Do We Need Feminism in 2011?

Yes, says noted feminist scholar Beverly Guy-Sheftall. From young American girls writing rappers to protest lyrics about bitches and hos, to the women standing up in Egypt, Libya and Ivory Coast, feminism is indeed alive, well -- and needed -- in the 21st century.


As part of Women’s History Month, The Root is exploring the role that feminism plays in African-American lives, from its role in hip-hop to black men embracing the term to radical women who waged war against oppression over the years. We asked noted scholar Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the former president of the National Women’s Studies Association and a pioneer in black feminism, to weigh in on where she sees the movement heading today. Here are her thoughts.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month this March, it is important to reflect upon the continuing struggle of women around the globe to live better lives — in peace and with justice. Given the horrific circumstances facing our sisters and brothers over the past weeks in Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, Ivory Coast and now Libya, it is imperative that we envision a world in which every one of us is free from the ravages of poverty, greed, discrimination, war and authoritarian regimes.

It is my black feminist politics that propels me always to think deeply about the human condition: global realities, especially as they affect people of color, women and children; and the urgency of our need to eliminate racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, religious intolerance, xenophobia and all other oppressions that plague humans wherever they live.

Despite the importance of the politics of feminism and all of the ways in which it addresses oppression of all varieties, I still find myself having to defend my allegiances to the goals of women’s movements around the world. I am still challenged about my self-identification as a black feminist. So I want to say what I mean when I use this term.

For me the label “black feminist” enables me to make visible the emancipatory vision and acts of resistance among women who articulate their understanding of the complex nature of black womanhood (in all its diversity); the interlocking nature of the oppressions we suffer; and the necessity of sustained struggle in our quest for self-determination, the liberation of black people and gender equality. It encourages me to express solidarity with other women and people of color engaged in local and global struggles for emancipation.

As I ponder the future of black feminism in the U.S., this is what I see: It is imperative that we find ways to convince black communities — especially black youths — that, in the words of bell hooks, “feminism is for everybody.” What this means is that we must develop an abhorrence for violence against women and girls and declare a moratorium on rape.