An Analysis of the Differentiation of Women
Newland, Laura S.
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The normalization of the phrase "women of color" suggests that certain ideas can only be conveyed by this more specific categorization as opposed to the general categories of"race" and "gender". Throughout this paper, the concept of women of color as an identity and political statement as it relates to feminism will be explored. The phrase women of color creates an intentional racial division between women: white women and nonwhite women. Differentiation between women is premised on the fact that women of color, while victims of sexism, also must confront racism, and sometimes these two factors combine in their lives. Kimberle Crenshaw's metaphor to describe experiences of women of color is especially apt: "Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions, and sometimes, from all of them" (1989, 149). On a purely theoretical level, the categorization of women of color makes perfect sense. Complicated as their experiences were by race and gender, women of color found that the race and sex theories of oppression and the anti-racism and feminism movements were not adequate to fully explain and remedy the injustices they experienced. In fact, these theories were just another example of marginalization in their lives. Therefore, the designation of women of color was created in response to this marginalization in order to form political consciousness. The question that we must ask, then, is what effects have the differentiation of women into the categories of white women and women of color had on a practical level? Before answering this question, the following section asserts that the categories of race and gender are social constructions and women of color is a political construction, which provides the groundwork for the main analysis of the effects of this added categorization. Battering is then introduced as a touchstone for understanding the impacts of women of color. The focus is on the function of battering because it highlights the main issues concerning women of color and feminism on both theoretical and practical bases. The differentiation of women changes the way that battering is framed and discussed on two different levels. First, in terms of thinking about the causes and impacts of battering in order to work for its elimination, the differentiation of women is superfluous because battering is an act based on sex. The differentiation of women can also be detrimental at this level when the act of battering is explained in racial terms because these racial explanations tend to focus on questions of masculinity in a way that shifts the discussion away from the oppression of women. Secondly, one must also consider the reality that battering pervades many women's lives. When trying to shape possible remedies for these women, differentiation is a critical consideration. Beyond a strict focus on reform within the system, narrative is introduced as a way to force a paradigmatic shift in the consideration of race and gender. At the same time, inadequate responses to violence against women of color, in terms of failing to consider how race affects possible remedies, are not just problems in the feminist movement. The formation of women of color is an explicit critique of the fact that neither race nor sex equality movements have adequately included their concerns. The focus throughout this paper is on how women of color critique feminism only because feminists' response to battering is used as the framework for this discussion. However, women of color must be just as willing to critique and be honest about sexism in race theory as they are on feminism. As Crenshaw argues, "suppression of some of these issues in the name of antiracism imposes real costs: where information about violence in minority communities is not available, domestic violence is unlikely to be addressed as a serious issue" (1995, 362). Women of color must realize that the problem of marginalization within social movements does not rest squarely on the shoulders of feminism, as it is often portrayed, but is shared by anti-racism movements as well.