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  /  News   /  The Effect of Race and Gender on the Feminist Movement

The Effect of Race and Gender on the Feminist Movement

Founded by Harriet Packer, a widow and powerful investor in the 1800s, Packer has always strived to empower young women. In its first 50 years, Packer was home to influential feminists such as Alice Caruth Chadwick, the first female member of the Brooklyn Board of Education, and Sarah Truslow Dickinson, who established the YMCA in Brooklyn.

These prominent feminists, bred by Packer’s progressive philosophies and schooling, have one thing in common: they are almost all exclusively white. In fact, many feminist movements of the past—and of the present— exlude women of color, transgender women, and practicing Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu women. So, how does the Packer community take action against sexism without making certain groups of women feel as though they are not included?

When asked how she encourages all people to come to Feminist Alliance, Maddie Gunnell (’20), a white student and a co-leader of the club, said, “We have made Chapel announcements before saying that this club is for everyone. We want everyone here. Everyone needs to be a part of this conversation… Nothing is going to get done if we only have 50 percent [of people] fighting for this. It has to be 100 percent of the people.”

 Despite Maddie’s and the other club members’ efforts to include everyone in the conversation, the lack of diversity in feminism at Packer seems to lie in the standards we place on who can be a feminist. When asked who she normally considers to be a feminist at Packer, First and Second Grade Learning Specialist Sarah Elkhayat, a Middle Eastern practicing Muslim woman, admitted that she “usually envisions a white woman talking about equality for [white women] against white men.” 

Grace Warner-Haakmat (’20), a biracial student and another co-leader of Feminist Alliance, recalled a poignant conversation at Packer where the exclusion of women of color felt so prevalent that vocalizing her concerns felt crucial. “In tenth grade we had this women’s forum on the recent offense surrounding the #MeToo Movement… And I was feeling so isolated in the room. The conversation was…around what’s next. ‘How are we gonna present this conversation in a valuable way to the boys in our community…’I was feeling a little bit like, ‘How can we be thinking about next steps when [the women at Packer] are not united.’ We should be recognizing at some point that there is something wrong here. And I was noticing at the same time that no other girls of color were speaking. There were very [few] girls of color in the room itself. That was the first time I spoke up. It was very tearful, and it’s weird because I am a pretty introverted person, but I felt this weird need to speak up that I had never felt before.”

Further illustrating the experience of feeling excluded in feminism, Olivia Rosas (’22), a mixed-race student, said, “If it’s just white women, then people are gonna think only white women can be part of the movement… We need to make sure that feminism is accessible and inclusive to everyone, and not just certain groups of people.” That being said, addressing this issue of exclusion is not to discourage current feminists that are white or discredit the work of past white feminists. To not acknowledge or applaud the work of feminist movements in the past would be an injustice; however, not acknowledging the fact that certain women tend to be excluded in those same movements is also an injustice.

Unfortunately, exclusion in the feminist movement is not an issue unique to Packer. Vidya Misra, a multiracial Seventh and Eighth Grade American History Teacher who comes from a Hindu and Catholic community, believes that “any feminist movement or action inside of Packer is not separate from feminist conversations and action outside of Packer.”

 Even though we may consider Packer to exist within a bubble of progression and equality, at a certain point, we must recognize the fact that our school exists inside of a complex society. The norms prevalent in America often still exist when we step foot into Packer. Attempts to continue the conversation on gender and racial inequality do not automatically relieve those being oppressed. Essentially, it is everyone’s responsibility, including those who may not feel personally affected, to be thoughtful individuals within the Packer community. In the words of Ms. Misra, “I don’t and won’t always do it right, but my commitment is to listen and then try to act upon our school’s value of justice.”

Liam Wilson Mackenzie is currently a sophomore at the Packer Collegiate Institute and is a reporter/layout editor apprentice for the Prism this year. This is his first year on the Prism. Liam is politically engaged, but always includes creativity and art in his work. He is also a dancer! Liam can be reached at limackenzie@packer.edu

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