Reflections on Building an Inclusive Archive
The phrase, “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or it will be Bullshit,” has never sat right with me. I don’t know why. I knew I wanted to take intersectionality into account when I was making my sign for the Women’s March on Washington, and I did option that phrase for my sign content. But I couldn’t do it. I ended up going with a shortened version of a bell hooks quote that read, “American women, without exception are socialized to be racist, classist, and sexist. Labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to end the legacy of negative socialization.”
This quote to me felt more nuanced, and less sensationalized than the former. Even if it did make for a potentially less striking sign (a lot of verbiage does not for an eye-catching poster make), I felt that I needed to be thorough in expressing my support for all of the women in the march, rather than just the ones who looked like me. And even my sign was not as thorough as it could have been. In her quote, hooks doesn’t mention our socialization of being ableist, or homophobic, or transphobic, or xenophobic. But who am I to alter a bell hooks quote??
I didn’t like that the slogan said “My Feminism.” As if I own a share of a stock called feminism and my piece is unique and special and malleable. Then I thought, maybe this is meant to read “the way that I practice feminism will be intersectional.” But that didn’t feel right either. Because, really in the scheme of things, what do I do to encourage intersectional feminist conversations? Not a ton, if we’re being honest.
And if we’re really getting picky, the inclusion of “bullshit” added an extra punch to the slogan that I wan’t entirely comfortable with. There is anger in the slogan. But who’s anger? Do I claim ownership over the anger and frustration that women in other marginalized groups feel at being excluded from the feminist narrative. I mean, after all, the white feminist narrative works in my favor. That’s not to say that white feminism isn’t bullshit. It is. But if I benefit from the bullshit, is it mine to be angry at?
I didn’t and don’t have answers to any of these questions.
The more I worked on the archive, the more questions I had. Why are only white women volunteering to be interviewed? How valuable is a persective on the importance of intersectionality coming from a white woman? Or three white women? Or a white man? But if I pressure a woman of color into being interviewed, I’ve negated the democratization of the archive, potentially.
And who am I to explain intersectionality any way? Does my location, as documentarian Robert Coles calls it, position me in a place where my perspective as a white women overwhelms the perspectives of other voices? I’m curating this exhibit from my one, limited perspective. There’s nuance, and authenticity, and legitimacy that won’t be present as a result of who I am.
So, is it better to archive stories that reenforce existing hegemonies about white feminism if they are able to empower some women. Or to not archive them at all?
Another question I don’t have an answer to.