Inclusive Feminism

Inclusive Feminism: A Third Wave Theory of Women’s Commonality by Naomi Zack

In Inclusive Feminism, Naomi Zack basically takes a huge chunk of third-wave feminism to task, arguing that the splintering of feminism into different modes of intersectionality (i.e. black feminism, working-class feminism, queer feminism, etc.) has lead to a glut of theory that ultimately supersedes other forms of identity over gender identity. She argues instead for a return to a notion of womanhood that asserts commonality and solidarity, even as differences in power and experience are acknowledged (7). Her motive for doing so is an argument that intersectionality and the quest to fight multiple oppressions ultimately negated the womanhood of, say African-American women:

“Intersectionality is believed to be democratic because women of color now have the authority, demanded by them and sanctioned by white feminists, to create their own feminisms. But, as a theory of women’s identities, intersectionality is not inclusive insofar as members of specific intersections of race and class can create only their own feminisms” (3).

She then makes a move that had me checking the publication date of the book (2005!): she seeks to create an inclusive definition of women, claiming that a “universal women’s identity can also be understood to have a dimension of common selfhood” (23). In an academy that is highly focused on anti-essentialism, queering, and individuality, this move seems a little out of step. BUT I KIND OF LOVE IT. What Zack is trying (I think someone shakily) to do is create common ground that can cut through all the theorizing (Coach?) and find a starting place for really addressing feminist issues in an active way. She lands on, “the definition of a woman is someone who identifies with or is assigned to the historical category of human beings who are designated female from birth, biological mothers, or are the primary sexual choices of men” (23). She immediately acknowledges the problematics of this definition and who it excludes. That in itself is an important lesson in inclusive feminism–being aware of the gaps and borders of one’s own theory.

Another major problem for Zack’s argument is the fact that the academy is still largely comprised of upper-class white men and women. In this way, she faces similar issues as those taken up in Feminism Without Borders. Zack focuses more specifically on the way these issues come out in hiring practices, department structures, etc.

From there, she sets up a social theory, psychological theory, and practice of inclusive feminism. I loved her “feminist theory of history” (121), which asserts that simply including women in history is not enough because women have been excluded from the political and social actions that have shaped the course of history itself. Therefore, for the time being, feminist history must also include the future. Whoa.

Finally, in “World Paths Toward Women’s Political Equality,” she makes the important assertion that the androginization of women’s power is not a sufficient form of equality because it is “imaginary, context specific, and conditional” (146). Thus, any guise of equality that simply erases the womanhood of the woman will fall apart  under pressure. True equality must acknowledge and draw on women’s strengths and powers, without limiting their possibilities.

I partly loved this book just because Zack clearly loves being a woman and thinks women are awesome.

Zack, Naomi. Inclusive Feminism: A Third Wave Theory of Women’s Commonality. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. Print.

One thought on “Inclusive Feminism

  1. Have you read Camille Paglia’s recent piece in the WSJ? I’d be interested to hear your opinion of her views.

    ‘What you’re seeing is how a civilization commits suicide,” says Camille Paglia. This self-described “notorious Amazon feminist” isn’t telling anyone to Lean In or asking Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. No, her indictment may be as surprising as it is wide-ranging: The military is out of fashion, Americans undervalue manual labor, schools neuter male students, opinion makers deny the biological differences between men and women, and sexiness is dead. And that’s just 20 minutes of our three-hour conversation.

    When Ms. Paglia, now 66, burst onto the national stage in 1990 with the publishing of “Sexual Personae,” she immediately established herself as a feminist who was the scourge of the movement’s establishment, a heretic to its orthodoxy. Pick up the 700-page tome, subtitled “Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, ” and it’s easy to see why. “If civilization had been left in female hands,” she wrote, “we would still be living in grass huts.”

    Ms. Paglia relishes her outsider persona, having previously described herself as an egomaniac and “abrasive, strident and obnoxious.” Talking to her is like a mental CrossFit workout. One moment she’s praising pop star Rihanna (“a true artist”), then blasting ObamaCare (“a monstrosity,” though she voted for the president), global warming (“a religious dogma”), and the idea that all gay people are born gay (“the biggest canard,” yet she herself is a lesbian).

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