Two weeks ago, The Falcon published a commentary by Alley Jordan, who identified two ways in which women are holding themselves back in closing the gender gap: “…transforming into the queen bee and identifying ourselves through race.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Jordan’s claim that gender equality and female empowerment necessitate women supporting other women. What I wish to push back against, however, are Jordan’s assertions that, “Women of all races and all professions have undergone and continue to undergo almost identical problems that concern being a woman” and “Women everywhere share similar experiences because of our position in societies, the unique features of our bodies and even our thoughts.”
I believe that embedded in these sweeping statements is an oversimplification of feminism that threatens to do more harm than good.
Yes, as Jordan claims, we need women to “communicate and organize themselves under a common understanding of what they want from society, what they want from each other and what they define feminism as.”
But I would argue that such communication and organization is only possible to the extent that we are aware of and intentional in listening to the voices of women whose experiences of marginalization, oppression and inequality have differed from our own.
What I believe Jordan fails to acknowledge is the reality of intersectionality. A term originally coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, the idea of intersectionality is that different dimensions of inequality intersect to create multifaceted experiences of disadvantage. For example, an Asian-American woman will never experience her gender independent of her race, nor will the world ever perceive her as a race-less woman.
Jordan seems to be arguing for a conversation about feminism that denies the way that women of color experience racial and gender oppression simultaneously.
While it might seem more inclusive or neutral to leave mentions of race aside in feminist-agenda events, such as V-Day, this “default” feminism will inevitably be a “white-washed” feminism.
The monologue “Respect” that Jordan mentions in her commentary focused specifically on “black vaginas,” but its charges are made in response to a “mainstream feminism” of which black women have been largely left out. For Jordan to argue that “Respect” “operates under the exclusion of all other [non-black] women” is to ignore the exclusion that has already taken place.
For example, “Respect” draws attention to the fact that rapists of white women statistically face much harsher prison sentences than rapists of black women.
But to hear these statements as pitting black and white women against one another is to miss the point entirely.
Rather, the speaker aims to illuminate the multifaceted nature of what it means to be both black and female, an experience of multiple oppressions that needs to be heard. In doing so, she calls for the full inclusion of black women in the fight against sexual violence.
Feminism, at its core, aims to fight against the oppression of women and girls.
In our society, the reality is that this oppression comes from a multitude of forces, including racial and class biases. Jordan advocates for a feminism that is “for the entire gender” — one in which women band together for a common, feminine cause.
For this to happen, we need a feminism that doesn’t ask its female participants to check all other aspects of their identity at the door. Banding together with other women means accepting the nuanced nature of individual experiences, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
The resulting feminist struggle may be messier, but it will be far more worthwhile.