A point was raised in the comments section on a thread at the funfeminist blog mentioned below, regarding white, middle class bias within the feminist movement. There is no point trying to do feminist consciousness – raising in a militant pro-patriarchy forum so we’ll do it here.
Feminism has often been blamed for things such as racism and white supremacy, and classism. More conservative feminists get attacked by men and women, for example the public shaming of Melinda Tankard Reist for her pro-life views, when it is actually men who maintain reproductive slavery of women. This tendency to blame feminists for all the oppression and discrimination in the world has regularly been used as a silencing tool when women argue for the rights of women. Right-wing conservative men on the talkback radio airwaves love this strategy; so do fauxgressive, liberal men. They accuse feminists, or “feminazis” as John Laws used to call us, of not caring about indigenous, black or immigrant women, and of not fighting for the political rights of women in Middle Eastern countries. This type of commentary is outdated but entrenched, and can be better understood within the context of immediate post-second wave backlash discourse. It is also linked in with divide and conquer strategies favoured by men to prevent female solidarity and collective political activism. Men often refer to the fact of women’s diversity and lack of commonality as an argument against feminism, whilst simultaneously continuing to treat all women, feminist and non-feminist, as a monolith.
It is important that we keep remembering the efforts of women in previous feminist movements, because men have demonstrated a consistent determination to disappear us from public records. As Marilyn Lake discusses in Getting Equal (1999):
Professional historians did not – until feminists started writing history in the 1970s – accord Australian women activists the dignity of being historical and political actors. Accounts of Australian politics, similarly were (and are) blind to the decades of political activity undertaken by women. That women were leading theorists and practitioners of citizenship, that they were outspoken advocates of proportional representation, a welfare state, Aboriginal citizenship, the custody rights of Aboriginal and non – Aboriginal mothers and the importance of international law seemed to be of no consequence to the men who documented, and still document, our political history. It was as if political women had never existed.
This is why the myths endure. Men deliberately propagate lies about feminism and hide the truth, in order to discourage women from joining the movement. The lies have come to replace the truths in the collective public memory and serve as a kind of bogus feminism which exists parallel to the real feminism; it’s a fake, a decoy, designed to deter us from an ideology that will ultimately save us.
It seems amazing to me that feminists are accused of only fighting for the rights of middle class, anglo women, when the first wave women spent decades fighting for an end to the economic dependence of women on men, incomes for mothers, and an end to racist discrimination.
In Western Australia, Mary Bennett fought the government over the policy of removing Aboriginal children from their families, or what she called ” the official smashing of family life”. Bennett was successful in bringing this practice (for overseas readers this is now referred to as The Stolen Generation) to the attention of international human rights advocates.
Bennett, as well as Ada Bromham and Edith Jones lobbied for Aboriginal citizenship rights, land rights and an end to sexual abuse of Aboriginal women by employers and landlords.
Jessie Street was an Australian delegate to the first conference of the United Nations and later became involved in the push to end racial discrimination and slavery. She was banned from the US during the Cold War because of suspicion that she was a communist sympathiser and was followed around by ASIO for twenty years (Street 1966). She and others like Ada Bromham forced the 1967 referendum which led to the inclusion of indigenous peoples as citizens.
This post does not even do justice to the decades of hard (and highly dangerous) work by previous feminists to achieve a semblance of social justice in a hardcore sexist political landscape of patriarchy. More information is in libraries just waiting for us to find!
It is true that the second wave of feminism, or the Women’s Liberation era introduced a focus on sexual freedom for individual women, (although it must still be recognised as the era that saw the first anti-domestic violence laws, women’s refuges and sexual assault services). This era did see less focus on the rights and perspectives of poverty class women, working women and indigenous and immigrant women. However, this can be explained by the rise of liberalism and the rights of the individual in a broader capitalist context. In no way should this negate the decades of work described above. I also see a lot of racism, classism and heterosexism among internet feminists. But we can’t allow men to use this as a justification for arguments against feminism. When men say things like “feminism is only concerned with white middle class women” we can’t accept that as a truth, we need to go and search for the information ourselves.
Most of the things that men accuse feminists of being – anti-mother, anti-family, anti-non white women, are actually things that men themselves as a class are guilty of. For example, Patriarchy denies mothers the rights and resources to parent their children – feminists fought against this by lobbying for child endowment payments and parenting payments. Feminists have also fought for the rights of women and children to live safely in their families, free of violence and abuse. Patriarchy forces women escaping domestic violence to look for work in order to be able to claim welfare, making their capacity for parenting even lower. Patriarchy also forces women and children who have escaped violence to remain in contact with perpetrators, through family law amendments. Patriarchy continues to exploit the lives and deny the experiences of indigenous peoples. Patriarchy is still removing indigenous children from families at a disproportionate rate, as well as controlling the incomes of indigenous peoples. But we never hear men blame other men/patriarchy for these violations of human rights. They blame feminists instead.
This is why it is imperative that women remember the truths and refuse to allow men to erase us and replace our stories and narratives with those that suit them. In an era when feminists are fast becoming defined purely by where they stand on the subject of transpolitics (the new false dichotomy), again allowing men the power to define us, we are being erased, and it’s more important than ever that we wake up and fight.