Born female, still evolving
As we approach March 8 and Women’s International Day, I’ve been thinking about how my understanding of feminism has evolved over the years.
I was born female to Chinese immigrant parents above my father’s Chinese American restaurant in Providence, R.I. My mother did not know how to read or write because there were no schools for females in her little Chinese village. When I cried, the Chinese waiters used to say, “Leave her on the hillside to die. She’s only a girl baby.”
So, I realized very early that huge changes in women’s rights and lives are necessary in our world.
That is why as a teenager, after reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Women and Economics,” I decided I was a feminist. What I meant mainly was that I would never become dependent on a man for my livelihood.
I didn’t begin to think more deeply about the role of women until 10 years later when I became a movement activist in the Black community. That was how and when I learned that the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott, which launched the civil rights movement, had been organized by women.
Within a couple of hours after Rosa Parks’ arrest on Friday afternoon, Dec. 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white man, the Women’s Political Council had blanketed the city with 50,000 “Don’t ride the bus” leaflets and was busy organizing the boycott.
To keep people off buses, they created an alternative means of transportation, contacting and pooling hundreds of volunteer drivers, mapping out routes to get workers to all parts of the city, following regular bus routes so that workers who “walked along” the streets could be picked up.
It was a model of visionary/solutionary organizing. Four days later on Dec. 5, the buses were empty.
In recent years, as Detroit has been devastated by deindustrialization and the struggle for a new non-capitalist society has been developing in Detroit, I have discovered that when one society is coming to an end and a new one is emerging, women play a solutionary/revolutionary role because women’s work, of raising and caring for the home and family is ongoing.
Thus in Detroit today, Asenath Andrews has created the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a public high school for pregnant teens. The Boggs Educational Collective is starting a place-based school. Time Banking is being organized by Kim Hodge, et al. Ann Heler is pioneering a free health clinic. And many more women, mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, whose names I don’t know are creating and building their communities anew.
On March 9, the UAW Women’s Department and the Boggs Center, with other labor and community organizations and friends, are celebrating International Women’s Day at the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources, 200 Walker St. Save the date. All are invited.