Here’s The Real Deal

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The white educated male's ability to provide for his family allowed him to dominate and control his wife because of her dependency upon him for financial support. In a sexist society, women are not granted the same rights as men; therefore, their employment opportunities are limited and they are unable to provide for themselves. White supremacy prevented non-white men from competing with white males for employment. This unfair and racist advantage provided the means for privileged white women to remain at home. The home-bound, privileged white woman, with the children away at boarding school and excess time on her hands, was able to focus on consuming mass resources, which in turn supported a capitalistic economic system created to exploit the underclass.

Institutionalized sexism or patriarchy exists when the public institutions within a society, the military, government, political offices, financial institutions, universities, science and technology, industry, law enforcement, and basically every societal instrument of power, is predominantly created, defined and presided over by men. According to bell hooks, author of numerous critically acclaimed books on the politics of race, gender, class and culture, "males as a group have and do benefit from patriarchy, from the assumption that they are superior to females." The United States remains, for the most part, a patriarchal society.

In her book “Feminism is for Everybody,â€? bell hooks says that feminism is a movement to end sexism and defines sexism as a combination of attitudes and social practices that promote specific roles based on one's gender. Although, sexism works to the detriment of women, men are hurt by a sexist society as well. Feminism is not a movement against men nor is it  anti-male. The feminist movement was meant to be inclusive of all women and men regardless of race, class or age.

Initially, women at the forefront of the feminist movement, claimed to speak for all women. Yet, according to bell hooks, "white women with class privilege" dominated the movement. In the 1960s and 70s, as the civil rights movement gained momentum, feminists seized the opportunity to advocate for the rights of women. Early feminists, though well meaning, were ineffective when they tried to speak for women from different ethnic groups or lower economic and social classes. It was impossible for this "privileged" group of feminists to fully understand the complexities of their non-white and underprivileged sisters' reality. While the movement sought to bring forth a universal representation of female oppression in a patriarchal society, critics quickly realized that the oppression of women in a male dominated society takes many different forms when it is combined with cultural, racial and economic influences.

In a white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal society, all forms of oppression work hand in hand. For example, in the United States, the oppression of African people helped perpetuate the oppression of women. The systemic exclusion of non-white males from the upper echelon of the labor-force enabled educated white males to support a capitalistic economy and system of patriarchy. Due to a system of white supremacy, white males had access to the best employment options available and this enabled them to earn more than sufficient wages to provide for a family.

The white educated male's ability to provide for his family allowed him to dominate and control his wife because of her dependency upon him for financial support. In a sexist society, women are not granted the same rights as men; therefore, their employment opportunities are limited and they are unable to provide for themselves. White supremacy prevented non-white men from competing with white males for employment. This unfair and racist advantage provided the means for privileged white women to remain at home. The home-bound, privileged white woman, with the children away at boarding school and excess time on her hands, was able to focus on consuming mass resources, which in turn supported a capitalistic economic system created to exploit the underclass.

One of the issues that early feminists addressed was the right of women to determine their own destinies. Gaining independence by entering the workforce became a rallying cry for many women who felt trapped by a patriarchal system that was designed to keep "privileged" women out of the workforce. White women desired freedom from domesticity. Thus, entrance into the workplace became a logical goal for feminist. For many white women, abandoning the tedium and dependency of domesticity in exchange for the workforce was viewed as liberating.

Yet, women of color were already in the workforce out of necessity. These women did not see work outside the home as liberating. Women of color, some of whom were primary wage earners, had no desire to achieve this "so-called" equality because women of color were already working outside the home, whether they wanted to or not. To make matters worse, when women of color entered the workforce, they were still subject to sexist and racist practices that prevented them from fully benefiting from their supposed independence. Women of color and poor women were prevented from entering high paying professions because of their race or lack of education.

Privileged white women, because of their husband or father's financial support, had access to higher education. These women entered well-paying professions and never looked back. bell hooks had this to say about the feminist movement and the workplace. "The focus on careerism, getting women employed in high paying professions, not only alienated masses of women from the feminist movement; it also allowed feminist activists to ignore the fact that increased entry of bourgeois women into the workforce was not a sign that women as a group were gaining economic power."

Institutionalized racism and patriarchy reward certain members of society. Those who benefit, remain silent because they do not wish to lose their privilege. Poor and working women of color, rightfully so, did not trust the feminist movement led by white women of privilege because historically, large numbers of white women have stood by, silent and seemingly indifferent, as their fellow non-white sisters were exploited and dehumanized by a racist system. Until white women admit their past direct and indirect complicity in the exploitation of minorities and work to eliminate their own class and race bias, there can be no sisterhood. Until women of privilege, regardless of race, are willing to identify with their less privileged sisters and challenge the practices that exploit certain women while rewarding other women there can be no true solidarity among women.

In “Feminism is for Everybody,� bell hooks talks about early feminist activists who resisted including race in the politics of gender. "White women who were unwilling to face the reality of racism and racial difference accused us of being traitors by introducing race. Wrongly they saw us as deflecting the focus away from gender. In reality, we were demanding that we look at the status of females realistically…there can be no real sisterhood between white women and women of color if white women are not able to divest of white supremacy."

Feminism is still relevant although society is deeply divided as to the goals of the movement. Women remain separated by class, race, experience, and education. In the United States, the feminist movement benefited women like Hilary Clinton and Condaleeza Rice along with women who may be lesbians, working mothers or college students. While Clinton and Rice come from entirely different backgrounds, due to education, determination, opportunity, affirmative action and changes in civil rights laws, both women are members of the same "privileged" class.

Women of less economic means and privilege are unlikely to identify with this "elite class" of women. In fact, Condaleeza Rice, despite her high profile and influence, is less likely to speak for her African-American sisters because speaking out may threaten her "token" place in a patriarchal system. "A growing class divide separates masses of poor women from their privileged counterparts," says hooks. "Indeed much of the power elite groups of women hold in our society, particularly those who are rich, is gained at the expense of the freedom of other women," hooks goes on to say.

Overtime, rights that are granted without fundamental changes within society are destined to come under attack. We see this happening with affirmative action and Roe v. Wade. While constitutional amendments give women the right to safe reproductive medical procedures, ingrained gender bias and sexism continue to threaten that right. Supporting feminism does not mean you advocate the use of abortion as a means of birth control. One can be a feminist and choose to never have an abortion. However, a feminist supports the right of an individual woman to determine for herself what is in her best interest. Being a feminist means that you understand that patriarchal political institutions cannot make decisions for an entire nation of women without considering each woman's individual situation. Women must have the right to chose whether they exercise that right or not.

If the feminist movement is to remain relevant, it must be embraced by men as well as women. Men benefit by not having to conform to rigid gender roles that encourage them to deny their feelings, prove their manhood by putting their life on the line or provide for another human being who is perfectly capable and, in most cases, willing to provide for herself. Men benefit when work is not viewed as more important than childrearing and children benefit when they have an opportunity to be loved and nurtured by not one parent, but two parents who are equally capable of caring for them.

Men benefit by having a partner who does not live in fear because males possess physical attributes that make it easier for them to dominate females. Fear and love cannot co-exist; therefore women and children cannot truly love men unless the fear of physical domination, and the resulting oppression, is eliminated. Society will benefit as a whole when domestic violence, the most insidious and extreme consequence of patriarchy, is eradicated.

Mainstream media gives the impression that men are not welcome in feminist circles. Yet, true feminism embraces men as important members of a non-patriarchal society. "It is urgent that men take up the banner of feminism and challenge patriarchy," says hooks. “The safety and continuation of life on the planet requires feminist conversion of men."

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