African and African-American Studies
Feminism; Black; Women; Narratives; Movements; Theory
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MONEE REIS (Gender and Women’s Studies, Africana Studies) Black Feminism: Switching the Script on Traditional Feminist Narratives
Sponsor: Kathleen McIntyre (Gender and Women’s Studies, Honors Program)
I developed a 300-level undergraduate course aimed at exploring the history of Black feminism. This idea came to me after reading Audre Lorde’s 1984 article “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Lorde detailed the various ways Black women’s contributions to feminism are underrepresented in the overarching historical narrative. Lorde’s 1980s activism and feminist scholarship ultimately influenced legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to coin the term intersectionality in 1989. Intersectionality, the multiple ways that social categories intersect with people’s identities, is now a foundational approach to studying feminism. However, I argue that typical introductory survey courses on women’s studies still lack sufficient attention to Black feminism. Although there has been much progress in including marginalized peoples’ histories since Lorde’s statement, much work remains to be done. To that end, my honors project seeks to uncover the crucial role African American women played in women’s rights activism. My proposed course begins in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention and concludes with an analysis of the Black Lives Matters and #MeToo movements. My approach to teaching Black Feminism: Switching the Script on Traditional Feminist Narratives includes an analysis of diverse scholarship exploring the ways race, class, and sex intersect to create inequalities that traditional studies of feminism may not uncover. As a dual Africana Studies and Gender and Women Studies major, I seek to showcase how Black women are essential to understanding feminism and the fight for civil rights in the United States. In developing the course syllabus, I studied Black feminist theorists, including Patricia Collins, Bell Hooks, Angela Davis, and Margaret Sloan. In addition, to contextualize Black feminism historically, I researched Sojourner Truth’s 1851 “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, early 20th century journalistic accounts by Ida B. Wells on racism during the 1913 National Woman’s Party March on Washington, and the disconnect between Betty Friedan’s much celebrated 1963 work, The Feminist Mystique, and the actual lived experience of African American women. In developing this proposed course, I ultimately intend to empower and challenge future students to engage in a mainstream discussion on Black feminism and evaluate the multiple ways intersectionality shapes the lives and experiences of Black women. As the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment granting women the right to suffrage in the United States approaches in 2020, I hope that the crucial role African American women played in feminist activism is well documented and well represented in undergraduate coursework.