By Nicole Salmon (March 29, 2020)
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot, Mikki Kendall, Viking, February 25, 2020, 288 pp., $26.22
The feminist label is not one worn comfortably by all women, which prompts the question why not? If feminism is about advocating for the equal rights and treatment for women, why would any woman feel conflicted or outright reject self-identifying as a feminist. Hood Feminism offers an explanation for why mainstream feminism, with its myopic focus on issues that primarily impact and benefit white women, must be reframed.
On the surface it may seem sacrilegious to critique a movement positioned as the vanguard for women’s equality, but that’s exactly what author Mikki Kendall does in her boldly titled book Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot.
If you are seeking a comfortable, non-challenging read, Hood Feminism will not afford you that luxury. While Kendall’s perspective may feel like a tough and uncomfortable pill to swallow, she provides a prescriptive call to action on how feminism can shift from focusing exclusively on a narrow list of issues where the benefits largely accrue to white women, to embracing a broader list of issues reflective of the experiences of women of colour, transgendered women and women with non-binary sexual identities.
If you approach Hood Feminism from a position of feeling threatened or defensive, then you may be tempted to dismiss this book as divisive and a fracturing element within the women’s movement.
However, before you dismiss this book, pause, take a deep breath, bravely lean in and be open to receiving and hearing Kendall’s positioning of a feminism that can simultaneously claim a variety of issues under the umbrella of women’s issues, without any requirement that all women have firsthand experience with all the issues.”
Kendall lays out her argument in a direct way that speaks to a perspective that, at best, delineates how mainstream feminism fails to address issues that impact marginalized women and, at worst, chooses to ignore those issues. The book confronts the intersectionality of patriarchy, white-supremacy and mainstream feminism. The author clearly rejects the idea that an oppressed group cannot themselves be the oppressors. Kendall’s position on what real or true feminism should look like is very much informed by her experiences.
Raised by her Grandmother and at six years old, saved by her Grandfather from becoming another female victim of gun violence, she dedicates the book in this way: “For the hood that gave me the tools. Drexside, the South Side….forever.” It’s a dedication that unapologetically places a stake into the root of her identity.
Emerging from an abusive relationship, to living in the projects and raising her son as a single mother, she sheds a personal light on the impact of living on the margins. She is a veteran, a wife and mother and today as a writer, speaker and activist, she has attained a level of privilege which she didn’t have earlier in her life.
In 2013 with introducing the #solidarityisforwhitewomen, she triggered strong reactions ranging from veneration to attacks for causing divisions within the movement.
She points to this “you are either with us or against us” mentality as validation of her point that calls for feminist solidarity are reserved only for issues that benefit and impact white women. When it’s time for a rallying cry for solidarity around issues that impact marginalized groups of women – women of colour, indigenous, Latinx, transgendered women, and others – there is only silence.
A one-size fits-all approach to feminism is damaging, because it alienates the very people it is supposed to serve, without ever managing to support them. For women of color, the expectation that we prioritize gender over race, that we treat the patriarchy as something that gives all men the same power, leaves many of use feeling isolated.”
Kendall describes her feminism as woman centred. She challenges the construct of mainstream feminism that pushes respectability politics, bootstrap mentality and ideas about the effectiveness of trickle-down feminism where the default, and unattainable standard of respectability, determines which women behave in ways deserving of support.
We have to be willing to embrace the full autonomy of people who are less privileged and understand that equity means making access to opportunity easier, not deciding what opportunities they deserve. We need to be less concerned with appearance and more concerned with solutions.”
She doesn’t deny that equal pay for women, abortion rights, the push for greater representation for women in c-suite roles, in politics and around the board table aren’t feminist issues. She simply challenges us that a narrow focus on these issues as being the women’s movement ‘holy grail’ ignores the women who are falling through the cracks and whose priorities are not seen as worthy of the movement’s support.
Whether embraced by the movement or not, marginalized women are preoccupied with getting their basic Maslovian needs met – putting food on the table, putting a roof over their heads, being safe from violence – including sexual, physical and exposure to gun violence. Their needs also include gaining access to good health services, reproductive justice and access to equal educational opportunities. Marginalized women go missing and are murdered with indifference from the authorities; they are concerned about the hyper-sexualization of their bodies from childhood to adulthood, and they are concerned about much more.
Kendall argues that mainstream feminism demands we stand in solidarity to hoist a few women, mainly white, to the top while real feminism demands the dismantling of ideals that professes that all women are equal, but in true Orwellian fashion, is centred on the notion and belief that some women are more equal than others. It requires an understanding and acceptance that being oppressed and being an oppressor are positions that can co-exist.
Hood Feminism puts forward an inclusionary feminist mandate that expands the definition of feminism to include many of the issues faced by women of colour and non-straight and non-cisgender identifying women.
Feminism requires from us not to make our personal experiences dictate what we deem or proclaim is a feminist issue. It requires us to fundamentally understand other experiences while not our own, demands our attention and belong and have a place within the fight for gender equality and freedom from patriarchy.
Allies, Anger and Accomplices is the title of the final chapter of the book and it’s where Kendall powerfully provides a guide on actions to be taken and behaviours to adopt to move along a continuum that goes from denying that mainstream feminism has failed women who are marginalized, and moving towards positions of being allies, and from allies to being accomplices in transforming the movement.
On allyship she states:
Being an ally is just the first step, the simplest one. It is a space wherein the privileged begin to accept the flawed dynamics that make for inequality. Being a good ally isn’t easy, isn’t something you can leap into, though it can feel like you’re suddenly a know-it-all superhero. Privilege not only blinds you to oppression, it blinds you to your own ignorance even when you notice oppression.”
On anger she states:
But to paraphrase James Baldwin, to be aware of what is happening in this world is to be in an almost perpetual state of rage. Everyone should be angry about injustice, not just those experiencing it.”
On being an accomplice, she states:
“Being a good accomplice is where the real work gets done. That means taking the risks inherent in wielding privilege to defend communities with less of it, and it means being willing to not just pass the mic but to sometimes get completely off the stage so that someone else can get the attention they need to get their work done. We can’t afford to silo work into what we think counts as a feminist issue and instead must understand that the issues a community faces can cover a wide range, and that being able to eat, see a doctor, work, and sleep in a place free from the dangers of environmental racism are important.”
In Hood Feminism, Kendall challenges us to lean in and fundamentally bend the arc of mainstream feminism towards inclusivity and justice.
(Nicole Salmon is the founder of Boundless Philanthropy, a fundraising consultancy specializing in providing support to charitable organizations. @NicoleSalmon5)