I somehow fell into feminism when I was about 12. I’m not exactly sure what was the inciting incident, but I one day found myself hyper-aware of injustices and disrespect towards women. Not long thereafter, I read about a soon to be released book by a young sister by the name of Joan Morgan: When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost: My Life As A Hip-Hop Feminist. It sounded almost too good to be true; by this point, I was a straight-up New York-obsessed wannabe b-girl and I had gotten real comfortable using the “feminist” label for myself. And somebody out there had put my two loves together in a book? I was at Barnes and Noble the day it dropped.
While Morgan wrestled with accepting herself as a feminist (and, to some extent, because she did so publicly), I never thought twice about the idea of calling myself that. I never thought about the consequences and challenges I would face from my brothers and sisters. Coming from a Black Nationalist family, my thoughts and views had always been a bit more radical than most of my peers. Adding feminism to the mix just confirmed my place in the ‘militant’ box.
So many of the thoughts and feelings I had about gender during my pubescent exploration of feminism have become the reality of my adult life. Things I suspected have been confirmed and I’m not hardly happy to have been right.
The misogyny and sexism in the Black community is so thick, it frightens me. Over and over again, the Black woman is blamed for the shortcomings of our people and she is portrayed in the media as emasculating, hateful and bitter. I think a feminist paradigm shift would do us so much good, but I think the likelihood of that happening is somewhere in between “Black people getting reparations” and “Black folks ceasing to use the N-word”.
Many of the brothers I speak to presume feminism to be some sort of anti-male crusade designed to bring them down. The irony here is that they believe that feminism would oppress them somehow, but would not use the term “oppressed” to describe the conditions of women in society. But these brothers seem totally convinced that pro-female is inherently anti-male.
What most of our people fail to understand is that both Black men and women would benefit greatly from a intra-cultural feminist movement. Black women by and large have done a lot to lead our people: in some instances, in conjunction with Black male leadership and in others, in lieu of. Black women have proven that we are no less capable of our male counterparts of leading professionally, in the academy, in the pulpit and in the home. And yet, there still seems to be a great deal of sentiment that Black men should somehow restore their ‘rightful’ place at the head of our homes and communities. It simply isn’t so. I believe our men and women should be side by side, leading together.
Why feminism? I have a host of reasons and here are a few of them:
1. The continued insistence that the Black man is the true and rightful leader of the Black community, it’s major institutions (churches, schools, political spaces, etc) and it’s households is contradicted by the historical leadership of Black women. Feminism doesn’t advocate placing Black women at the head of the table alone, but instead, allowing both genders to serve as leaders.
2. One of feminism’s big fights is over the sexual freedom of women: the autonomy to choose lovers as we see fit without the judgment of the community and to travel the world safely without the fear of rape. Many Black men (and women) have embraced a double standard for the sexual behavior of the two genders. The irony here is that men would probably enjoy better sex lives if women felt free to say “yes” or “no” as they truly wanted. Sexually confident and self-possessed women make better lovers, because they aren’t pandering to the whims of a man or repressing their own desires in order to appear “wifeable”. The abandonment of our archaic attitudes about female sexuality could also lead to more open and honest conversations about sex, which could improve our sexual health and cut down on the number of unplanned pregnancies.
3. Feminism in its purest form advocates for gender equality, not simply the promotion of female specific interests. So while feminism rallies against wage gaps and sexist hiring practices, its truest practitioner are also interested in ending gender inequalities that hurt men: disparities in custody and visitation rights, creating a space where men are empowered to be a part of the decision whether or not to become fathers in the first place, addressing the systematic disparities in education that negatively impact Black boys, etc. Feminism is not pro-woman so much as it is pro-equality. We advocate for women’s rights in the spirit of creating equality for all.
4. The Black matriarch is owed a debt of gratitude for being the backbone of the our households when our men were not willing or able to do so. A community-wide feminist consciousness raising would require us to abandon the bitter feelings and sometimes misplaced blame we have toward Black women who raised so many of us on their own. While there are certainly women who have separated good men from their children and others who made criminally unwise choices in the men they chose to mate with, that does not negate the fact that most of us would not be here without the love and support of a Black mother or grandmother.
5. Black men and women are at our best when we are working together for the promotion of our common interests, one of which continues to be the fight against racism. The circumstances of our arrival on these shores and the complicated sister/brother/lover dichotomy have found us too often at odds with one another. If we were able to address and destroy internal conflicts between us, we would be in a better position to fight for racial justice.
As a Black feminist, I have the survival and betterment of the Black man, woman and child as my primary interest. I seek to eradicate bias, violence and other manifestations of hatred towards women. I wish to see the men and women of our race working together, loving and respecting one another. Equal does not mean ‘the same’; feminism doesn’t pretend that men and women are the same. Rather, it poses that our differences, our shortcomings and our gifts are are worth one another.
If the word ‘feminism’ turns you off, focus on the concepts instead: freedom, balance, equality. If that’s up your alley, let’s get it.