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Defining Feminism

iskierka's picture

As someone who's been in primarily female-oriented environments for most of my life, it feels strange how relatively recent feminism has been to me. So it was still something of a trial to define it in a group setting. As a group, we quickly established our opinions on Satrapi's Persepolis - its merits and its fault and where each lay - and the process had me questioning what constituted, not feminist values, but feminism as a whole. My personal opinion: a movement of its scale must be for a people, not for a person. A person may figurehead the movement, but they are still one experience among the whole. Therein lies my discomfort with calling autobiographies a feminist genre - they're meant to showcase one particular person, the writer. I do believe the contents can be feminist - they can display their activism, their beliefs, the people who influenced them. The reaction can be feminist - a reader can admire these same traits and use them as an example for how to steer their life. But as autobiographies are so narrow in that they focus only one on experience out of the whole, I do not see them as feminist. Maybe I haven't read enough of them, maybe I haven't read the right ones, but a life story is still the story of a single life. (I am eager to read the piece that changes my mind though.) 


kwilkinson's picture

the power of narrative

"As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist." -- Audrey Lourde

"Is "autobiography" a feminist genre?

No. But why?

When doing the barometer exercise in class, I felt re-affirmed in my beliefs that feminism lacks the praxis it needs to sustain itself as a social movement. Of course at the core feminism advocates for the equal rights and empowerment of women (arguably, all places on the gender spectrum), but what about the reality we live in?

None of use define feminism the same way. Due to our different backgrounds, identities, experiences we all have an subjective lens when examining the framework of this movement. I realized in class that many people do not even consider the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, class, ability, etc. impacting gender, and the way many marginalized women interact with feminism.  

As stated above, I do not believe that autobiographies are a feminist genre. Feminism has mostly been a narrative of privileged white women. Not only benefitting to them in the public sphere, but also the power to control the agenda: politically and socially. I believe that the reasoning for many women of color remaining in the fringes in this movement, due to the lack of understanding of their personal narrative and/or the lack of opportunity to tell it. I believe that if more "autobiographies" were told, there would be more opportunity for praxis to create shared goals, morals, and a collective community.  

So far in my journey through feminism I have felt marginalized. In my first "real" experience with feminism I joined a high school club named "Brenner". We met once a week to discuss "feminist issues" mainly stemming from an article we all read. When I first started going I was the only woman of color, constantly feeling guilty or isolated because I was not able to relate to the topics being discussed. Many times I was alone in my opinions because of my inability to separate my race and my gender. I found myself not caring about my gender, solely focusing on my race because this was the only group that I could truly identify with.  

This was one of my many motivations for attending Bryn Mawr. I wanted to discover my "womanhood", but also explore my narrative more not just as a black person or a woman, but a black woman. I wanted to feel accepted by this identity. I wanted to align myself with feminism. I wanted it to be inherent.

I have spent a great deal of my time here researching black women, trying to find answers to their somewhat mis-construed and often stereotyped identity and plight through society. I often come back to the question: If black women were able to tell their narratives, would they finally live unencumbered?

*****Here are two readings from bell hooks and Audrey Lourde. They are two of my favorite feminists! I hope you like it!*****

bell hooks "Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression":

Audrey Lourde "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House"


EmmaBE's picture

I also had a hard time

I also had a hard time labeling all autobiography as "feminist" - mainly because one woman's story of oppression does not tell the story of all women's paths to overcoming oppression. However, I find myself unwilling to rule out the possibility that there might be a way to write an autobiography that is feminist. What if the book was written in  a way that made the reader slow down and process an experience different from theirs, and expanded the reader's "I"? Lots of us commented on how we finished Persepolis very quickly, so perhaps for those people this is not a feminist book, but what about people who wrestled with the concepts it presented? Does how feminist a text is actually depend on the reader? (I am also ready to read an autobiography that I find to be a feminist text.)