The United States

Introduction to the US Site
of the Global Feminisms Project

Elizabeth R. Cole

The United States Site of the Global Feminisms Project conducted ten interviews with scholar-activists around the nation whose work spans the major social movements of the 20th century and beyond. More recently, two of the interviewees, Maureen Taylor and Marion Kramer, appeared at a rally in Detroit, Michigan in June of 2020, and a video of their speech recorded by the group Detroit Will Breathe can be found here.

Resources


This timeline has been prepared by Hanna Smith and Macy Afsari for the Global Feminisms Project during the summer of 2020.



Overview of the US Site and Interviews

“The history of women’s movements in the United States is well documented, and often described in terms of two waves. The first wave took place in the 19th and early 20th centuries and grew out of the US movement to abolish slavery and was particularly concerned with gaining suffrage for women. The second wave, in the 1960s-80s, mainly focused on gaining equal political and economic rights for women but also included a broader analysis of gender inequality. However, the wave model is problematic in several ways. First, it suggests that something rises, falls away, and then is gone. This metaphor tends to obscure the work done by activists during the period between the waves. Another problem with the wave model is that it highlights White women’s activism when in fact women of color have been involved with all the different aspects of US feminism. And indeed, many histories of the US women’s movement tend to foreground the work of White, middle-class women, that is, women who were privileged but for gender. The theories and activism of women of color are less often mentioned in the way that the history of US feminism is told.

For this reason, organizers of the US site designed this project to highlight how US feminism intersects with other social movements aiming to end oppression based on race, class, sexuality and disability. We conducted interviews with activists working at the intersection between the feminist movement and those targeting other forms of oppression. As the interviews show, this aspect of feminist movement in the US entailed unique challenges, requiring activists to address exclusions and create coalitions. For example, many Black women and other women of color felt that despite their contributions, organizations that fought sexism did not consider race, just as movements to win civil rights often did not consider gender. The activists interviewed for this project consistently generated innovative analyses and creative strategies to create change even in the face of these constraints. They used their experiences as members of two or more subordinated groups to think in new ways about how different kinds of discrimination intersect and support each other. In the interviews, they describe their complex and nuanced relationships to the term, “feminist.”

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An interdisciplinary team of faculty and students planned and implemented the US site project. Our selection strategy was intended to generate an archive of interviews that could illuminate important fault lines within the women’s movement in the United States, fissures defied by race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, social class, and ability status. Members of the project team nominated potential participants who were then culled into a final list aiming for diversity of issues, generation, and social identities. In the invitation sent to participants, they were told that it was not necessary to identify with the label “feminist” in order to take part and that the interview would include an opportunity to discuss their thoughts about the term. The project team felt it was important to open the interviews to broad participation by members of our community, so the decision was made to conduct interviews at a television studio at the University of Michigan and pay for participants’ travel expenses. Despite the substantial demands of participation, only one invitee declined to participate, due to scheduling constraints. This arrangement allowed team and community members to attend the taping and to ask questions at the conclusion of the interviews.

We conducted ten interviews between June 2003 and May 2006, at which time participants ranged in age from their early twenties to late eighties. Activists’ political work focused on issues including violence against women, reproductive and economic justice, labor conditions, and civil rights. Two of the ten interviews included two participants; in each case their work was so collaborative that the project team or the participants felt separate interviews could not adequately represent the work. For example, one interview featured two women (Loira Limbal and Veronica Gimenez) from a collective whose members believed that it would be discordant with the mission of the organization to be represented by an individual. Thus, the ten interviews included twelve participants in total. Each interview was conducted by a member of the project team who was familiar with the participant’s work. The interviews were semi- structured, using a protocol based on a set of core questions pertaining to background on the activists’ lives, reflections on their work and its relation to feminism and the women’s movement, and their connections to international forms of activism. The interviews lasted between one and one and a half hours and were videotaped and transcribed.

  • Rabab Abdulhadi, University of Michigan-Dearborn. Rabab Abdulhadi is an Associate Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Center for Arab 5 American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She is also co-founder if the Union of Palestinian Women’s Associations in North America.
  • Adrienne Asch, Yeshiva University. Adrienne Asch is a professor in Biology, Ethics, and the Politics of Human Reproduction at Yeshiva University. She has also worked for rights for people with disabilities.
  • Grace Lee Boggs: Activist, writer, speaker. With her husband James, Grace Lee Boggs’s 60 years of political involvement encompasses the major US social movements of the 20th century: Labor, civil rights, Black power, Asian American, women’s and environmental justice.
  • Cathy Cohen is a Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago. Her work challenges identity-based movements to recognize and act on the diversity within their membership. She also focuses on HIV and black communities.
  • Holly Hughes: Performance Artist. An Associate Professor of Theatre and Drama at the University of Michigan, Holly Hughes’s work has focused on issues of sexuality, identity, and freedom of expression.
  • Marion Kramer and Maureen Taylor are welfare rights activists. They aim to end poverty in America by empowering the poor, especially women, as leaders. They have organizes poor people’s movements and housing takeovers by people without homes.
  • Martha Ojeda: Attorney and labor activist. Martha Ojeda coordinated the Maquiladora Worker Empowerment Project educating workers on labor law, health and safety, sexual harassment and women’s leadership development.
  • Loretta Ross: Human Rights and Reproductive Freedom. Loretta Ross is a founder and the National coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, composed of 70 women of color organizations across the country. She is also the founder of the National Center for Human Rights Education, a training and resource center for grassroots activists.
  • Sista II Sista (Loira Limbal & Verónica Giménez) is a collective of working class, young and adult, Black and Latina women working with younger women to develop personal, spiritual and collective power.
  • Andrea Smith: Anti-violence activist. An anti-violence and Native American scholar-activist, Andy Smith co-founded the national organization Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. She is also an Assistant Professor in Women’s Studies and American culture at the University of Michigan.

Procedures for Producing Final Interview Videos and Transcripts

Except for insertion of titles, credits and a brief introduction at the start of the start of each video, the content of the interviews was unedited.