Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Ties that (Un)Bind: Feminism, Sisterhood and Other Foreign Relations

Oyeronke Oyewumi


Sisterhood has emerged as the dominant model for feminist intercommunity relations. A term of political solidarity, “sisterhood” speaks women’s activism. The meaning it carries for its originators and deployers is one of shared oppression, common victimization, community of interests, solidarity, and collective activism. Whether it refers to interracial, international, transglobal, or cross- cultural relations, the ideal promoted is couched in the rhetoric of kinship and family bonds. Nevertheless, many feminists have criticized this use of the term. African American feminists have, for example, pointed out what they consider the hypocrisy and the dishonesty of white feminists in advocating an unconditional love and solidarity amongst all women, even as they exercised their race and class privileges on the backs of non-white women. Given this insightful critique of sisterhood as a model for inter-racial relations, one is surprised that the term still has currency in certain feminist circles. Unlike the word “feminism,” which has engendered new concepts like womanism and Third World feminism, for example, “sisterhood” has not generated alternative terms of political solidarity. Rather, African American feminists, in particular, have pointed out the limitations of the term “sisterhood,” attempting to reformulate it to carry the weight of experiences beyond those of white women. Audre Lorde (1984) writes about the “sister outsider,” an oxymoron which suggests that the problem is not really the notion of sisterhood but the way it has been used in the women’s movement. Another black feminist, bell hooks (1995), writes about “false sisterhood,” indicating that the term’s early meanings were not realized in the lives of contemporary feminists.

Full Text:


JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

Published by Africa Resource Center, Inc. All inquiries about rights, permissions, reprints and license should be directed to AfricaResource.

Copyright © Africa Resource Center, Inc., 1999 - .