Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Appalachian feminism, which is to say feminism of working-class white and Black women who lived in a place long dominated by corporate officials, has volumes to teach us about meaningful efforts to reach gender equality, but more importantly, justice. Above all, Appalachian feminism insists upon an understanding of class oppression, which operates within a capitalism that thrives on racist and sexist social structures. It requires listening to women whose feminism is rooted in their daily experiences and charting feminist movements that will transform society for all women, not just those in positions of relative power.
Appalachian feminists emerged out of welfare rights and labor movements. By the early 1970s, a few dozen welfare rights groups had organized across West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southwestern Virginia. White and Black women led the movement and made militant calls for the rights of poor and working-class women.***
In recent years, the most recognized feminists have focused on representation rather than the redistribution of power and wealth. Theirs is not a feminism of deep solidarity. What does standing together truly look like? With fresh assaults on the social safety net happening seemingly daily and renewed attention to working women’s lives, the history of Appalachian feminism is one that today’s feminists would do well to emulate. At the core of Appalachian feminist activism of the 1970s was an understanding that gender justice for all meant accounting for the ways in which capitalist enterprises exploited working people’s paid and unpaid labor and how the state denied them their rights as citizens. The advice that the Appalachian Women’s Rights Organization gave to middle-class white feminists in the 1970s still holds: “take up the genuine problems of the vast majority of women.”