Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Feminism: A Race Issue, or More Likely, a Cultural Issue?

Posted by chinesecanuck on April 28, 2008

There are two posts over at Racialicious on race and feminism today, both posted by Latoya. In the first post, called The “Or” versus the “And” – Women of Color and Mainstream Feminism, Latoya starts off talking about a “click moment” in the late 90s, during the height of the Spice Girls’ popularity. At that time, there were plenty of “girl power” t-shirts and other accessories at the mall (I was in university at the time, and a little too old to wear them, though I know plenty of girls who did…..in private. I don’t think too many people born before 1980 or 1981 would ever admit to being a Spice Girls fan, or at least, didn’t back in the late 90s) and Latoya’s “click moment” was when a guy friend asked her “what the fuck” girl power was supposed to mean. Later, Latoya discusses the lack of connectivity because she couldn’t relate to the feminist anthologies. Most, she says, only contain one or two voices of non-white women. But do these women’s voices reflect every non-white woman? How can you say that all non-white people have the same experience? I’ve found that many ethnicity/race blogs seem to group all non-white people together as if the struggle is the same. It isn’t. Even same-race experiences aren’t the same (more about that later.)

The second post is related to the first. Entitled Does Feminism Have to Address Race, this post questions whether mainstream/neutral feminism really understands feminism of other races. Latoya mentions that some feminists discuss women being “weaker” and/or “less capable.” Yet, Latoya has never been labeled as such, because stereotypically, black women have never been seen as “weak.” Latoya also talks about her name. She mentions that “they assume that this name “Latoya Peterson” will manifest into some neck-swiveling straight from the ‘hood stereotype” and that her resume goes straight into the recycling bin. (I could also say that a woman with a very white-sounding name like Katie Smith could have her resume thrown out too. Why? Because her name doesn’t sound serious. Being female and having a “cute” sounding name is not exactly a good thing, career-wise.) So it brings me to this question: Is it therefore not a race issue, but class and/or culture?

We can’t confuse race with culture. It isn’t the same thing. A person’s culture is what he or she absorbs from the community/communities around him/her. A race can be a culture, but a culture can’t be a race. Take for example a married upper middle class Chinese woman from Hong Kong who has two kids. We will call her Liz. Her definition of feminism will likely be very different from an upper middle class Chinese woman (also a mom with two kids) in the United States or Canada (which we’ll call Anne), even though they’re both of Chinese descent. Why? Race/ethnicity aside, it’s much easier for Liz to move up career-wise. Most women in Liz’s situation have hired help at home, as nannies and housekeepers are much more affordable than in the west. Liz is therefore free to stay late at work so she can get things done and move up. Childcare in Anne’s situation, however, costs more. If she uses a daycare center, she has to pick her children up after a certain time, as the place closes (there are some places with extended hours, but how long are they open? Very few are 24/7). Anne may have a nanny, but nannies cost more in this part of the world. She likely has one person who does both the childcare and the cooking/cleaning. I wouldn’t say that both Liz and Anne would have the same views on feminism, would you? They are of the same race, but definitely not of the same culture. Similar cultures in terms of socio-economic class though.

(I have to say that I’ve largely stayed out of women’s studies and feminism because the academic definition, at least in my experience, tend to be very ignorant and generalize too much. They often want things to happen quickly as well. Take professions for example. We know that today, law schools and medical schools tend to be at least 50% female, yet we get statistics that upper levels are still majority men. Most women’s studies departments go on and on about how it needs to be changed to reflect the schools today. But have these ladies ever thought that it’s an age thing? Most of the men in charge of hospitals or are senior partners in law firms are from the baby boom generation or are older. They went to med school or law school at a time when it was still majority male. Since many of these guys haven’t retired yet, why would you expect things to change overnight? There aren’t as many women in their 50s who actually practice law as say, women in their 30s. (Compare the movies The Paper Chase (from the early 70s) to Legally Blonde. I realize that both are fiction, but both are about law school. The main characters in the former movie are predominantly male. Legally Blonde? Elle Woods was certainly not the only woman in her class. There were plenty of others.) Since many women have children and therefore take some time off, it’s very unlikely we’re going to see a 50-50 split any time soon. We may want to see more, but it’s just going to take time. I guess some people are just a little on the impatient side.)

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