Even the introduction of “Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism” by 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.