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How Intersectional is Your Feminism?

Feminism & Women For Sobriety
by Jean Kirkpatrick, PhD

In the early years, I was always startled when persons referred to WFS as part of the feminist movement and yet, I see quite clearly that it is.  Although I always knew that the values sought for through the Program are for women to be free from domination from others and to find themselves, I just never spoke of the WFS Program in this way.

But what is feminism?  Has there ever been a movement or a word so badly treated and misunderstood?

To me, feminism is the right of women to seek equality in jobs, in payment for those jobs, and to be treated equally under the law.  But it is so much more then that too.

To me, it means that we are to seek an equal status for ourselves and, in order to do that, we must find ourselves, define ourselves, and believe in ourselves.  And that’s what our program seeks to do.

Too long we have been treated unfairly through the overriding dominance of the male system, yet there was none other.  Too often I think we wanted to rebel but didn’t put anything in the place of the rebellion.

We cannot rise up against something unless we have something better to offer and I believe that can only happen when we change ourselves from dependent persons to independent persons, women strong in our beliefs, convictions, and commitments.

It is too easy to cry out about inequality without any substance underneath.  The WFS Program should provide a way to make us strong in beliefs that provide substance to our outcry.  Improving ourselves ultimately improves society.

One therapist, Miriam Greenspan, believes our thinking is at fault.  Women fail to recognize the ways that men depend upon women and we end up thinking of ourselves as ‘dependent,’ when, in reality, it is men who are dependent.  Women have been misled in our thinking.  Society continues to accommodate male independence and thwart women’s, and so we, as women, have impaired thinking.

Women for Sobriety stands for women’s strengths.  Both the program and the organization are dedicated to women finding inner strengths to create, and live the kind of lives we desire to live.

 

In the late 1980’s, WFS program founder Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick wrote the above article for the Sobering Thoughts newsletter. She also wrote frequently about women’s rights and the gender pay gap, and openly lamented about the Equal Rights Amendment not being ratified. Additionally, Jean testified twice before senate sub-committees advocating regarding the gender-specific needs of women with substance use disorders. Indeed, Jean was not afraid of “getting political” when it mattered – when it was relevant to the cause of empowering women so that they could come into their own and take control of their lives and their addictions.

As feminist theory has evolved, it has broadened to recognize the concept of intersectionality. This is the idea that in addition to the challenges faced by all women in our culture by virtue of their gender, some women face additional systemic and social barriers that compound marginalization and pushes them further to the fringes. These systemic and social barriers can range from the more invisible challenges such as education level, class, socioeconomic status, and sexuality, to more visible differences such as physical disability and non-white skin tone.

It’s not an “I-have-it-worse-than-you” competition. It’s about acknowledging and recognizing imbalances so that we can correct them.

It has taken me a long time to de-stigmatize my own feelings about having prejudices toward people with different skin tones. I was raised to believe that only bad or evil people are “racist”, and I initially felt really defensive when I started to look at my own subconscious prejudices. “But I’m a good person!” was my underlying thought. It took me a long time and a lot of work to accept that my deeply ingrained biases didn’t make me a bad person — they are simply an inevitable result of growing up in a society that was built on a racialized system. We have come a long way, yes, but there is still a very long way to go.

It’s a lot like recovery. I had to come out of denial so that I could grow.

I recognize my privilege as a white woman. Even though I have experienced a number of other sources of marginalization, my skin color is not one of them. I recognize that I sometimes jump too quickly to sharing my own, unrelated challenges when my friends of color share their stories of racial discrimination. I recognize that I am quick to say that I advocate against racism while in actuality I take very little concrete action to change the system that perpetuates it. I recognize that even though this topic is important to me and highly relevant to WFS (our program surveys show that a disproportionate number of our participants – over 90% – are white), my own insecurities and privilege kept me from addressing this critical topic sooner.

This is also a lot like recovery. It’s not a single event to unlearn a lifetime of conditioning, it is an ongoing process.

Today, I am following Jean’s example and taking a risk. I am “getting political” about something that matters to me, and something that I believe should matter to every single woman that walks through the proverbial WFS door. I am scared to be “going there” in my official capacity as WFS President/CEO. I feel really vulnerable sharing these things in this public way, and as a public figure in this organization. Yet I know that my discomfort does not come close to comparing to the discomfort of my 4C Sisters of color. And I know that as a woman in a leadership position, my conscience would not be clear if I did not respond in some way to the issues that are currently being raised.

Today, I accept the responsibility of proactively learning from the resources available to me.

So here I am, asking my 4C Sisters:

  • What are we, the white women of WFS, willing to do to make sure that we fulfill the mission of WFS – to help all women find their individual path to recovery?
  • How can we effectively reach out to women of color and help them feel welcomed and included in our groups?
  • How can we hold each other accountable for creating a community that not only welcomes, but actively celebrates, every woman who finds our New Life Program?
Image Credit: https://iwda.org.au/what-does-intersectional-feminism-actually-mean/

25 thoughts on “How Intersectional is Your Feminism?

  1. Thank you for all of this. I mentioned to another WFS sister that it can feel like you’re living in an alternate reality when you’re city is on curfew and you’re falling asleep to helicopters and the you come here and there’s no mention of it. This has been such a major challenge to us for all the different reasons and we should be here for each other. I appreciate your vulnerability here. It’s true for me too that I’ve had to be very honest with myself in order y on grow. Still, every day. If you haven’t heard Brené Brown’s interview of Ibram X Kendi, there’s a lot of good stuff on this and so many other things.

    1. Thank you for having the courage to examine your own heart and mind. I am an African-American woman and new to this forum. I have so much to say that I can bust. For now I will say, change starts with first acknowledging there is a problem. Sounds so simple but it’s taken centuries for a significant amount of Whites, to get to this point. In order to have a real impact and create systemic change, we always needed you. We are grateful for your awakening. We are grateful that you walk along side of us. Let’s continue doing the necessary work even when the cameras are no longer watching. Thank you.

      1. Thank you Gladgirl203!
        Mariel

      2. Glad to have you with us, Gladgirl203! Bonded in doing the work.

      3. Thank you for being here, Gladgirl.

      4. Welcome Gladgirl203! Latina WFS sister here to support you and others. I am brown sister but still checking my own biases. I am not excused from that whatsoever!

    2. Thanks, Mandy, I will check that out!

  2. Welcome to WFS Gladgirl203!!! It is definitely time to heal the human race.

    1. I accept the responsibility and embrace the journey.

  3. To the questions posted above I would like to add: How can we ask our non-white sisters what advice they have for us? I think that they are the experts and could teach me a great deal. Thank you

    1. Yes! Definitely we want to hear our 4C Sisters of color! Nothing about them without them. And I also want to be very careful to avoid tokenism and not expect our marginalized Sisters to take on the additional emotional labor of fixing us. There are so many expert resources available to us that we can use to educate ourselves, I want to make sure that I am taking that initiative too, you know?

    2. This is exactly my question & concern. Perhaps it is baby steps. What if, when I give WFS literature to the counseling center of my mostly Euro-American, middle-class school or church, I ALSO send it to a school or church that serves people who have not been born into communities of privilege?

      1. I LOVE this, Bella! What a competent and caring woman you are!

  4. I know one thing that has been on my mind since starting a meeting in my area has been the notion of taking meetings to jails and in-patient recovery centers. This is something I did participate in in another recovery program, and one of the reasons why newly sober women coming from treatment or in jail have limited options and choices for working programs…because it takes someone to walk in the door and provide the subject matter for it to begin to spread in those places. Whether I want to face it or not, whether I like it or not…if I took a meeting to jail I would certainly be reaching a demographic with which I rarely intersect.

    The honest truth is that pushing the edge of that envelope is really scary. I feel ill equipped to reach out, talk to, and connect with women in those circumstances.

    Perhaps some group discussions and trainings on how to handle a meeting in a less privileged place would be a place to start.

    I listened to a Tara Brach podcasted talk years ago about acknowledging racial bias…and how we don’t even know we are a part of the continuing paradigm. It definitely changed the way I see my relationship with racial issues. My daughter pointed it out perfectly to me one day while we were sitting at a stoplight and a police car pulled up behind us. I said… ‘whew, it’s good to be sober and not worry about that.’ and she replied “isn’t it terribly sad that when a police care comes up behind us we think ‘oh, I wonder if I’ve done something to get a ticket’ but a person of color things “oh, I wonder if I’ll live through this.”

    She always has been the smart one.

    In any case…I have to say I am open to change and how to be a solution in the great web of problems…rather than silent and/or contrary to change. I’d love to see us create a workgroup for inclusion.

    1. I totally thought about this all day and realize how obnoxious it is to jump to jail as a response.

      Please excuse my bias…I will stick with suggesting treatment centers…

      Oh dear.

      1. Go easy on yourself, Em. Since women of color are more likely to be incarcerated for the same offenses that white women will get away with, it is relevant in this discussion. Unfortunately, that is the reality we live in.

    2. I commend all of you and feel relieved that I am not alone with the desire to take action. I just became a WFS moderator and am also the owner/operator of sober living homes in my area. I am excited that I am able to reach women that otherwise would not have the opportunity or access to WFS meetings in my area. As Emily K mentioned, the jails and inpatient recovery centers would be a great place to connect with women and make WFS accessible to women that currently do not have the access to WFS. My goal is to be able to share information about WFS and connect with my local jails/prisons. I am accustomed to reaching out to women of diverse ethnic backgrounds. I just feel grateful that so many 4C sisters are on the same page. Knowing that strengthens my passion and pride for this program. The women, in my WFS meeting that I moderate, are enthusiastic about this program and we are ready to band together and make a difference with the guidance we receive from the women of WFS.

  5. I want to listen, not talk. I want to learn, not teach because I can’t. I want to spread love. This I can do.

  6. In an imperfect world filled with imperfect people, we must learn and grow. We can not recover if we have little parts of us that are stuck and silent or carry shame and anger. I am a white woman. I don’t have the all the answers to address the pain of racial injustice but I have a voice, I have love in my heart, and I am learning. I have my congressman and senators phone numbers in my phone. I call every time I feel like something needs to be done about an issue – gun violence, healthcare, police brutality; to name a few. Our representatives in government need our calls to justify their stand on issues and to validate they are representing us.

    i am stepping out in love to all my 4C sisters of color and ethnicity that daily face a world that fails to see them or hear them, our understand when their hearts are broken when yet another life is extinguished by ignorance and intolerance.

    I stand with you in sobriety and love.

  7. Thank you for starting this discussion Adrienne. I needed all of this. I am a white woman. I thought I had awareness of racial issues but I’m realizing I have no clue. My DIL is black, and my two youngest grandgirls are biracial. I want desperately to not feel shame but to grow in my knowledge of racial disparities. Shame will keep me stuck. I have to feel uncomfortable and be willing to be vulnerable. Going to protests is not enough – what will I do in my life moving forward to change the inequality, at least, as a starting point, to help my family?

  8. I am so proud of you for addressing this Adrienne. It’s time we all take a good look at what we can do besides saying “I’m not racist!”. If Jean were here today I know she would applaud you. You have taken leadership to a new level of awareness. Thank you.

  9. I am glad that what was stated By Adrienne has been presented. I was starting to question whether I would care to continue posting on this platform as it was not mentioned from WFS admins on their stance on what has been unfolding. Thank you Adrienne for bringing the above to the attention of the 90% Caucasian WFS sisters. I am not one but I am checking my own biases being a Hispanic woman who most certainly has been privileged compared to many of my POC sisters. Awareness is the first step towards leading into action. Much love to all of you WFS sisters on here. Please take action and let’s move forward.

  10. I am new to wfs. Looking forward to getting involved

  11. How do I get involved in WFS

  12. Adrienne, Thank you for writing the blog about intersectionality. As an African-American woman, it is often challenging to be my authentic self in spaces not originally created for me. It makes all the difference in the world to have others reach out and intentionally include women of color. I am sincerely appreciative of the honestly and vulnerability shared in this forum. The comments are so very encouraging. Be blessed!

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