Feminism, Feminist Scholarship, and Social Integration of Women: The Struggle for African-American Women

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Abstract

This paper focuses on the intellectual and scholarly basis of the struggle for social integration of African-American women into American society. Feminism is viewed as the broad context within which this struggle must be conceived, understood, and sustained. Because the struggle is conceptualized as intellectually driven, the paper begins by critically examining feminist scholarship and the contention that feminist scholarship provides the basis for social integration of African-American women into male-dominated American society.

A distinct contribution of this paper to the current scholarship is a proposed framework for a process of social integration of African-American women, one which draws on the works and experiences of African-American women in general, and those in academe in particular. The proposed framework requires a true, meaningful, intellectual revolution at the level of: 1) all African-American women, irrespective of social class; 2) all white and African-American scholars; and 3) all American women and men.

Key Words: African-American women, womanism, feminist scholarship

Introduction

The domination and oppression of women, achieved primarily through discriminatory and exclusionary practices, have been the subject of several studies whose impact has been well-documented (Anderson and Collins 2004; Collins 1990; 1998; Jaggar 1983; Laslett and Thorne 1997; Lotz 2003; Rhode 1990; Wallace 2000; Wood 2003). The crippling effects of the domination and oppression notwithstanding, women continue to struggle and to make great strides toward eliminating these practices and gaining parity status at the cultural, social, political, economic and global levels. In this struggle women have utilized several strategies. Prominent among these strategies are social movements, political activism, and intellectual expression. The intellectual struggle has been wide-ranging, involving interdisciplinary scholarship that seeks to present social reality and the world from a woman's point of view (Harding 2000; Julia 2000; Kelly 1984; Ritzer 2004; Wood 2003). For many, most of this scholarship is new because, historically, men have succeeded in systematically excluding women's contributions from major textbooks (Laslett and Thorne 1997; Ritzer 2000, 2004). This systematic exclusion has sometimes forced feminist scholars to go beyond pure academic endeavors. Some become activist, and in some cases, even radical in order to get their point across to the masses as well as lay the foundations for the pragmatic and reformist tradition in American sociology (Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley 2002:14) that has produced profound change in the lives, circumstances/ and conditions of many women. This radical activism is precipitated as well as justified by women's subordinate status and the discrimination directed toward them in every institution in society.

There is ample evidence that feminist scholarship has provided a vital intellectual framework for feminism's successes for women's liberation, as evident in the cultural, social, political, economic and academic realms. In virtually every academic discipline today women scholars are asserting themselves and making major contributions to their disciplines. However, despite the proliferation of feminist scholarship, their unique and valuable contributions to the advancement of their disciplines, and women's continuous struggle for recognition and inclusion, feminist scholarship and women in general continue to be marginalized and degraded as other in a male-created culture. Consequently, it is males that assume the role of "gatekeepers" in different academic disciplines (Barsky 1992; Ritzer 2000, 2004; Smith 1987; Wood 2003). As a result of this situation, some feminist scholars have come to view their recognition and acceptance in academe as instrumental and as one of the keys to a successful integration of women into society's social fabric. …