines and fights over high heels and whether or not porn is sexist. It all feels redundant, probably because I've been watching - and participating - in the same arguments for going on two decades now.

It occurred to me that I had stopped seeing myself as this person who is so oppressed because I am a woman, and I had started seeing myself as a person of enormous privilege. I don't say this to discount the importance of feminism, or the real and devastating consequences of misogyny and sexism at all levels of the kyriarchy, so please don't take it as such. Rather, I realized that I, as a cisgendered, able-bodied, heterosexual, white woman who is educated and employed and middle-class, am completely immersed in privilege. What's more, I as a woman of privilege am morally and ethically obligated to use my privilege to alleviate the oppression of others. A very small part of that is educating myself and recognizing that my voice is very well-represented and so the best thing I can do is listen and be an ally and be willing to be honest about myself, my actions and the impact I have on others.

I get why other privileged feminists might shy away from this, because it's uncomfortable to acknowledge that you've been an oppressor, particularly if you are used to thinking of yourself as being on the shit end of things. But we have to admit that we are humans, and thus by definition flawed, and that the only way we will get better is to acknowledge our foibles and our fuck-ups rather than circling our wagons and pretending that everything has been just fine.

Thanks for the this article.

Thanks for the this article. It is a constant discourse that needs to happen. The 'F' movement is and never has effectively dealt with it's own inherent-isms. It is through discussions such as this that we can move towards not silencing other women, or might I suggest other humans in general.

Beth Elliot

Why was my previous comment deleted?

I am hoping it was a glitch or honest mistake and reposting.

I'm really confused by the inclusion of Beth Elliot here.

Beth Elliot is a trans woman who was forced out of her position in the Daughters of Bilitis and forced out of a lesbian feminist conference that she helped organize, where she was then called a "man" and a "transvestite" by Robin Morgan and others. And then largely disappeared.

http://zagria.blogspot.com/2009/12/beth-elliott-195-singer-activist-writ...

She WAS complicit in an act of classism and horizontal transphobia in signing this letter a while back:

http://eminism.org/michigan/20000809-elliott.txt

but overall in context I would say she was more a victim of bigoted feminists than the other way around.

Competing oppressions are

Competing oppressions are oftentimes the most lethal powder kegs. In fact, I would say that they exist at the least accessible level--in the discursive sense, anyhow--because discussing conflicts of derivative power requires, more than one perspective. ie, this could be an anthropological question [how people communicate power], or a political one [how power moves people], etc. Consider the nature of the concept "discourse" as opposed to "conversation". What is the real difference? Is it a discrete difference?

Which perspective/method deals best?
Is it the one where we scrutinize hegemonies as they are swallowed (generally whole) by their iconoclasts, in succession, until it rolls back onto itself in droll coronation? The perennial bouquet of scholarship, bequeathed to scholars by scholars? Endless revision, endless revision.

I put it rather figuratively--discrepancies, discrepancies--but I will emphasize my belief that discrepancies do make all the difference in discussing identity-based issues. (Nor do I believe to be such a rigid and structural phenomena.) Perhaps you'll be able to recognize me by the tone of my voice, or reasoning, and forgive the lack of scholarly etiquette...just to clarify, this isn't my field. (Hopefully I'll know soon enough which one is.)

Or can it be people talking to people?

Which is why I'm going to post this comment. Because I don't know squat about feminisms, but I know I execute my life accordingly. Because I believe using the term "normative" is counter-productive and a bit contradictory. Because a lot of those -isms inside feminisms apply to me. And hopefully this'll go against the grain. Non-writer, undeclared feminist, lower middle class, woman of color, pretty queer, but they don't expect that out of Asian girls now, do they? I don't even dress like it. Wait, who is they?

This piece reads like a call to arms of sorts, a "let's get this trial going," kind of reflection. Again, this is why I write. Personally, I think that the notion of a trial would generally work with what you were going for. I'm glad, as an individual that encounters another in writing, that you find the problem of "-isms" in any "-ism" alarming at all. It isn't welcome in daily conversation, and most certainly if you aren't credible or educated. BUT THAT IS PRECISELY THE PROBLEM. I mean, People, just talk about this shit with your friends and grandparents, and be aggressive and uncouth...lest it becomes too counter-productive. I mean, how does consumer culture work? People buy shit, like shit, talk about it; rinse, repeat. Just like currency. I also know you know perfectly what I mean, and that I don't need to reference any names for you get to good picture. We live in this world together.

What happens on CNN and hallmark versions of histories happens amongst academics, cultural events/"movements", among posses of one ilk or another. This isn't to discount whatever victories that occur within smaller communities isn't proof of progress. I believe an earlier comment was trying to encourage that possibility- it's a terrifying realization when we realize what top-down really means. Are we going to go on solely talking about our aggressors' techniques of mobilization and indoctrination while victims remain faceless victims, mute and bound by a lack for better words? Stressing the trauma of hegemonic atrocities means nothing and remains nothing when Resistance is not duly noted. That resistance comes in several languages, marked by not necessarily by words, but words as symbols of experience.

Talking about art or ideas will never be possible without bringing in material and technology. In short, we will never stop talking to each other about shit we "had", in some way or another. This is how most of us assemble ourselves as wholes, by remembering what we do and how we react to it. How this piece of culture or knowledge came about one's way is wholly under the table-- and the other side of the story which you will probably attempt to engage in. It should likely follow that I am not merely an individual writing to an individual, but an "anonymous" mind whose credibility is being weighed. Isn't it obvious that this isn't my field?

The difficulty of contextualizing pop culture within alternative modes of historiography lies in the fact that you are at once discussing the material counterpart/evidence of people who belonged to a particular class, race, gender, sexuality, ableness, creed, etc., (categories created precisely by material itself), whose material origin may or may not have been outside of their conscious (but materially informed/constructed) control. The danger falls where you decide to find the "us" and the "them": is it the ignorant vs the informed, or the oppressed vs the privileged? Wherein ignorance is taken for granted, as solely being a measure of possession or lack of possession. I have no doubt in your investigative capabilities, this is simple advice.

As competing oppressions create multiple lines of exclusion/elitism/reverse __-isms within Othered "communities", I will constantly be without. I will never be the composite of every oppressed group. And certainly most of those I don't share oppressions with won't give a flying fuck whether we "share" an "oppressor" or "non-privileged" experience. To tiptoe within these tense and collisional discourses will mean getting corrected, criticized, ignored. No experience and intellectual meditation can change the fact that you will remain as much as your experience has allowed you to gaze into those of others. To harmonize difference is key-- not to create hierarchy out of it, not to suffer over it. This is why I write to you.

Stepping in...

Hi everyone,

As I'm sure many of you have noticed, this thread has taken a few turns for the worse since s.e. posted yesterday. Let me remind you of a few things:

- no personal attacks
- no hateful language
- no tone arguments
- no derails

The moderators and s.e. are keeping an eye on this thread and deleting some things, but please keep our handy comments policy in mind—and focus on the topic at hand—if you decide to leave any further comments.

Thanks!
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Hmmmm

You say that people should be careful to be respectful but after speaking to quite a few women who read this post, you need to be aware that many women found the article very disrespectful, short sighted and feel that the tone of the comments have indeed largely silenced critiques via this comment section. I wonder if you would have posted your own article in response to an article about the fantastic work that has been done over the past two decades that really attempts to open up feminist history to scrutiny and to engage with difference amoung women and fight for an inclusive movement??

Thanks

Hi Merryn,

Thanks for your comments. We appreciate respectful feedback like this—positive and negative. I can't speak for s.e., but in my opinion the somewhat harsh tone of this article comes from ou's frustration with the mainstream feminist movement. After years of talking about these issues, ou and other marginalized feminists are still fighting an uphill battle when it comes to intersectionality—even with other feminists.

As for your comment about my posting an, "article in response to an article about the fantastic work that has been done over the past two decades that really attempts to open up feminist history to scrutiny and to engage with difference among women and fight for an inclusive movement," I'm not sure I follow. Are you asking for an article about fantastic work happening in the feminist movement? Because that is something we try to highlight every day on the Bitch blogs! If I misunderstood you, please clarify.

Thanks!

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re

No I was wondering if this type of stand off / polemic article would be removed if it showed up in a comment section attacking all the work that I see, read and hear feminists doing all over the world. It’s shocking that women continue to be marginalised from what is perceived as 'mainstream' feminism and all I can say is, go deeper and beyond what is in your vicinity because I can assure you there is a massive and very deep vein of feminist work and play that covers theory and practise, from art to economics, that is completely dedicated to intersectionality. If the feminists in your area or the feminism that you are exposed to do not include you or do not acknowledge all aspects of the history of feminists across the board, then this is a deplorable indictment of the women (and men?) involved but it should not be made automatically generalisable to feminism or feminists. I’ve got to say that I’ve lived in several different countries and have worked with women involved in the feminist movement all my life across many organisations and I can honestly say I have never met a feminist that wasn’t deeply concerned by the injustices of all people from all backgrounds and in all circumstances. I don’t know if it’s an Australian or United Kingdom thing, i.e. the localities, people and ideas I’ve been exposed to, but I’ve never known a feminist who is not aware of their position and what it does and doesn’t afford them, or who isn’t open to scrutinising feminisms roots and their own place within that lineage. I don’t think mine is a rare experience either. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without feminists showing me how to shift out of the life circumstances that would have held me in place without their help. I really think that so many women across the world today really benefit in very real and tangible ways from the dedicated work that feminists (and feminisms) produce and I feel very strongly that this article should also be positioned within that context and lineage, i.e. shoulder to shoulder with all the multitude of painstaking work that goes on today and has gone on over many years, and not just float out there as a random accusation pointed at ‘feminism’…

spelling error and broken link

Hey, great piece! Just a note: you spelled Julie Bindel wrong, and the link to the Guardian article is broken.

And...

Fixed! Thanks for the catch, Sandra!

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resistance to multiple oppressions

I wholeheartedly agree with the author's thesis that feminists need to consider multiple axes of oppression or, as Barbara Smith wrote, we are merely engaging in self-aggrandizement.

The author writes:
"Many feminists are unaware of the deeply embedded racism, ableism, classism, ageism, and transphobia in the feminist movement. As a result, they don't comprehend why some people feel alienated by and uncomfortable with feminism."

Yes, feminists need to be aware of this history and the effect it has on some women who would be feminists. And we need to challenge those who perpetuate this marginalization.

My concern with the original blog post is that it can be used by some to completely discredit feminist work as being oppressive in some respect. For example, at least one person who commented above has done just that, and this post merely solidified that decision.

For me it raises questions about any influential thinker/activist who has done transformative work and also done harm. How can we separate this work, and ought we do so? I think a critical engagement with a thinker ought to weigh all contributions. We need to not excuse racism, for example, nor discredit everything she has said or done, but rather question how her racism functions within her work. We need to question who she has centered in her thinking that allowed her to marginalize some women. With whom do we think, speak, write, act?

One example of this kind of critical engagement is Maria Lugones' analysis of Mary Daly's Wickedary. While ML explains the powerful use of language MD employs in the wickedary, she also locates that use in a history of colonialism. Further, she laments the lack of a lesbian presence in a dictionary of Chicano slang. Thus, she challenges racism in feminist resistance, and homophobia in Chicano resistance, and develops a path that would incorporate multiple dimensions of resistance.

I agree with those who call for a more nuanced criticism of the entrenched -isms that form sometimes deep and longstanding histories in feminist movement and theory, as well as a connection to the longstanding feminist resistance to these other forms of oppression within this multi-faceted movement.

in love and struggle

Crista Lebens

My concern with the original

My concern with the original blog post is that it can be used by some to completely discredit feminist work as being oppressive in some respect. For example, at least one person who commented above has done just that, and this post merely solidified that decision.

Some aspects of feminist history have been oppressive and there is little reason to pretend this is not the case. In order to fully embrace our history and solidify the movement, reflection of historical injustice within the movement is necessary. There is justifiable anger felt and expressed by many marginalized feminists and for so long our voices have been silenced and our complaints have been dismissed as, "promoting in fighting".

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Right--that's why I gave an

Right--that's why I gave an example of critical engagement with an author rather than a dismissal of her work. I am concerned about across-the-board-dismissal.

Let me be clear: I am *not* pretending we don't have an oppressive history within feminism, I have worked very hard in my life to make that history (and present) known. Yes, the anger is righteous, justifiable, yes yes yes.

Further, I think this history is not as buried as the original post suggests. A google search of Margaret Sanger lists 'Margaret Sanger racist' in the topics list--one need not go to the site to learn this. RE: US women's suffrage, the Wiki article includes a brief mention of the attempt by some to argue enfranchisement of Black men before white women is unjust. That could go further, but it is there.

What I think needs to be addressed is how these -isms continue to structure our thought and actions. Again, I share the frustration of marginalized women within feminist movement and I am wholeheartedly about dialogue in this regard, but not about wholesale, uncritical rejection.

CL

There's more than one post though

"but not about wholesale, uncritical rejection."

But that's not what happened in this post, or any of s.e.'s other posts for Bitch, this year or last.

Don't read this post in a vacuum. s.e. is writing a whole series of posts on exactly this subject for Bitch magazine. Ou is here for 8 weeks in total, if I recall correctly, and reading ou's work as a whole may alleviate some of your concerns.

It's a series, and one that builds off of work of others that have and are posting for Bitch blogs, and I assume that the conversation will continue with future posts by other authors. It is also one that is informed by past experiences blogging for Bitch - if you look at s.e.'s work from last year, or Jessica Yee's work from earlier this year (and probably others as well, although these are the two examples that currently come to mind), you'll see how strongly people - feminists! - have pushed back against even the mention that maybe, must maybe, there's a place in feminist pop culture criticism to talk about feminist & disability-centered pop-culture criticism, or feminist & women-of-colour/First Nations women-centered pop-culture criticism.

A great deal of that pushback is because for some reason the commenters - again, feminists! - view feminist criticisms, and critiques that center disabled voices, and critiques that center the voices of women of colour, as entirely different things, rather than as things that should logically go hand-in-hand.

I understand that you view this piece as problematic, but I think that's because you're viewing it as a stand-alone piece, rather than as a body-of-work.

I think one of the main

I think one of the main problems in discussing feminist history is that we have "icons" at all. Did the activists you bring up leave a lasting mark on the goals, discourses, and actions of feminist movements? Absolutely! Does this mean they should be held up as iconic figures who could do no wrong? Of course not! The oppressive aspects of their theories and activities should not be ignored in order to make feminism falsely seem more harmonious and uniform.

As a history student, it bothers me that some feminists aren't willing to confront the problematic aspects of our own past, especially considering that numerous radical scholars (feminists and others) have been so influential in challenging how history can be discussed and taught.

Book Rec!

I really liked the argument about icons/historical figures presented in "Lies My Teachers Taught Me". I'm not sure if you're a US history student (I'm not - US history confuses me), but if you are, I really recommend the book.

Basically the author argues that we're taught to view heroes as being unquestionably "good", and then people feel very attacked when those heroes are re-made into human beings who made mistakes, who screwed some things up, who were complicated.

I mean, I can still think Nellie McClung did awesome things in advocating for the rights of (some) women in my country, and want to celebrate that, while still acknowledging she would have had women like me kept in isolated locations far far away from the rest of society.

Emmeline Pankhurst

I know she's not on the list in the original post but she most definitely qualifies. Darling of the British suffrage movement and internationally famous for bringing votes to women.
There is evidence to suggest, however, that the suffragettes did more harm than good and destroyed the good name of the suffragists who had been working for decades to bring about female enfranchisement.
As a liberal left-leaning person I find her a difficult figure for a number of reasons:
-She was nationalist to the point of fascism and even worse...
-A strong advocate of Imperialism and the British Empire
-Was a strong supporter of the Order of the White Feather which in WWI tormented men who had not enlisted due to reasons of conscience and drove many men to go against their principles, 'join up' and, possibly, ultimately die
-Was vitriolic in her persecution of the German people during WWI- many similar movements called for peace or expressed sympathy for the women or children in enemy nations. She called for the decimation of the entire race.
-My last point is one that many would argue would never be made against a man- though it is something I would find appalling in either sex; she was a horrific parent. 'Bad Mother' is something that is often said against women who focused more on changing the world than they did their children whereas men in a similar situation are never persecuted. Pankhurst had three daughters: Christabel, Adela and Sylvia. All three joined the suffragette movement and were passionate advocates for votes for women- all served jail time for their actions on behalf of the group. At one point Adela started to question the increasing violence of the movement as did her sister Sylvia; Emmeline's response is infamous: "I would not care if you were multiplied by a hundred, but one of Adela is too many."
Cliff Notes version;
-Adela left the suffragettes and, in order to stop her speaking out against them, Emmeline bought her a one-way ticket to Australia
-Sylvia was upset at the group moving away from their left wing origins and also left
Emmeline was 'ashamed' of them for their pacifism.
She never spoke to either of them, refused to reply to Adelas letters and cut Sylvia dead.
She never forgave Sylvia for living with a man out of wedlock and having a child, especially as the papers called her 'Miss Pankhurst' a title usually used for Emmeline's favourite child Christabel.
Give me Millicent Fawcett any day.

I'm glad someone mentioned

I'm glad someone mentioned Jessica Yee because I'm wondering if the writer of the piece looked at her posts here at BITCH especially one that relates the most about why this "intersectional" feminist business isn't actually anti-racist or anti-oppressive for that matter:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/fyi-world-intersectional-feminism-isnt-nec...

I watched most of the comments while she blogged here and I was disgusted upon horrified upon appalled - and these were on a number of her posts. And I'm pretty sure her cultural appropriation post got the most comments that has ever been at BITCH, last check was 200+ and then it was closed so who knows how many more had come through. She also received hate e-mail and a lack of action from the moderators in the interim.

She is one of the lone Indigenous feminist voices out there that doesn't just stick to one issue or another in addition to being a full time Executive Director of a North America wide organization.

I was sad to see her stop posting here and I can't help but wonder if it's because of exactly the same kind of shit that's going on in these comments here. And wonder if she was not full on attacked in the 200+ comments and hate e-mails region because she's Indigenous.

A bit of clarification

Hi Cynthia,

First of all, I'm sure that s.e. has read Jessica Yee's blog posts, since we've had some discussions about them in the preparations for this series. Second, Jessica Yee's guest-blogging contract ended (our guest bloggers only blog for eight weeks at a time) which is why she stopped blogging here. Not to say that the comments section wasn't a definite problem during her stint (we've since revamped our comments policy and moderation), just that that isn't the reason why she isn't currently blogging for Bitch.

OK, sorry for the derail—now back to our regularly scheduled commenting!
____________
Kelsey Wallace, web editor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Bring Jessica Yee back then

I think you need to bring Jessica Yee back then. And I know I'm not the only one who thinks this.

I also can't fully believe that this is not one of the reasons she stopped blogging here. She had one more post after the biggest blow out that has happened here and that's it.

Hi Cynthia, We have been in

Hi Cynthia,

We have been in contact with Jessica about returning to blog for us. However, we can only afford to have a certain amount of bloggers working at a time, and our schedule is already full of awesome guest bloggers (including some recommended by Jessica and her Racialicious colleagues) for the next several months.

As far as your speculations go as to why her blogging stint ended, all I can do is assure you that her contract was indeed up. I can't speak to her feelings about her time blogging here, although she has expressed a desire to come back and blog for us in the future.

In the meantime, please respect our current guest bloggers by staying on topic in the comment threads.

Thanks!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, web editor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Great Article!

I for one really appreciate this article as I honestly hadn't spent much time thinking about these issues when it comes to feminism and, well, I should be. We all should be. I think the point is that we acknowledge these issues, discuss them, and educate others in the process. That can only lead to the feminist movement becoming one that all women feel they can be a part of.

I also always assumed that women who shy away from identifying as feminist were just women who were worried about being labeled as man-haters. While there are some women who are that way, I never even thought of the possibility that women felt like they were excluded from the movement for the various reasons discussed. Thanks for opening my eyes!

I was very pleased to find

I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
Chinese Translation.

response to critique on feminism by Lisa Durhian 'Push(aback) at

What a breathe of fresh air to hear such honest reflection on how feminism has been appropriated at an early stage by the worst sort of social eugenics enthusiasts. You've echoed my feelings exactly. Female homo sapiens share with other mammals a predilection for a sexual drive linked to reproduction, and bonding with our young that makes separation stressful. Men/quasi-men invented 'feminism' to 'liberate' us from the 'bondage' to being constantly pregnant and raising young. All problems associated with raising young were attributed to the act of having children, rather than a culture which turned this natural act into a way men could own women. Feminism was needed, but one which respected work women do with raising young and other unpaid typically female labours, as well as decreasing prejudices which prevent women working in more varied careers. Orthodox feminism suggests equality lies in living lives closer to mens because therein lies more pay. But this misses the point that as fast as those places are filled with women their wages will reduce as workers become easier to find with 2 genders to choose from, not to mention sexual prejudice. The pill, abortion, 24 child-care centres with plenty of government funding are all pushed by government, via feminism amongst other forms, because these things were needed to facilitate patriarchal expansionary capitalism so the whole half a million for average homes dual incomes, perpetual further education, australian mortgage nightmare can continue. The whole rationale to excuse abortion relies on creating a hierarchy of human beings with unborn under born, so from there it follows Margaret Sanger's feminism founders had no problem based around race rather than age. Today abortion 'rights' are government funded because it's cheaper than social welfare.
But anybody who talks the way I do is a feminist heretic and is therefore made invisible.

I do find this really

I do find this really interesting. I've seen loads of discourse about critically examining other types of "heroes" (e.g. slaveholding founding fathers) and much less concerning feminist icons. I think I've seen more criticism of feminist "isms" by people who want to use them to discredit feminism than by people who want to improve it.

My question/thought is, how do people see this discourse taking shape? Personally, I think it's a big mistake to automatically dismiss anyone's accomplishments because of their flaws. And I do think it's important to admire and recognise women who have been trailblazers, even though many of them hindered some fights while helping others.

I also don't think it's fair to dismiss the "shaped by their culture" argument just because other people who going against that current. I would have a much lower opinion of a modern day racist than a racist 100 years ago, because the arguments against it are much more prominent, and a person would have to be pretty ignorant to ignore them. That doesn't mean racism was ever okay! I just think it isn't fair to weigh such attitudes in the same way as we would now.

So what do other people think the discourse would look like? What might it accomplish? Is the main point to raise awareness, to root out these attitudes in the present day? To alter how we talk about past accomplishments? Something else?