I am not one of the people who sat transfixed before the television, watching the Senate hearings. I had class-es too to, papers to write, and frankly, the whole thing was too painful. A black man grilled by a panel of white men about his sexual deviance. A black woman claiming harassment and being discredited by other women…. I could not bring myself to watch that sensationalized assault of the human spirit.
To me, the hearings were not about determining whether or not Clarence Thomas did in fact harass Anita Hill. They were about checking and redefining the extent of women’s credibility and power.
Can a woman’s experience undermine a man’s career-, Can a woman’s voice, a woman’s sense of self-worth and injustice, challenge a structure predicated upon the subjugation of our gender Anita Hill’s testimony threatened to do that and more. If Thomas had not been confirmed, every man in the United States would be at risk. For how many senators never told a sexist Joke–How many men have not used their protected male privilege to thwart in some way the influence or ideas of a woman colleague, friend, or relative.
For those whose sense of power is so obviously connected to the health and vigor of the penis. it would have been a metaphoric castration. Of course this is too great a threat.
While some may laud the whole spectacle for the consciousness it raised around sexual harassment, its very real outcome is more informative. He was promoted. She was repudiated. Men were assured of the inviolabIlity of their penis/power. Women were admonished to keep their experiences to themselves.
The backlash against U.S. women is real. As the misconception of equality between the sexes becomes more ubiquitous, so does the attempt to restrict the boundaries of women’s personal and political power. Thomas’ confirmation, the ultimate rally of support for the male paradigm of harassment, sends a clear message to women: “Shut up! Even if you speak, we will not listen.”
I will not be silenced.
I acknowledge the fact that we live under siege. I intend to fight back. I have uncovered and unleashed more repressed anger than I thought possible. For the umpteenth time in my 22 years, I have been radicalized, politicized, shaker) awake. I have come to voice again, and this time my voice is not conciliatory.
The night after Thomas’s confirmation I ask the man I am intimate with what he thinks of the whole mess. His concern is primarily with Thomas’ propensity to demol-ish civil rights and opportunities for people of color. I launch into a tirade. “When will progressive black men prioritize my rights and well-being? When will they stop talking so damn much about ‘the race’ as if it revolved ex-clusively around them?” He tells me I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I scream “I need to know, are you with me or are you going to help them try to destroy me?”
A week later I am on a train to New York. A beautiful mother and daughter, both wearing green outfits, sit across the aisle from me. The little girl has tightly plait-ed braids. Her brown skin is glowing and smooth, her eyes bright as she chatters happily while looking out the window. Two men get on the train and sit directly be-hind me, shaking my seat as they thud into place. I bury myself in The Sound and the Fu7y. Loudly they begin to talk about women. “Man, I fucked that bitch all night and then I never called her again.” “Man, there’s lots of girlies over there, you know that ho, live over there by Tyrone’, Well, I snatched that shit up.” The mother moves closer to her now quiet daughter. Looking at her small back I can see that she is listening to the men. I am thinking of how I can transform the situ-ation, of all the people in the car whose silence makes us complicit. Another large man gets on the train. After exchanging loud greetings with the two men, he sits next to me. He tells them he is going to Philadelphia to visit his wife and child. I am suckered into thinking that he is different. Then, “Man, there’s a ton of fe-males in Philly, just waltin’ for you to give’em some.” I turn my head and allow the fire in my eyes to burn into him. He takes up two seats and has hands with huge swollen knuckles. I imagine the gold rings on his fingers slamming into my face. He senses something, “What’s your name, sweetheart?” The other men lean forward over the seat.
My instinct kicks in, telling me to get out. “Since I see you all are not going to move, I will.” I move to the first car. I am so angry that thoughts of murder, of physically retaliating against them, of separatism, engulf me. I am almost out of body, just shy of being pure force. I am sick of the way women are negated, violated, devalued, ig-nored. I am livid, unrelenting in my anger at those who invade my space, who wish to take away my rights, who refuse to hear my voice. As the days pass, I push myself to figure o u t what it means to be a part of the Third Wave of femi-nism. I begin to realize that I owe it to myself, to my little sister on the train, to all of the daughters yet to be born, to push beyond my rage and articulate an agenda. After battling with ideas of separatism and militancy, I connect with my own feelings of powerlessness. I realize that I must undergo a transformation if I am truly com-mitted to women’s empowerment. My involvement must reach beyond my own voice in discussion, beyond voting, beyond reading feminist theory. My anger and aware-ness must translate into tangible action.
I am ready to decide, as my mother decided before me, to devote much of my energy to the history, health, and healing of women. Each of my choices will have to hold to my feminist standard of justice. To be a feminist is to integrate an ideology of equality and female empowerment into the very fiber of my life. it is to search for personal clarity in the midst of systemic destruction, to join in sisterhood with women when of-ten we are divided, to understand power structures with the intention of challenging them. While this may sound simple, it is exactly the kind of stand that many of my peers are unwilling to take. So I write this as a plea to all women, especially the women of my generation: Let Thomas’ confirmation serve to re-mind you, as it did me, that the fight is far from over. Let this dismissal of a woman’s experience move you to anger. Turn that outrage into political power. Do not vote for them unless they work for us. Do not have sex with them, do not break bread with them, do not nurture them if they don’t prioritize our freedom to control our bodies and our lives.
I am not a postfeminism feminist. I am the Third Wave.
Los Angeles: Book Signing Party this Sunday!
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