women's rights

Feminism for Real

Even the introduction of “Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminismby Jessica Yee is so badass. She talks about how feminism has started as a white woman’s movement, and that indigenous women and women of color were not always allowed to be part of this movement. I can’t wait to read this book someday — and she says it so much better than I ever could:

However we’re not really equal when we’re STILL supposed to uncritically and obediently cheer when white women are praised for winning “women’s rights,” and to painfully forget the Indigenous women and women of colour who were hurt in that same process.We are not equal when in the name of “feminism”, so-called “women’s only” spaces are created and get to police and regulate who is and isn’t a “woman” based on their interpretation of your body parts and gender presentation, not your own.

We are not equal when initiatives to achieve gender equity have reverted yet again to “saving” people and making decisions for them, rather than supporting their right to self-determination, whether it’s engaging in sex work, or wearing a niqab. So when feminism itself has become its own form of oppression, what do we have to say about it? Western notions of polite discourse are not the norm for all of us, and just because we’ve got some new and hot language like “intersectionality” to use in our talk, it doesn’t necessarily make things change in our walk (i.e., actually being anti-racist). And I have to say that these uncomfortable processes have been worth the many paths that brought the different contributors of the book together to tell their sometimes uncomfortable truths — not just about feminism, but about themselves and where they are coming from.

The truth is that even today, Western feminism does not always take into accounts of race, ethnicity, class, and culture. The standards of Western feminism cannot be applied to every culture and nationality of women. That’s why the movements within feminism such as womanism and Islamic feminism are so important to acknowledge the different forms of oppressions different groups of women face and the unique set of challenges they must confront. Jessica writes,

I’m at a point in my activism where in many spaces I no longer feel comfortable just saying that I’m a feminist, full-stop, without adding a few words before or after. I say I’m a multi-racial Indigenous Two-Spirit feminist. I say I’m a hip-hop feminist, a reproductive justice feminist. Like many people, I feel like I’ve been burned out by the mainstream usage and representation of feminism and I’m not making any apologies for what I call myself, because I’m speaking the English language of the colonizer, and if it takes people a few extra words to give me my right to self-determination of what I want to be called in English, so be it.

Some of the options that are available to western women like the choice to pursue a higher education or to be a stay-at-home mom may not apply to thousands of women around the world, who are growing up in poverty, and who never have the chance to even get beyond high school. The challenges are simply not the same. The main challenge many women face is indeed poverty and lack of resources in their community as a whole, not patriarchy. When American women desire to help Muslim women by “liberating” them from the hijab then their feminist motivation can become a form of oppression in itself. I really like this quote, from Krysta Williams and Erin Konsmo: “Resistance to Indigenous Feminism” (quoted on Racialicious):

What does it mean for an individual to be considered “liberated?”  What does it mean for indigenous communities to be “liberated?”  I think the pictures we think of as Native women are very different than the end goals expressed in a lot of feminist literature.  In other words, there needs to be more space given to community-based solutions and the hard work that everyone, especially women in our communities do every day.

Love it!


6 thoughts on “Feminism for Real”

  1. tatiana says:

    Yay! This is great! This is one of the myriad of reasons why I don’t agree with Western feminism – even aspects of Black/Womanism feminism that’s meant to focus extensively on being Black in America. Part of my problem is that there’s a strong Western/American perspective on women worldwide, and many people don’t notice the error in their thinking. You can’t simply march into a country, even ideologically, waving your “I’m a feminist and we’re all sisters!” flag without knowledge of how tat country function.

    I spend a lot of time on Twitter, where many feminists – who aren’t scholars or academics – spend a lot of time claiming patriarchy for being the world’s ills. This is largely a Western perspective, as you’ve quoted about how lack of resources and poverty is a poblem – but it appears that many Western feminists wish for everything to be about “how much more powerful men are than women” because it feeds into what they think feminism is about: the widespread oppression of women. But this isn’t a multi-layered platform in which to discuss multi-layered problems.

    And few feminists seem to be educated on how everyone, as a whole, is effected by oppression – not just women and small girls. Men are also adversely effected by how feminism can and does ignore the plight of half of the human species. Some feminists might say that men aren’t oppressed to the same degree that women are – but oppression is REALLY about the silencing of another person’s story and perspective. It’s the culture gaslighting your reality, and rejecting you in exchange for someone or something else. My friend has an excellent blog that focuses on men exclusively (in the UK though): http://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com. And in this way, everyone is being oppressed – it’s just in varying and different degrees.

    I’m not a feminist, and I don’t agree with feminism. Feminism is rife with so many contradictions, and problems, but many people cling to it because it has this shininess about it. Feminism is a word that connects to preserving justice and rights. And I also dislike how the feminist ideology dominates the discussion to such an extent that anyone who doesn’t agree with feminism is automatically the enemy, or uneducated or “doesn’t get it”. Oh, I get it – and that’s why I dislike it.

    1. Akhila says:

      Hey Tatiana, thanks for your awesome response! You really hit on all the main points. 1st is that feminism and much of its rhetoric is focused on Western women, and many women who consider themselves “feminist” do not understand truly, nor do they even make an effort to understand, the struggles of their sisters around the world who are women of color, indigenous women, and women living in poverty. 

      Sure there is patriarchy and domestic violence, human trafficking, FGM, femicide, forced marriage and other forms of oppression against women is quite widespread around the world. At the same time, many women face the greater demon of poverty and this is a challenge that MEN face too. 

      It is definitely true that many feminists don’t take into account the broader oppressions that people of color have faced, including men — colonization, slavery, segregation, etc. Men have been oppressed in so many ways too! And not only that, but a lot of trafficking, violence, etc is a legacy of past oppressions of WHOLE societies and colonization, that it is not simply a matter of patriarchy. Why are certain countries so poor and why is human trafficking practiced — sure, patriarchy exists, but there are other factors. Parents sell their children/daughters because they literally have no money, and the children might starve otherwise, and this is also a reason for forced marriage frequently, as well as dowries, etc. 

      I’m still interested in feminism and I’m not sure I’d call myself a feminist – I go back and forth on it. But I like Jessica Yee’s statement that she “qualifies” it by saying she’s an indigenous feminist for example. 

      I guess I would say I’m an Islamic social justice anti-racist feminist 😛 I could go on. But that’s enough for now 😉

  2. almostclever says:

    Akhila!  You have just posted something so similar to what I have been mulling over in my mind and on my blog!  Thank you for this!  Unless you object, I am going to post this at my blog.  Thanks !!!!  

    1. Akhila says:

      Thanks for posting this – I’m so glad you liked it. It’s something I’ve been thinking about too but haven’t been able to really articulate it. Jess Yee seems to say what’s on my mind!

  3. Roxanne says:

    Going on the to-read list… Thank you for bringing this to my attention! I love the intro too!

    1. Akhila says:

      Glad you liked it – I thought it was great.

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