Hello guys !
This month being Women History Month I thought I’d do something that’s fitting for the occasion, and talk about something that I didn’t know how to approach on the blog until a few days ago when it suddenly dawned on me, seriously, one minute it wasn’t there and just as I was getting ready to sleep, it appeared. Thank you midnight thoughts, you’ve done well this time!
In case you haven’t guessed what the subject is, it’s Feminism. Yes, the big ugly word that a lot us fear but that I came to understand, love and cherish over the past few months. I’m going to talk to you about my own experience, and as you might guess it, it will get pretty personal, but I will introduce other women’s experiences as well, because it’s important to get as many perspectives as possible when talking about things that are subjective and for which the meaning can change from one person to the other. And I want this post to be universal, I want women from different backgrounds to read and nod because they can see themselves in some of these things.
So because of the personal aspect, I don’t know how structured the post will be, if at all. I’ll just ramble away and hope for the best. So before starting off, let’s lay some basis so that we’re all on the same wave length and we’re all talking about the same thing here.
What is Feminism ?
I think we all know what it is but we’ll go step by step. Feminism is a movement -or group of movements, whichever way you want to look at it– campaigning for women’s rights going off the basis that they -we- face oppression because we are perceived as inherently weaker and “less”. Feminism at its core fights for free choice, for women AND non-binary pals to have complete control over their lives, freedom, education, jobs, equal pays, and for them to basically have the same chances as men in all domains and aspects of life. Either it is staying at home or having big careers, getting married or not, having kids or not, it’s up to them and no one else.
In my opinion, for Feminism to be true and thrive, needs to be intersectional. There’s really no other way to do it, because if it’s not it excludes people and if it excludes people, it really isn’t Feminism.
What is Intersectionality ?
Intersectionality is based off the fact that someone’s identity isn’t just one thing. It isn’t just sexuality, or race, or gender, ethnicity, religion, mental or physical health, social class… All of these things come together to form a person’s identity and cannot be separated, they intersect to make a person who they are. Which means that other than sexism, women and non-binary folks can face racism, xenophobia, ableism, transphobia, homophobia and/or any other kind of bigotry. All of this means that your Feminism needs to include:
- Trans women (I’m looking at you Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie*).
- Poor women.
- Disabled women.
- Muslim women.
- Black women.
- Indigenous/Native women.
- Non-binary pals. This last one I wasn’t aware of until recently and it makes sense, but they get erased a lot so let’s not forget to include them
* If you weren’t aware of what happened, CNA recently spoke on Trans Women and was she said was really harmful and showed how little knowledge she has about Transgender experiences. This isn’t my place to explain but here’s an article and here’s another one on why Feminism should be Trans-inclusive. I’m just very disappointed.
I grew up a Feminist, even if I never knew it, even if I never put a label on it. Want to know why? Because my mom is one. My mom is my hero and the biggest influence in my life. She probably doesn’t know it either but she really is. She’s the most hardworking woman I’ve ever met, and she still manages to make time for us, to show that she loves us, she does everything to raise us to be great women as well (my sister and I) and to make everything we need available to us. She’s a superhero. And my number one supporter.
She’s always believed in me, let me go my own way, given me my own space, let me pursue whatever dreams and passions without interfering. And I love her for that. She’s always had hopes and expectations for me but never made them obvious, it got to the point -when I wanted to choose my path after high school- where I’d beg her to tell me what she wanted me to do because I was confused and she always refused because my future, my choice.
As I said, I grew up feeling empowered and as if I could conquer the world. I am very ambitious by nature so that felt freeing. Until I started being very aware of my surroundings and of the society I was growing up in. That was a rough disillusion. I was maybe 12? And everyone -even people I don’t know- had an opinion on who I should be, how I should behave, they were trying to fit me into boxes I didn’t belong in, or I belonged in too many. I wasn’t white enough, thin enough, Muslim enough, too smart, too loud, too honest, too ambitious… And for a long time I made myself small and folded inwards to fit.
Here’s the thing, the society I live in –like many others– is sexist, misogynistic, and inclined on colorism. I’m not generalizing of course but if you grow up surrounded by those things, you’re bound to have some internalized and not-so-internalized biases. As soon as I stepped out of the comfort of my house, the male gaze was upon me. I needed to be desirable but not reveal too much, I needed to strive for an education but I couldn’t be more educated than my potential husband, that my ultimate goal needs to be to settle, get married and have kids? What if I don’t want to? What about the people who don’t want to get married? That’s some damaging thinking.
I’m the type of person who wants everything from life and isn’t afraid of going after it. I want a big career, to be successful in it, to be able to help people. I remember going to my sister’s pediatrician with her last year (which used to be mine) and as we chatted away, he asked what I wanted to do as a specialty, my mom answered and said “A surgeon” -which I’m not even sure of. His response? “But you can’t! That’ll be hard on your domestic life, you won’t be a good wife, won’t see much of your kids” Okay. I know that came for a good place, but who told him that’s what I want from life?
Yes, I want to eventually get married. Yes, I want to eventually have kids. But does that means I have to give up big part of who I am, the ambitious one? the one that has big dreams and want to keep working towards them? I think not. Anyway. As I struggled to balance between what society wanted me to be and what I wanted to be, I became more aware of what Feminism is, of the Feminist in me, because until then, I stirred very clear of it.
In mainstream media, especially where I live, Feminism is portrayed to be this wild, out of control movement where women wanted to be provocative, lacked modesty and didn’t fight for anything important so I didn’t identify as that. And I know most feminists don’t either, but I didn’t know that at the time. But when I started reading up and educating myself, I saw more and more of who I am and what I stand up for portrayed in what the essence of Feminism is. And so I reclaimed that label because I want to fight for my rights, the rights of all women and non-binary people. I want us to be freed of not only sexism but all other forms of oppression and bigotry.
Book recommendation: Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World
I grew up on the Isle of Skye where there was like one mixed race family I knew and the overwhelming majority of people I knew were white. There also wasn’t really anyone I knew growing up who was anything other than straight.
This was probably why when I would get aroused when I was younger by my mum’s underwear catalogues and my friend’s brother’s naked women posters I didn’t realize that this was an early explanation to my sexuality. No one I knew was queer so I didn’t have an example that people were different to just straight or gay, I only ever saw it on tv. As far as I knew I was attracted to boys so I definitely wasn’t gay. Then someone at my school came out as bi, and everyone just said she was a lesbian, but I paid attention and started to think about myself.
At this time I was also becoming much more involved in internet culture and learning about the world outside of my own community. It took me about 4 years after that initial thought before I read about pansexuality and immediately felt like that was me. I found this by my increasing involvement in the tumblr feminist community (which I’m not part of now because it’s so toxic). I really started to think about the world around me and how insular my childhood was. I thought back to the language I used to use and how everyone took it as acceptable because they were all white, able-bodied, straight and cis.
Feminism has really made me think about myself as a person and how I want to teach children as they grow how the world isn’t exactly how they may take it from their small communities. I feel so empowered at times, but I also feel very upset about my own actions when I see minorities talking about bad experiences. It’s such a learning curve and sometimes I feel like because of my background I have so much more to learn than everyone else, but I love learning so it’s ok.
Book recommendation: Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne
Am I a feminist? According to the dictionary definition, yes, I am. But I don’t feel comfortable with that word. What do I associate with the term feminism? White feminists.
People who tell me that this is not the time to discuss other forms of discrimination. People who tell me that we’re only focusing on gender equality at the moment, we’re only discussing sexism. This type of feminism doesn’t only occur abroad. It exists in Germany as well. I am not just marginalized because I am a woman. I’m also a woman of color and I don’t speak nor write my father tongue (yes FATHER tongue) perfectly even thought it’s the main language of the country I live in at the moment. I could use the term intersectional feminist. Some people use it as a general term that means they fight against all forms of discrimination. Since the word feminism is part of this term, I feel like the term insinuates that feminism is the combining factor, the main cause, the priority.
I do identify as an intersectional feminist and my definition centers on being against sexism and for gender equality, while taking intersections of other forms of discrimination and marginalisations into account. However, if I’m talking about my activism in general, which includes fighting against all forms of discrimination, I don’t use the term ‘intersectional feminist’ as my label. It isn’t the all-encompassing word that I’m looking for. If it works for you, that’s great. I’m feeling rather comfortable with the term ‘social justice activist’ at the moment. Maybe I’ll find a term that resonates with me 100 % one day – I haven’t found it yet, but one day, I might.
Book recommendation: Saree by Su Dharmapala
The idea of agency and freedom of choice and expression is something Western cultures are very familiar and intimate with. But for all of that fierceness and freedom, it leaves very little room for women to have freedom of choice and expression. Feminists seemed to have earned a bad rap sheet. And because of that some women feel like feminism isn’t for them for various reasons. But even if you feel like that, it still will fight for your rights and respect. It will still support you and try to make the world a better place for you and every person, male, female and everyone in between, who comes after you.
I think feminism for me, and hopefully for everyone, is very liberating. To me, feminism means I can be whoever I want to be and do whatever I want to do; I can wear what I want to wear and say what I want to say. Feminism means I’m valued for my personality, intellect, and actions rather than what my body can or can’t do for others. That is what feminism, true feminism is. Feminism values everyone, breaks down barriers and allows everyone to be who they want to be; whether that’s masculine, feminine or something in between or entirely different. It’s not about who your siblings, parents, friends, significant other(s), culture or society expect you to be. Feminism is being yourself. Feminism is freedom.
Book recommendation: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
I’m a queer teenager from Spain. I believe in feminism and I need to, because even though I’m pretty privileged, I want to, I feel like I MUST fight for every single one of my sisters and dismantle patriarchy so we can all, both women, non-binary people and men, live our own lives peacefully, being who we want to be.
I want my male friends to be able to say how they feel and my female and non-binary friends to be considered equal to men. I want my fellow LGBT+ people to live and love as the rest. I want every single woman of color to have the same opportunities I have. I want a world where disabled people can live a normal life. Everyone in developing countries, I want them to live life as well as they would in first world countries. I want sex workers to be treated fairly. And only feminism can take us there.
The only true form of feminism is intersectional. We can only move forward if we all work hand in hand, and every hope of success we put in white feminists is futile.
Book recommendation: Nononsense Feminism: Alive and Kicking by Nikki van der Gaag.
Feminism to me has always been a controversial topic, mainly because my understanding of it was limited, as well as the influence of my religion. Growing up, my understanding of Islam was always that a man should be the leader. I was afraid that feminism means being superior to men and it might go against what my religion has taught me. But a few years after, I learned that feminism doesn’t mean that one gender has to have more power than the other. Being a feminist doesn’t mean women has to be superior to men. To me, it’s about receiving what we, as human, already deserve. Starting from simple things like education, the right to be ourselves, to be success, to have a career, and most importantly, to choose for ourselves. And that doesn’t mean that we have to push men aside in the process.
I owe my hobby (reading, obviously) to a feminist from my country. Back when we were still under Dutch colonialization women weren’t allowed to go to school. They have to stay home and help the family until they were married off, and then it was up to the husband. There was this one woman, her name was Kartini. She was born into an aristocratic Javanese family and her father was a Regency Chief of Jepara, a region in Central Java. She only attended school until she was 12 years old but secretly she learned to speak Dutch, an unusual accomplishment for Javanese women back then.
During her time at home, Kartini continued to educate herself by reading books, newspaper, and European magazines. They fed her interest in European feminist thinking. A few years later she was married to a fellow noble. She was angry at first, but it turned out her husband shared her passion for education and feminism and supported her dream to build a school for women. That was the first time women were allowed to go to school to learn to read. Without Kartini’s merit, we women probably wouldn’t know how to read.
Back to my point above, being a feminist doesn’t mean we have to be superior to men and push them away. It means there has to be respect for each others regardless of the gender. It takes cooperation and understanding. After all, Kartini successfully did what she did with the help of her husband, but I’m not saying that she wouldn’t be able to success on her own. I’m sure she would be either way, and so would every women in this world.
Book recommendation: Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis (TW: Rape, Sexual Assault, Murder)
I only became actively involved in social justice conversations while living in the States. I’ve attended protests, had conversations with friends who share my ideologies, been in environments where feminism is the default, and generally lived in a feminist bubble in my real life. So, when I moved back in with my parents, and naturally started having these conversation with them. With my friends from college. With my closest friends from school that I grew up with. And my bubble shattered like a Christmas bauble. The transition is…frustrating.
I am jarred by the disconnect between the people I’ve known my whole life and the conversations I’m having online. The gaps are infuriating. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how and why this is, and among several things, a lot has to do with my own expectations. I start these conversations with people expecting them to automatically be in tune with my ideologies and line of thinking. I’ve spent a lot of time fighting, feeling infuriated, and crashing into waves of depression. My passionate rants are met with “the world is harsh and unfair, this is how people are, you’ll just have to accept it” (from my parents) or “what about when ________” from friends (casual misogyny). This frustrates me. It scares me. I don’t want to accept it. The idea that I will go all my life yelling about needing systemic change and bringing down the patriarchy- whether it’s in publishing or elsewhere, without any serious changes actually taking place- haunts me. It makes me question whether all the grief I take from people online and offline is worth it.
So I’ve been thinking about what I could do instead. It’s making me realize my participation in social justice and actions as a feminist need not be on a wide platform. I need to adapt my intentions in accordance with my environment, while keeping my values. If I need to bring about change, ranting at people IRL like making twitter threads or fighting with internet trolls is not only screwing with my mental health. So, I need to start small. To have more 101 conversations. To use relatable examples. Channel some of those feminist values into doing things for the community, instead of waiting to join in the next protest. Taking joy in the small things- like how my sister has been reading some of my books and beginning to grasp the workings of the patriarchy and its ramifications.
Instead of throwing jargon into people’s faces, break it down using relatable stories. I’ll recommend more books by marginalized writers to people who ask for recommendations without making it about their/the characters’ marginalisations. And I’ll take comfort in my feminist bubble online. I’ll write about it. I’ll do the twitter threads and the educating and the learning and the boosting and the ranting. I’m sure it’ll be a long, painful, arduous process, but I’ve come to realize that nothing about this movement was ever meant to be easy.
Book recommendation: Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell Hooks
I guess that one of the reasons that intersectional feminism means so much to be is the fact that I finally feel included. When people talked about sexual inequality, they mentioned that women earned 77 cents to every dollar a man earned, or how likely they were to face harassment. But those statistics were for white women, not for me. When I found out that black women earned 64 cents, Hispanic women less than that, Native American women less than that, it felt like a slap in the face. It felt like the world really didn’t care about women of color like me.
Learning about intersectional feminism just made me feel like there were people out there that felt what I felt, that really could relate to what it was like to grow up as a non-white woman.
Julia Ember, author of Unicorn Tracks and Upcoming The Seafarer’s Kiss
To me, feminism has always been about bolstering the dreams and aspirations of people who are held down by the patriarchy. This absolutely includes women, but it’s so much more than that. Even in 2017, it’s still overwhelmingly the case that the highest paid jobs and positions of political power are held by straight white men. I think in 2017, feminism has changed necessarily to supporting rights for all marginalized people, not just cis women.
Feminism also has to go beyond a throwaway statement of equality. It’s great that so many companies have policies against discrimination – but without actively trying to change the balance, it’s easy for them just to stick to the status quo, then hide behind the shield of “we chose the best applicant.” I think with today’s feminism, we have to support looking beyond obvious biases, into actively promoting and encouraging marginalized people. Passive feminism isn’t good enough. Yes, that may mean that companies have to “pass up” male candidates. But when I graduated university, in 2011, I saw a marked difference between the number of men who got jobs straight out of study and the number of women who did. A lot of the men who got jobs at big banks and corporations had lower GPAs and less work experience than female and POC friends who struggled. They were not better qualified, but their status as white cisgender men played into recruiters expectations of what good candidates looked like.
In the book world, which I am most familiar with, this means we have to go beyond just “accepting work by women, POC, LGBTQIA people” into actively promoting, buying and soliciting submissions for it.
Imagine this: A mother and child, living in a household in which the mother is married to a man who abuses her. She has been working up to leaving for a while now. Then something happens one day and it is the last straw. She knows she can not raise her daughter like this and files for divorce. However, in the process of getting a divorce, the woman’s soon to be ex-husband steals the house and all of her money out from under her, leaving her and her child destitute and homeless.
This is my mother’s story and I am her daughter. I want to share something with you about intersectional feminism and the people that everyone so often forgets: the poor and homeless. Women cannot affect and change communities and the world if they do not have the money, the education, the opportunity, or (and I mean this quite literally) the life. Poverty disproportionately affects women and children around the world. Women are pushed into poverty everyday due to wage gaps and societal standards and then trapped in poverty by sexism, racism, and classism.
And maybe you think this isn’t an issue in America, one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Then let me give you a statistic that’ll blow your mind: “The United States has the largest number of homeless women and children among the industrialized nations. Seventy million women and their dependent children are living in or on the brink of poverty.” (Wikipedia, “Feminization of Poverty”)
So what can this community, the literary community and in particular the subgroup of the YA literary community, do to help us? Talk to us. Tell our stories. Most of the time digging your way out of homelessness and poverty isn’t a rags to riches or rags to Harvard story. Its grinding work moving from beng poor or homeless to living in a decent house—not a big house, but a house. Write about us, how we spend hours on buses just to get groceries, go to the doctor, school or work. Write about how our houses might be a little messier because they’re smaller and we don’t have a maid. Tell people how we survived. There is triumph and strength just in that.
I have never read a YA book that has a poor or homeless female heroine. Not one. I only know of one book (Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series) that has a poor/homeless hero. If no one tells our stories, how will they know what is happening to us? If no one tells our stories, who will combat the negative myths and stereotypes surrounding poverty and homelessness? Telling stories of heroes/heroines who are poor or homeless, is empowering.
It’s not that we don’t have a voice, it’s that no one is listening. We need someone to tell our stories to a larger audience; make them feel and hear us. Make them see us. Please dont read this as just another post. See this as a catalyst an opportunity to give a voice to those of us who have one, but so often feel no one is listening.
That’s it until next time.
Are you a Feminist? Were you aware of Intersectionality?
Do you have recommendations of book that have Feminism either as an underlying or dominant theme?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.