“Feminism in general is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. ” Black Feminism is a strand of feminist thought, which highlights the manifold disadvantages of gender, class and race that shape the experiences of nonwhite women. Black feminist organizations emerged during the 1970s and they had to face manifold difficulties from both the white feminist and Black Nationalist political organizations they were confronting with.
Black feminists had rejected the idea of a single unified gender oppression that faced evenly by all women, and argued that early feminist analysis reflected the specific concerns of white, middle-class women. One of the theories that evolved out of the Black feminist movement was Alice Walker’s Womanism. Alice Walker and other womanists pointed out that black woman experienced a different and more intense kind of oppression from that of white women. They point out the emergence black feminism after earlier movements led by white middle-class women which they regard as having largely ignored oppression based on race and class.
Patricia Hill Collins defined Black feminism, in Black Feminist Thought (1991), as including “women who theorize the experiences and ideas shared by ordinary black women that provide a unique angle of vision on self, community, and society”. Different critics gave their opinion regarding “Black Feminism” , some of them tried to justify their stand as the “Black Feminists”, some elaborated the purposes of this movement, some discussed the themes that work in this theory. They stated such as;
Women of color have never been placed on a pedestal and protected the way white women are, and although women of color are thought of as a voiceless people, the stereotypes used to oppress them, “black matriarch”, “bitch” and “sapphire”, contradict that notion (Hudson-Weems 211-213). In establishing why Black Feminism is relevant, it must be established that women of color have been thrice victimized: by racism, sexism and economic exploitation. These three oppressive forces affect women of color simultaneously and equally relentlessly (Gordon 166).
Black Feminism is the acknowledgement that women of color have been oppressed by sexism and racism, that there was a failure to recognize and address these issues in the Feminist Movement and the Black Liberation Movement, and that women of color have their own agenda that neither movement can take on. Black Feminism focuses on the experiences needs and desires of women of color (Aldridge 193). The goal of Black Feminism is to create a criterion by which women of color can assess their realities, both in thought and in action (Hudson-Weems 210).
Although it is contested that all struggles are the same, placing all women under feminism is the epitome of racist arrogance and domination, suggesting that white women’s experience is the standard and authority above any other experience (Hudson-Weems 209). We find the themes of Black Feminism like repression of women, self actualization, self-definition, self-valuation, political suppression and kind of racial, class and gender biases towards the women of Black race, in the stories of “Lice”, “Veil” and “Independence Day”. “Lice” is really a true illustration of deprivation of women because of their gender, kind of gender oppression and the stereotypical view of women in Black community that women are only to get married, have sex, and to devote their whole life for the family. There is a woman in the story, named “Sissie” a “voiceless creature”, as stereotypical view of Black Feminism is.
In the Black community it is considered that if you are a woman you just have to perform certain roles other than that you have no identity of your own, as in the story the condition of sissie in Black community truly explained this stereotype “an ordinary wife with a normal marriage, ignored, double-timed, a harassed mother, a low paid teacher in a rotten third world education system. Black women have no personal identity without the male entity, as the words of sisse’s mother when sissie is going to married “Now our daughter has become a proper lady”. ith marriage comes a lot of responsibilities and she is left with no self-identity and have to behave like a Lady and then her mother thinks like a typical mother that she must stop calling her daughter ‘baby’ now because ‘…she was a grand old lady of five years’. In her autobiography “Anne Moody”, brings the idea of black feminism into account, stating, “We were told in the same breath to be quiet both for the sake of being ‘ladylike’ and take us less objectionable in the eyes of white people. ” She is deprived of her wants and needs but in this situation as well her mother advises her to ‘remember counting her blessings’.
She is having a husband who is legally and fully married to her but most of the time’ she also knows without looking that her husband was not occupying his side of the bed’’. She has no right to ask her husband because she is supposed to handle the households, not to look into the doings of her husband. As it is against the norms of patriarchal society, in which she is living. The depravity of the Black women also proves in the fact that their marriages are dependent on their pregnancies “Their marriages depended on it. Their feminity. Their humanity. ”
Third phase which depicts the darker aspect of black feminism is that of sexual oppression. Women are sexually harassed by male, as in the story Sissie is representative of the working women community, that how her Boss demanded sexual favor as a substitute for her promotion. Another blessing is mentioned that it is Saturday, which means no school but this Saturday means nothing for her as she has much to do at home on the free day, because there is no concept of rest for a woman even on the holiday. There is a car in her house which is her husband’s.
She has no right regarding the car in spite of having investment in the car. Here again comes one of the major themes of Black Feminist thought that is of self valuation that a woman has no self possession. The very title of the story “Lice” is symbolic in the sense that apparently lice are in her daughter’s hair but symbolically these are the parasites that Black women have in their life in the form of biases, gender subjugation and typical concept about women as small creatures. “The Veil” refers to the theme of realization, self actualization in the Black feminism theory.
It is the realization of woman after the real experience of having sex. The story is based on relationships and is being told by a woman that how a woman presuppose about having sex as an enjoyable activity but later on she realizes the truth that this enjoyment doesn’t last for long and at the end there remains nothing. Basically this story embodies the objectification of women and glorification of sex but sudden realization of the true fact, which is an important concept in Black Feminism that women of Black race starting realizing or identifying the things.
As “His eyes are the only part of his body with which I have real contact. They dispel strangeness and ugliness and make my relationship with him real in the midst of numerous unreal ones” it is because in the beginning they used to spend time talking and sharing their interests and wants and this communication was carried out through eye contact as well as it was ‘a sort of meeting of minds, and gratifying’ but this relationship now lacks communication that’s what makes them feel strangers to each other and a number of questions arise in her mind that ‘whether it was the body’s desire for contact with another body? And this idea gives vent to ‘a violent desire’ to find out how ‘the meeting of my body with his could be like’. This lust for the fulfillment of bodily desires ‘draws me into loveless contacts simply in order to satisfy that curiosity’ and she experiences a kind of repulsion between their bodies except ‘in one situation – that of love. ’
Then she thinks about the cause behind this repulsion and comes to know that ‘man worships his masculinity, so woman repulses him’ and the only way to get rid of this repulsion is ‘the victory of love over the male deity’ but she has no idea what it is and once again she is encountered by certain thoughts such as ‘Is the relationship between us love? ’ and ‘s love simply a fairy tale,…’ but suddenly a bitter realization stuck in her mind that ‘All the fairy tales come to an end and the veil fell from each of them. and ‘each time a veil fell,…’ she cries for ‘the beautiful illusion which was lost. ’ Then there comes a time when they both are having sex she notices that his body reveals ‘strength, youthfulness, cleanliness and good eating’ but later on when he is dressed and getting ready to leave ‘his face looks tired, as though he’s suddenly grown old and weary. ’ She experiences mixed ‘feelings of joy mingle with strange feelings of sadness’ as the man has left her alone once again.
When ‘the effect of wine has gone and the veil has lifted from my eyes’, she looks into the mirror as “I am about to walk away from the mirror, like every other time, to trample on the fallen veil at my feet and stamp on it with new found strength. But this time I do not leave my place. I bend down, pick up the veil from the ground and replace it once again on my face”. The story is all about the feelings of a woman that how she feels when the fantasy world or the glorified picture of having sexual pleasure turned into the reality. A veil of illusion is now dropped away from her eyes.
But at the end of the day, she has to put up that veil over her face and pretend to be like as usual, because she is anticipated to behave like this. The story ‘Independence Day’ written by “Yvonne Vera” is a representation of political suppression of women of Black Color. This story refers to the variations in definition of independence according to men and women. In the story there is a man who is watching Independence celebrations on television and he decides that ‘he was going to celebrate Independence properly; with cold beer and a woman. On the other hand, the celebrations are going on ‘the Prince and the new Prime Minister walked to the large flag pole in the middle of the stadium. ’ it is midnight and on one hand it is ‘the magic time of change’ whereas on the other side, the man is busy having sex with that prostitute. The whole country got independence but what about the woman who is still the slave of others and has to live her life the way she is told to. Although they were going to enter in a new era but it makes no difference for the women because there are specific boundaries settled by men for her, which is not allowed by the society to cross anyway.
In short, we see that the black feminist movement had to contend with civil rights movements that wanted women in a lesser role. Men believed the black women would organize around their own needs and minimize their own efforts, losing reliable allies in the struggle for civil rights. The black feminist movement not only had to compete with racial prejudice but also the structure of our patriarchal society, making their struggle much harder.