Feminism in America was from its inception permeated with classism and racism. Sojourner Truth’s entreaty “Ain’t I a Woman” was a plaintive cry out to a movement that had by and large overlooked women of colour, immigrant women and women trapped in sweatshops. The working poor and the unemployed poor, unwed mothers, widows not only had no place at the table in 19th century American feminism but were covertly and frequently overtly excluded from not only the benefits of the “sisterhood” but also from the “sisterhood” itself.
The”sisterhood” of the 19th century, those women of privilege brought into being a style of feminism that narcissistically mirrored the privileged places in American society that they occupied. Often the wives of prominent man, their feminism was aimed at attaining the privileges held by their white Anglo-Saxon Protestant husbands. But, in addition to already possessing many of the social privileges of their husbands, they tragically reflected the prejudices of the narrow segment of community that brought them forth.
Successive waves of American feminism were built upon the bedrock`of this classist and racist movement. Overt hostility gave way to arrogant neglect. From its inception, the stratified hierarchy of American feminism, motivated by an arrogant sense of noblesse oblige functioned in loco parentis, that is seemingly with the powers of a parent over the agenda of women, whose issues and lives they were wholly out of touch with and made no effort to understand except in terms of their own culture and experience. The faces remained largely Caucasian; the issues remained largely upper middle class. At a time that women of color, immigrant women and single mothers were struggling for survival, mainstream feminism continued to be preoccupied with breaking the glass ceilings, pay equality for executives and reproductive rights. With HIV sweeping through women of color, American feminism politely ignored growing epidemic.
There have been repeated demands and pleas for change; the shortcomings of the feminist movement had been pointed out not only by the Right, which delights in doing so but also by the left, whose diverse spectrum is barely represented at all in the leadership of the feminist movement.
The structure of the movement is hierarchical and therefore vertical. Its goals have been defined from the time of its inception through the modern era by a leadership that in a very real sense rules sometimes more, and sometimes less benevolently over the image, demands, and agenda that it presents to the world on behalf of a majority of women far different than itself
Spanish feminism, as opposed to this, developed as a popular and populist movement of women living with nearly feudal oppression, dispossession and disadvantage. Closely tied with it were the first women attending universities in the country in many instances. It was philosophically allied with humanism, socialism and even anarchism.
As a horizontal rather than a vertical structure, as a populist rather than an elitist movement and based on a fundamental premise of mutual support and improving the welfare of all women as opposed to attaining privileges associated with empowered white males for a select few, Spanish feminism or horizontal feminism is more egalitarian and inclusive with a heavy emphasis upon nurturing support in assisting and uplifting an entire sisterhood with close attention to the individual needs of daily life as opposed to abstract ideals and privilege.
The issues of race inequality have to be addressed for horizontal feminism to truly function; women have the obligation be cognizant of and lend themselves to the improvement of the condition of their sisters as part of the improvement of the condition of women as a whole. Healthcare, child care, safety from assault, employment equality all become issues for the entire movement. The agenda is generated from the far reaches of the community through the center to the opposite side, permeating the whole with a co-responsibility for human welfare
There is one defining feature of the group, the divine feminine, esprit feminine or woman’s spirit. To truly function, to truly reflect the nature of women as a whole, the group must be inclusive, must be diverse and must reflect both empathy and advocacy for the entire membership.
It is time to finally part with the fatally flawed structure that has been the model of American feminism and embrace a different, inclusive, co-responsible model, horizontal feminism too and the racial and class distinctions that poison the well of women’s rights