White Feminism Needs Less Head, More Heart & Spirit

For those who don’t know me, I’m a Russian-Jew. What this means to me, among other things, is that I am afflicted with the over-intellectualizing gene. I think it’s because My People have such a long history of running from persecution and assimilating themselves into whatever current order of things was/is going on at the time to survive that they forgot/lost/mangled their tribal ways of living and being in Balance with earth, ourselves, and other beings.

The above reasons are why I privilege and prioritize traditional indigenous/tribal ways of being, and because a) they make the most sense to my heart; and b) I live on stolen Native land.  I am sick to death of (and pissed right off at) the mind-mining and spirit-eating that the predatory, dehumanizing colonist culture does to people, and for years I’ve been in the process of liberating myself from these shackles.  I’ve come to learn that over-intellectualizing is one colonist shackle that keeps our hearts closed and spirits shriveled.  Closed hearts and shriveled spirits are must-haves to maintain colonialism.

From the moment I discovered (white) feminism, radical or otherwise, I’ve never felt it to be very loving and almost completely devoid of Spirit/uality, most especially in online spaces. I find it a curious thing that despite the many political/philosophical similarities people have, which at first, instantly and excitedly connect us, feminist connections are often fickle and quickly implode, explode or die a painful death when differences of opinion surface.  I recall reading an article a while back written by a 50’s something year old white woman who worked hard for many years for and with a feminist community, and was crushed and suffered major depression when she was dropped like a hot potato by what she thought were her sisters, all because of a difference of opinion.

The closer to the heart the feminist (or plain ole human) connection, the more its rupture will hurt.  The mother/daughter (dis)connection between feminist icon Alice Walker and her daughter Rebecca is a good example of how “the personal is political” feminist mantra can fail, especially when the political becomes more important than, or disconnected from the personal (i.e. too much head/not enough heart).  Rebecca describes her experience in this article (which I recommend giving a full read, lots to learn):

I was raised to believe that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. [..]It was drummed into me that being a mother, raising children and running a home were a form of slavery. Having a career, travelling the world and being independent were what really mattered according to her. [..]

While she [Alice] has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities – after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.

As a child, I was terribly confused, because while I was being fed a strong feminist message, I actually yearned for a traditional mother. My father’s second wife, Judy, was a loving, maternal homemaker with five children she doted on.

A good mother is attentive, sets boundaries and makes the world safe for her child. But my mother did none of those things.

Feminism has much to answer for denigrating men and encouraging women to seek independence whatever the cost to their families.

I guess it’s not hard to feel like being a mom, raising kids and running a home is slavery when the work is unappreciated and undervalued.  All these jobs take much time, energy, resourcefulness and creativity that I don’t think you could put a value on, and if you could, most people couldn’t afford it.  I just wish that women who felt that motherhood and domesticity is a burden, didn’t have kids, because they’re not ready for the huge responsibility of motherhood, and their kids will suffer as a result. Sure motherhood and domestic work is unpaid, but in Indigenous, tribal cultures, the noose of money/economics/slavery just doesn’t exist.  You have your hunters and gatherers and you have your cookers and caregivers, and others. Everyone’s role is valued and respected and needed (including kids and elders) to make the community healthy and vibrant.  Back to Rebecca Walker, I wonder, if Alice had more actively engaged with and involved her in her feminist life, such as including her in conversations and activities with other feminists and their kids, if she would’ve felt so unattended to…

Although Alice Walker is Black and Rebecca is mixed race, I think it’s noteworthy that Alice embraced the white/colonist version of feminism while Rebecca took the more DEcolonist, tribal feminist path, exactly because she experienced, in the most profound and intimate of ways, the limitations, pitfalls and harm, of the former.

Radical Native rights activist John Trudell has called President Obama a house negro because his role in the white house and colonist culture is that of the house negro of past Black slavery days. Obama is by no means a DEcolonist and no different than any other colonist ruler other than skin color and maybe more eloquence, charm and good looks than his white male counterparts. Are Alice Walker (as per Rebecca’s experience of her) and other Black people who embrace white/colonist ideologies also house negroes? If not, why not? I don’t know what word would be applied to Jews or South Asians or other people across the world who do the same thing, but the idea is very much the same. Jews very much did and continue to do that (conform to & embrace colonist-slavery) — look at how many Jews are in the banking and legal and entertainment industries — there are grains of truth to some stereotypes. Jews have become master assimilators, therefore by colonist standards, we’ve “succeeded.” I think it’s a failure, but I also think people do what they gotta do to survive. But people and cultures are very different. Some people are so resistant to enslavement and oppression that they die resisting (like many Native people), while others physically die a little later because they assimilate, but at a great spiritual cost. Neither way is better than the other, it’s just two different ways people react to unbearable and intolerable circumstances.

There is a divide within Native communities between traditionalists (those advocating for and returning to their traditional, Indigenous ways) and assimilationists (those who adopt the euro-colonist ways and mantra that the ‘old ways’ are a thing of the past, time to get with the times, etc.). The same can be seen among Black and other “minority” communities, with far too many adopting the colonist way, thinking it’s the most civilized/successful/respectable. It’s hard NOT to walk the colonist road when your Indigenous roots were ripped from you, when the pro-colonist propaganda is non-stop and deafening and rammed into our heads from birth, and when we see and hear no other “alternatives”, and when said alternatives are devalued and disrespected and not supported in any meaningful way, and when people are persecuted and vilified FOR resisting colonist ways.

Despite all these barriers & difficulties though, there are many people who are or have protected and DEcolonized/revived their Indigenous Spirit and walk their traditional Indigenous path. These are my teachers and role models, many of whom I’ve written about in past blog posts, with many more to come and learn from (and I have got LOTS to yet learn, this I know).

Rebecca Walker desperately yearned for the love, safety, stability and richness that comes with healthy mothering, family & community, or the TRIBE as per Indigenous ways (which again, we all come from), and this is where white/colonist feminist has it wrong, where it advocates for things away from this idea, like voting rights and workforce (slavery) equality, which are colonist culture ideals.  These things are going further away from natural, Indigenous life.  When we don’t live Indigenously, everything goes wrong, including psychologically and socially (looking at our cyber relations is a great snapshot showing how fucked our relations with eachother have become).  As the late Paula Gunn Allen explains:

Tribal societies [were/are] based on a belief in the central importance of female energies, autonomy of individuals, cooperation, human dignity, human freedom, and egalitarian distribution of status, goods, and services. Respect for others, reverence for life, and as a by-product, pacifism as a way of life; importance of kinship ties in the customary ordering social interaction; a sense of the sacredness and mystery of existence; balance and harmony in relationships both sacred and secular were all features of life among the tribal confederacies and nations. And, in those that lived by the largest number of these principles, gynarchy was the norm rather than the exception. Those systems are as yet unmatched in any contemporary industrial, agrarian, or postindustrial society on earth.

The American idea that the best and the brightest should willingly reject and repudiate their origins leads to an allied idea—that history, like everything in the past, is of little value and should be forgotten as quickly as possible. This all too often causes us to reinvent the wheel continually. We find ourselves discovering our collective pasts over and over, having to retake ground already covered by women in the preceding decades and centuries. The Native American view, which highly values maintenance of traditional customs, values, and perspectives, might result in slower societal change and in quite a bit less social upheaval, but it has the advantage of providing a solid sense of identity and lowered levels of psychological and interpersonal conflict.


**UPDATE** (Oct.7):  I’ve just been informed by a DEcolonist Indigenous activist and actual Native person (and not the 1/64th kind) that this excerpt by Paula Gunn Allen’s is a poor grasp of Indigenous cosmology and sounds more like words from an academic filtered through a euro-colonist lens rather than an Indigenous person/lens.  I am glad to know this — I’ll keep the excerpt up for now because I think the points are valid and important, but I will add a different and more DEcolonist/Indigenous excerpt that suits the themes Paula addresses, at a later date.]

Now I’m not saying all white/colonist feminism sucks (there are some really awesome women and theories and hard work of blood, sweat and tears shed by many feminist activists of yesterday and today) — what I’m saying is that this brand of feminism, whatever ‘wave’ it’s in, has some serious limitations, past and present.  For the most part, feminism IS a white woman’s movement (I would say mainstream feminism except that radical feminism isn’t mainstream and it seems to be made up of mostly white women too).  It is in the Indigenous Roots and sources that solutions are found, because that’s where they’ve always been.  Sorting out authentic Indigenous voices and knowledge from fake, wannabe and other mis-informed people and places, is part of the process.  As hard as I’ve been working to DEcolonize my mind, heart and Spirit for years now, I would say I’ve barely grazed the surface of truly understanding Indigenous knowledge and ways, but I do feel a slow, deep shift in my thinking and Being happening over the years, which tells me I’m on the right track.  Moving from a colonist understanding of things to an Indigenous understanding is a radical paradigm shift, it cannot and will not happen overnight or over one year or five. It is a lifelong process, a slow process, and I think above and beneath and throughout it all, a Spiritual experience of Awakening & (re)Connection to Life — preserving, protecting and nurturing it.  Our lives depend on it.

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2 thoughts on “White Feminism Needs Less Head, More Heart & Spirit

  1. Great article ! You are a wonderful writer.
    I like your writing much better than paula gunn allen. 😉

  2. Feminist Rag says:

    Aww and wow, thank you! 🙂

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