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Women's History Month: Thoughts on feminist leadership & succession plans

Today's Women's History Tidbit:
1932: Amelia Earhart is the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic*

A few weeks ago I was honored to share time and space with two amazing feminists. There were a lot of things we said on that panel that still are churning in my head, but I want to ramble on about one of them. We were asked why some women of color don't embrace the label "feminist" and we talked about the historical racism in the feminist movement that is still not fully discussed. We see women of color call themselves feminist and for some white feminists, that means we're good. But we're not. 

Then Courtney said that sometimes the most feminist thing a leader can do is realize that it's time for them to step aside. We were discussing leadership changes, yes in light of last year's NOW election, but leadership overall. She talked about the strategic move to "elect" Samhita as executive editor for Feministing. As she said, they are a collective, but when Jessica was executive editor, Feministing was seen as a white feminist site despite Samhita being there for many years. So what is tokenism, what is real leadership? What does it mean when an organization says "OK, people think we're a white organization...Let's let a woman of color lead us now."

Yes, it smacks of plain tokenism, but I think we all know that in organizations there are informal and formal lines of succession. What if, what if an organization takes a good look at itself from outside eyes and says, "wow...We are really white/straight/able-bodied/etc! I think we need some new leadership blood," and then looks to someone already in the organization and says, "For the good of our issue, you should be the next leader," and then get that person ready to take the reins? Or for someone who might have more "experience" who reflects the status quo in leadership to stop and say, "Actually, it's time for a change. Your turn."

I think that would be awesome. And it's one theme of what I hope to do my Ph.D. on. It's an idea that's been running around in my head all jumbled, but Courtney said it perfectly. I've been in this movement long enough to see some great transitions and some horrible ones. I'm fascinated by the theory of democracy in feminist organizations. Is it democratic to vote on leadership? How is voting done? Why? Are contested races good or bad for organizations or the movement? And what happens when we throw in race/class/sexuality/ability?

Obviously I don't have the answers and I know others have been looking at this for some time, but as we approach a pivotal time when the Baby Boomers will leave the workplace and us Third wavers will take the lead, how will that look like? I guess I better start on that Ph.D. application, eh?


*Source: Shelby Knox via Twitter

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