Response to Identity, Activism, and Third Wave Feminism in the United States

Diving into the history of feminist theory through Provocations has given me an even greater appreciation for the time I live in, and the movement that I have grown into. Last year, while reading Carrie Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (I wrote a review and a reflection on this book due to its impact on me), I started to become more acquainted with the origin story of Third Wave Feminism, which was essentially when “feminist thinkers emphasized a need to acknowledge and appreciate the differences among women” (502). At 18, Brownstein was immersed in the riot grrrl movement through her band Sleater-Kinney. So, her memoir is brimming with intersectional feminism in the most moving way. Prefacing my read of Ashley Bourgeois’s “Identity, Activism, and Third Wave Feminism in the United States” with Brownstein’s memoir definitely enhanced my appreciation for not only the current wave of feminism, but also for the movements that created that wave.

One of those most important advances within Third Wave Feminism was creating a more inclusive movement, which was brought to the forefront when women of color “raised questions regarding the white elitism of the Second Wave movement” (502). Third Wavers also “reject any arguments about the right and wrong ways to be a feminist” (503). These changes are the shift to intersectionality. As Kathleen Hanna wrote in the riot grrrl manifesto, a movement was envisioned that “seeks to save the psychic and cultural lives of girls and women everywhere, according to their own terms” (506).

In addition to addressing existing issues within Second Wave Feminism, Third Wave Feminism works to address new issues that have arisen due to societal changes. For example, Bourgeois cites the issue that “Media images that peddle society’s idea of the perfect woman are inescapable and the expectations they foster, for the most part, unattainable. As a result, more women and young girls suffer from eating disorders and low self-esteem” (504). This issue was entirely relevant when I was growing up as well, although I wasn’t aware of its impact until I was older and engaged with explanations and analysis, such as those in the documentary Miss Representation.

Third Wave Feminism also works to “advocate for all women (and men) who choose to have children, regardless of sexual orientation and social class, they similarly support ‘the choice to be childless’” (506) which is an important development considering same sex couples who adopt and women who don’t want to have children. Both of these situations are increasingly common in society today. This inclusion reminds me of this post by one of my favorite bloggers, Brenna Womer, in which she explores her choice to be childless.

Bourgeois’ essay has been the perfect ending note for my journey with this book. Although I need to revisit the essays I didn’t respond to in order to completely finish the reading, I am still setting this book down (for now) feeling more informed and more inspired.

(Featured Image courtesy of Tyler Feder)

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Response to Freedom From Sexism Versus Sexual Freedom: A Short History of the Feminist Sex Wars

Bernadette Barton’s description of sex education in America, in her essay “Freedom From Sexism Versus Sexual Freedom: A Short History of the Feminist Sex Wars,” is identical to my experience with sex education in the American, public school system. Senior year of high school, I had to take a health class in which most of the curriculum was focused on sex and alcohol/drug abuse. But instead of truly educating us, we were told “Just don’t do it.”

Just as Barton describes, school’s have a habit of “urging abstinence, frightening adolescents with the threat of STDs, and only grudgingly mentioning condoms” (430). In my class, you were also taught to be scared of pregnancy. But I cannot recall having serious, authentically educational lessons on sex. Of course, as most people understand, teenagers are going to do almost the exact opposite of what you tell them. Abstinence is a ridiculous and impractical replacement for real sex education.

In addition to calling attention to the uselessness of abstinence-based sex education, Barton also address the fact that “the men of the right attempt to control women’s sexuality through access to birth control, abortion, and the institution of marriage” (431). Unfortunately, this is still an extremely relevant issue, even more relevant now considering the Trump Administration wants to “expand the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception.”

I appreciated that Barton explored both sides of the pornography issue because both sides have compelling arguments. On the one hand, I can see how radical feminists see pornography as a breeding ground for violence against women. Pornography can be partly blamed for “fusing women’s sexuality with violence and objectification in people’s minds” (431) in order to maintain male dominance. On the other hand, I understand that sex radical feminists feel this approach is “closing down an important conversation about women’s sexual subjectivity, narrowing women’s range of sexual choices, and limiting women’s overall sexual agency” (433). These conflicting stances relate back to the abstinence-based sex education argument with the ways in which they propose addressing the pornography industry. Radical feminists seem to carry the torch for “Just don’t do it” which, like abstinence education, is unrealistic and overall unhelpful in regards to the issue as a whole. Sex radical feminists carry the torch for “Let’s talk about this” which is the more intersectional view. Barton explains that, “Using the tools of intersectional theory to examine gender relations at the individual as well as the institutional level, some sex radical feminists theorized sexual behavior, sexual identity, and sexual difference as a contested landscape within which women’s participation in the sexist social order, including the sex industry, has the potential not only to reinforce patriarchy [as the radical feminists argue], but also, at times, destabilize it” (433-434).

As an ending note, Barton comments on the “common ground” of radical feminists and sex radical feminists. The bottom line is that both of these groups have valid points in regards to the relationship between sex and the patriarchy. Barton explains the necessary existence of both of these stances, “a feminist reenvisioning of the social world requires that we attend to both these goals simultaneously, for one without the other leads to uneasy and problematic alliances: the radical feminists with conservative Christians, and the sex radical feminists with pornographers” (435). Regardless of differences, there is still an issue with the ways in which sex is displayed, perceived and discussed in our society that both sides need to work to solve.

Response to Feminist Organizing Around Violence Against Women in Mali, Peru and India

M. Cristina Alcalde, Srimati Basu, and Emily Burrill’s “Feminist Organizing around Violence against Women in Mali, Peru, and India” has perhaps been the most educational essay for me so far. I was aware of some of the gender-related cultural customs in these three countries, but I was mostly unaware of the violence that frequently follows these customs. I didn’t know that in India, dowry was often “linked with the murders and abetted suicides of young brides” (409) and general violence against women.

In Peru, “women would visit regular police stations to denounce an abusive partner only to be turned away by a police officer” (407) which immediately reminded me of one of the stories from Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky in which a woman who had been kidnapped for sex trafficking escaped and went to the police only to be sold back to the brothel by the police. So, I was somewhat familiar with this kind of behavior, but I was not aware of the degree and far reach of ignorance and injustice that has happened and continues to happen.

Efforts to combat these injustices were hard to accomplish considering political and economic tensions. But some made it happen anyway. People began to organize efforts for shelters that provided an escape for violence victims. However, it is noted that, “It is common for shelter personnel, including the director, to experience poverty on a personal level as they struggle to assist other women and children on a day-to-day basis” (406). Women’s police stations were created where the officers “were to be sensitized and trained to respond to women’s experiences of domestic violence, so that women would no longer be turned away of further victimized by the state institution charged with protecting citizens’ rights” (407). These changes were the result of local women’s organizations that pushed for more and better resources for women trapped in violent relationships (407). These women recognized that they were not going to receive the help they needed without pushing hard.

In addition, an antidowry movement pushed through the feminist front in India in the 1980s. This movement advocated that “social consciousness needs to be aroused particularly amongst women, to enable them to understand that by encouraging dowry they are perpetuating the inequality of the sexes. Reforms in marriage custom to simplify the ceremony, increasing opportunities for employment, condemnation of the ideal of a parasitic existence for women, a reassessment of the value of household work and homemaking as socially and economically productive, and the enforcement of the Anti-Dowry Act are some of the measures necessary” (76). The pressure from feminist organizations eventually resulted in legal repercussions of dowry as a condition of marriage and of deaths, suicides or “domestic torture” (410) that may relate to dowry.

These instances, and some from the essay that I didn’t mention, were all movements I was mostly unaware of. Although these progressions still come with their own level of complication and backlash, it’s still true that they helped push forward the “ways in which domestic violence begins to be understood on multiple intersectional fronts” (411).

Response to Mothers, Guerrillas, and Revolutionaries: Women’s Mobilization and Activism in Latin America

M. Cristina Alcalde’s piece “Mothers, Guerrillas, and Revolutionaries: Women’s Mobilization and Activism in Latin America” provides a fresh perspective on the subjects that have been discussed in Provocations so far. Compared to the other pieces, the women discussed in this essay were not engaging in activism for strictly gender equality purposes, but instead as a way of defense against their societal environment. As Alcalde explains, “Increasingly violent and unjust living conditions led women to organize themselves as mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and wives to protect their loved ones and themselves from human rights abuses and to ensure survival in ways that have not typically been associated with feminism in Latin America or the United States” (380).

These women utilized their personal pain to argue for political progress, and some of the early participates were kidnapped, tortured and killed. Nevertheless, more and more women joined the movement. These brave activists bring a contemporary example of the role as mother being used in activism to mind. Recently, a mother I follow on Instagram shared information about the organization Mom’s Demand Action (Mom’s Demand Action has been combined with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to form a new effort called Everytown for Gun Safety). Mom’s Demand Action is essentially a following of mother’s from around the country that advocate for gun control. Their efforts began immediately after the Sandy Hook shooting.

When the Las Vegas shooting happened, I read an article that talked about tweets from one of the Sandy Hook victim’s mothers. In all of these instances, the role of mothers is being employed as a way to demand action against political policies that endanger their families. The recent demands from mothers are reflective of the revolutionary work that the mothers discussed in Alcalde’s piece did in the 1970s and 1980s.

Response to Who Is Your Mother? Red Roots of White Feminism

As I sit here on Columbus Day, it feels right to throw myself into a text about Native Americans and their cultural influence (that frequently goes unacknowledged by Americans today). Our national “celebration” of Columbus Day throws fuel on the fire of Paula Gunn Allen’s point that “Indians think it is important to remember, while Americans believe it is important to forget” (322). Although it seems like a national holiday is a good way to remember, Columbus Day is actually a holiday dedicated to forgetting the tragedy and destruction that was brought upon Native Americans hundreds of years ago. I don’t think I need to explain why that is absolutely disgusting.

Columbus himself described Native Americans as, “so ingenuous and free with all they have… of anything that they possess, if it be asked of them, they never say no; on the contrary, they invite you to share it and show as much love as if theirs hearts went with it” (325). Why do we celebrate the man who acknowledged the overflowing love in Native Americans’ hearts, and then proceeded to destroy and dismantle their reality and culture all for the sake of white colonialism?

This is certainly a topic I have been wanting to read more about and discuss for some time, and Allen’s piece brought a whole new point to the discussion that I hadn’t thought about before. She speaks on the influence of Native American culture and on the roots of feminism that are buried deep in Native Americans’ tribal society. In many Native American cultures, “femaleness was high valued, both respected and feared, and all social institutions reflected this attitude” (323). There were many females gods and they had an understanding that “without the power of woman the people will not live, but with it, they will endure and prosper” (323). Their lineage often traveled through the mother’s side, the women had the power to strip a chief of his title and elect a new chief, and they sometimes withheld lovemaking and childbearing as a way to regulate warfare by threatening that there would be no more warriors.

Allen makes the point that “the gynocratic tribes of the American continent provided the basis for all the dreams of liberation that characterize the modern world” (325). These gynocratic tribes are the mother of modern day feminism and need to be rightfully recognized by modern day feminists. If anything is worth celebrating, it is that the spirit of these tribes lives on; it is that these ideologies survived long enough to be adopted by today’s liberators. We must give credit where credit is due, and we must not fall into the typical American habit of forgetting. We must hold up the memory of the wrongs done to the indigenous people of America and demand that they be recognized and remembered. We must keep these feminist ideologies alive in order to honor those who planted the seeds in this soil to begin with.

Response to Strained Sisterhood: Lesbianism, Feminism, and the U.S. Women’s Liberation Movement

Being fully immersed in modern day/third wave/intersectional feminism, it is hard for me to imagine a time when lesbians were excluded from the feminist narrative. Fortunately, the feminism I was brought into is (always striving to be) inclusive, and already recognizes a lot of the points made throughout Ann M. Ciasullo’s “Strained Sisterhood: Lesbianism, Feminism, and the U.S. Women’s Liberation Movement,” thanks to many of the writers that Ciasullo references.

To me, the most interesting and one of the most important points lesbian feminists were making in the 1970s is the toxicity of the heterosexual institution. I find it difficult to understand that, in coordination with second wave feminism, this point was lost on many heterosexual feminists.

Ciasullo notes that, “The Women’s Liberation Movement’s fear and rejection of lesbianism stems above all from a desire to be accepted by men” (295). So, the lack of lesbian inclusion in the WLM stems from the patriarchal constraints that feminists were attempting to break free from to begin with. Except in this case, they were accepting those constraints as truth. It’s an overwhelmingly hypocritical position to hold. This sense of hypocrisy within the feminist movement at the time solidifies the idea that “The denial of lesbianism within the movement… amounts to a denial of feminism itself” (295).

Obviously this doesn’t mean lesbian feminists expect every feminist to be a lesbian now, but the point these women were trying to make is that the “rules” of who represents feminism were being written up according to the society that was dictated by the oppressors. This is extremely counterproductive. In addition, lesbian feminists were attempting to flesh out the idea that, “Women often choose heterosexuality… not because it is ‘natural’ or ‘normal,’ but because in patriarchal societies it is compulsory” (296). The point of feminism is to challenge the patriarchal norms that are instilled in society and to guide society towards changing these norms. By accepting heterosexuality as the indisputable norm among feminists, the WLM was denying true feminism, and some may have even been denying their true sexuality (as Adrienne Rich is trying to relay in the last quote).

The persistence of women like Adrienne Rich is why, today, I feel confident in saying that lesbians are a crucial link in the feminist community. They are important, they are proud, and they are necessary. They are foundational. And they’re (thankfully) not going anywhere. As Amber Hollibaugh said in “What We’re Rolling Around in Bed With: Sexual Silences in Feminism, “Well, I won’t give my sexuality up and I won’t not be a feminist. So I’ll build a different movement, but I won’t life without either one” (310). I feel very grateful to be witnessing and participating in that different movement.

Featured Image: Some of the many women who participated in the Lavender Menace protest on May 1, 1970.

Response to The U.S. Women’s Liberation Movement and Black Feminist “Sisterhood”

While reading Cheryl R. Hopson’s “The U.S. Women’s Liberation Movement and Black Feminist ‘Sisterhood,’” I was reminded of something Amber Ruffin said in an episode of Drunk History while recounting the story of Carrie A. Nation. Nation advocated heavily for women’s right to vote and Ruffin is toasting her, thanking her for giving her her right to vote. Derek Waters, Drunk History creator and host, jokingly says, “I’ve always been able to vote” to which Ruffin replies, “I’m black, I haven’t been able to vote twice.” And although they’re drunk and genuinely laughing, it’s still a heartbreaking reality to be confronted with. In her piece, Hopson explores the complicated experience of being both black and a women in America.

Through texts written by women like Alice Walker, Mary Ann Weathers, and Audre Lorde (plus many others), Hopson urges black women to unite under one label: womanist (a term coined by Alice Walker). Walker famously defined the term by explaining, “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” meaning feminist is a subcategory of womanism, which includes women of color in its narrative.

Hopson discusses the issues surrounding the relationship between black women and feminism including “Black women submitting themselves to race-based gender oppression in the name of racial solidarity” (263), white feminism, and separation among black women based on financial security. The solution that Hopson, and the accompanying authors, urge forward is described as “sisterhood.” These writers recognize that societally, there are complications that stop this movement from really happening, but they also recognize that, “there is a ‘natural’ alliance between women that, were it not for a race- and class-stratified society, would be wholly valuable to effecting societal changes that benefit women generally” (263). If there were ever a time to remember this, it is now. Deep in third wave feminism, we need to remind ourselves that yes, all women have been oppressed, but that women of color have absolutely been the most oppressed. This truth needs to be held at the forefront of this movement because true inclusion and acknowledgement needs to be what survives as the movement evolves.

As a take away, I need to share Weather’s words that struck me and have been replaying in my head since reading this piece: “We women must unabashedly use the word ‘love’ for one another” (265).

 

(Drunk History: Season 4, Episode 3, “Bar Fights”)

Response to Feminists Reimagine the Body

Susan Bordo’s “Feminists Reimagine the Body” brought a bright, necessary light to a lot of issues surrounding sexuality and female bodies that I’ve been wrestling with for years. As a pre-teen, I was taught that sex before marriage was a sin. I was obsessed with The Jonas Brothers (let’s be honest, still am. Don’t judge) and following in their lead, wore a purity ring all through middle school. I was raised in a Christian, only-attended-church-once-a-month family, but during my transition into teenagehood, I was regularly attending my church’s youth group on my own. Here, couples were extremely common. Often, people would date and break up, date another person from youth group, break up, and then date another person from youth group… so on and so forth. Dating made me uncomfortable. Honestly, being attracted to anyone in real life made me uncomfortable. I was strictly an admiring fan girl with my heart set on Nick Jonas. But something interesting started happening when I got to high school. Hormones.

I separated myself from Christianity early in high school, having some friendships turn sour as the girls I thought were living their lives “in the image of Jesus Christ” turned out to be really mean, manipulative girls. Gradually I started to develop my own opinions about religion and about my life in general. The purity ring came off, I surrounded myself with new (and some recycled) friends that actually cared about me, and allowed myself to have real fun. Staying out late was fun. Drinking was fun. Fooling around was fun. I had a slow transition into sexual activity compared to my other friends, and was never in a real, serious relationship in high school but even so, I had experiences. These experiences were partly a result of me being an immature, hormonal teenager, but these experiences were also a result of the patriarchal society I had been raised in.

I wish I had had exposure to texts like Bordo, and those she references including Andrea Dworkin, Luce Irigaray, and Germaine Greer during those years. My experiences would have been much different, much more liberating. Instead, I transitioned from teenagehood into early “adulthood” having only had a handful of orgasms performed by someone other than myself, and having faked too many to count just to relieve boyish persistence. But, looking back on it all, it’s not even the experiences themselves but the language surrounding those experiences that haunt me. Hearing “I think I did a pretty great job getting you off, so it’s my turn now” after putting on a half-assed performance so he would get his fucking fingers out of me, despite me telling him time and time again that it was fine. I didn’t need to get off. It’s okay. You’re hurting me. Please stop.

I didn’t understand then that there is something very wrong with that situation. Not only was I outwardly ignored when I expressed my desire for him to stop, but I was told that my faked orgasm was probably the best thing I’d ever felt, right? and that it was my time to repay him. This situation repeated itself again and again, mostly with the same person, but once or twice with a different person. I guess I thought it would be different if I tried it with someone else. But it wasn’t. It never was.

I largely blame myself for being too naive to just stay away from boys in general after having a couple bad experiences being ignored, being told how I felt, being told what to do. But I guess I was also sixteen and when you haven’t had any other experiences to compare your current experiences to, you accept them as the norm.

Considering the things I understand now, now that I am older, college-educated, and have had some significantly better experiences than those I had in high school, I can understand that, as Bordo points out, this issue is absolutely about power. I am a female, so I was to be submissive, controlled and unquestioning. So, I was. But when I came to college and discussed these experiences with people I trusted, I started to realize that it kind of was the norm. Other girls had had countless similar experiences, even when in serious, long-term relationships and there is something wrong with that. In a way, coming to college allowed me to have my own version of “consciousness-raising,” which Bordo describes as, “women met to share their experiences, and in doing so, became aware of the political dimensions of their personal lives” (233). I hadn’t fully understood, until coming to college that the sex issue is political, not feeling like I am in control of my own body is political, and having to fake it so he’ll stop touching me is political.

 

Response to The Feminist Philosopher as Other

It seems that every time I read the next piece in “Provocations,” it becomes my new favorite essay from the collection. Susan Bordon’s “Simone de Beauvoir: The Feminist Philosopher as Other” certainly did not skip this trend. I am familiar with the term “Other” and have encountered plenty of examples of this concept in other courses’ reading materials, but I had not yet studied the “Other” as women. The experience warranted a lot of extra note taking on my part and, I believe, a better understanding of sexism as a whole.

Beauvoir dissects what it means to be a woman, what that title truly means. Obviously not all women experience the same inequalities and “Beauvoir was criticized for falsely universalizing the female experience” (198) but her analysis of the general relationship between society and women is still worth reading and understanding.

In her book, “The Second Sex,” Beauvoir breaks down the role of women as the “Other.” In other words, she points out the injustice of males dominating over women in society under men’s own volition. She says, “In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general” (200). When I first read this, I was amazed that a linguistic argument that has been brought up today was being brought up in the 1950s. As always, I am impressed by the ability of these women to argue and defend ahead of their time.

More impressively, Beauvoir connects the social, mental and emotional effects this terminology has on women, “Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded an as autonomous being… For him she is sex—absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other” (200). Regarding women as the Other naturally causes them to regard themselves as less worthy than men. Considering my experiences regarding my gender, this overall thought process is still used and believed. Women are still considered to be less than men by many, both men and women. In my opinion, “Christian values” are often to blame. As Beauvoir also references, Christianity has people believe that women were created from a physical part of men. Therefore, their lives are an extension of men’s lives. In reality, women produce life. Women produce men. Without women, men would not exist.

Scientifically and biologically, it makes more sense to refer to men as the Other because they are the outside force in terms of life. Men are the Other in the sense that they are the odd one out, they are the body that is considered the invader, whereas women experience the production of life from the inside of their bodies. If all life is virtuous and meant to be sacred, then women are the Subject, women are the Absolute.

I’m not sure if this rant is over, or even fully comprehensible, but for the first time since I started this course, that feels okay. Basically, Simone de Beauvoir has a lot of really important things to say about experiencing society as a woman, and their continued relevance today is not something that should be ignored. I know that I will be diving into her work more thoroughly and I hope I have convinced you to consider doing the same.

Response to A Room of One’s Own

Ellen Rosenman does a wonderful job of dissecting Virginia Woolf’s work while still giving a fresh insight into one of the world’s most famous writers. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf encourages women to take “ownership of one’s mind, body, and place in the world” (183) and consequently, set up some key arguments for Second Wave Feminism. However, Rosenman digs a little deeper into Woolf’s work and emerges with a familiar reality. Rosenman’s piece has been one of my favorites to engage with so far simply because she brings up a point I have been itching to discuss: white feminism.

Don’t get me wrong, Woolf is obviously a very important feminist writer and holds her place on the timeline of feminist thought strongly, but I feel the need to expand on Rosenman’s observation that, “Though she [Woolf] implicitly claims outsider status in Room, it might be more accurate to consider her an insider-outsider, marginal enough to shine a bright light on social injustices but privileged enough to find an outlet and an audience for those insights” (186). I do not believe this distinction is being discussed enough today. White feminism is defined as a form of feminism that focuses on the struggles of white women while failing to address the distinct forms of oppression often faced by women of colour and women lacking other privileges. Woolf embodies this form of feminism as she unpacks sexism from the comfort of her privileged place as a white woman (to clarify: I am not dismissing the “outsider” position Woolf endured as a victim of abuse and mental illness but simply focusing on the relationship between feminism and race). Too often in the modern world, white women restrict their feminism to issues that only directly involve them instead of using their privilege to speak for those who have been and still are being silenced.

One of the most infuriating examples I think of right away is Taylor Swift and her insistence on using feminism to sell records. I obviously don’t know her personally so my judgment comes from what I can see publicly. She cops out when feminism becomes about anything other than white women encouraging other white women. Even then, that mindset is new for her, considering many of her older songs slandered other women, especially about their sex life. One of the few things she speaks out about is artists’ rights, which directly involves herself and the amount of money she makes (her net worth is $280 million, in case you were curious).

White feminism is too mainstream to be ignored, and Rosenman has given me the perfect excuse to complain about it yet again. It certainly does not get discussed enough. I look forward to complaining about it again and again, until it is no longer easy for people like Taylor Swift to ride their restricted feminism off as helpful or progressive in any way.