Below is a reading reflection on three pieces jammed into one:
Bell Hook’s “Beyond Lean In”
Kimberle Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”
Donna Hathaway’s “Situated Knowledges”
I think Hooks critique on Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” is valid and worthy of noting. Sheryl Sandberg provides a very narrow minded approach towards feminism. I believe her intentions are well but if you are going to write a book on the important and popular topic of feminism, as a heavily influential figure in modern day America, it is important to do some research on the subject before writing such pieces. Research includes reading the works of past feminist woman who represent all walks of life, to fully grasp the idea of feminism for all. Sheryl Sandberg, as many other modern day feminist, came into their feminist title by realizing the ideals behind the title were much simpler than they thought. Feminism is simply gender equality in social, political, and economic spaces within society. However, Hooks is here to contradict this simplistic notion, particularly in Sandberg’s novel. Sandberg’s “feminism for all” creates a faux feminism by disregarding the differences between groups of women, according to Hooks. These differences include race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, and socio-economic class. Sheryl Sandberg writes this novel from the social location of a upper class white woman. Consequently, her novel provides simple approaches to her simpler journey towards gender equality, as opposed to the journey of majority of oppressed women’s groups. This is in no way to discredit Sandberg’s journey, however, if you are only targeting one group of women it is extremely important to note that context in your writing. Just a personal anecdote, I was given Lean In as a gift from a friend. As he gave me the book he said, “You may not be able to relate as much because she’s a rich white woman but I still think you can get something out of it.” I read about a quarter of the novel and felt disconnected. As a young, lower class, black woman I felt as if it were a half way attempt to cheer me on to encourage me to fight for gender equality in this patriarchal American society. What’s sad about this reality is that some people who identify with my race and class may not come to this intersectional reality early on by reading Sandberg’s book. My fear is that they will belief that Sandberg’s book is a representation for how all women should go about fighting for gender equality. My fear is that that woman will be unprepared for the harsh realities of being a black woman in America and not just a woman, and will not be physically, mentally, or emotionally prepared for what she is to face and will not know how to handle it. The reality is, Sheryl Sandberg was given such praise for her novel because of her social location as a rich white woman. The thoughts and ideas she presented were nothing new and they captured only half of what women of color feminist have been preaching for decades. The question that resonates the most while analyzing this reality is, how do marginalized groups such as women of color and gay women fight for equality within the mainstream feminist movement and how do we make our concerns as just as important as white ones? Is there a way to bridge all forms of oppression against women under the umbrella of feminism or is it necessary to form separate feminisms for different groups of women? I personally feel like the former is achievable but only if intersectionality is at the center of its mission.
I think when a lot of people speak, they don’t make it clear the context from which they are speaking from. For example, Sheryl Sandberg received a lot of criticism from WOC feminists who said that her book “Lean In” only address a certain sector of people. They argued that Sheryl Sandberg only narrated the oppressions of middle-upper class, CISgendered, white women and did not include the perspective of other minority groups such as gay, transgender, women of color, and disabled women. On the contrary, some people argued that it is nearly impossible to address every single woman in her book and that the progress she achieved in feminism with her book was substantial enough, regardless of what type of women it was written for. People also argued that it would be problematic if she did speak on the behalf of other women because how would she understand the oppressions against intersectional women if she’s never experienced it herself. My stance on this Sheryl Sandberg argument is that stating context is very important. Sheryl Sandberg wrote Lean In with the marketability of it being for all women, which is problematic and misleading to many. I think in Sandberg’s case, it was extremely important to state the social location that she is speaking from to distinguish to the reader if this book will necessarily fit their life experiences or not. However, if she clearly stated this in her book, it probably wouldn’t sell as many copies because the majority population would realize that she is not writing on feminism for people like them. From a personal standpoint, whenever I speak on things that affect society at large, I always make sure to at least reference my location. For example, I would say “As a black woman and based on my experiences, I feel…” This allows for their to be a distinction in what I’m saying compared to how someone else my say because I am making my statements personal. This is on a small scale of communication, but I think it provides for a good starting point in actually enforcing intersectionality within feminism, and quite frankly, all walks of life. With that being said, I think the argument that “intersectionality within feminism is too hard of a concept for people to grasp” is a weak stance, in my opinion. The author states that intersectionality will make it difficult to set standards and processes when speaking, interacting, and dealing with people and situations. This is so because intersectionality argues that every single individual has a different set of experiences and frame of reference that shapes who they are as a person. This inevitably means that not everyone should be treated the same because everyone is different. Everyone has their own “personal narrative” and generalizations are not longer accepted norms. This can be tricky when dealing with things such as laws and government. I don’t have the answers to the best way to navigate those spaces, but I do believe context in everyday communication is a great start.
To relate this to Donna Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges” I think what she is saying is that there is no “right” feminism. There is no “correct” way of practicing feminism and joining this movement. Though we all fall under the same umbrella, we all have our definitions and ranging perspectives on feminism. I remember reading articles written by middle-upper class white women who critique women of color feminists like Beyoncé or Nicki Minaj and say that they are hurting the feminist movement. They say that these women are too sexual and expose their bodies too much to be feminists. Kristen Stewart recently said plastic surgery is considered “vandalism” to the body, as if a woman doesn’t have agency over herself. I think this ideology that feminism only fits the size of “respectability politics” is absurd and is restricting to women and the freedom that they are born with. Personally, feminism to me is more than the equality of the sexes in the social, political, and economic realms. It’s more than closing the wage gap between men and women in the workforce. It’s more than putting a stop to the objectification of women in mass media. It’s about removing the box that women are surrounded by. If a woman doesn’t act a certain way or dress a certain way, she is perceived as lesser than a woman or not “lady-like.” For example, if a woman dresses to revealing, she is considered a slut. Or if a woman decides to be a stay at home mom, she is considered too lazy to want a “real job.” This box dehumanizes women to the things that they do and the things that they wear as if women can’t be multifaceted individuals. As if it is impossible to be a proud sexual being and educated. Women are not one dimensional beings. Feminism counteracts this box that women are placed in and frees women to be whomever they decide to be. Feminism also counteracts the patriarchy that exists in today’s society. Patriarchy is a system that says that a man is always at the center; always in charge. Society has a tendency to always center a woman’s existence around that of a man, as if she has no free will of her own. Going back to the example of Beyonce and her owning and showcasing her sexuality in performances and appearances. Majority would say that she does these things to please either her man, Jay, or other men in the world to gain popularity. It never occurs to anyone that maybe Beyonce wants to look sexy to please Beyonce. Everything a women does is not for the male gaze. More importantly, even if a man is satisfied by the sexual appearance of another woman does not mean that it was that woman’s intention. Women have the freedom to do whatever, whenever, and however they want. I say all of this to say, it bothers me when other women, particularly other feminists say things like that of Kristen Stewart. Comments like that are what’s counterproductive to feminism, in my opinion. Feminism is intersectional and we all have our own “situated knowledges” of what that means to us. Therefore, it causes harm when others talk down upon those knowledges that they don’t agree with simply because they don’t understand. It is possible to respect something that you necessarily don’t understand. So instead of further dividing this fight for equality and attacking other forms of feminists, it is better to ask questions and try to learn about those “situated knowledges” that you know not of.
Hope I made sense. Still learning. That is all.