Fanon on Women, Gender, and Sexuality
The Fanon Arguments No. 3
For the past five decades, Frantz Fanon’s writings on women’s liberation, gender, and sexuality have occupied the circulating concerns of scholars, feminists, decolonial savants, and movement activists.
Fanon’s ascent as the pre-eminent Third World liberation theorist in the 1960s, subjected the Prince of Black Nirvana’s works to intense scrutiny and criticism. “Algeria Unveiled, “The Woman of Color and the White Man,” and “The North African Syndrome” became primary source documents in the charging brief that landed Fanon in the well for trafficking anti-feminist heresies.
The attacks on Fanon were to be expected. The failure of post-Black Power era nationalists to mount a spirited defense of Fanon’s intellectual footprint was not.
For the next half-century, there existed a “Fanonian Predicament,” in which a small detachment of Fanon scholars led by Lewis R. Gordon and radical Black Feminists Linda La Rue, Francis Beale, bell hooks, and T. Deneen Sharpley-Whiting waged a brilliant rear-guard action to safeguard the Martinican philosophers’ revolutionary legacy.
On the 60th anniversary of Fanon’s death in 1961, the New Black Nationalist movement adopted Fanon’s corpus of theories as its guiding philosophical system.
Committed to the creation of a non-heteropatriarchal Black-led nation-state, a consensus emerged in the NBN that an extended Black Nationalist reading of Fanon was in order—one rooted in ethics, the Black experience in America’s settler state, and his writings on women’s liberation.
Fanon on Women, Gender, and Sexuality [FanonWGS], initiates a long-overdue project to clarify, defend, and expand the writ of Frantz Fanon’s contributions to the construction of women’s liberation theory. This paper introduces a framework comprising a Table of Eight Arguments New Black Nationalists’ will develop in greater detail in 2021 to evaluate Fanon’s writings.
In summary, the Table of Eight Arguments take the following positions;
* Frantz Fanon, was an ardent proponent of Third World women’s equality and women’s liberation.
* Frantz Fanon’s vision of women’s liberation emanated from his New Humanist perspective, rather than a pro-feminist standpoint.
* Frantz Fanon did not deny Black women's subjectivity nor engage in their erasure from the concept of a Black nation.
* Frantz Fanon did not envisage the nation as a patriarchal construct.
* Frantz Fanon was not anti-feminist.
* Frantz Fanon was not a misogynist.
* Frantz Fanon was by today's standards a masculinist.
* Frantz Fanon harbored significant homophobic views.
This Black Nationalist interrogation of Fanon’s constructs is not an academic exercise. It coheres with a strategic design we are forging to win power in the 2020’s, when existential crises engulf American Empire. We are not tethered to Fanon’s philosophical system to cherry pick those writings that narrowly comport with our positions or political passions of the moment.
More to the point, Black Nationalists must craft a non-heteropatriarchal design compelling enough to persuade enough women, feminists, trans, and non-binary communities that a Black republic offers the best opportunity to win liberation. Whatever provisional leadership structure emerges to administrate a plebiscite for self-determination must embody a new collective polity of totalized subjects guiding the transition process to a new black nation-state, independent city-state or autonomous region of larger national entity. Subjectivity cannot be conferred after the fact, it must be present at the creation.
Frantz Fanon’s penetrating insights into the insidious ways imperialism and neocolonialism’s racist rule inflicted psychological damage, terror, self-hatred, and an inferiority complex on Black women and men remain highly relevant today.
Like the Algerian nationalist revolution Fanon joined, he was confident that Black and Third World women revolting against the old order, would overcome their alienation, inferiority complex, and “zone of non-being.”’ Fanon believed that in the midst of winning national liberation Third World women would redefine their identity and leading role in society. The Fanonian New Humanist revolution envisioned women, peasants, and the least among society seizing their destiny and ushering a new society.
While Fanon’s decolonial theory exposed the racial imperatives underpinning imperialist rule and the philosophical nexus of Black identity, he did not articulate an overarching social theory of women’s emancipation. Filling that void would fall to succeeding generations. In the introduction of Fanon: A Critical Reader Reader , one of the first comprehensive defenses of Fanonian Theory, Co-Author Carolyn Johnson posed the question: Can we speak of an antiracist feminist practice that employs Fanon, a Fanonian feminism?
As will be argued in the Fanon WGS series, that gap was filled in 1983, by poet-author-laureate Alice Walker’s articulation of “womanism.”
Walker’s publication of ‘In Search of My Mother’s Garden: Womanist Prose’ (1983) summoned Black women to directly confront their alienation and inferiority complex that couldn’t be arrested by white feminists that denied the racial and class subjugation of Black women.
To overcome their sense of alienation and inferiority, Walker implored Black women to embrace their own sense of being and identity. Womanism held that blackness and the organic cultural experience rooted in historically evolved Black communities in the rural South, was the lens through which women could engage their femininity.
Walker's admonition to Black womanists to 'struggle together with Black men against racism, while struggling with Black men about sexism' and being 'committed to the survival and wholeness of the entire people,' encompassed Fanon's nationalist-humanist project. For these reasons and others, in April 2021, New Black Nationalists embraced “womanism’ as the most transformational social theory for the emancipation of women.
Thus, the essence of our reading of Fanon and the Table of Eight Arguments outlined here are rooted in nation-state Black Nationalist ideology, Fanonian philosophy, and Alice Walker’s Womanist social theory of emancipation.
On April 29, 2021, the following Table of Seven Arguments was by released by the New Black Nationalist Movement.
1.Frantz Fanon was a leading and uncompromising exponent of Third World women’s liberation. Both Fanon and his wife Josie, who continued to support Algeria’s victorious revolution in 1962 after his death, fought to expand women’s role in the liberation movement.
2.Frantz Fanon upheld full equality for women. In his words, “From the very beginning, the FLN (Algerian National Liberation Front) defined its program: to put an end to French occupation, to give the land to the Algerians to establish a policy of social democracy in which man and women have an equal right to culture, to material well-being, and to dignity.” [Toward the African Revolution p. 102]
3.Frantz Fanon was not “anti-feminist.” Fanon’s overall approach to womens liberation more closely reflected a contemporary pro-womanist perspective that doesn’t privilege gender or sexism, but struggles against all sites and forms of oppression, whether based on gender, race, or class. Commenting on women’s role in the Algerian revolution Fanon observed that “There is a continuity between the woman and the revolutionary; she is the lighthouse, the barometer. The Algerian woman is a nurse, a liaison agent, a fighter, she bears witness to the depth and the density of the struggle.” From Fanon’s perspective, The Algerian woman’s participation in the liberation struggle challenged the patriarchal structure of Algerian society and altered the Algerian woman’s conception of herself and her right to total freedom.
4. Fanon’s New Humanist philosophy sought the transformation and ultimately the transcendence of women’s liberation struggles into a new stage of social relations. New Black Nationalists concur with Professor T. Deneen Sharpley Whiting’s argument in Conflicts and Feminism  that “Fanon’s writings move towards ‘a transformational feminism, committed to and engaged in resisting alienation and oppressive practices embedded in racism, sexism and capitalism.’ Fanon spoke of the ongoing transformations that were occurring during the revolution concerning the areas of value systems, sexual, and familial relations. Indeed, what Fanon was observing was women being liberated from time honored traditions of silence, invisibility, and sequestration.”
5. By today’s standards, Fanon was a masculinist. New Black Nationalists believe Fanon’s masculinism did not promote male superiority, rigid gender social roles, heteropatriarchal hierarchy or his much-criticized use of the masculine as normative language, which translated poorly from French to English. In “Pitfalls of National Consciousness” Fanon warned about the “dangers of perpetuating the feudal tradition which hold sacred the superiority of the masculine element over the feminine.” Quite the opposite, where Fanon’s masculinist tendencies exert themselves are in his projections of male normativity as ostensibly heterosexual. Fanon’s masculinist inclinations suggested that homosexuality constituted a deviant but not neurotic's lifestyle among black men. In this vein, Fanon’s masculinist views of male normativity bled into several homophobic representations.
6.New Black Nationalists believe Fanon harbored homophobic views that are clearly reflected in a limited number of passages of his writings. In Black Skin, White Masks [p. 201] Fanon says “I have never been able without revulsion, to hear a man say to another man: ‘He is so sensual! In another revelatory extended passage Fanon observed says “Let us mention in passing that we have never observed the overt presence of homosexuality in Martinique, the reason being the absence of the Oedipus complex in the Antilles. The schema of homosexuality is well known to us. There are, nevertheless, what they call 'men dressed as women' or makoume. They mainly wear a jacket and skirt. But we are convinced that they lead a normal sexual life. They drink rum punch like any other guy, and are not insensitive to the charms of women, be they fishwives or vegetable sellers. In Europe, on the other hand, we have known colleagues who have become homosexuals, though always passive. But there is nothing neurotic in their homosexuality and for them it was an expedient, as pimping is for others.”
Here, we get a sense of how Fanon’s normative masculinist notions bleed into homophobia. Fanon doesn’t deny homosexuality in Martinique, but its overt presence. Fanon excuses mens feminine dress because drinking rum punch is a man’s fancy, and they lead a “normal sex life.” Even his characterization of Black Antillean male homosexuals in Europe as passive and essentially engaging is sex-work is a sympathetic viewpoint. Notwithstanding Fanon’s rejection of Freudian theories and the Oedipus Complex as not applying to Black people, Fanon’s homophobic views, while not extreme are clearly evident.
7.Frantz Fanon was not a misogynist. Condemnations particularly by white feminist that Fanon was misogynist were stirred by Fanon’s writings in Black Skin White Masks. Fanon asserted that some white women who experienced fear and anxiety about being raped by a Black man, suffered from a neurosis. Fanon concluded this fear of rape was actually repressed sexual desire. White feminist Susan Brownmiller characterization of Fanon’s formulation as the “A Negro is Raping Me” theory in Against Our Will  became must read material in feminist circles for the next two decades. Accused of policing Black womens bodies after the Mayotte Capecia affair, using masculine normative language, and insinuating white women’s sexuality was essentially masochistic placed Fanon in the crosshairs of the growing feminist movement.
Fanon never ducked issues of gender and sexuality: he put them on the front burner. His clinical psychiatric work and psychological analysis of the relationship between the colonizer and colonized was controversial. Fanon was breaking new ground in addressing the inferiority complex, blackphobia and the manner in which the Black body served as a cultural marker of illicit sex.
8.Frantz Fanon did not deny the subjectivity of Black women, nor conceive of the Black nation as a heteropatriarchal construct. New Black Nationalists regard these two charges as the most serious. They are deserving of an extended quote that captures the essence of the rebuke. In her book, Becoming Black, Michelle Wright writes the following:
“As theorist Fanon ignored the vital presence and contributions of Black women in their discussions of race, citizenship, and nationality. Fanon also incorporated issues of gender into his theories of the white subject and Black other, most unforgettably in his indictment of Black women who become involved with white men (he determined them to be self-hating) and his reading of Algerian women as strangely invulnerable to the destructive effects of masking with regard to status. The failure to consider gender, like those theories of subjectivity that ignore race, is not simply an error of omission, an appendage that must now be fitted on to make their theories “complete. The failure is far more critical than that: gender is an integral dynamic in the production of identity in the era of colonization.… In short, whereas white women always figure into this racist and misogynist discourse, Black women are prone to remaining barred altogether. By framing their moments of consciousness within the construction of a patriarchal nation, these five theorists (Senghor, DuBois, Cesaire, Baraka, and Fanon) effectively ignore and erase the ways in which Black women, over the past three hundred years, played a leading role in the formation of Black communities in the West…This patriarchal construction of the Black nation finds echoes in the era of the Black Arts movement….Frantz Fanon, the central influence and inspiration of the Black Arts movement, offers no more than a compliant, silent, and veiled woman as a model for female activism. "
Wright's reference to Fanon indicting Black women as “self-hating” involves his brutal reproof of Mayotte Capecia’ s 1948 novel "I am a Martinican Woman." Fanon pilloried Capecia for glorifying Martinican women involved with white men seeking human validation, love, and illusions of becoming white [lactification].
Fanon’s criticism here goes specifically to his psychoanalysis of colonialism’s adverse effects on Martinican women. Wright speaks out of context as if Fanon is referencing all Black women. She neglects to point out Fanon's principal assertion was that the dominant colonial culture identifies the black skin of the Negro with impurity, and Antilleans accept this association and so come to despise themselves. Moreover, Fanon made similar comments about Martinican Black men: “The colonized man of color caresses ‘white breast’ with the belief that he is grasping white ‘civilization and dignity’ and making them their own.” Fanon, himself grew up thinking he was French, not Black.
That Wright suggests Fanon confers subjectivity on white men, white women, and Algerian women, but erases Black women as subjects, is disingenuous. Wright knows the first rule of Fanon Studies is that he wrote from his own lived experience in Martinique, North Africa during World War 2, post-war France, Algeria, Tunisia and as Algeria’s NLF Ambassador to African states. Does anyone doubt if Fanon bore personal witness to a Black liberation struggle he would have ignored or declined to discuss Black women’s role in depth? The calculus of Wright and some other Black feminists’ logic is that Fanon’s erasure of Black women could only result in his construction of a patriarchal Black nation.
"Revolutions are not made by men alone. " [Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, 1964]
The English translations of Fanon's works, "A Dying Colonialism," "Toward an African Revolution," and "Wretched of the Earth" all hit the streets and college campuses in the mid-1960's during a critical tipping point.
Political momentum was shifting from the civil rights era to the Black Power era. Radicalizing Black youth and Marxists were attempting to steer the civil rights struggle to the left, and calls to abandon integration strategies in favor of confrontational and separatist approaches were growing louder.
But there was another seismic change roiling the waters. Young Black women like Francis Beale, just returning from Paris after six years, helped found New York City's SNCC chapter. She spoke Fanon's grammar to power on the revolutionary role of women played in Algeria's national liberation struggle.
"The unveiled Algerian woman," he avers, "who assumed an increasingly important place in the revolutionary action, developed her personality, discovered the exalting realm of responsibility...This woman who, in the avenues of Algiers or Constantine, would carry the grenades or the submachine guns charges, who tomorrow would be outraged, violated, tortured, could not put herself back into her former state of mind, and relive her behavior of the past. "
Fanon's words, his theories, his energy helped inspire a generation of Black women activists that haven't looked back since. From the revolutionary women poets of the Black Arts Movement to Aboriginal women in Australia, to martyred Marielle Franco in Brazil, to Assa Traore in France. and all the women who led the Black Lives 2.0 revolts after Breonna Taylor and George Floyd's executions, Fanon's words continues to breathe resistance into the movement.
The 2020's, is destined to be a decade of interruption, social upheaval, war, and revolution. It is a time that will beckon the Black liberation struggle to move from resistance to revolution. It is the time for a new generation to carry Fanon's doctrine forward.
We believe that a radical synthesis of Alice Walker's "womanist" theory, Fanonian New Humanism, and new Black feminist ideation can elevate our struggle to the next level with originalist constructs. Join us in our critical reading in the spirit of Fanon's exhortation to "make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavor to create a new man.