Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Feminism is not a dirty word but it is exclusionary

image If we were to ask whether or not men and women are equal, the answer would be an unequivocal no.  As much as feminism has made great strides towards ending inequality, there are still great gaps between the genders, which manifest themselves economically, socially and through violence.  Because certain protections have been enshrined in law, there are those that believe that feminist organizing has reached the zenith of it achievement, however; what can be granted by law, can be taken by law.

The issue with feminism is that by locating gender as the singular site of oppression in the lives of women, it ignores the ways in which class, sexuality, disability and race also form the basis of marginalization.  In a piece written for the Sidney Herald,  Georgina Ibister chose to state her defence of feminism:

I'm not going to deny that the word feminism hasn't become problematic. But the reasons for this are predominantly superficial.  (emphasis mine) The denial of feminist identification seems to be based not in resistance to feminism's goals of gender equality, but in the replication of outdated and exaggerated feminist stereotypes.

Feminism today means working towards changing cultures of entrenched misogyny within universities and workplaces, pushing for maternity leave — which many women still cannot access — child-care availability and equal pay. Feminism is a tool that opens up avenues for gender liberation that allow us to move towards a fairer and more equal society.

Equality in all realms of our lives is not just something that appears on the supermarket shelves as a commodity to buy. As a community we have a responsibility to strive for equal rights as well as ensure the continuation of the rights we have gained. Maintaining and building upon gender equality must be an ongoing process. (emphasis mine)

Feminist concerns are at the heart of our everyday lives, in our relationships with partners, family, friends and colleagues.  If we all managed to take into consideration the gender dynamics and possible inequalities present in our own lives and change them for the better, we would contribute to changing attitudes within society.  Feminism offers all of us the opportunity to strive and hope for gender equality in all places,  This is its core ideal, thus we must reclaim feminism. (emphasis mine)

I suppose if you are white, able bodied, cisgender and straight, this little treatise would be inspiring, however; if even one of the above marginalizations marks your body as “other”, clearly Ibister’s vision of female solidarity is meant specifically to exclude your concerns.

Feminism is not irrelevant because women have achieved equal rights, it is irrelevant because it routinely fails to consider and affirm that a monolithic woman does not exist.  This is precisely the critique that WOC have routinely voiced regarding feminist organizing and feminist theory.  Gender cannot be the only site of oppression because we all experience it differently.  A White suburban mom and a disabled woman living alone are going to have very different issues.  It is so readily evident and yet White able bodied, straight heterosexual women, continue to frame feminist organizing in a matter that best suits their needs and their desires.  Feminism isn’t just about equality for these women; it is about gaining the ability to oppress in the same manner that White men have historically oppressed. 

The concerns of WOC, the differently abled, lesbians and trans women are not superficial.  As marginalized women we face greater threats of violence, poverty, discrimination, etc., Only a person of extreme privilege could possibly trivialize these issues in this manner.  When marginalized bodies enter feminist spaces our concerns are routinely ignored.  Why does it have to always be about race, or I don’t like the word cisgender.  In common everyday speech feminists who claim to care about women’s issues, will question why they have to stop using words like, lame, idiot, crazy or dumb as descriptors.  It takes to much effort to be concerned about the needs of marginalized women, but let a man use the word bitch and the birkenstock brigade is armed and ready to do battle.

How can marginalized women identify as feminists, when our concerns are ignored to preserve the privilege of a small group of women?  Instead of diluting feminism to create a more inclusive space, we are called out for our betrayal.  How can we not see the issues of gender disparity?  Well, I got news for you lady, we live it ever damn day but we also know that our scars involve so much more than that.  If these over privileged women want to hold onto their dear feminism, they need to expand the issues that feminism focuses on.  Intersectionality cannot just be a tag word to get liberal credentials; it must make up the majority of feminist scholarship and organizing.  Until we understand that the path to equality is multi-faceted, we are only normalizing certain bodies at the expense of others.

I am not a feminist.  I believe in the equal rights of women.  I believe that we have a long journey ahead to fully dismantle the systemic role that patriarchy plays in the devaluation of women, however my identity involves more than my womanhood.  I am Black and I am disabled. I will not privilege gender so that women who already exist with privilege can stand on my back as they break through a glass ceiling. Glass shards shall not cut my back like the sting of an overseer’s whip, so that I can become complicit in supporting this short sighted vagina solidarity.