Thursday, May 24, 2012

I've decide to come out and say it. Full disclosure, right? I'm...a feminist.

A lot of you might be looking at me like, "Well duhhh." But until very recently, I purposefully did not align myself with "the feminist movement". Distancing myself from it was a conscious political decision on my part. I had bought into this idea of feminism as a White woman's thing, concerned with getting them out into the working world while Black and Brown women took care of their kids and no one took care of our kids. I saw feminism as a perpetrator of racism, classism, homophobia, and various other -isms in their focus on the horrors of sexism. And yes, I knew of the existence of feminists of color and of "womanism" as a concept (a concept unrecognized by spell-checkers everywhere, but a concept nonetheless), but I suppose I regarded these feminists sort of like I regard Black Republicans, as entities that fundamentally confuse me, and I rejected Womanism because in my limited understanding of it, it was caught up in religion and y'all know I don't do that.

But then, out of a combination of curiosity and ChoosingPancakes's urging, I took a class this semester called Ain't I a Woman? Women of Color and the Politics of Feminism. I had taken quite a few things that are cross-listed with Gender and Sexuality Studies before, as you might expect, but nothing that dealt so specifically with feminist discourse that has emerged from marginalized populations. During our first seminar, we watched a video that featured some women who espoused a lot of feminist notions but adamantly refused to identify as feminists, and while some persons in the class were condemning them, I totally understood. I had "feminist tendencies," but damn if I was gonna identify as a feminist because I didn't like the history of that word. A rose by any other name, right? Why did it matter if I didn't call myself a feminist if I still fought for the rights of women (and all people more generally)? 

Then we read Benita Roth's Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America's Second Wave. Roth shows how these movements were all interrelated and grew out of and from and through one another. She also shows that particular strains of feminism, especially Black feminism, really seem more like the general human rights activism that I have always identified with. I was intrigued. Then we read bell hooks, who made her theory quite accessible and suggested in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center that marginalized populations have a sort of backwards privilege towards understanding the way oppression works because we so often experience it in myriad ways. By this point in the class, I understood liberal feminism as saying "Women and men are equal," radical feminism as saying "Women and men are different, but those differences shouldn't stigmatize women,"' and hooks as saying LOL HOLD UP WAIT A MINUTE ALL WOMEN (AND MEN) AREN'T EVEN THE SAME AS EACH OTHER. *intrigue grows* If there's anything I can always get behind, it's some good old intersectionality. (Shout out to Bonnie!) hooks said feminism is for everyone and redefined it as "a movement to end sexist oppression," and when it was noted that sexist oppression cannot be ended without an end to all of the other oppressions that plague women, I started to warm up to this "feminist" idea.

Then we read this awesome anthology called This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color which had stories and testimonies from lots of feminists of color and I identified with so much of what they said. We read Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis, who comes at feminism from a Marxist perspective and brings in so many of the class issues that worried me about feminism. We questioned the role of academics in feminism, as well as the tensions between scholarship and on-the-ground activism, the concept of "truth"(s), and why we've been taught to devalue experience as a source of knowledge. I was really getting into this stuff, to my own surprise. I got to write a paper about Erykah Badu as a source of Black feminist thought and it was awesome.

We asked the kind of crazy questions with no answers that I live for, like "What's the difference between objectivity and generalizability?" or "How do we know it's normal to group ourselves?" and a HUGE one for me, "How do you have unity and diversity simultaneously?". We read things that were half in English and half in Spanish, like Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands, and felt what it feels like to be linguistically excluded from scholarship/activism in your own favor. We read Patricia Hill Collins's Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment and discussed the matrix of domination, the way very diverse experiences can come together under it, and the idea that everyday survival can be a form of activism. We talked about the fetishization of the idea of the individual genius, when really the overwhelming majority (if not all) of thought is produced in dialogue. We talked at length about the politics and power of self-definition, and I realized I was falling in love.

I had to miss the week we read Audre Lorde because my thesis was due in three days, so I am saving her as a treat for when I miss academia in the coming months. The few things I've read by her in the past (mainly "Uses of the Erotic" and some random quotes) suggest that I will wish she had adopted me and raised me as her own. We read about Third World Feminism and talked about how essentialism arises both within and outside of communities, how people with colonialist mindsets often totalize minority populations, taking some aspect or attribute of a subset of the population and characterizing the entire population as having that aspect/attribute, the notion of cultural authenticity and how to reconcile it with generational changes, and internalized sexism and how patriarchal culture is not always enforced only by the patriarchs. We asked more questions that make me want to moan with scholarly/activisty pleasure: What happens when we bring labioplasty in the US into conversation with female genital mutilation in sub-Saharan Africa? How does that change the "cultural" arguments that are usually made about female genital mutilation? When do we consider things disabilities or abnormalities instead of recognizing that everything exists on a spectrum?

Our last week of class, I gave a presentation on an anthology called Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism, and even though those women were all about my mom's age, theirs was a feminism I could totally get behind. It raised issues like the lack of truly safe spaces in any human interaction, feeling like a particular identity of yours isn't "enough" for an identity-coded space, feeling like your birth family isn't the family that can best support you, the politics of the "people of color" label, colonization in interpersonal romantic relationships, sacrifice, the lack of space for mixed race persons in the White/poc dichotomy so often presented, feeling like you can't be fully yourself in identity-coded spaces, accountability, gentrification, HIV, hip-hop and empowerment, the intersections of motherhood and class, the subtle-ization of racism, the politics of femininity and femme-ness, the politics of sex-positivity as a woman of color, guilt amongst the successful daughters of unsuccessful parents, etc. etc. etc. It's a book I'm torn between selling back so that I can get more money to furnish my apartment and keeping because I want to have it on my bookshelf forever.

And if all of that wasn't enough, we had this incredible final project. We were to pick a subset of feminist thought and create an anthology around it. I chose trans feminism, because it seemed to me a sort of final frontier of inclusive feminism, and because the struggles trans women undergo in their quest for acceptance in feminist spaces reminded me of the struggles of Black/Brown women and lesbian women in the past. I read so many things, first from radical feminists who said things so terrible about trans women that I refuse to repeat them here, and them from trans women themselves responding to that and developing scholarship about their own oppression out of it and wanting to reconcile trans activism with feminism, and then finally from people who are not necessarily trans or women who believe that feminism cannot be true to itself without the centralization of the trans experience. And that's when it hit me: if these women can be feminists when a non-trivial percent of feminists wouldn't even call them women, then what the fuck am I doing? It's not feminism that's wrong, it was my previously held interpretation of feminists and feminism as homogenous (White, privileged) things. It was my failure to realize that a feminist identity should be allowed the same degrees of freedom as any other identity. It was my failure to realize that, by the measure of the scholars I value most in the field, the work I do is already feminism, but naming things and being able to stand in solidarity is important.

So, I am a feminist. I am a militant, Black, class-conscious-but-struggling-with-her-own-changing-class-perspective, outside-of-the-gay-straight-dichotomy, likely to drink a beer while wearing a dress, sex-positive, unwanted-children-negative, big-titties-embracing, revolution-demanding, self-loving, hegemonic-standards-of-beauty-rejecting, romantic-comedy-loving, stereotype-eviscerating, all-inclusive, no-kids-wanting-but-motherhood-respecting, checking-my-own-privilege-but-checking-yours-too, articulate-but-still-will-grab-a-n*gga-by-the-collar-quick, justice-fighting-for ready-to-fuck-up-some-traditional-gender-roles, academic-who-curses-too-much feminist. I am everything I am...I just didn't realize it could all fit under one word.    

Reblogged from Who Needs Feminism
"For absolutely so many reasons. But mostly to stand in solidarity with every man, woman, trans, gender-queer individual who has ever felt degraded, ashamed, fear, sadness, rage or despair at the hands of the patriarchy." -- Who Needs Feminism

"...because apparently talking about my period out loud to a friend is vulgar. But the guy three seats down made an announcement about his threesome last night and is getting high fives." -- Who Needs Feminism

"I need feminism because the fact that I’m an overweight, person of color, and a female isn’t anything to be ashamed of, nor does it tell you what I’m capable of. Three strikes against me my ass." -- Who Needs Feminism

And the tl;dr version of this post: "because a friend of mine said she doesn’t declare herself as a ‘feminist’ because she ‘doesn’t believe in everything they stand for’. As if every feminist must hold the exact same opinion/criteria of beliefs. The reality is we each have individual opinions, ones we agree and disagree with but we are united with the common need for equal rights." -- Who Needs Feminism

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