Artist Activist

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again: Feminism. For White Women.

Is your feminism intersectional? Before answering, let’s explicitly define the terms at hand:

Feminism

Noun. The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

Intersectionality

Noun. The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

Feminism’s goal is gender equality and justice for all women. Thus, feminism must investigate and challenge the forces that cause injustice or inequality. However, those forces are not the same for all women, because the forces of oppression--sexism, racism, classism--intersect. In order to examine the intersections of oppression, one must recognize the systems of privilege that have defined and limited the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd waves of feminism. If your feminism isn’t intersectional, here’s what tends to happen:

  • Problems specific to subsets of women or non-binary people go unaddressed, rendering these people invisible in the mainstream feminist dialogue.

  • Problems which occur for most/many women are only solved for white, able bodied women.

In other words, non-intersectional feminist dialogue and the social justice actions which ensue are only accessible to white, able-bodied women. Girl, if your feminism isn’t intersectional yet, it should be.

Opening their feminist-focused 2016/17 season, WET has produced Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt again. This cacophonous one act deconstructs the social and linguistic semiotics which limit feminism and provides a strategy of sorts to overcome those limitations. This deconstruction is accomplished  in a series of vignettes dramatizing female experience of sexual, personal, and professional identity in our male-dominated society. Language is flipped and reclaimed as Birch navigates the Peircean semiotic triad of sign/language, object/women, and interpretant/audience to illustrate how thoughts, language, and action are inextricably connected. WET’s production is successful in exploiting these obvious connections, causing a destabilization of text which exposes the cracks and obvious sexism in our gendered ideology.

If feminism’s strategy is to investigate and challenge this ideology, the play succeeds on those counts. Yay, feminism! But due to its lack of action or text deconstructing classism and racism, it is clear that the playwright has written a play for only hegemonic 2nd wave feminists. If you’re an intersectional feminist, this play has failed you.  

The cast was comprised of four women and two men. Of the four women, two were women of color. Of the two men, one was a man of color. The first scene involved a mixed black woman asserting her sexuality over a white man--but did the dialogue specifically address her race? No. As a result, there was no discussion devoted to the hyper-fetishization of black female sexuality, an issue feminism seeks to address. The other vignettes followed the same pattern: (1) Oh, look at how this scene explicitly deconstructs the problematic language around female experience! Awesome! Then, (2) ...and look at how this scene explicitly doesn’t include the race- or class-specific vocabulary that is imperative in feminist discussion.

Did the inclusion of colored bodies make this explicitly feminist play explicitly* intersectional? Sadly, no. If the whole conceit of the play was to deconstruct the sexist nature of language as a form of feminist revolt, why didn’t Birch include the deconstruction of the classist and racist nature of language? Because she didn’t have to. As a white woman, her (non-intersectional) feminism isn’t rooted in her understanding of class or race.

If you saw this play,  depending where you are in your feminist journey, you likely saw the first thing above (1), but maybe didn’t notice the second (2). If the second observation eluded you, your feminism isn’t intersectional just yet. At least one choice made by the director and production team indicate that they were aware of the play’s lack of intersectional consideration: a scene written for a hetero couple was cast as a lesbian couple--an intersectional choice! Alas, the text left little room for much else.

Each wave of feminism is built on the shoulders of the wave prior.The inclusion of colored bodies could be considered as making the play implicitly intersectional, where without specific language on race, race is still “present” in the performance. However, even this is a false pursuit, as intersectionality, like feminism, must be intentional and explicit in order to count as such.  A 4th wave intersectional feminist like myself recognizes Revolt as a successful, 2nd wave feminist play but I’m also like, “Alice, girl...CATCH UP.”