Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Angela Davis

We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.
- Angela Davis

I mentioned earlier that in celebration of Women's History Month I was going to write about some of the woman who have really influenced me, and who I greatly admire. It has taken me a little longer than anticipated to get this going, but here we are. Angela Davis has probably been the woman who most influenced me as a feminist. Before reading her autobiography, I knew little about her save from once being on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List (the third woman ever) for something she most likely didn't do (turns out she didn't, and was acquitted by an all white jury), and that she had amazing hair. By the end of reading about her incredible life I was challenged to examine the way I think about my place in society, and the importance of social justice.
One of the things that struck me most about Angela Davis was that she not only talked about feminism and critiqued society as patriarchal and misogynistic, but she seems to live her life as if viewing everything through a feminist lens. She is an unapologetically strong, intellectual and often times outspoken woman. When she took on leadership roles in the Black Power movement, the Black Panther movement and also within the communist party, she was often met with resistance from male leaders and seen as a threat. In fact she is still accused of being 'anti-male', although from slightly weirder sources. This didn't ever seem to deter her, but if anything spurred her on.

The second, and perhaps most important thing that struck me about Angela Davis was her commitment to intersectionality, the idea that 'traditional' forms of oppression do not happen in isolation from each other, but that oppression in areas of gender, race/ethnicity, class, etc intercede with one another. In her book 'Women, Culture and Politics' she writes;

"Rape bears a direct relationship to all of the existing power structures in a given society. This relationship is not a simple, mechanical one, but rather involves complex structures reflecting the interconnectedness of the race, gender, and class oppression that characterize the society"

After becoming familiar with communist and socialist political theory, and especially after a trip to Cuba where she worked amongst Cubans cutting sugar cane, Angela Davis became convinced that the only way to eradicate racism, sexism, classism and other forms of oppression, was to radically revolutionise society into one where every individual is valued. A society where the state looks after it's people, where all people are seen as valuable just by virtue of them....being. Her experiences in Cuba, in spending time in women's prisons, and being just in being a black woman, caused her to come to the conclusion that a capitalist, free-market system is one where marginalised minority (women, black people, the working class, etc) groups are going to continually be oppressed. It is the nature of the system, and the system needs this in order to function. Therefore the overhaul of this system to create a more egalitarian one of socialist democracy is the only way to truly liberate women, homosexuals, the working class, people of colour, the poor...I could go on.

She is an incredible woman, who is still constantly working and advocating for the rights of women, the eradication of racism, the abolishment of prisons and a more socially just world. I couldn't recommend her autobiography highly enough. Her story of coming of age in the civil rights movement, to living underground while being stalked by the FBI, to Ronald Reagan attempting to get her banned from teaching is an incredible one. I'd also recommend checking out her lectures on the University of California youtube channel.

What women have influenced you? Who do you admire? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


Urban Environmentalist said...

Angela Davis does have awesome hair!

Other feminists I admire are:

Gloria Steinem - important leader in the women's rights movement in the 60's and 70's,reproductive choice advocate, organized campaign for women's labour unionization, critic of gender discriminating implications of porn etc.

Catherine MacKinnon - "Man ****'s woman - subject, verb, object" This woman was particularly effective at taking a stance on rape and how the law discriminates against women.

Sherene Razack - a less known feminist scholar (York University, Toronto)...she edited "race, space and the law". Has excellent views on the effects of colonization on women and on how the legal system treats women of colour.

And oh so many more..I do not think there are enough days in a single month to write about all of the wonderful feminist advocates that have had a profound impact on history.

jennifer said...

I would love to know where you got this fabulous poster of Angela Davis. I would like to use in a theater production and am concerned that it may be copyright protected. I can see none of the tiny print. A call or email would be fantastic-- thank you thank you