MEJIA: Women’s rights organizations must have intersectionality
Opinions Column: Feminism in The World
Organizations addressing all of the needs of every woman, of dissimilar backgrounds, has never been in existence. The formation of the National Organization for Women (NOW) is not an exception to such a claim. NOW, since its beginnings and throughout time, has attempted to target the main concerns affecting women. But, a lack of intersectional approaches to such solutions caused many other groups to be outcast. Equality of outcomes and benefits from the change brought by NOW did not touch all feminist groups.
The global emergence of human rights provided a limited framework that marginalized those that did not fit into the mainstream ideology of liberalism. The revolution of women's rights as human rights implied a liberal way of thinking that centered around the woman as an autonomous individual. The matter of human rights becomes a private matter with a greater focus on individual rights.
Since empowerment looks different and varies for each individual, it is important to find the common ground they share that ultimately becomes the binding force. One person's empowerment might not be enough for the next individual. But, notions of what is right and wrong in feminism might push us further apart rather than unite us for a common cause.
The liberal ideals of human rights do not go as deep as the discourses of oppression that consider intersectional issues. Instead, it focuses on individual rights while disregarding additional factors such as the presence of a culture that may provide barriers to obtaining equal rights.
The needs of women that differ from traditional mainstream discourse were not needs addressed by NOW. Instead, their individual rights turn into the “group rights” that Inderpal Grewal explained in her article "On the New Global Feminism and the Family of Nations: Dilemmas of Transnational Feminist Practice." Out of the need to preserve tradition, difficulties about who belongs and who does not arise within “group rights.” Women are categorized into a singular group despite their varying cultures and traditions.
The women’s rights discourse being synonymous with human rights tends to be problematic when forging substantive change for marginalized groups. Women’s rights as human rights work in the same way since they can generalize to the extent that they do not account for marginalized members of society. It demands that women live solely as their gender and not as equal parts to other communities.
The women’s rights discourse that NOW had applied had been limiting to the point that it excluded intersectional approaches of thinking. Evidence can be found by the rejection of lesbianism within the organization.
NOW decided that bringing forth and combating issues that its lesbian members faced was not the political move that it wanted to take on. Those who identified as lesbians left the organization and created the Lavender Menace. The framework by which NOW operated was exclusive to the members of society that were outside their ideals of sexuality.
If human rights are women’s rights, as the discourse NOW chose to implement, then it follows that women must have the human right to love — in this case, to love whomever they choose, even if it is a person of the same gender. If supporting women’s rights was the plan, then it cannot be abandoned just because it is not politically favorable.
Feminist practices in these scenarios are heavily important since they lead to advocating for groups that are marginalized. In the case of implying global human rights, it is important to use the feminist practice of consciousness-raising groups while being careful not to exclude voices.
Such a practice can prove to be useful in attaining information on varying perspectives of what human rights should be and how they should be implemented while accounting for culture and traditions. Information gathered can be instrumental in creating substantive change to help marginalized groups rise up and have the human rights preferable to them.
Grouping all women together and affording a set of rights that are liberal in nature is not a framework that would be equally beneficial to all. Instead, it establishes an idea in which some narratives are prioritized over others. NOW could have engendered practices of protesting and organizing in order to face the issues its lesbian members faced. Taking on similar practices to the Lavender Menace group, NOW should have fought for its lesbian members and the hardships that they faced.
Marielis Mejia is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and women and gender studies. Her column, “Feminism In The World,” runs alternating Wednesday’s.
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