Updated: Sep 4, 2019
By Shayler Richmond
Photo by Derek Dandridge
The plight of marginalized groups throughout the history of America is depreciated through the lens of white patriarchy; America was built on the back of inequity and slavery, which created systems of inequality and oppression that continue to hold women as one of the most marginalized identities.
“When you say women, you have to say, “Black women” to include me,” said Dr. Rema Reynolds.
“Saying women in this country is synonymous with saying “white women,” so when you say women you have to say “Black women” to include me. Feminism in America has historically been based around white women,” she continued.
The term “women” cannot equate all women because there has been staggered progression for every marginalized identity. For example, white women were the only women allowed to vote in 1920 when the 19th amendment was passed
“White women have sought to preserve their whiteness before their womanhood. White woman premium their whiteness before there womanhood. The progress for women is a side note to the maintaining white supremacy,” said Dr. Rema.
Americans view life through mediums such as history, government and media which have all been dominated by the scope of white patriarchy. Through this narrow lens the depth and value of intersectionality has been diminished.
“I don’t typically think about my identity as far as being a woman. I think of being Black which mediates every other experience and every other intersection, such as Black and middle class, Black and being a woman. Black is always central and everything else intersects with being Black, even womanhood,” said Dr. Rema.
“As a Black woman you can’t ever put your marginalization on one identity. All these oppressive interlockings exist so I often find myself trying to mitigate others biases and manage their impressions,” she continued.
It’s a management to be a woman, specifically a Black woman. Be one of the boys? Be a “safe-black” person? Be composed? Be assertive?
“Everyone wants to put a label on women, but you can’t. You can’t lump all women together and claim this is what being a woman consist of,” said Lieutenant Barnes of the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Barnes serves as a Lieutenant for the only women's prison in Michigan, which houses over 2,300 people. She has processed women from countless different backgrounds and shared the key to understanding women is not soley in where they are, but in their story.
“Black women today are still proving they can be leaders and not be any less of themselves. Women can be intelligent without feeling any obligation to be any less of who they are as a person. They can still be goal oriented and career minded while remaining true to their roots and to who they are as a person. Women don't have to fit into a stereotype,” said Lieutenant Barnes.
Some women have been obliged to living within the system, while others refuse to be restricted to the confinements of the system of American patriarchy.
“Women in America are continuing to separate from placing our value in society’s standards because our value is not measured by how society sees women but by how we see ourselves,” said Tanasia Morton, Graduate Advisor to the Eastern Michigan University Sisterhood Initiative.
The Sisterhood Initiative is a cohort that recruits 20 female students of color per year to guide through their college careers with the goal of improving retention rates and post graduation succes for women of color.
“I’m looking to see who I can reach and who I can open doors for. I’m always thinking about how I can reach back and bring someone along with me because most times it won't happen unless we do it for ourselves,” said Dr. Rema.
Tanasia Morton and Dr. Rema are African American women from different generations, however they share being products of genderless households. From adolescents they were both socialized to think outside of gender roles and norms; through this lens of their genderless upbringing less emphasis was placed on limitations and more value in development.
Present day, these women are working to continue expanding their spaces for the devlopment of others. However, no perspective has been able to lessen the management of being a woman.
Throughout American history, patriarchy has made women to be the unacclaimed support system; the lading for women weighted due the inequity of patriarchy and the magnitude of their oppression diminished due to this same system of control and order.
Women are the most growing identity of entrepreneurs and the percentage of black women is high and growing. Women are becoming more empowered in different avenues of work and expression, especially black women.
“I think a lot of times as women when we get a seat at the table, we are just happy with getting a seat at the table, but it's more than just having the seat at the table because if you only have the seat at the table, and you’re not using your voice, then your essentially only meeting a diversity quota,” said Morton.
“As women continue to realize that our value is not measured by white standards of professionalism. More women will start using their voice at the table, demanding equal pay and equal positions,” she continued.
The celebration and reverence of women is pivotal to the betterment of humanity and the infrastructure of America. The plight of women did not end with voting rights and did not stop with the equal pay act of 1963.
“You have to dismantle white supremacy in order for equality to occur for any one across any identity or difference," said Dr. Rema. "You have to dismantle, abolish and eradicate white supremacy and white patriarchy, which is difficult because it is attached to capitalism and economic comfort is something those in power would like to maintain."
Today the structure of America is still burdened with many layers of inequity, which makes the Women’s movement essential to the growth of equity and equality in America.
“This young generation of women are strong. They know who they are and they are coming together to make things happen,” said Lieutenant Barnes. “It’s our time to continue to make things happen and knock down doors.”