On March of 2012, I was at the Women's Centre at OISE. Jamie and I got into a conversation about the difficulties she faced in getting women to write articles about being a feminist in the ongoing Anthology of "Why I Became A Feminist?" We spoke further about the apparent spilt in the movement. I promised Jamie I would talk to some women I know about the subject, including my oldest daughter. Everyone I approached said no, they did not want to write about feminism or had no interest in what it has become or stands for now. I was surprised at their response and had to reflect on what was wrong with Feminism?
To answer this question, I thought back on two events. The first was on November 3, 2011, when I went to the Scarborough Campus of the University of Toronto to listen to a WIAprojects talk about "South Asians in the Arts: Diaspora, Alliances and Collaborations Across Communities". What I learned and heard from that talk resonated with Dr. Cynthia Dillard's lecture on "Spirituality in Education" I had attended the day before at OISE. The South Asian women are concerned that even though they are born or raised in Canada from a young age and contributing to its society, they, like Kemetic women and other women who are non-white, must fight for equality and feel that they do not belong. Dr. Dillard stressed that we needed to incorporate the whole of us - mind, body and spirit - to properly support others in their educational goals. She also mentioned that sometimes we use only our heads in education and become fragmented about who or what we are. She went on to mention the inequality of the education system revealed at times in the behaviour of the so-called ruling culture: "Be us but don't become us". In other words, do what we say and do but don't expect to be treated like us.
As a woman of Kemetic descent, a mother of four children, artist and activist, especially for human rights, I have had the opportunity to participate in and observe the Women's Movement (Feminism if you prefer) in action. After attending these two events, I can now connect some of the challenges I have had to this complicated ideologyself. The women of started with working class white women, yet it was the upper and middle class white women who spoke for them. Do the middle and upper class women stive in the arts, we will belong. Sitting quietly, I ask myself, "Do I belong? Where? And where do I not belong? And why?”
The Feminist or Women's Movement was started by working class women in France during the 17th century -- at the height of slavery. Over the years, the Movement spread across Europe and eventually was transported to North and South America by the women who brought the ideology with them. From its conception and during its momentum between the 17th to early 20th centuries, the Movement only focused on equality for white women. Up until 1922 in North America, even a white woman was not considered a person. I remember being at an event where a white woman said that she was speaking for the black women from Somalia who, she claimed, had no voice! Until now I didn't understand why she was speaking for other women who were not even at this event? I didn't get it because I always spoke for myself. The Movement started with working class white women, yet it was the upper and middle class white women who spoke for them. Do the middle and upper class women still control the Movement? What is wrong with Feminism?
Feminism or the Women's Movement, when it became institutionalized, only allowed other non-white women in, who were thought to have 'something' to bring to the table. This a so-called educated elitist ideology still plays a negative role within the Movement. The fear of these elitist women to lose their false notion of power has left other women more vulnerable and disillusioned with the Movement. Women of colour, working class women, women with disabilities, poor women are asking why they are still left out even though they are educated and have played the game as requested of them? What is wrong with Feminism?
This past school year at the Centre for Women’s Studies there have been a lot of programs on racism, sexism and gender equality. This has sparked my thinking about this issue. At the CWSE where I act as an Associate Director for a program WIAprojects, and where the International Women’s Human Rights institute engages and mentors women globally, we place diversity and equal discussion and representation as essential to our agenda. We have raised some interesting issues and dealt with some challenging questions. But this is not always the case. The Women's Movement or the Feminist Movement or Feminism has in some instances become disconnected from “women” due to the motives of those in charge. When promoting an agenda, organisers can jump into the latest fads or cultural issues without true interest (heart), or might promote subjects in a warped and imbalanced manner for funding - losing the spirit of the Movement. This has left the true purpose for the Movement's existence fragmented; and may induce infighting amongst the women involved; as well as, a dislike or disinterest in the Movement among the general female population it was created to support. What is wrong with Feminism?
Has the Movement lost its soul? Its mental and emotional aspects cannot possibly operate well without a connection to the spiritual (the heart). The Movement will survive and become stronger when it is truly realized that the Movement is not an intellectual or power game where one plays with ideas of gender, sexuality, class race etc.. Rather the Movement is about the wellbeing and inclusion of all women whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, straight or gay, white or not.
I would like to end with this thought by Sojourner Truth (also known as Isabella Baumfree) who was born a slave in 1797. She asked a question that still resonates with most non-white women in the 21st century with regards to the Women's or Feminist Movement. "Aint I A Woman?!"
Mary Wright presented a version of this writing for April 2012’s CWSE end–of-year event.