Friday, March 7, 2008

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Brittney Ingram
WMST 2010
March 7, 2008
Controversial televangelist Pat Robertson once stated, “Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” Men and women who think like Pat Robertson are forgetting about what lies at the center of this controversy, the unfair treatment of women. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines feminism as “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”. This definition says so little, yet encompasses so much. In order to obtain an in-depth understanding of the ideals of feminism, it is imperative that one goes directly to the source. For this reason, I chose to interview Ms. Kareemah Abdullah. She is my best friend’s mother and has identified as being a feminist for almost three decades. From my past conversations with her, I have noticed that she is a very insightful and influential person. Ms. Kareemah’s first hand accounts will help me develop an understanding of how the diverging ideas of the first, second, and third waves will impact the future of feminism.
My introduction to first wave feminism included women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Margaret Sanger. They compared the privileges of men and women and something just did not seem right. They decided to take actions to make women equal to men. Being naive to the many principles that feminism encompasses, I thought this was the ideal thing to do. If men are provided the right to vote, then women should be also. Like me, Ms. Kareemah got her first taste of feminism while attending college. “I was introduced to many aspects of life and a variety of issues going on around the world. It was at Wilberforce University that I got my first experience with the importance feminism. One of my multicultural classes was having a discussion about Middle Eastern women and their subservient roles to men. A male student made a very ignorant comment that labeled women as being inferior to women. I was bothered by this and wanted to do something…I just did not know what.” She researched feminism and liked the ideas of the first wavers except for the fact that the women’s tactics involved appealing to their male counterparts on the basis of their skin color. Ms. Kareemah and I share the same dislike of this idea. I assume that it did not matter that they were causing the same oppression they were fighting against (Margarey 51).
Second wave feminism brought about many changes beginning in the 1960s. There were changes in the women leading the fight, changes in the dynamic of the women, and changes in their approach. Second wave provided me with a sense of understanding. Now, when I say understanding I do not simply mean having a comprehension of the objectives of second wave. I mean I felt as though feminists were reaching out to all women. They were no longer focusing on the women in their social class, but those that were not like them. They did this by developing the idea of conscious raising. The main movers and shakers of this time were Betty Friedan and Gloria Stynum.
During this wave, several groups arose. One of which were the liberal feminists or “mainstream feminists”. Their ideas focused on proving that the sexes are equal. Betty Friedan once said “We need to see men and women as equal partners, but it's hard to think of movies that do that. When I talk to people, they think of movies of forty-five years ago! Hepburn and Tracy!” Today, women in movies are detectives, athletes, and doctors. In the 1960’s they were portrayed as docile mothers and dutiful wives so it was hard for the women of that time to imagine anything other than that. Although Friedan and others were fighting for the rights of all women, they were faced with opposition (Walters 122). Not only were they criticized by men, but also by women. When she was younger, Ms. Kareemah remembered her mother becoming angry when she saw the second wavers on television. She saw them as spoiled white women. There they were complaining about not wanting to stay at home with the children when black women were wishing they had the privilege to spend time with their children. “I paid them no attention because my mother paid them no attention. Plus, they were not appealing to the African American community. They did not come down to Mississippi and help my family deal with the constant oppression we were experiencing by women that looked like them. Nothing that they were saying seemed to focus on our needs.”
Aside from the liberal feminist, there was another group of women that identified as radical feminists. They saw male patriarchy as the root of their problem. I somewhat agree with this idea, but I do not blame every single man for the way society was and is today. The radical feminists wanted to form a separatist society in which all women were to be called lesbian. For them, the term meant empowerment. For me, it means females liking females and I am sure many others would agree with me on that.
The emergence of third wave feminism brought about strong criticism of the preceding waves. Ms. Kareemah identifies as a third wave feminist because “it was also more evident that the ‘fight for rights’ was no longer being led by a group of white women that focused on aspects affecting their lives” African American women like Rebecca Walker and Audre Lorde were at the forefront. I really like third wave feminism because it accepts people like myself who are not sure if we are feminists. Ms. Kareemah and I are both members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Our organization participates in various community service projects while also creating programs for our college campuses. It was through Delta Sigma Theta that Ms. Kareemah was able to become fully involved in feminist activities. In fact, Ms. Kareemah sites one of her influences as Mary Church Terrell who is an African American feminist and also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. While at Wilberforce University, Ms. Kareemah participated in a rally for women at a local company in Ohio. “The women’s raises were substantially lower than the men. The women at the rally were not only white, but also black, Asian, Spanish, and many other ethnicities. This was definitely a different group that from what I used to see on television.”
A key element in third wave feminism is sex. Let me rephrase that and say “sexual freedom” (McCauliff, Kristen). Women are taking their sexiness and making it something positive. In the 1990s, the female rap group Salt n Pepa wrote a song entitled “Lets Talk about Sex”. The title first shocked listeners, but when they began to hear the lyrics they understood that it was actually a positive song. Others do not take the same approach as Salt n Pepa and decide to “talk about sex” with various men, which in turn illustrates their promiscuity. I believe a line should be drawn somewhere because I definitely do not see a woman going around having sex with several partners as making a statement for the empowerment of women. It is making that statement that the woman is a whore and needs some morals.
Third wavers are promoting the future of feminism with its incorporation of cyberfeminism because as Ms. Kareemah says “it diversifies how the ideas of feminism are being taught and the way in which the objectives are being presented.” Cyberfeminism relays many ideas of third wave feminism while maintaining the second wave idea of conscious raising. Today’s society relies on their computers for information regarding issues going on in the world so what better way for feminists to reach others than to display their ideas on the Internet. Ms. Kareemah does not participate in cyberfemininsm and blogging. Instead, she prefers to attend seminars and rallies. She works in Virginia at a community center where she helps those that are dealing with various types of addiction. Many of those she helps are women. Along with providing the women with information about helping them with their addictions, she also provides information about empowering themselves. Comparing and contrasting the first, second, and third waves have led me to the conclusion that the future of feminism is uncertain. I do not use the term uncertain to imply that feminism will soon be an idea of the past. It simply means that with the progression of each wave comes the expanding and changing of ideas. “Today’s feminism activities are more about teaching and less about preaching. It’s not about standing outside buildings and screaming your demands. It is about providing your listeners with the adequate knowledge that helps them decide for themselves what they identify as. This is what is going to make feminism thrive.” Examining the transitions from first to second to third wave provided me with much insight on the dynamics of feminism. As time goes on, people and ideas change. Who knows, maybe it will come full circle. It is a possibility that this notion of sex positive feminism will go too far and women will be parading around with no clothes on at all expressing their “freedom”. This in turn would make women want to revert back to their conservative way. Or it might be the complete opposite and more women will identify with feminism and it will no longer be looked at as a nuisance.

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