How Multiculturalism Hijacked Feminism

From Real Clear Politics:

By Phyllis Chesler
September 05, 2018

n my college and graduate school days, we knew absolutely nothing about our feminist foremothers or about their campaigns for equality and freedom.

I did not know that women were oppressed and that feminists had battled for women’s rights for many centuries.

Earlier feminist writers (Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman) were unknown to most of my generation. We did not know how hard they had had to fight and how much they had disagreed with one another.

My generation (1963-1980) launched “speak-outs” on violence against women, established rape crisis hotlines and shelters for battered women, brought class-action lawsuits, implemented feminist ideas within our professions, and fought to pass an Equal Rights Amendment.

In 1975, Lin Farley coined the phrase “sexual harassment” and published a book about it in 1978; Catharine MacKinnon did so in 1979.

Perhaps if this history had continued to be taught, it might have armed the coming generations and served as a warning to predators.

What if students—the future American journalists, actors, and opinion makers—had been taught that they were part of an honorable historical struggle to expose and abolish sexual violence against women? Would presidents and media moguls have been allowed to sexually harass and assault so many women without being outed, shamed, and stopped long ago?

In 1982, in “Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them,” Australian scholar Dale Spender documented how pioneering feminist work has always been systematically disappeared.

Guess what? By the mid-1980s, radical feminist works by the best minds of my generation were out of print and/or not being taught in college or graduate schools. By the late 1980s, professors and their students were largely unfamiliar with most of our work.

I am referring to: Louise Armstrong, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Kathy Barry, Mary Daly, Andrea Dworkin, Shulamith Firestone, Kate Millett, Janice Raymond, Diana Russell—and the incomparable writings of New York Radical Women and Cell 16, and their grassroots counterparts across the country.

All these radical thinkers happen to be Caucasian. I myself am not sure what to make of this other than that many of us were relatively privileged (in terms of race) and could therefore afford to focus on gender and not, simultaneously, on race and ethnicity.

Feminist women of color were definitely present but they were in the minority. Their lives forced them to wrestle with race as well as gender; the demand for loyalty to their race-based community also claimed their attention. White girls were always apologizing—and being castigated—for how few women of color joined us at marches and conferences, or who published pioneering work between 1963-1980.

In the 1970s, some African-American feminists published position papers (Combahee River Collective), essays and anthologies (Toni Cade Bambara, Frances Beale, Barbara Smith), poems (June Jordan, Pat Parker) and books (Audre Lorde, Dorothy Sterling, Alice Walker, Michelle Wallace).  I cited them in my early work. While some names may have been forgotten, their primary insistence that race, ethnicity, geography, etc., are as important—perhaps more important—than gender has prevailed in the academy.

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