A Seat at the Feminism Table | Sasha Doster

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The 3rd wave of feminism moves beyond focusing solely on gender identity and attempts to value the intersectionality of social identities. It also critiques the earlier waves of feminism as being exclusively focused on the experiences and needs of white, upper-middle-class women, while also assuming that all women, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, or class, were the same. Womanism grew out of the dissatisfaction of the lack of black voices in feminism in the U.S. Alice Walker defines womanism in her book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. The concept stems from the word ‘womanish’ used by black mothers to their daughters when they are acting “outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful.” A womanist is a:

“A black feminist or feminist of color…A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.”

Womanism illuminates the omission of Black women in the cannon of feminism and motivates Black women to write their OWN narratives.

This is exactly what R&B artist Solange does in her 2016 album A Seat at the Table (Solange. A Seat at the Table. Columbia Records. 2016). Solange is from Houston, Texas and is the younger sister of Beyoncé, Solange’s album is described by Apple Music as “a confessional autobiography and meditation on being Black in America.” For many years, Black women have found empowerment through art forms, specifically music, which provide Black women a medium to combat the oppressive nature of racism, sexism, and feminism. In this article, I briefly describe Black women’s seat at the feminism table through my interpretation of the first 4 tracks of A Seat at the Table. I found this album to be especially relatable to the subject of feminism due to its unapologetic nature in describing American Black life and the strength needed to confront difficulties living in this society. This article is a message to Black women, woman on the margins, and lastly women in general.

Rise
Walk in your ways so you won’t crumble (so you won’t crumble)
Walk in your ways so you can sleep at night
Walk in your ways so you don’t wake up and rise*

Solange’s first song was inspired by the police brutality against Black men in Baltimore and Ferguson. In the context of these brutalities, it is time for us to rise. From the backbone and heart of the Black community, we have started movements such as Black Lives Matter to call attention to racial oppression. This is how we rise. The scale of change does not have to be grand. It can be as simple as educating one’s self. Once educated about all the inequities in society, rise from the table of feminism and its unwantedness of your story. Once you leave feminism, feminists may blare that ‘all women matter.’ But this is not a matter of women mattering. It’s a fact that in this moment in history, some things such as political, racial, and economic inequalities need more attention.

Interlube: The Glory is in You
You know, but… sometimes you ask yourself
“Where’s the peace?”
Everybody is always talking about peace,
But, as long you find peace in what you doing then you successful, and that’s what people don’t realize.
See, you got do stuff till you gotta go sleep at night.
Cause the glory is in you*

As women, the pressures of things such as maintaining families, careers, and personal care can be hard to bear. As a Black woman, these pressures are elevated with the intersections of both racial and gender oppression.

Womanist theology centers its philosophies around the healing of Black women. In her book Sisters of the Yams: Black Women and Self Recovery, bell hooks places the emotional health of Black women at the forefront because they are highly affected by both sexism and racism. Her book includes essays, personal narratives, and her famous cultural critiques, providing ways for Black woman to find recovery within themselves. Finding inner peace gives us strength to manage everyday dealings. The glory that you obtain within will be your glory to the world.

Weary
I’m weary of the ways of the world
Be weary of the ways of the world
I’m weary of the ways of the world*

The majority of women involved in feminism in the United States are straight, cisgender, white women. Many of the campaigns charged by these feminist are trifles compared to the challenges of poverty and homelessness both in the U.S. and elsewhere. For example, the crusade to kill tampon taxes ignored the fact that there are many women in the world who can’t even afford menstrual care items. As a marginalized woman, be weary of the ways of feminism. As true as this is, the lives of Black women (cisgender and trans) are especially at risk. The FBI says that 40% of sex trafficked people are Black people. The rate that Black trans women are murdered is astronomical. According to the Human Rights Center, 91% of transgender deaths since 2013 have been Black women. Likewise, be weary of the ways of feminism as a privileged woman. As activists, we all should to be weary of our own privilege. Use your privilege, whether it be your race, ethnicity, religion, or sexuality to empower marginalized people. There are things you can do for other women. As a womanist, a lover of women, there are no exceptions. As womanists, we all need to work towards the empowerment of all humans.

Cranes in the Sky
I tried to drink it away
I tried to put one in the air
I tried to dance it away
I tried to change it with my hair

I ran my credit card up
Thought a new dress make it better
I tried to work it away
But that just made me even sadder
I tried to keep myself busy
I ran around circles
Think I made myself dizzy
I slept it away, I sexed it away
I read it away

Away, away, away, away, away, away
Away, away, away, away, away

Well it’s like cranes in the sky
Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds
Yeah it’s like cranes in the sky
Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds*

Following the interludes’ focus on finding glory within, in this song Solange expresses that it’s okay not to be okay. This is an important message for Black women to hear. Under the trope of the ‘strong Black women,’ it is sometimes hard for Black women to express themselves due to the message that Black women should never seem vulnerable. Historically in the United States, the ‘strong Black woman’ stereotype plays a major role in the way we are perceived, treated, and neglected. Doubly oppressed by racism and sexism, many Black women build a thick skin in order to cope with everyday life interactions. This act of the ‘superhero,’ which many Black women feel the need to present to the public, can have terrible consequences. Mentally, it causes depression, and it has resulted in higher substance abuse and self-harm rates. It also leads to physical harm. For instance, this trope of the ‘strong Black woman’ has led the health care industry to assume that Black woman have a higher pain tolerance than other woman, resulting in insufficient care. For example, Black women die 3 to 4 times the rate that white woman die in childbirth. The superficial problems and solutions focused on by feminists may not bring the solutions you personally need internally or externally. Your wellbeing and recovery may need deeper work and take more time.

“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” (Walker: 1983)

Your seat at the table is not 100% in vain Black girl. It can be a place to enlighten other feminists that there are issues that go deeper than sexism. Classism, racism, homophobia and many other marginalizing -isms oppress women. Once you finish, walk away. Come to the table of womanism and allow others to follow you. There is no exclusion in the core philosophy of womanism. They will be welcomed and commended for taking a seat at the table.

 

*All lyrics under each song title are taken from Solange’s A Seat at the Table.

Prather C, Fuller TR, Jeffries WL 4th, Marshall KJ, Howell AV, Belyue-Umole A, King W. Racism, African American Women, and Their Sexual and Reproductive Health: A Review of Historical and Contemporary Evidence and Implications for Health Equity. Health Equity. 2018 Sep 24;2(1):249-259. doi: 10.1089/heq.2017.0045. PMID: 30283874; PMCID: PMC6167003.

Walker, Alice, 1944-. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983.

 

Sasha Doster is a senior at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, United States. She is a double major in Music and Anthropology with a minor in Africana Studies. She finds interest in musicology, classical music and music of the African diaspora. She is lover of Anime and ice cream.

 

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