Feminism, Racism and Chicago

Trapped in Society

At around 1 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, Edward Powell has finally cleaned every single dirty dish left at Bulldog Alehouse in Chicago’s South Loop. He leaned against the bar counter and waited for the manager to get off the phone so that he could grab his paycheck and finally go home to the West Side.

That was when his coworkers started talking about feminism.

Powell, 21, said he cannot get a good job for the rest of his life because he has a felony from when he was a kid. He believes Chicago cannot focus on any other issue until it solves the problem of gun violence and police brutality.

“It’s a trap,” he said. “We can’t do sh*t because of the police.”

He believes Chicago’s issues are much more important than women’s issues. He even talked about cases of women going missing in Chicago’s South and West sides, and how those kinds of problems go unreported.

Powell’s voice grew slightly more strained and his hand motions got bigger as he continued to listen to his female coworkers talk about women’s issues like equal pay and equal employment.

Powell  could not understand why women needed to work in the first place, proclaimingThey already go through enough.”  

According to Powell , Chicago should focus on the bigger issues, since nothing else can be solved until Chicago solves the issue of police brutality.

Powell's view on these issues is not uncommon, it illustrates racial tensions that many are feeling within the  women's movement and are now trying to address.

 

‘We live in Chiraq’

“Obviously, we live in Chiraq,” said Hayley Braun to her coworker at Bulldog.

Bruan is also a children’s detention center worker. She is quite familiar with the different neighborhoods of Chicago and works closely with underprivileged minority children every day. While she understands Chicago has pressing issues, she still considers herself an advocate for women’s rights.

“[Women’s rights get] hidden behind our other issues,” Bruan said.  

Braun believes that the city’s movements are all important and contain a mix of very diverse people. However, it is in the perception of a movement where these clashes still occur.

“You hear women’s march and everyone thinks ‘white women,’” Braun said, “you think Black Lives Matter and everyone thinks ‘black women.’”

 

Feminism in the Digital Age

The women’s suffrage movement earned women the right to vote and have a voice in American politics. ‘Second wave feminism’ in the 1960s-70s empowered women to get into the workforce. ‘Third wave feminism’ beginning in the early 1990s fought for the woman’s right to choose how she lives her own life. Where are we now in 2019?

We are in what’s called the ‘Fourth wave of feminism.’ Basically, it’s third wave feminism but with social media, however, this sentence is not as simplistic as it may seem. The implications of this digital shift have been monumental in shaping the women’s movement and exposing the problems and complexities of identity politics.

Marketing scholar Pauline Maclaren defines fourth wave feminism as “a resurgence of feminism that is driven by younger women who harness the power of the Internet and social media to challenge gender inequity.”

Digital culture has brought to the forefront the problems with the women’s movement. Take the Women’s March on Washington, for instance. It was called out for its lack of intersectionality, meaning that the march itself had to adjust its platform. Interestingly, however, this wave of feminism has been the most inclusive. But now we have the tools of social media to call out institutions when they lack such inclusivity.

 

A History of Racial Tensions

The women’s movement, historically, is rooted in racism.

We are in an era of intersectionality, however social media has given activists the platform to call out any form of discrimination present. One example of this is #solidarityisforwhitewomen. Many on Twitter feel white women have a blind spot when women’s issues apply to non-white women.

Following the 2016 inauguration of Donald Trump, many individuals used the women’s march as a political protest to unite and empower women, while  bring in other political issues, such as racism, homophobia and islamophobia. Others were adamantly opposed to the women’s march, saying it was not for “all women.” That argument follows because the march itself was triggered by Hillary Clinton’s loss, therefore the main demographic of the march was liberal, white women. Others felt excluded and that the march was not for them.

 

Women’s March Chicago and Identity Politics

“It’s really hard to include all women,” said Megan Sholar, Professor at Loyola University Chicago and self-identified feminist, “because many thought that the women’s march only meant liberal white women.”

Sholar explained that the Women’s March started as a protest to Donald Trump’s inauguration. She also talked about how intersectionality has become a buzzword and lost its significance.

“You can’t really rank your identities,” Sholar said. “[It] becomes difficult if you’re trying to address all of them.”

While the women’s march is not the only feminist movement in the fourth wave, it is a very prominent one. Other prominent campaigns include the #metoo and #timesup movements.

“‘We’re trying to fight for all women…’ That fight can’t look the same for all women,” Sholar said.

That fight also does not look the same in all cities. Take the interaction between Powell and Bruan as a case study. With intersectional feminism at the forefront of the fourth wave, Chicagoans have clashed on what political issues are the priority.

Professor Sholar described a racial tension in Women’s March Chicago. White women believed black women were co-opting their movement, and the same argument was made right back towards white women. Sholar believes it is hard to reconcile these differences.

“The women’s movement is not a monolithic entity,” Sholar said.

 

Reconciliation

Sholar said that while there may not be any more women’s marches in the near future, something else will take its place. The women’s movement is not over.

America will continue to diversify (to the point that white people are no longer the majority) and Americans will continue to grapple with change.