Early Women’s Movement: Whose Rights were being Ignored?
I remember walking out of my first year Introduction to Women and Gender Studies class, mesmerized after a passionate reenactment by a fellow student of Sojouner Truth’s ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ speech. Truth, an ex-slave, African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist is best known for her speech, ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Truth’s speech was a direct indication of the racist and class bias that existed in the Early Women’s Movement. The repetitions of the words ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ in the speech exposed the fact that all women in the Early Women’s Movement did not include Native Women, Women of Colour, and Women of the lower class.
The origin of European feminist thinking involved comparing the ‘savage’ society to that of western ‘development’. British white middle class women compared themselves to ‘primitive’ women and saw themselves as ‘progressive’ and ‘superior’. The idea that British women were progressive depended upon the belief that oriental women were in a primitive sate. Western feminist argued that non-western societies were in a savage stage of human development and that the women in those societies were helpless victims of male dominance and violence. This created a division of hierarchy within women themselves, the savage and the progressive, the colonized and the colonizers, western women and oriental women, Christian women and non-Christian women. The hierarchy within women roots from the notion that Christianity and the enlightenment raised humans from the Primitive stage of development to a more enlightened stage.
We must question the very notion of a single united women’s movement. The women’s liberation movement did not consist of one homogeneous group. The generalization in politics of essential gender identity and not acknowledging the differences that exist among women puts women of colour and Native women in difficult social and economic situations. It is important to consider the intersectional identities of these women based on race, class, ability, sexual orientation, and more, before creating and enforcing social programs and services.
The Marriage Fraud act of 1990 in the United States requires a person who immigrated to USA to marry a US citizen or permanent resident to remain properly married for two years before applying to become permanent resident. Under these conditions many immigrant women of colour were reluctant to leave an abusive marriage. Later this act was amended to include an exception in the case of domestic violence. However, the limited access to resources and the cultural barriers make it difficult for women of colour to gather enough evidence of domestic violence.
The double subordination of immigrant women of colour comes from the language barrier which makes it difficult to access resources without them depending on their spouses. Another problem maybe the isolation faced by many new comers in their new environment. In these cases women depend on their spouses to provide links to the outside world. Women of colour are the product of both racism and sexism which are the bases of marginalization.