I am a woman and a feminist, and my skin is the color of coffee… after you put about a pint of cream in it. After reading the text Andrea Smith’s “Sexual Violence as a Tool of Genocide” , I saw an aspect of feminism I had never seen before. Feminism fights for equality, but gender is not the only source of inequality; race is another source of discrimination and in order for feminists to gain true equality racial discrimination needs to be addressed.
As a feminist and activist, Smith brings up topics not usually discussed in history classes when looking at race, colonialism and feminism in regard to the negative aspects of how the U.S. began.
Smith’s piece discusses the intersection of race and gender. Both have been respectively oppressed in society, and these oppressions impact individuals differently, dependent on their racial and gender identities. The topic of oppression often comes up around Columbus Day because it is a day to celebrate the “discovery” of an already inhabited nation and the uprooting of the land’s native people..
For years, Native Americans have been speaking out against the celebration of Columbus Day and what it stands for: the genocide of their people.
“The issues of colonial, race, and gender oppression cannot be separated,” Smith wrote in her text about Native American colonization.
In her work, she describes how the rape and mutilation of the Native Americans by white settlers during colonial times was almost expected. Seen as very low class, dirty and sinful, Natives were considered “rapable” and subhuman compared to the colonists. Native Americans, however, treated the colonial women they captured with more respect than their white husbands — 40 percent of New England women captured by Native tribes actually chose to stay with them as opposed to returning to their homes in the colonies.
When settlers came to the New World, they did not understand the lack of patriarchy in the Native Americans’ culture. Different expectations for women and men existed, but the women were not seen as a lower class compared to men. Rape and violence were used by colonial men to force patriarchy and oppression onto the Native communities and to deter white women from believing there was an option other than patriarchy. Smith writes about how white men had to attempt to change the Native culture into a hierarchical system in order to keep their power as “superior” white men.
Native women still feel this patriarchal oppression today. In a Huffington Post article titled “50 Actual Facts About Rape,” writer and feminist Soraya Chemaly reports that while women in America in general have a one in five chance of being raped, Native American women have a one in three chance. However, according to Smith, U.S. attorneys rarely prosecute rape cases on tribal territory, and rape does not fall under the jurisdiction of the tribal courts so many rape cases involving Native women go unprosecuted.
“When a Native woman suffers abuse, this abuse is an attack on her identity as a woman and an attack on her identity as Native,” Smith wrote.
“The history of sexual violence and genocide among Native women illustrates how gender violence functions as a tool for racism and colonialism among women of color in general,” Smith continued.
Women of other races face similar oppressions. Each race experiences oppression based on gender differently and therefore views feminism differently. Women of different races are sexualized differently. Black women are expected to be curvy and full figured while Asian women are expected to be skinny and petite.
The correlation between race and gender can be seen in some statistical data from the 2000 U.S. Census. In a study conducted by Adam Galinsky of the Columbia Business School, it was found that 75 percent of marriages between whites and Asians consisted of a white husband and an Asian wife and 73 percent of marriages between African-Americans and whites consisted of an African-American husband and a white wife. Furthermore, 86 percent of marriages between Asians and African Americans consisted of an African-American husband and an Asian wife. In a different study, Galinsky found that African-Americans are considered more masculine and Asians are considered more feminine. These gendered traits are associated with different races because of the expectations of society for these races.
As a white person, my race doesn’t affect me as a feminist negatively, so why am I addressing an issue about race that does not personally affect me? The privileged are the ones with the voices that are more likely to be heard. Most of the legislature in place today was written by white women. I want equal rights between the races just as I hope men want equal rights between the genders.
Melanin, bone structure, language, culture — it doesn’t matter. We are all people and so why are certain people treated differently?
Note: I’m writing this column about women’s issues but anyone is welcome to comment on what I have said. Strongly negative or hateful comments will not receive a response, but I’m am happy to start a discussion with curious readers.