Accounting for Women’s Leadership in Past Movements (The Garvey Movement), 09/17/2019, #3

For this week’s reflection, I am reacting to a quote found in Ford-Smith’s “Women and the Garvey Movement in Jamaica”:  

“… some upheld the vision of female emancipation based on legislative equality and educational access, but few addressed the question of women’s subordination within the family or spoke to the issue of sexuality.” (Ford-Smith 74) 

I didn’t find it surprising that Garvey maintained a lot of ideas that aligned with the white patriarchal order, but refuted the racism component of it. His original beliefs upheld the image of black women as a “social nurturer of mankind” and an embodiment of a “superior civilizing force” (74) in a similar capacity to white women. I think it is very convenient for people to make these distinctions as biological truths, rather than challenge them as oppressive social mechanisms. These are the mechanisms that successfully confine women to household duties and suppress their sexuality. I saw elements of this in Marcus Garvey’s own marriages. 

From this view, I think it is easy to see how Amy Jacques Garvey had a lukewarm stance about black women’s freedom, while also maintaining a position of leadership in the UNIA. In Amy Garvey’s “Women As Leaders Nationally and Racially” she still frames women’s leadership potential as an extension of a man’s and retains the idea of a nurturer role. She notes how women can “soften the ills of the world through her gracious and kindly contact.” I think that what bothers me the most about the way women, even today, have been conditioned to think is that it requires that women engage in a disproportionate amount of labor to help, to teach and to comfort everyone else, even people who may be oppressing them. I was reminded of the concept of invisible labor and how many of the roles women take on that are a form of it. 

Not only is black women’s labor in the home or within movements often invisible when it comes without compensation, but it can also be considered invisible when they are not credited for their achievements. In Carole Boyce Davies’ “Enduring Legacies of Mrs. Garvey No. 1” this is evident:

 “For one thing it is well documented that most of the men of that period and the major nationalist movements had wives/women who did the hard, organizational work often without credit.” (5) 

The conceptions about these women minimized their importance and contributions in comparison to their male counterparts. I attribute this partly to their soft titles and soft roles (i.e the constant framing of their work as insignificant). I think it was interesting to see how harmful soft titles placed on black women (e.g homemaker) enable different forms of oppression to be reconstructed and further embedded into society. For example, the text mentioned how the ‘homemaker’ title later justified female unemployment (Ford-Smith 82). Today, people critique ideas that came from this model of feminism, but to me it is important to acknowledge that change from oppressive systems is made incrementally and that current, more advanced ideas are built off of previous work. 


Works Cited 

Amy Jacques Garvey, “Women as Leaders Nationally and Racially” in Linnette Vassell, Voices of Women in Jamaica, 1898-1939: 10-12

Carole Boyce Davies, “Enduring Legacies of Mrs. Garvey No. 1” PROUDFLESH: A New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness: Issue 6, 2007

Honor Ford-Smith, “Women and the Garvey Movement in Jamaica,” in Garvey: His Work and Impact, eds.  R. Lewis and P. Bryan (Kingston, ISER/UWI, 1988), 73-88

Featured Image:

Charlie Costict, “Garvey.”  Northend Agent’s, January 2018.

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