Dispatch #11 – New Questions for Feminists (Paris, France)

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My introduction to French feminist writers in the mid-1980s began as a personal search for alternative feminist perspectives to white American feminist writing. Interestingly, my quest led me to the metaphorical kitchen table of women of color feminist discourse and activism. This eventually led to my initiation into Black lesbian feminist activism.

The seemingly outrageousness of the French writers resonated deep within me. I recall being utterly amazed and excited by the rawness in language and passion in their written debates. In other words, there wasn’t anything polite about these women’s writing. And, at that time, I remember how in public discussions dominated by white feminists, women of color were perceived as being disruptive, inarticulate and unprofessional whenever the issue of racism within the movement was raised.

To be clear, in my mind, the French feminist writers I read weren’t exactly in the vanguard of addressing these issues. As I developed my own understanding of feminist issues in the context of women of color, I found some of the writings to be way off the mark and deeply problematic. Still, the passion in those writings resonated in my belly and I was relieved to learn that white American women did not hold a monopoly on feminist theory.

Little did I know that nearly 25 years later, I would be a regular visitor to Paris and connecting with a new breed of French feminist lesbian theorists. These sisters are keen on examining transnational feminism and all the social political baggage that comes with it.

On November 10th, I attended a symposium organized by Nouevelle Questions Feminists (NQF) and Columbia University in Paris. The symposium topic was: The interlocking/intersection of sexism and racism in France and the USA today. My French proficiency is barely functional; however, with the interpreting assistance of my Paris buddies, I was able to attend the event until nearly the end. There weren’t any groundbreaking pronouncements or papers that caused my ears to perk up or take copious notes. 

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Click image to see the list of topics.

The significance of the event was more on a personal level, the circling back to my early days as a budding feminist and reflecting on the tremendous contributions of women of color to feminist theory and praxis. There were moments in the symposium when I felt like it was déjà vu women’s movement circa 1980s as regards the invisibility and marginalization of women of color participants. I mean really is it necessary in 2007 to have a separate indigenous women’s panel? Is it not possible for immigrant and indigenous women to speak for themselves at the same table with white French feminists speaking on behalf of the very same group of women? I kept thinking about Donna Kate Rushin’s remarks about women of color scholars being the little helpers or maids in the footnotes of white feminist scholarly works.

In my mind, the new feminist question is: how will white French lesbian feminists move forward so as not to repeat the mistakes of their foremothers? How will the complexities of racism within and outside their political movements be addressed.

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As an outsider, my perspective is limited and colored by my own experience with racism in the American women’s movement. I certainly do not possess the experience and knowledge of the complex cultural and transnational issues that white and WOC feminists in France must sort out so that everyone will have a place at the kitchen table. I feel privileged to be a witness.Afterwards, I took an evening stroll along the always seductive River Seine to decompress from an eventful day.

Chant peace.

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