by Aditi Hukerikar //
What does feminism say about how women interact with each other? If women are seeking to gain respect, isn’t it important to also respect other women and treat each other equally? Isn’t it our duty as feminists to support other women and ensure that we stand united amongst ourselves before we fix divisions in our society?
The idea of what “women’s rights” actually entails has been contested amongst self-identified feminists.
Feminism started out with a simple yet essential message: ensure that women can gain equal rights and be treated with respect. While the movement has endured for many years, this core message has succumbed to divisions within the movement. The cause of these divisions is partially because of the source itself–the broadness of feminism’s core. The idea of what “women’s rights” actually entails has been contested amongst self-identified feminists.
Unfortunately, women are able to work against the rights of other women. Though feminism intends to unite all women towards the common goal of promoting women’s rights, the divisions within the movement itself prevents feminism from being unified and working towards the same goals. Some feminists see misogyny as an issue that impacts all women equally, making feminism a collective struggle towards the exact same goals. Other feminists recognize that misogyny does not exist in a vacuum and can be impacted by a variety of other factors that exacerbate the impact of misogyny on different groups of women.
In 1977, the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminists, issued the Combahee River Collective Statement. Through the statement, the women discuss the challenges they face as Black and lesbian women, explaining how they “have in many ways gone beyond white women’s revelations because we are dealing with the implications of race and class as well as sex”. Recognizing the impact of these other systems of oppression, the women of the Combahee River Collective explain how their path to liberation is different than that of other women.
Supporting other women is difficult when women from marginalized groups see others, who claim to be feminists, blatantly working against their interests.
Intersectional feminism, a term developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, takes into account how other systems of oppression impact women. Women who are part of other marginalized communities face unique issues that impact their struggle for equality. Not all women are willing to accept these “intersections” of oppression, as they either do not believe that other systems of oppression create a unique situation for different women, or because they contribute to these systems of oppression themselves. This disagreement fosters divisions within the feminist movement, preventing unity. Supporting other women is difficult when women from marginalized groups see others, who claim to be feminists, blatantly working against their interests. For example, do BIPOC women or women in the LGBTQ+ community have a responsibility to support other women who actively work against their interests?
Women should not be able to use feminism as a shield to protect them from criticism when they are actively working against women’s rights issues. Mikki Kendall mentions in her book Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot that, “[i]gnoring the treatment of the most marginalized women doesn’t set a standard that can protect any woman.” For feminism to be a cohesive and unifying movement, rather than a mere concept, feminists have a responsibility to ensure that they are fighting for the equality of all women. This includes recognizing that even women themselves can contribute to racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other systems of oppression that create further struggles for other women. By understanding the complexity of women’s rights issues, feminists will be able to more effectively work towards the rights of all women in attaining true equality. This, of course, was the goal of feminism in the first place.