I Never Thought That I Would Need to Be a Part of History by K.M. Deaver


Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue, 1917 -- The New York Times Photo Archives

Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue, 1917 — The New York Times Photo Archives

I never thought that I would need to be a part of history.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that each generation does indeed end up in a history book for a handful of headlining events that mark the course of their lifetimes, but I never in my wildest dreams imagined that the women in those old black and white photos, the women marching in the streets, the women burned at the stake might actually need to be me.  

There were a few brief months where I truly believed that I would see the election of the first female President of the United States, but as we continue to be horrifyingly reminded each day, that version of history did not come to be.  In connection with many of the articles from the last few weeks I continue to be perplexed and deeply concerned by the response of white Christians to the events of the last few months.  

I was born and raised in rural Wisconsin.  Poverty and domestic violence shaped my reality as well as the reality of many of my close friends, and as a result I can understand, at least theoretically, why so many white Christians would be intrigued by a candidate like Donald Trump.  

As a white feminist theologian and a practicing Lutheran I work to anchor my theology in an understanding of intersectionality.  When taking an intersectional approach we seek to open a space for individuals to be fully and truly who they understand themselves to be at the core of their Be-ing.  This means we must take into account race, religion, class, gender, sexuality, physical and mental abilities and scores of other realities that make each of us distinctly ourselves.  Naturally, this is not an easy process.  

Throughout the last week I have been struck by the either/or dichotomies that fill my social media feeds.  We are consistently presented with the expectation that we must only be concerned with one form of oppression, we must care for immigrants or veterans, for Muslims or Christians, where is the connection with one another as human beings existing within the world?  Where is the acknowledgment of the intersectionalities which make up each individual person?  Perhaps my Lutheran roots are showing… but it seems to me that we would be far better served by taking a both/and approach to these issues.  

So… how do we do that…?

As a white Christian feminist I believe a good first step in moving toward a truly intersectional both/and way of living is centered in the concept of repentance.  I have always loved the concept of repentance, it is so broad, so open, almost undefinable.  Repentance is not just admitting past wrongs, or asking for forgiveness, or apologizing, or even promising to not commit such wrongs in the future, rather it all of these things and more.  Repentance is linked to our very reality as human beings in constant relationship with one another.  Repentance is about stopping what we are doing and choosing to move in a new direction while still taking responsibility for our past actions.  Repentance does not mean that we will not make future mistakes.  The work of intersectionality is difficult and there will always be situations in which we are reminded of the ways in which our own experience pulls us toward doing or saying things that may harm or oppress others, we must acknowledge these moments and work through them.     

As a white feminist I am particularly aware of the ways in which white feminism has hurt women of color and it is only through repentance of those wrongs that we can begin to connect in ways that unite us while still acknowledging and celebrating the differences in our experiences.  

Currently, political and social rhetoric does not support an intersectional or both/and understanding of the world.  It is always in the best interest of those in power to keep the oppressed locked in situations of horizontal violence. We must use intersectionality and a both/and approach in order to combat this violent use of power.  We must genuinely care about one another’s experience of oppression and personhood in order to begin moving toward a place where we can work together to eradicate all forms of oppression.  We are called to accompany one another on this journey.

I never thought that I would need to be a part of history, but I am ready to be one of the women in those photos.

Katie DeaverKatie M. Deaver is completing her Ph.D. in Feminist Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.   Deaver holds a BA in Religion and Music from Luther College in Decorah, IA as well as MATS and Th.M. degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  Her recently completed dissertation explores the connections between Christian understandings of atonement theology and the prevalence of domestic violence within the United States context.  Her others areas of interest include the connection between power and violence, sexual ethics, and working toward the elimination of the oppression and exploitation of women and girls around the world. Katie is also one of our newest Feminism and Religion Blog Project Interns. Please welcome her to our FAR community!

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Categories: intersectionality, Politics

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15 replies

  1. Welcome to FAR, Katie! Proud to march with you!

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  2. Welcome to FAR Katie! Thank you for sharing and being a part of history.

    I hear a lot of the young university/women’s studies students using the word “intersectionality”. I’m 78 and have been out of school for a while but we meet, especially now, at marches and vigils and other such events. The word “intersectionality” seems to mean what I perceive as “wholeness” or “inclusiveness” or “being welcoming”.
    Would you clarify meaning of the word “intersectionality”, and whether you think it’s being used well if it’s not understandable by “the woman on the street”
    Thank you again, and welcome.

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    • geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Intersectionality
      Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.

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    • Thank you Barbara! And thanks Carol for posting a definition. I think one of the easiest ways to think through the concept of intersectionality is to consider the lived experience of black women. These women are women and also people of color but these two realities cannot be separated in their everyday lives… they are both/and black and woman and both pieces of their identity inform their experience of the world. As feminists we base a lot of our approach on lived experience and the focus on intersectionality allows us to really see how all of the pieces of our identity inform who we are within the world.

      I think your question about the accessibility and understanding of this term by “the woman on the street” is a really important one. Personally, bringing this term into focus and making sure that it is understood and practiced is absolutely something that I’m focusing on working toward in my writing and teaching. But having typical people understand and use the term is certainly going to take some time. I think it will be a term and concept that will prove incredibly important as we move forward in the current political and culture climate.

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  3. Welcome, Katie. We all make mistakes. If we’re grown-up enough we recognize that fact, apologize, make up for the failure, and move on. The women’s movement has made mistakes, like every other movement. By definition, each of us has blind spots, but we can educate ourselves when it comes to them

    I taught Women’s Studies from 1975 to 1991 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and we taught intersectionality before there was a word for it. White feminists in the 1960s and early 1970s overlooked these interconnections. But as a movement, we’re the ones who really looked towards an inclusive understanding of oppression. It’s time to move forward and make new mistakes, apologize, make up for the failures, and create the alliances necessary to resist.I thinkI’m saying the same thing as you, but with an emphasis on the movement forward and the alliances, as opposed to “it is only through repentance of those wrongs that we can begin to connect in ways that unite us.” The word repentance for me emphasizes the backward-looking, apology part of the equation.

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    • Nancy,
      Thank you so much for your comment. Absolutely! I think we are saying the same thing as well we’re just operating with slightly different understandings of repentance. For me true repentance succeeds through that movement in a new direction and with the promise to keep trying to do better.

      I also wonder if the “apology part of the equation” that you talk about has to happen within each wave or generation of womanist/feminist/latina movements. Many of my colleagues who are women of color have expressed concern that white women who are currently in academic programs with them don’t acknowledge, or may not even be aware of, the racism that was experienced in the earlier waves of the women’s movement. Knowing that this is the experience of my current colleagues convinced me that at least in my context apology (as well as the moving forward) is still necessary.

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      • Dear Katie,

        I think part of what Nancy is saying is that many white feminists of earlier generations were trying to to create an inclusive feminist movement. Gloria Steinem for example always tried to speak in tandem with Flo Kennedy in the early years. Many early feminists came to feminism through the Civil Rights movement and never gave up their commitments to racial equality. Rosemary Radford Ruether always spoke and acted against racism and sexism. Of course racism exists and exists among feminists. But maybe we need a more nuanced analysis that does not depend on broad terms like “racism” and “repentance.” Gloria Steinem and Rosemary Ruether have their flaws and blind spots, but should their “racism” be equated with that of actively racist and white supremacist individuals like Trump and Bannon?

        And, I also want to ask, what do young white women have to gain by repenting of the sins of their elders? Racism is a system that influences everyone and until it is completely transformed, it is unlikely that younger white feminists will be entirely free of it, either. Can we develop a double-eyed vision in which we recognize the strength and weaknesses of our sisters and ourselves? Can we work together to transform everything that needs to be transformed? I think “we” as feminists took a great step forward in the intersectional women’s march in January. But there is still a long way to go.

        In sisterhood, Carol

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      • Carol,
        Thank you so much for this comment. I absolutely agree with what you are saying… the questions you pose are exactly those that I have been trying to work through myself. I think my responses to these questions are completely dependent on the community in which I find myself. Currently the majority of my colleagues are womanist and Latina feminists and they continue to impress upon me that they need the acknowledgment of past wrongs from me in order to move forward together in a united way. As a white woman I feel that it is my job to listen to the oppression that they describe and let them decide what is needed in order for us to move forward.
        Thank you for helping me to continue wrestling with these questions!

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  4. Welcome Katie, Your thoughts on intersectionality are very well put. Understanding another person’s life experience is not easy but it is the task we are all called to now. We must find the connections, the intersections of our lives so that we can work together to end the power of those who seek to divide. As they say in Spanish – El pueblo unido ha mas sera vencido (united we can never be conquered). And we can only find that unity by seeking to understand and accept our differences.

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