In my Feminist Theory class Sue Heinzelman charged us with creating a 1000 words or less document that describes our feminist identity; this is what I came up with...
On March 9th I asked the question in response to Kate Millet’s essay: “Can one ever take into account the politics of race or sex without considering the interplay of race and sex or, further, how race, class, gender, and sexual orientation identity interact and impact the lives of individuals?” My answer is an unrepentant no, one cannot. There are three notable threads in the questions I have asked this semester. First, I will always tie what we have read back to gender, be that gender expression or identity, or sexual orientation. Second, I am concerned with the rights of men and how patriarchal oppression impacts the daily lives of men as well as women, transgender individuals and those who claim no gender, both gender or a combination of genders. And finally, I continually propel the notion that race, gender, sexuality, and class intersect and interact in the lives of individual people, creating distinct experiences of oppression.
My identity as a feminist is inextricable from my identity as a queer woman; my view of the oppression of women by men, the gender roles perpetuated by society, and the brutalization of women are informed by who I am as a person of some gender variance and as a woman who loves women. Like Black Feminists who are interested in the intersections of racism and sexism, my interest as a queer feminist lies with as the crosscurrents of sexism, homophobia, heterosexism and gender. As someone who has been placed into the category of “other” I must critique the mainstream Feminism for its heteronormativity from the lens of a queer woman, and, when appropriate for its exclusion of all other women who “stand outside of the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference” (Lorde 112); women of color, poor women, and transgender women and men.
Sexism and misogyny are not just about how one sex (men) dominates another (women), it is about how binary gender restrictions imprison all of us, including men and boys. For me, feminism will never be only about the relationship between men and women because this model doesn’t address gender variance and those who claim both genders, no gender, or transgress gender in a variety of ways. It is too simple to say that the key problem is the subjugation of women by men, when all of us can act as agents of gender oppression. Further, when speaking specifically about the relationship between men and women it is my job as “other” to ask the question: “Which men and which women?” My role, as “other” is to make sure that those who are marginalized do not get left out, even if that means we have a longer more complicated discussion.
Someone in our class broached the question of whether the feminist movement has tackled the core issues that keep women oppressed or if we have merely treated the symptoms; we didn’t ever definitively answer the question. I hold that a feminist movement without critical gender theory at its core cannot truly impact the relationships of power and privilege between men, women and transgender individuals. Post-Modern Queer and Gender Theorist Riki Wilchins argues that “if you scratch the surface of sexism and misogyny, you almost always find gender” (Wilchins 11). Gender, specifically gender roles, concepts of gender as racial constructions and the ability to transgress gender or gender f*ck, is crucial to the feminist movement and it is too often disregarded. The US Feminist movement has “focused on winning for women the same rights as men in terms of access to opportunity, pay, and so on, but not the right to masculinity itself” (Wilchins 7). Feminism is not just about being allowed to do what the boys can do while wearing lipstick, heels and skirt, it is about the right to break down binary gender conceptions and to claim one’s own gender identity, gender expression and sexuality, including sexual orientation and sexual liberation. Since “gender stereotypes lie at the root of so many problems feminists still face” I believe that gender rights are the next “natural step for feminism” (Wilchins 11).
Sexism and misogyny are located in a complex web of patriarchal oppressions which also include racism, classism and homophobia. The Combahee River Collective states that they are “actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression and see as (their) particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives” (Kolmar 8). These oppressions are interlocking and, as Audre Lorde argues, “inseperable” (Lorde 110). While I do endorse the idea of intersectionality, I do not subscribe to the notion that there is an inherent “hierarchy of oppression” (Kolmar 49). I do not find this ranking of oppressions useful: it seems to be more of the same, more oppression but now only in our hands. As Audre Lorde says: “A masters tools will never dismantle a master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change” (Lorde 112). Quantifying oppressions changes nothing. If women and all people can unite under the banner of a broader conception of Feminism, this would mean liberation for all of those dubbed “other.” In order to do this “divide and conquer must be replaced by define and empower” (Lorde 112).
As I have mentioned, my definition of feminism is broad. I must include men into this definition aswell, because they are just as shackled by the constraints of gender as women are. I think that feminists don’t have to be women, and as bell hooks posits, “feminism is for everyone.” I am not of the opinion that “lesbianism is the solution” for patriarchal oppression as Jill Johnston asserts (Kolmar 7) because I have seem patriarchal heterosexual models of submission and dominance mapped onto same-sex interactions, including intimate partner violence. I have to assert unequivocally that any person who uses their vote as a means to limit a woman’s right to choose is not a feminist; I believe you cannot be “arm-chair” feminist—if you do not act as a feminist, you are not a feminist. I am pro-Choice. I fervently believe that rape, the sexual trafficking of women and children, and the brutalization of women should be at the core the feminist agenda. We cannot live equally as women if we are afraid of violence, specifically sexualized violence at the hands of men. I also believe that there is room for transgender individuals in feminism; it is time we stop deciding who the “real” men and “real” women can be.
Feminism can be broad enough to include a matrix of patriarchal oppressions; through Feminism people of all genders can combat the agents of racism, sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, and classism. We are all oppressors and all oppressed; we all have access to some privilege and areas of privilege from which we are denied. Feminism is about agency and autonomy, the right to equality before the law of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. My life goal is to become a lawyer who specialized in LGBTQ Law; this will include family law, wills, transgender issues and same-sex divorce and marriage. I believe, given my definition of feminism, that the path I have chosen is truly feminist.