Author: Ramona Christine
Sisterhood, “Women are enriched when we bond with one another, but we cannot develop sustaining ties or political solidarity using the model of Sisterhood created by bourgeois women’s liberationists. According to their analysis, the basis for bonding was shared victimization, hence, the emphasis on common oppression.” – Bell Hooks (2000)
The white and elite women, those who lived under the safety and shelter of their wealthy and prestigious white husbands, were the dominating body of the first and second waves of the feminist movement of which initially began in the late 1800s. The first women to advocate for the rights of women, Susan B. Anthony and Cady Stanton in the late 1800s, fought equally for the rights of women and people of color but what is more intriguing is how their initial movement mutated into a movement that focused only on the rights of the white and elite women during the 1960’s & 1970’s. Integrated into the mindset of the first and second wave women was the introspection that they were the victims of a patriarchal society. Together, they searched for ways to escape and change the social and patriarchal paradigms that defined them as a woman; a second or lesser class through which their miserable worlds of being just a “housewife” were dictated. They were fed up and frustrated with their life as dictated by society and their husbands so they gathered together to fight for social and political change; but along the way, they managed to exploit and instill upon the other women, women of color, the exact atrocities they were fighting to escape. Imagine a dining table surrounded by bored housewives, playing cards and complaining about how difficult their lives are and how changes needed to be made. Bell Hooks in Feminist Theory accuses these bourgeois women of committing the same atrocities against women of color as the patriarchal and white social paradigms. As a woman of color, I stand in defense of the bourgeois women to explore and explain their ignorance. It must also be stated that these two groups of women had very specific and separate agendas to conquer, it is not clear as to why they ever attempted to combine them.
Their lives were simple, their needs were met, and their social experiences of racism were minimal to none. A mindset to consider the racism accompanied with sexism for women of color would have been difficult to empathize with. It may have been something they had seen or even instilled upon women of color, but their ability to understand with sincere regard or concern is impossible. It was not feasible to expect that these white and elite women could discern social experiences as a woman of color. It is even less feasible to expect they could defend or stand up for the rights and integrity of all women, especially women of diverse cultures and backgrounds who lived daily with racism and oppression. Although the white and elite women experienced varying degrees of sexism, theirs was far from being similar to that of women of color. It is an absurdity that they attempted to sell the intentions of their movement as anything other than what was seen as beneficial to their kind, to include women of color in their movement. Through all of their writings and educated contemplations, not one of them addressed the issues of sexism and oppression through the eyes of a woman of color, it was not possible. Befriending their house maid and listening to her stories is not sufficient enough to defend the social situation.
There are no considerations or offers of resolution geared towards women of color in the literature of the first and second wave women’s movements. From Mary Wollstonecraft to Simon de Beauvior to Betty Friedan, it was always about what could be done as a white and elite woman with privilege to improve her living condition(s). Even with the strongest efforts and empathy, they could not ever speak on the behalf of women of color. Blame should not be cast upon the bourgeois women for they are ignorant to more than just the sexist experiences of women of color. It cannot be expected that white and elite women could comprehend the depth and combined power of racism and oppression as instilled upon women of color. Providing white and elite women had experienced racism in combination with sexism, they may have been more sensitive and aware of their blunders. Their willingness to utilize women of color as trophies or tokens of their movement just to add a little spice to their efforts is probably the most appalling of all their exploitations.
First of all, not all women consider their roles as homemaker and mother as mundane, prosaic, or insulting. Black, Hispanic, Indian, and Asian women take pride in their children and family, they enjoy their moments of nurturing and watching them grow. Betty Friedan compiled her book, The Feminine Mystique primarily of passages written by white and elite women who thoroughly express how they despised and were miserable in their role as a mother and housewife. Women of color rarely consider their role as a mother as just another duty instilled upon them by their husband as his victim. Decorating and creating a home, a safe and nurturing environment for her family, is rarely considered by a woman of color as a dreadful duty under which she loses her identity. As a matter of fact, her home and her environment are a reflection of her identity. This is where she expresses herself and takes pride in her choices and ability to create a sustaining environment even with little or no financial funds. Washing laundry on the washboard was a time of communion, it was an opportunity to express care and regard for her family members; whereas, the white and elite women cried and complained because their washers were not the latest brand names as advertised on their television. Women of color are strong in life and laughter. They lovingly provide support towards their husbands as he too struggles in a world of white supremacy. To women of color, raising and loving a family is about immediate community. It is about bonding with those who are dear and offering a supportive hand where they are able. Bourgeois women in this context can be easily imagined as young spoiled toddlers stomping their feet in the candy store, they want more and all of their needs have yet to be met. The Feminist Movements should be called, The White & Elite Feminine Movements instead. There is no integrity or community and there sure is not any room for the consideration of “the others”, unless it is to their benefit. The bourgeois women wanted society to move on their behalf. They advocated for anger and hatred against men while women of color did not want to hate men, they wanted positive social change. Women of color wanted society as a whole to work together in making positive change towards not only women but also racism and oppression. Women of color faulted by affording such credit and expectation to the white and elite women of the first feminist movements. Although the academic literature of the white and elite women was adequately and intelligibly expressed, their ability to see through their own racist and sexist acts of oppression against their sister was amiss and blatantly overlooked. The building and establishing of hierarchy in their club and advocating to slander men should have been the first red flags as to their ignorance and arrogance. Responsibility was unfairly allocated to the white and elite women, those who had not experienced a life combined of racism, sexism, and oppression, by those women of color who lived the life and yet criticized the motives of the bourgeois women.
Attempts were made by the bourgeois women to include women of color in their club. It was after their motives were clearly seen that women of color took a step back and repealed their positions as trophies and tokens. Although shameful that the white and elite women would take advantage of exploiting their sister, women of color equally allowed it. Up until Bell Hooks wrote her book, Feminist Theory in 1984, women of color stood under the dress of the bourgeois women. The white and elite women gleamed like eager children listening to the stories and experiences of the women of color in an effort to not only better understand and perceive what life is like for them, but also to find some inkling of how their stories might be similar so they could equally be considered victims of the social and patriarchal paradigms. Despite their blatant audacity to preach in society as though they were in the “same boat”, the idea of a commonwealth; a community of women fighting for the rights of all women on behalf of all women was just pure nonsense. Just as expressed by Bell Hooks, white and elite women equally exploited women of color to benefit themselves. The blame though should not be cast upon them for their irrational inclusion of women of color in their self-motivated movements, the blame should rest on the shoulders of the women of color who believed that they had anything other than body parts in common with the white and elite women. The pronounced differences between the two groups of women and their primary agendas were again dismissed.
While the white and elite women cried on the shoulder of Betty Friedan about how their life was wasted and un-fulfilled by succumbing to the expectations of society, women of color were taking pride in their work as women. From lace work in India to factory work in California, women were taking pride in what they did whether it was bred into them or innate. Even in those instances, the elite and prestigious women denied the lower caste women of their dignity and again exploited them to the advantage of their own prestige. Women of color are essentially forced into a position to defend their rights as part of the human race against more than just the white supremacy among patriarchal societies but also in the world of women. This fact amplifies the fact that women of color have a much different battle to withstand than that of the bourgeois women. It does not make logical sense to make even the slightest attempt to combine the two parties, at least until a more basic and necessary battle is won within the sisterhood. Women of color are one step ahead in the battle, they were not searching for society to change their prototype dictations or expectations of how a woman should look, act, or feel. To women of color, self-identifying is never about what they say, it is about taking pride in one’s own heritage, religion, culture, family lineage, and historic traditions. Rights of humanity against the racist and oppressing atrocities of another human being is what has been overlooked by both women of color and the white and elite women in their inconsequential attempts to work as a singular unit. The inability to look past the battle within the sisterhood on behalf of both parties involved is nothing more than the fault of both parties. Separation of the two groups should not be approached in anger or bias, it should be approached as a practical measure to eventually bring the two together as a cooperative sisterhood. The white and elite women live in a sheltered world, a world where they can withdraw and hide in seclusion behind their prestigious husbands if they fail at their attempts to advocate in society and through politics on behalf of women. Their ignorance is both their blinder and their shield.
Women’s rights are still in movement. When taking into consideration the progress that has taken place since it’s beginning in the late 1800’s, what great improvements have really become a part of today’s society in America?
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