Writing in Defense of Black Womanhood: Twentieth Century Black Female Intellectuals and the Development of Intersectional Thought
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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“Writing in Defense of Black Womanhood” seeks to create an intellectual genealogy for the theory of intersectionality. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s influential articles, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics” (1989) and “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” (1991) served as the theory of intersectionality’s introduction into mainstream academic thought. However, Crenshaw’s publications did not mark the birth of this theoretical framework. Black female intellectuals such as Angela Y. Davis, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Maya Angelou, June Jordan, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Frances Beale, Paula Giddings, Nikki Giovanni, and bell hooks had spent the prior two decades theorizing about Black femininity and its role in the Black family and the ongoing Black Freedom Struggle. Motivated by the prevalent negative stereotypes of black women both in media and propagated by politicians such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Ronald Reagan, Black female intellectuals used their personal experiences to write their own positive and inclusive definitions of Black femininity. Through these new definitions, they argued for the inclusion and centrality of Black female experiences in antiracist and feminist struggles. Through the examination of both personal correspondence and published works, this research explores the public and private conversations that Black female intellectuals conducted in an effort to redefine Black femininity and center the social justice movements of the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s around Black women’s experiences.