Feminism at an Intersection

An exploration of how Trump's election exposed the faults in the feminist movement.

A protestor at the Women's March on Chicago.    Photo by Audrey Valbuena

A protestor at the Women's March on Chicago.

Photo by Audrey Valbuena

 
 

WITH THE RECENT ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP, A MAN WHO HAS USED MISOGYNISTIC LANGUAGE MULTIPLE TIMES, TO THE OFFICE OF UNITED STATES PRESIDENT, THE FEMINIST COMMUNITY HAS BEEN DEVASTATED, REALIZING THEIR MISPERCEPTIONS OF FEMINISM IN THIS COUNTRY.

“I’m very much in shock and disbelief, on a lot of different levels,” said Adrian Bitton, the assistant director for Leadership and Community Engagement at Northwestern University, the day after the election.“I think I’m still processing.”

Co-President of the International Gender Equality Movement Arielle Ticho believes that understanding the current state of feminism starts with realizing that “there is no national intersectional feminism.”

Though the first female nominee for a major political party saw her campaign through to the end of election night, it was a straight, cisgender, white man, who made countless derogatory comments toward women, who was chosen as president-elect. And behind him, in support, were 53 percent of white women who voted.

“It became clear with the results of the election that white women were going to vote more based on their race than based on their gender and were going to favor their white privilege over any intersection between races or classes,” said Ticho. “Feminism could have come about in not only electing our first female president but in not electing a racist, homophobic president.”

FROM ITS CONCEPTION, FEMINISM HAS FOCUSED ON POLITICAL ACTION IN ACHIEVING RIGHTS FOR WOMEN.

A protestor fighting for reproductive autonomy.     Photo by Audrey Valbuena

A protestor fighting for reproductive autonomy. 

Photo by Audrey Valbuena

In its first wave, feminism focused on suffrage for women. This culminated in 1920 with the addition of the 19th Amendment, when white women were given the right to vote.

The second wave then focused on achieving ownership of female sexuality and the right to hold stake over decisions involving the female body. The court achieved this in 1973 when it upheld the decision of Roe v. Wade, allowing women to have jurisdiction over their bodies in abortions. Mostly white women benefited, as women of color were still being affected by the remaining struggles of the civil rights movement.

Now the third wave of feminism (which is still in motion) rejects traditionally “feminine” stereotypes, allowing women to transcend the gender-sexuality binary to express themselves as they wish. It stands for women of all types, yet there is much to be said about the faults in this sort of feminism – it may not be intersectional, as is seen in votes cast toward the election of Donald Trump.

Terry O’Neill, the President for the National Organization for Women, in a visit to Northwestern University, shared that the feminist organization’s original purpose, upon its inception in 1966, was in line with the traditional feminist desires for political and legal change. The organization’s statement of purpose was “to take action, meaning to pass legislation and implement legislation, to bring women into full participation in American society,” forgetting to address the ingrained social struggles of the non-white woman that legislation cannot necessarily fix.

AS CAN BE SEEN IN THE VOTING INTO OFFICE A MAN KNOWN TO ESPOUSE MISOGYNY, THE EFFORTS OF TRADITIONAL FEMINISTS CONTINUE TO EXCLUDE THE REST OF THE FEMALE EXPERIENCE, CATERING TOWARD WHITE, CIS WOMEN.

“I think feminism in the United States has always been a white feminist movement since its foundation,” said Ticho. “It’s a pretty sad state, and I’m very discouraged by it, but I don’t want to say it’s broken because I think that’s just how it’s always been.”

With the realization that there is a lack of representation for women of color or women outside the gender-sexuality binary, the focus of feminism has shifted, perhaps into a fourth wave of feminism. NOW’s statement has changed, to better encompass the feminist values of today.

“NOW’s statement of purpose, modernized in 2015, which was very much influenced by our millennial leaders, is to take action through intersectional, grassroots organizing, to lead the cycle of change,” said O’Neill. “It’s not enough to bring women into society; we really need to bring feminist values in to change society.”

Protestors at the Women's March on Chicago.    Photo by Audrey Valbuena

Protestors at the Women's March on Chicago.

Photo by Audrey Valbuena

THIS HAPPENS THROUGH RECOGNIZING AND VALIDATING THE EXPERIENCES OF ALL, THROUGH THE PRACTICE OF INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM.

“I think right now we are seeing a big push for intersectional feminism,” said Bitton. “We’re looking at not just the default of [feminism] being white feminism and [we’re looking at] how we give voice to other people’s experience, especially with compounded oppressive identities.”

Kimberle Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and Columbia, and a leader in the field of critical race theory, explains.

“I began to use the term ‘intersectionality’ to deal with the fact that many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice,” said Crenshaw. “The [experiences of] African-American women… weren't exactly the same as white women and African-American men.”

This division between white women and women of color and women who transcend the gender-sexuality binary was evident in this election. The disparity in experience between those with compounding minority identities and those who hold privilege played out in the way varying demographics voted. While 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, 94 percent of women of color voted for Hillary Clinton, according to The Washington Post.

“People who look like me, one of the most important things we can do right now is apologize to people who don’t look like me,” said O’Neill, referring to her identity as a white, cisgender woman. “Ninety-four percent of black women voted for the vision that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats put forward. It was a vision of inclusiveness… They did not vote for racial identity -- they do not have a choice based on racial identity. But 53 percent of white women voted for a white nationalist in the White House, and I am truly sorry.”

As the ultimate form of irony, the march ended in front of Trump tower in Chicago.    Photo by Audrey Valbuena

As the ultimate form of irony, the march ended in front of Trump tower in Chicago.

Photo by Audrey Valbuena

Feminism, at its roots, is a white feminist movement. It excludes the struggles of people of color and the LGBTQ community, because those identities are not given voices equal to the white, cis women in the movement. Today, however, these intersections prove more important and influential than ever.

“IT IS NOT A GENDER GAP,” SAID NOW PRESIDENT O’NEILL. “IT’S A GENDER-RACE GAP.”

“There are many women of color who don't feel like feminism is really for them,” said International Gender Equality Movement co-President Sanjana Lakshmi. “To that end, feminists really need to make sure that we center the voices of women of color, of poor women of color, of trans and queer women in any feminist movement.”

The results of the election have brought this lack of intersectional, inclusive feminism to the forefront of the feminist stage.

“This election…  is forcing feminists everywhere to take action,” said Liora Altman-Sagan, a member of the Society for Women Engineers. “[It] might even cause others who didn't formerly identify as feminists, to begin to view themselves as feminists,” hoping that this election will now pave the way for people of all colors, sexualities, genders and abilities to find room for their intersecting identities in the feminist movement.

By Audrey Valbuena