Does Feminism Have a Race Problem?


From Anarchist to Third Wave, there are plenty of different brands of feminism out there. But with a slew of labels, comes difficult choices. It can be difficult to feel fully represented by any one "type" of feminism. In an effort to solve this dilemma, some have turned to creating their own brands of feminist ideology that reflect their goals and needs.

If you're familiar with discussions regarding feminism, you might be aware that one major critique of feminism is the lack of spaces for diversity and intersectionality. Women of color often report feeling that their issues are compartmentalized and their presence is not fully respected in feminist spaces.

Blogger the New Black Woman recalls splitting with feminism altogether after continually feeling unrepresented in feminist spaces, "I've grown disappointed at the rejection, appropriation, elimination and arrogance exhibited by traditional feminist spaces with regards to women of color, our opinions and life experiences." The struggle for women of color to feel represented in feminist spaces eventually led to author Alice Walker's formation of womanism, an offshoot of feminism that revolves around women of color.

In that same vein, writer and Smith College Activist in Residence Loretta J. Ross describes feeling dissatisfied with most feminist subcategories, opting instead to consider herself a "justice feminist."

Ross struggled to fit her feminist work into narrowly defined feminist labels. She points out, "I have never subscribed to the neat categories of feminism that scholars have erected as theoretical silos to explain our movement: liberal, radical, socialist, gyno-centric, Third Wave, and so on." Her work takes on many categories and she yearns for a feminist ideology that will allow her to "flow smoothly between these boundaries." Justice feminism, as she sees it, will decompartmentalize her varied work.

So what exactly is a justice feminist?

According to Ross, justice feminism does not center on achieving gender equality because, "who says what men have is what women want or need?" Instead, justice feminism tries to achieve justice and rights for both men and women. Rather than try to achieve what men have in society, Ross argues that feminists should be trying to "change the rules of the game rather than seeking our own equal opportunity to oppress."

The ultimate end goal of justice feminism, Ross maintains, is lasting justice. "I'm seeking and hoping to build a movement against oppression in which every human being is included, and equality – important as it is – is just one milestone in the process," she writes.

Even while critics might point out that justice feminism could very well become just another of the many subcategories of feminism, the idea of feminists rethinking, restructuring and re-imagining feminist ideology to better reflect their needs is powerful. It is through this kind of restructuring that feminism can truly be the kind of intersectional, diverse, and effective space that we want it to be.