Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender.

– Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)none


By Walker’s definition, a womanist, a Black feminist or feminist of color, works for “survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.” She undertakes the following: “Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered ‘good’ for one.” A womanist goes beyond in her love for other women as herself. In reference to Walker’s concept, the original image, from the public domain, has been colored purple.


For within structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive. Kept around as unavoidable adjuncts or pleasant pastimes, feelings were meant to kneel to thought as we were meant to kneel to men. But women have survived. As poets. And there are no new pains. We have felt them all already. We have hidden that fact in the same place where we have hidden our power. They lie in our dreams, and it is our dreams that point the way to freedom. They are made realizable through our poems that give us the strength and courage to see, to feel, to speak, and to dare.

– Audre Lorde, “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” (1977), Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984)none


Women Are Human provides for our readers edited text from Suzanne Forbes-Vierling. It includes text from her speech for the Women’s Human Rights Campaign (WHRC), published to YouTube on June 10, 2021, and her talk with Isabella Malbin on Whose Body Is It?, published on February 3, 2022. Attentive to the historical position of Black women under misogyny and racism, Forbes-Vierling discusses the dynamics of American racism as it factors into the colonization of womanhood. On the left, misogyny and racism have seemed understood—or, rather, misunderstood—as exclusive to political ideologies of the right. The right has been seen as the enemy, presumed to be the only place where misogyny and racism exist. But the left, which has its own misogyny and racism, has blinded itself to accountability for its mistreatment of women, especially Black women.

Courtesy: Suzanne Forbes-Vierling

Dr Suzanne Forbes-Vierling comes with leadership experience in higher education, mental health, forensic science, foster care and child welfare, international consultation and community organizing. Her career has encompassed all levels of organizational leadership, including as an international Health and Human Services organizational advisor serving the nations of Malawi, Chile, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland, Russia, Romania, Georgia, India, and the Philippines. Forbes-Vierling provides insights into the sexual and economic motivation behind the attack on womanhood. She wants us all to understand the power of the woman and how the use of womanhood has been, and continues to be, profitable—to the point that woman has been used as a form of currency. To her, space must be created to develop strategies for resisting and, eventually, overthrowing the current, rapidly increasing colonized state. Woman must re-emerge in her wholeness, seizing for herself the sovereignty for too long denied to her.

Donovan Cleckley has worked with Forbes-Vierling on editing the text, including references for the reader.


By Suzanne Forbes-Vierling

Introduction

Womanhood has become increasingly colonized by industries seeking to farm it for profit, much in the way that Africa, both its land and its people, has been made subject. Here a parallel can be drawn to woman’s enforced submission to the erasure of her existence as a sex class. There has been the colonization of our bodies and ourselves, the attack on language and laws for us, and the seizure of what should be our sovereign, private spaces. Industrial capitalism has increasingly commodified womankind, for womanhood has become the consumable in our time.

A Peculiarly American Ideology

From a lens of race, as Black women, we can look at gender colonialism by analogy to the European dominion over the African land and its people. We experience it in this way. The framework goes as follows: The white man declares himself a woman, but he keeps his power and privilege, himself part of the ruling patriarchy. Then, he proceeds to erase woman to further possess her, what he sees as his—conquering her language, her organizations, and her spaces. He forces children to learn an ideology of madness, those who are then coerced and compelled into medicalization, including surgeries. Able to step into all of the spaces that he dominates, he forces us to see him as if he is a sexual and racial minority, constantly comparing himself to Black women. He exerts his dominion. Or, the white man identifies with Black trans-identified men, using the latter’s murder rate as his oppression by proxy. It is as if he puts his hands into a bucket of melanin, rubs it on his own skin, and then declares almost racial minority status for himself. But, of course, he maintains the convenient option to keep his power and his control to punish any whom he perceives as disobedient to his will. Misogyny becomes interwoven with capitalism and racism. As Black women, we have been very sensitive to and aware of the white man’s comparisons between himself and the Black woman in his consumption of us.

To make one’s self vulnerable to the seduction of difference, to seek an encounter with the Other, does not require that one relinquish forever one’s mainstream positionality. When race and ethnicity become commodified as resources for pleasure, the culture of specific groups, as well as the bodies of individuals, can be seen as constituting an alternative playground where members of dominating races, genders, sexual practices affirm their power-over in intimate relations with the Other.

bell hooks, “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” Black Looks: Race and Representation(1992)none

In America, these sexual and racial elements have their roots in Europe launching its campaign, over several hundred years, to rationalize the slave trade and the full colonization of Africa. What we experience today seems to be what has been seen from Europe and in the history of the United States. It is a convergence of the historical subjection of women, patriarchal religion, private property, and scientific racism in relation to the industrial revolution and the state. Among the critical historical moments, we can think of the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, where statesmen decided to seize the whole continent of Africa for its resources. Womankind faces a similar campaign today, identical in terms of ideology, with colonization at its core.

Black Sexual Politics

‘Science,’ or so once thought, has been used to further imperialism and colonization of the entire African continent. Europeans, with African partnership, initially warred over the resources presumably underutilized by African nations. Steeped in a peculiar notion of Christianity, with words of care and comfort for others, Europeans established a narrative that Africans needed European management. Africans emerged in the white imagination as being animalistic and subhuman, needing the paternalism of the Europeans. The explorers, or more precisely traffickers, seized women, children, and men, entire families, for the exploitation of their bodies and their labor. Apart from Africans trafficked in the transatlantic slave trade, indigenous peoples in what became the ‘New World’ had been enslaved, if not also displayed in human zoos, possessed and studied.

Sarah Baartman, or Saartjie Baartman, known as the ‘Hottentot Venus,’ was a Quena woman from South Africa, born around 1788 and trafficked into Europe, entering London in 1810. That October, although being illiterate, Baartman allegedly ‘consented’ by contract with English ship surgeon William Dunlop and mixed-race entrepreneur Hendrik Cesars, for whom she worked in domestic servitude, in order to travel to England to be in shows. We see in Baartman’s case how men across races collaborated. The end of Baartman’s life had been in Paris, France, where she died in 1815, only to be dissected afterward. Men had used her in scientific experiments, displayed her in human zoos, where she slept, made her wear a collar, and prostituted her. She had been presented as a thing to be looked at on a pedestal for European audiences. Audiences paid money—of course, to her traffickers. Her body existed in exchange between and among men across class and race. Her subordination fed the European goal toward the colonization of Africa. This subordination also served in furthering the subjection of women, including European women.

One key feature about the treatment of Black women in the nineteenth century was how their bodies were objects of display. In the antebellum American South, White men did not have to look at pornographic pictures of women because they could become voyeurs of Black women on the auction block. A chilling example of this objectification of the Black female body is provided by the exhibition, in early-nineteenth-century Europe, of Sarah Bartmann, the so-called Hottentot Venus. Her display formed one of the original icons for Black female sexuality. An African woman, Sarah Bartmann was often exhibited at fashionable parties in Paris, generally wearing little clothing, to provide entertainment. To her audience she represented deviant sexuality. At the time European audiences thought that Africans had deviant sexual practices and searched for physiological differences, such as enlarged penises and malformed female genitalia, as indications of this deviant sexuality. Sarah Bartmann’s exhibition stimulated these racist and sexist beliefs

– Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (1990)none

Georges Cuvier was a physician and zoologist. He was the one who claimed possession over Baartman, experimenting on her and prostituting her in life and death. He experimented on her and published his findings, even while she was alive—and, after her death, wrote his 1817 scientific thesis about her based on his continued use of her corpse. Her pelvic region was of significance to Cuvier, giving men a continued justification for entering womanhood. They believed that the femurs of Black women were sturdier and firmer, more so than for both white men and white women. This is something that white men who declare themselves women have drawn upon, repeating the comparisons between themselves and Black women. It has been part of their justification for colonizing women’s spaces.

As once could be viewed, Baartman’s body had been on display in a museum in France, her body nude and dissected. She remained that way, on display, for 150 years. And then representatives from her nation came to bring her back home. Europe had erupted in such fascination at the sight of a Black woman’s body, with its curves, all that—at least, that had been the initial sense.

Colonialism as ‘Science’

Charles Darwin and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach both talked about race and intelligence, where such categorizations have been continuously instrumentalized in ‘scientific racism.’ Darwin emphasized that Black people were the lowest on the human evolutionary scale, closest to apes and orangutans. Influenced by Cuvier’s work on Baartman, Darwin theorized Black people as the last of the humans to come from the evolutionary process. And Blumenbach took measurements of skulls to determine racial classification and intelligence. As a side note, the naming of ‘Caucasian’ comes from Blumenbach’s observations of the skull of a young Georgian sex slave, a female, who died at a young age in Moscow. He beheld the young woman’s skull as “beautiful,” as he put it, for he chose it as the holotype of the ‘Caucasian.’

Both in Europe and the United States, it had been propagated how Africans were barely human, if even that. Meanwhile, European men knew exactly who to rape and impregnate. They knew that Black women were not apes or orangutans, but the pretense was, for its time, an elaborate propaganda to justify colonizing Africa. The premise had been that the African people, as those less evolved among the categories, ‘needed’ colonization. By comparison, we see a campaign today labeling women as ‘TERFs,’ saying how women’s concerns are about ‘hate,’ to invent justifications through which to further the silencing and subjection of women. Women have lacked the power of naming to control the propaganda men have made about them, an experience familiar to other colonized peoples, akin to the experiences of the African people.

Colonialism is not satisfied with snaring the people in its net or of draining the colonized brain of any form or substance. With a kind of perverted logic, it turns its attention to the past of the colonized people and distorts it, disfigures it, and destroys it. This effort to demean history prior to colonization today takes on a dialectical significance.

– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)none

Women are a colonized people. Our history, values, and cross-cultural culture have been taken from us—a gynocidal attempt manifest most arrestingly in the patriarchy’s seizure of our basic and precious ‘land’: our bodies.

– Robin Morgan, “On Women as a Colonized People” (1974), Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist (1978)none

Once something has been written down, taken as true, it becomes seen as truth. Both on the basis of sex and on the basis of race, the use of the Black woman has served a dual purpose in misogyny and racism—what Frances M. Beal calls the “double jeopardy” of being Black and female. More into the modern era, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, published in 1994, similarly ‘proved’ Black intellectual inferiority. In a similar way, Darwin and scientists onward have considered the intellectual inferiority of women in relation to men as being ‘natural.’

Courtesy: The Famous Artist Birdy Rose

Buying and Selling the Black Woman, Then and Now

President Thomas Jefferson presents for us a past image of a hustler and a pimp. Many seem to talk about him in an overly dignified way today, but that is not what he was. What we talk about today, Jefferson did in an early form to women, especially Black women. Both Black and female, Black women have been “doubly enslaved,” as Anna Julia Cooper terms it. Their social conditions have involved compulsory pregnancy, a sort of forced surrogacy, with the selling of their babies, alongside sexual slavery, deeply embedded into American chattel slavery for Black women.

Although credited for desiring abolition in his time, Jefferson accounted for his profits on the birth of Black children, attentive to the money to be made from the trafficking in enslaved women and children. During his life, Jefferson owned more than 600 enslaved human beings, including Sally Hemings, whom he also raped and impregnated. Indeed, America’s first bond market had been backed by enslaved human beings, related to the sexual slavery of the Black woman on plantations.

Capital and sexuality remain inextricable in the lives of women, especially for Black women, from Hemings and Baartman to the current medical-technical war on women. We see how Baartman had been advertised: ‘the Hottentot Venus.’ Fetishized, this appearance of the Black woman, most often for others’ pleasure and not her own, has led to ‘rewards.’ Both in Europe and in the United States, the Black woman has been seen as untamable, sexually aggressive. We can see it from the 1700s and 1800s into the present day.

White patriarchy, the point where male supremacy and white supremacy meet, has used everything that has been happening as a justification for its further colonization of womanhood. The use of Baartman’s body and the biased framing of ‘scientific’ findings laid the foundation for what we see today with man feeling himself justified in entering womanhood. He erases her and takes her body—and then her mind. The intimation has been that, due to anatomy and physiology, Black women have been barely human, more akin to animals. Often, it has been said that white women are the ‘standard’ and that white women ‘allowed’ Black women into womanhood. The argument, then, has been that, since white women apparently ‘let in’ a type of woman, already compared to apes and orangutans, and since ‘science’ has ‘proven’ that white men are more refined, softer than Black women, such men can be women.

With Jefferson’s abuse of Hemings as but one example from the past, we see a historical pattern in the white man abusing the Black woman for personal and political gain. Under transgenderism, his ‘new’ abuse of the Black woman presents only a continuing rapist’s attitude of colonialism and imperialism, against both Africa and womanhood, occupied in a parallel situation. The belief has been that men, especially moneyed white men, can take whom or what they want—and do what they want. There is no justice in such tyranny. There has been medical experimentation, such as how gynecology derived from experiments performed on enslaved Black women. Although human beings, we have gone through eugenics and forced sterilization in the ongoing war against racial and ethnic minorities and the poor. In our time, we have biocolonialism in the commodification of sex and the medicalization of gender, especially targeting women and children. Indeed, there has been a continued rape culture, an ideology of rapism, where it has been insisted upon that all boundaries must be ‘transgressed.’ But such ‘transgression’ presents only an old colonialism by another name—and with new technology. Woman’s position worldwide has been defined by poverty, where man has robbed her of her body and herself.

* * *

Women’s bodies have been traded as currency.

In particular, Black women have been considered as currency, bought and sold as chattel. This dynamic, as I like to put it, represents ‘Black woman as Bitcoin.’ The Black woman’s reproduction has been monetized in the American economy. Woman’s reproduction has been of critical significance. Thus, man conquering womanhood has presented him possibilities for extending his power.

‘Black birthing bodies,’ like the old use of ‘breeders’ for enslaved Black women, continues a linguistic tradition of dehumanization. Words like ‘gestators’ and ‘hosts,’ more broadly applied to all women, alongside ‘uterus-havers’ and ‘vulva-havers,’ exhibit woman hating. For the Black woman, there has been a multiplicity of use, both for her labor in producing babies, distinct for her sex, and her labor on the plantation. She has been deprived of health, in any true sense, kept in bondage as currency. The Black woman has been caught within a political economy, which has evolved into what I see as the Fourth Wave in present globalization and industrial civilization. We must consider the continuation of prostitution and surrogacy in a legacy of oppression.

Those on the liberal left do not see that they have become instruments in colonization.

Right in front of us, men rape women in women’s prisons. Men sexually assault women in women’s prisons. But we have not only men but also women expressing sentiments like ‘Rape happens all the time’ to defend men doing violence to women. One wants to take a deep breath, feeling like one might scream ‘You’re a woman! How are you supporting this?’ And so, there are women feeling a shift in power, who then align themselves with power, effectively becoming collaborators. Whether it makes sense or not, whether it seems fair, there is power and survival, even at the expense of other women. Here we have the ruling patriarchy—white patriarchy—and, when it moves, a woman may sense to move with it to advance.

Let us consider the woman rewarded for repeating ‘sex work is work,’ at the expense of her sex—that is, other women. Or, she might be rewarded for saying ‘trans women are women.’ Maybe woman finds that men desire the ‘sex robots’—or “pornbots,” as Kathleen Richardson calls them in the Campaign Against Porn Robots (CAPR)—typically made in the image of women and children, and that it would be most rewarding for her to comply, rather than resist. Many of those doing TED Talks promoting the global sex trade under ‘sex work is work’ and favoring the child ‘sex dolls’ are women. There are wealthy women, those of privilege, saying how ‘sex work is work,’ when they likely will never know the destitution facing women in prostitution. Women act in advertising industries that facilitate the subjection of women, namely prostitution, surrogacy, and transgenderism. We have women fighting the colonization of women, but we find many women supporting it.


Women Are Human thanks The Famous Artist Birdy Rose for allowing us to showcase her artwork. Featuring art loved by radical women, her website can be visited at the following link:

https://thefamousartistbirdyrose.com


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