We cannot expect poor women feeding their families on food stamps to have the same priorities as female lawyers hoping to become partners in law firms. We cannot expect working-class women concerned with getting paid sick leave to have the same priorities as college professors. We cannot expect women who face both sex discrimination and race discrimination to develop the same priorities as women who face only sex discrimination. … There has never been a single, unified feminist agenda. We see feminism as an outlook that is ever being reinvented by new groups of women. Feminism necessarily changes as the world women inhabit changes.
– Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry in Feminism Unfinished
So part of my module is formed around the idea that feminism is not unitary. It is labelled as difference feminism and I think that it makes a lot of sense. No one agenda is going to fit anyone and I think it is time we acknowledge this fact instead of crying that it merely weakens the power of the feminist movement.
What good is the power if what it achieves is merely for the advantage for the dominant group? Instead of oppression by men, females of the minority groups would be oppressed and silenced by the dominant group. Critical race theorists points out part of the problem, but from the book I have been reading (Jurisprudence, Penner et al), most (if not all) of the theorists comes from either America or the Western hemisphere. Their concerns are real, but relevant only to part of the female society. The women of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa had been ignored through no fault of theirs. Out of sight, out of mind. They are concerned with the problems they see happening right in front of their mind.
Part of the problems they have identified are is race. Inequality exists between races and such inequality often manifests itself in economic power. Long before the white upper-middle class women went out to work, black women have been working as domestic help and were invisible.
American theorists are concerned with black women, with their history of being perceived as sexually dominant and thus a ‘free-for-all’. They are concerned with how legislation had, on purpose or by accident, created a lacuna between sex discrimination laws and race discrimination laws through which black women fell, unable to receive protection from the state. Kimberle Crenshaw described two cases where it is obvious that black women are being discriminated against and yet the state do nothing. Emily Jackson and Nicola Lacey (authors of the topic in Jurisprudence) described this scenario as ‘All blacks are men and all women are white”.
But are these the only axes of differentiation between women? As the above quote from Cobble, Gordon and Henry shows, clearly not. Economic power, social classes, cultural difference, sexual orientation, mothers, non-mothers, healthy women and sick women, those who want abortions and those against abortions, married and unmarried, employed and unemployed, all these show that the axes of differentiation in society is much more than just men and women.
What these makes clear is that we can never look at feminism in just one angle. It is unrealistic and impossible. A sweeping agenda might looks grand and impressive, but often ignores the minorities without intending to do so. It is time to focus on the details, on the different concerns of different groups.
I am Asian, my priorities are different from Westerners. I am Malaysian Chinese, my priorities are different from other ethnicity. I am a student with student debt, my priorities are different from those who have no worries about money. I am 22, my priorities are different from those about to retire. How can we therefore see a unified feminist agenda?
Of course it is impossible to tailor the feminist agenda to every single person. But it is possible to acknowledge that a sweeping unified feminist agenda can sometimes turn on minorities, changing their oppressors from men to fellow women from the dominant group. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that different groups have different priorities and these acknowledgments will not only weaken the feminist movement, but instead strengthen it. This is because women from the minority groups would be more willing to come forth and join the feminist movements once they felt that the movement will actually benefit them.
We cannot expect everyone to be so noble to fight for a cause that may not be at all beneficial to them. We must show that feminism and the feminist movement is important and beneficial to everyone, regardless of gender, social difference, cultural difference or any differentiation. And to do so, it is my opinion that the first step is to discard the myth that there is a unified feminist agenda.