Is Feminism Failing Women of Color?

WOW panelists take a look at one of feminism’s biggest issues

By Sarah Coleman

Notre Dame of Maryland hosted the second day of the Women of the World (WOW) Festival. WOW celebrates women as a force for positive change and examines the barriers women face. The festival was diverse and inclusive; it included panels, discussions, learning activities, a variety of food and a marketplace for people to explore.

On Saturday, WOW festival had a panel that discussed the unique challenges facing women and girls of color at the intersection of gender equality, racial justice and well-being. The panel was titled “Is Feminism Failing Women of Color (WOC)?” and was moderated by Natalie Gillard, Assistant Vice President of Multicultural Experience at Stevenson University. The panel also included two experts: A. Adar Ayira, the Director of Programs at Associated Black Charities and Maeve O’Donovan, Ph.D., associate professor and department chair of philosophy at NDMU.

Dr. O’Donovan presented historical information on the feminist movement. Throughout her presentation, the learned about certain problems that existed (and still exists) within feminism. One of the problems could be simply summarized as: white women are continually central to the feminist movement despite all the effort made to shift away from them and focus on WOC.

When Ayira stepped up to answer the big question of “Is feminism failing WOC?” she first asked if we were having parlor room talk or kitchen table talk. She was planning to get real with us. Her response? “Hella yeah!”, causing a bit of laughter and exaggerated head nods in agreement around the room.

The attendees felt that Ayira was ready to get real with them. Ayira pointed out in her “hella yeah statement” that the failure of feminism towards WOC calls for a change in feminism as a whole. This change in feminism should reject white feminism and embrace intersectional feminism as Womanism and Black feminism have been doing from the start. Intersectional feminism includes all women and gives a voice to those who feel marginalized from traditional feminism in the beginning. This type of feminism encourages the diversity and intersections which people’s identities cross and validates how these identities affect their daily life.

Going into the panel, many were not sure what would be discussed. But some had an answer to the question “Is feminism failing women of color?” It was obvious to others that yes, feminism was failing WOC.

CJ Nwokeabia, a sophomore math major, was a volunteer who attended the panel. “I was expecting a yes to the overall question because it obviously does,” she comments. Meanwhile, Lorelie Soriano, a sophomore chemistry major, says, “I expected this panel to be the same [as many WOW panels], and to focus on the different experiences that white and African American women have with the modern feminist movement. But as an Asian woman myself, I would have liked to see some insight as to how Asian women fit into all of this.” The whole point of the panel was to focus on feminism at an intersectional level, but as Soriano says, there was a lack of true inclusivity.

Having the WOW festival at NDMU, an all women’s private university, was supposed to be a statement of women’s empowerment and the diversity the school encompasses. The panels and events discussed that spotlighted WOC was diverse. NDMU itself seems like a diverse campus; we have people of various ethnicities attending, we hold discussions about diversity and inclusivity and we host worldwide festivals like WOW.

The discussion at the panel concluded that the best way to embrace intersectional feminism would be to listen to those who are marginalized within it, sit with the discomfort and make a change.

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