Posts Tagged ‘First Wave Feminism’

Hello class! We are behind, but catching up. For fun, here is the Olympics propaganda about mothers mentioned in class. [youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMunV1Y4X2o]

Now onto lecture!

Week 14: We begin this lecture by covering “Outcast Mothers and Surrogates: Racism and Reproductive Politics in the Nineties” written by the living legend, Angela Y. Davis. Before we dive into her history and work, take a minute to reflect on the type of feminist philosophical writing we are now encountering. If you have not noticed, we are moving into another wave of thought regarding feminism and feminist theory. A lot of this has to do with the “agenda” of feminism at the time of the texts we are covering. In the period of writers like bell hooks and Angela Davis, we are entering feminism that is relating not only to sexism, and rights, but also to race, class, and gender. The consideration of race, class, gender make up intersectionality. Intersectionality is a place where all these meet.

Intersectionality is associated to Third Wave Feminism. We briefly discussed First, Second and Third Wave Feminism during the Davis lecture. The Women’s Studies Department at Georgetown College describes the three as follows:

What do the terms 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Wave Feminism mean?

First Wave Feminism

This term refers to the first concerted movement working for the reform of women’s social and legal inequalities in the nineteenth century. Although individual feminist such as Mary Wollstonecraft had already argued against the injustices suffered by women, it was not until the 1850’s that something like an organized feminist movement evolved in Britain. Its headquarters was at Langham Place in London, where a group of middle-class women, led by Barbara Bodichon (1827-91) and Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829-1925), met to discuss topical issues and publish the English Woman’s Journal (1858-64).

The key concerns of First Wave Feminists were education, employment, the marriage laws, and the plight of intelligent middle-class single women. They were not primarily concerned with the problems of working-class women, nor did they necessarily see themselves as feminists in the modern sense (the term was not coined until 1895). First Wave Feminists largely responded to specific injustices they had themselves experienced.

Their major achievements were the opening of higher education for women; reform of the girls’ secondary-school system, including participation in formal national examinations: the widening of access to the professions, especially medicine; married women’s property rights, recognized in the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870; and some improvement in divorced and separated women’s child custody rights. Active until the First World War, First Wave Feminists failed, however, to secure the women’s vote.

Second Wave Feminism

The term ‘Second Wave’ was coined by Marsha Lear, and refers to the increase in feminist activity which occurred in America, Britain, and Europe from the late sixties onwards. In America, second wave feminism rose out of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements in which women, disillusioned with their second-class status even in the activist environment of student politics, began to band together to contend against discrimination.

The tactics employed by Second Wave Feminists varied from highly-published activism, such as the protest against the Miss America beauty contest in 1968, to the establishment of small consciousness-raising groups. However, it was obvious early on that the movement was not a unified one, with differences emerging between black feminism, lesbian feminism, liberal feminism, and social feminism.

Second Wave Feminism in Britain was similarly multiple in focus, although it was based more strongly in working-class socialism, as demonstrated by the strike of women workers at the Ford car plant for equal pay in 1968. The slogan ‘the personal is political’ sums up the way in which Second Wave Feminism did not just strive to extend the range of social opportunities open to women, but also, through intervention within the spheres of reproduction, sexuality and cultural representation, to change their domestic and private lives. Second Wave Feminism did not just make an impact upon western societies, but has also continued to inspire the struggle for women’s rights across the world.

Third Wave Feminism (Gender on Campus by Sharon Bohn Gmelch)

When Rebecca Walker, daughter of author Alice Walker and godchild of activist Gloria Steinem, published an article in Ms. entitled “I Am The Third Wave,” it drew a surprising response. Young women from all over the country wrote letters informing the magazine of the activist work they were quietly engaged in and encouraging older feminists and leaders of the women’s movement not to write them off.

The front page of the Third Wave Foundation web site explains that the organization strives to combat inequalities that [women] face as a result of [their] age, gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status or level of education. By empowering young women, Third Wave is building a lasting foundation for social activism around the country.

Davis considers herself a democratic socialist, whose recent work has been centered upon the prison-industrial complex. She began as a very motivated student, a voracious reader, and she continues to be a model of social activism in contemporary times.

On January 26, 1944, Angela Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama. She is the eldest child of four in her family. Davis grew up in a middle-class family, both of her parents were teachers and social activists. Her father, Frank Davis, graduated from St. Augustine’s College, a historically black college in North Carolina. Her briefly teached high school history teacher, but, because of the low wages, later owned and operated a service station in the black section of Birmingham. Davis’ mother, Salley Davis, graduated from Miles College in Birmingham. She was an elementary school teacher. Her parents provided a model of black social activism for their children. This was not a typical situation for the middle-class family and also not the norm in the black schools she attended. There existed strong racism and segregation in Birmingham, and Davis was born amongst the Jim Crow Laws. The Davis family lived in an area known as Dynamite Hill, known this way because of the violence. Although a mixed neighborhood, various black family homes were bombed by the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1959, Davis left home when she was fifteen to attend Elisabeth Irwine, an integrative private high school in New York for which she received a scholarship from the American Friends Southern Negro Student Committee, a program to bring black students from the South to integrated Northern schools. She attended Elisabeth Irwin High School in Greenwich Village in New York City, a rather radical school. It is here that she is introduced to socialism and communism. During this time, Davis is recruited by a Communist youth group, Advance.

She attends university in 1961 in Brandeis, Massachusetts. At the time, she was highly inspired by the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre. Feeling a little out of place in her school (she was only 1 of 3 black students0, she finds and feels connections with some foreign students. Many of these students were European, and came from more radical backgrounds. After attending a rally during the Cuban Missile Crisis, she encounters the Frankfurt School Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse and becomes his student. Her encounters lead her to pursue travels in Europe. After her first year, she saves enough money to spend the summer there and attends various Communist festivals and events.  She travels to France and Switzerland before attending the eighth World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki, Finland. When returning home, the F.B.I. was waiting to interview her about her attendance at the Communist-sponsored festival.

In her second year of university, she chooses to be a French major and pursues her study of French writers such as Sartre. In 1963, Davis spends her junior year in Paris, where she continues to align herself with Communist movements. She also had contact with Algerian revolutionaries. She attends the Sorbonne.

While away, Davis receives news of the Birmingham church bombing. Four adolescent girls, some who Davis knew personally, or her family did, were killed. Here is a video of Davis speaking of the bombing of Birmingham, an interview:

Returning to Brandeis, she is about to finish her French degree and realizes that she actually likes philosophy. She begins to study philosophy with Marcuse. She makes plans to attend the University of Frankfurt for a masters in philosophy. While in Germany, she receives a  stipend of just $100 a month. Initially, she lives with a German family, it is later that she moves in with a group of students into a loft in an old factory. After visiting East Berlin during the annual May Day celebration, she saw that the East Germans were dealing better with the residual effects of fascism than were the West Germans. Many of Davis’ loft mates were active in the radical Socialist German Student Union (known as SDS), and Davis participated in SDS actions.

Because of the events unfolding in the United States, including the rise of the Civil Rights movements and the formation of the Black Panther Party, Davis was impelled to return. In 1967, Davis came back and continued her studies with Marcuse as her doctoral adviser.

In 1968, Davis joins the Community Party of the United States. The following year, Davis is hired by the Philosophy Department of UCLA as an assistant professor. She continues her activism, which subsequently leads to her being fired by the Regents (under Ronald Reagan as governor) because of her membership in the Communist Party and for her participation in the defense of the Soledad Brothers, who were accused of killing a prison guard. She is eventually rehired due to the pressure from her colleagues, students and the public. Still, continued attempts to

Davis would find herself as a FBI most-wanted-person because of her connection to the Soledad Brothers and related incidences. On August 7, 1970, a shootout in the Marin County Center Courthouse took place, with multiple people injured. Jonathan Jackson tried unsuccessfully to free his brother George, one of the Soledad Brothers, by taking hostages–including Judge Harold Haley, the prosecutor, and three jurors as hostages. J. Jackson came in heavily armed, and also armed two of the defendants. As Jackson took the defendants and the hostages into a van, police officers began shootings. Jackson, the two defendants, a juror and the judge were fatally shot. Davis’ connection to the incident is that one of the firearms, a sawed off shot gun, was registered under her name. Because of how California law is written, San Marin County Superior Judge Peter Allen Smith charged Davis with kidnapping, conspiracy, and murder charges. A warrant for her arrest was issued, she was put on FBI’s Most Wanted List, and she became a fugitive.

According to Wikipedia, the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made Angela Davis the third woman and the 309th person to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List. (The photo on the Most Wanted posters of Davis became iconic, but Davis has been critical of its pop status.) She was arrested by the FBI in New York, creating a worldwide movement for her defense. She spends 16 months in jail before her trail. Davis acts as her own co-counsel and was acquitted by an all-white jury later that June of all charges.

Here is Davis interviewed from prison.

Davis is still very active today, focusing on the prison-industrial complex, as well as seen around Occupy movements around the country last year. She believes democracy and socialism is more compatible than democracy and capitalism, and she still moves forward with trying to inspire and mobilize change.

In “Outcast Mothers and Surrogates: Racism and Reproductive Politics in the Nineties”, written in the 1990s, Davis is talking about the current state of motherhood mirroring, in various ways, past models of servitude and slavery. She relates surrogacy to slavery in a current context. She is presenting a comparison between the commodification of a servant/slave woman’s reproductive abilities (as wet-nurses, nannies) and the rising practice of contemporary minority women’s reproductive abilities for surrogacy. She is discusses the politics of reproduction.

She explains that slave women were not only expected to reproduce black children frequently so that their white masters could sell them as a commodity, but also that slave women were expected to act as surrogate mothers for the master’s white children. The slave mother would have to mother other children, instead of her own, which were under the care of others or sold for profit.

Davis notices that only the wealthy and privileged can afford to outsource pregnancy. This has resulted in minority women’s bodies being exploited–often times willingly, even thought the ramifications are not noticed or understood–for their reproductive capabilities.

In fact, Marie Claire featured in article that the demand for surrogate mothers is so high, it has actually been outsourced:

In this case, the metaphor is also literal. The Akanksha clinic is at the forefront of India’s booming trade in so-called reproductive tourism — foreigners coming to the country for infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. The clinic’s main draw, however, is its success using local women to have foreigners’ babies. Surrogacy costs about $12,000 in India, including all medical expenses and the surrogate’s fee. In the U.S., the same procedure can cost up to $70,000.

Davis is discussing the issues around control of the female body as well as the restrictions that branch out from it, within a consideration of race, class and gender. Only females, of course, can have babies. This is both a powerful as well as restricting truth. It may seem as if it is the right of women to control their bodies, but limitations on birth, abortion, birth control are everywhere. Forced sterilization has also been a fact. The historical construction of women’s reproductive role has been highly influenced by oppression and domination. One can ask, who gets to be a mother? Who has reproductive self-determination? Historically, slave women did not have it, and now, neither do young black mothers and other minority mothers.

Motherhood, being a mother, is an ideal. If you are not a mother, you may not be considered a woman. Hence, the promotion of technology for motherhood.

Technology, as Davis explains, is not oppressive in itself. It can become oppressive, and she believes the ways that fertilization technologies have developed, elements of oppression that mimic the slave woman and master complex. Capitalistic uses of technology is oppressive, and socioeconomic conditions dictate this.

Of course, Davis’ discussion does not cover everything. It barely discusses fathers, fatherhood, and the male role in these new technologies. Although the notion of the nuclear family is evident, as well as its role in consumption, Davis’ argument of the reemergence of 19th century women-mother-race-dynamics in the 20th and 21st centuries does not dive into all the elements of the role of family or the father.

Overall, this text by Davis is an excellent example of the new discussions on women and feminist thought around intersectionality. The theory and ideas are coming closer to home.

From Davis, we move onto Audre Lorde. Lorde considers herself a black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet. She was actually born Audrey Lorde but she chose to drop the “y” from her name as a child. She was more interested in the artistic symmetry of the endings in “Audre Lorde” than in spelling her name the way it was given.

Lorde was born in 1934 in New York City from immigrant parents of Grenada, a small island country in the Caribbean. She was the youngest of three sisters, and grew up in Manhattan. She was terribly nearsighted, considered almost legally blind, but this in no way slowed her down. By the age of four, she as reading and writing. Growing up, she attended local Catholic schools. In high school, she sold and published her first poem in Seventeen magazine–a poem she could not publish in her high school itself, but was able to sell it to the nationally distributed magazine. She completed her BA at Hunter College and a Masters in Library Science from Columbia. While finished her education, she worked all sorts of odd jobs, such as ghostwriting. Once finished, she worked as a librarian in New York public schools from 1961 through 1968.

In 1962, Lorde married Edward Rollins and has two children, Elizabeth and Jonathon, before divorcing in 1970. Although she marries, she comes out as a lesbian early on, and her longtime partner up until her death was Gloria Joseph. She discovers her lesbian identity prior to her marriage, beginning in college.

In 1954, while in college, she studies abroad at the National University of Mexico. This was a period of self discovery, renewal, and affirmation. She confirms her own identity, as a poet, woman of color, and a lesbian. Upon returning to New York to finish her degree, she immerses herself into the gay culture of Greenwich Village at the time.

As mentioned in class, Lorde often focused upon and wrote about the erotic. Below is a YouTube video of Lorde reading from her powerful essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.”

Aside from poet and writer, Lorde was a professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Hunter College. Later on in life, Lorde was diagnosed with cancer and chronicled her struggles in her first prose collection, The Cancer Journals. Before her death, she has an African naming ceremony where she takes the name Gambda Adisa, “Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known”. After a 14 year struggle, she dies of breast cancer in 1992.

She was the first to critique feminist movements and their focus on particular experiences and values of white, middle-class women. She particularly critiques the 1960s’ N.O.W. Lorde introduces the theory of difference to discuss these issues. This theory states that other characteristics, not just gender, are just as important (intersectionality). Differences must be acknowledged, not judged. Racism, homophobia, sexism are all linked and all come from inability to understand or recognize difference.

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. –Audre Lorde

In Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”, she eloquently calls out the underlying racism within the feminism movement at the time. She believes this feminism continues to propagate a dependence on the patriarchy. By denying difference, but not looking at intersectionality–although this term was yet to be applied at the time–within the category of women, these feminists were still supporting old systems of oppression. This is keeping any real change from happening, as the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

Lorde was aligning white middle-class feminists with white male slave-masters. Both are active oppressors. She also warns that by using current systems and institutions, no change will happen. Patriarchy and oppression are still part of the feminist movement because there was no consideration of difference. The current paradigms will not create a better one. Instead, it needs to be reworked, reconsidered, newly created and done differently.

This was a very provocative essay, and it created an uproar. People, especially the women she pointed out, were enraged. Rightly so.

Next Week: We will be covering Andrea Dworkin’s “Israel: Whose Country is it Anyway?” and Sandra Harding’s “Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology.” We will cover Sally Haslanger’s “Gender and Race.” in the future. Also, we will have Reading Response #3 handed out. See you Wednesday!


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