Feminism originated with French activists in the late 1800s and is defined by Marx Ferree (Lawrence, 2017) as “[a]ctivism for the purpose of challenging and changing women’s subordination to men” (p.169).
Historically, feminism has been criticized for its racial exclusions, beginning with the Suffrage Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Even though black women were strong supporters of the suffrage, white women worked to discriminate against them, advocating for their exclusion from the right to vote altogether (Lawrence, 2017).
While most people credit the granting of women’s voting rights to the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, this major piece of legislation fails to address the voting rights for women of color.
In fact, due to state law restrictions, black women were not given the right to vote until nearly 50 years later, with the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Lawrence, 2017).
Women’s suffrage encompasses the main focus of first-wave feminism and is one of the earliest examples of the movement as racially exclusionary.
The feminist movement can be categorized into several waves, each with its own turning point.
According to Lawrence (2017), the first wave focused mainly on suffrage, beginning with the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls in 1848 and ending with the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
The second wave of feminism came in the 1960s and lasted until the 1980s, featuring the height of white feminism (Lawrence, 2017).
As a result of the second wave’s exclusionary nature, the third wave, beginning in the 1990s and spanning up until 2008, worked to include the idea of intersectionality (Lawrence, 2017).
With the help of the internet and social media, the fourth wave attempts to be even more inclusive.
Nevertheless, several groups of women, especially women of color, have still been excluded from these waves.
The waves pinpoint changes in the feminist movement that overwhelmingly affected white women. If we’re not careful, modern feminism might slip into the extreme racial exclusions of early feminism.
One of the most recent and prominent women’s movements in modern society is the #MeToo movement.
Over 10 years before the #MeToo movement became a hashtag, Tarana Burke established the movement in an effort to support women, especially women of color, who, like herself, are sexual assault survivors (Ohlheiser, 2017).
Despite her best efforts, the movement gained little global traction until actress Alyssa Milano’s October 2017 tweet that responded to the surfacing of several sexual assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein (Ohlheiser, 2017).
Although the #MeToo movement has empowered countless women survivors, its global presence may have skewed its original mission to empower women of color.
Many of Weinstein’s accusers were “famous and white,” as actress Jane Fonda phrased it in a 2017 interview on MSNBC’s TV program, “All in with Chris Hayes” (Chen, 2018).
Perhaps the most famous case of sexual assault allegations following the Weinstein scandal was Dr. Christine Ford’s case against the then Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Again, there is no doubt that the #MeToo movement has been a powerful tool in giving a voice to the seemingly voiceless. However, its two most publicized cases have centered mostly around accusations made by white women.
In order to avoid compromising the foundation and integrity of Burke’s original movement, it is absolutely crucial that #MeToo movement supporters embrace and acknowledge the validity of every survivor’s story, especially women of color.
The #MeToo movement must move society toward a womanist approach in which “all sites and forms of oppression, whether they are based on social-address categories like gender, race or class, [are elevated] to a level of equal concern and action,” (Phillips, 2006).
Only then can we truly uncover the meaning of the #MeToo movement.