Content Warning: discussion of misogyny, racism, Islamaphobia, imperialism, oppression and mention of war, religion, Western beauty standards, sex, slut-shaming, victim-blaming and rape.
This is quite a self-indulgent post. A post about trying to work out by working through, where my feminism stands in regards to others and about my conceptualisation of “feminism” itself.
Lately I have begun to feel slightly torn about my own perception of feminism. Torn on matters of whether “everyone can be a feminist” actually serves to help or to undermine feminism; torn more than ever before as to whether I can even ally myself with Feminists whose primary interest is seeking “equality” with white men; torn about whether it is my place to educate people about ‘intersectionality’ and ‘privilege’ when these 101 concepts are google-search away. Certainly, feminism is, to me, about liberating everyone and I would never want to preach an exclusive projection of it, yet, I want to keep my feminism safe at the same time. I want to keep it radical, and it is because of this that I oscillate between protecting its survival and hoping everybody would join in.
I suppose that the first thing to note is that declaring oneself A Feminist is not an end-point but the beginning of what is probably a life-long journey of questioning internalised assumptions, problematizing “truths” and fighting gender-based oppression in a multitude of ways. As I’m sure few people would oppose this thought, I would not discourage anyone from becoming a “feminist”… yet, I have reservations about “everyone” passively “being” feminists without actually engaging in questioning/problematizing/etc. Obviously it’s not my place to judge who is and isn’t Feminist Enough, and I certainly am no standard-bearer for “Feminism” myself. I am unsure, I change my mind, I am not yet confident enough to articulate all my feelings in regards to feminism. However, this same jumble of uncertainty gives me the confidence to make mistakes in my conceptualisation of feminism, and to work it through in a public domain – I don’t have to be “right”; but I want to try to be thoughtful.
The hurdles for me are many. I subscribe to feminism as a brown and Muslim woman. These simultaneous facets of my identity have sometimes caused me to feel alienated from mainstream feminism. Feminism searching for “equality” with men ignores the fact that not all men are equal. If I fought to be equal to brown and Muslim men I would hardly have become freed from oppression but instead enter alternative gendered, racist and Islamaphobic marginalisation and oppression. For me then, “liberation” of all people from all oppressions is integral to my feminism. It can’t be about being “equal” to men (who face problematic and constricting gender-based ideas themselves – eg ideas about masculinity) because a) not all men are equal, and b) to me, the situation that even the most privileged white man is in, is not one of liberation – it is one which rests on keeping others in subjugation. I do not want to be “equal” in such a system. For example, in the 1970s when some women hoped that being able to reach equality with men by entering the waged workforce would further feminism; they simultaneously perpetuated the oppression of poor women, working-class women and women who were not white (among other groups) by not ending, but actually sustaining a system which relies on some people to do the dirty work. An example of this is that whilst some educated and predominantly white women were able to enter professions more and more, it was other women who had to thus become domestic servants, care-workers or etc to fill the vacuum. Demonstrably, this feminism was not equality for all; and even for those who did enter the professional waged work-force, gender-based oppression and marginalisation remained. To me then, equality-feminism offers little and creates false hierarchies.
Feminism which seeks “liberation” seems more in tune with my vision of the world then. Liberation of all people from gender-based oppressions, racist oppressions and economic oppression, all across the world – is the only way that I perceive a truly just and “equal” feminism. But, who defines Liberation? In this definition, much like “equality”, lies another tussle I have had to have with mainstream feminism. As a Muslim woman my “liberation” is often defined for me by others who judge my faith to be a barrier to my liberation; whilst I myself view Islam as the root and driver of my feminism seeking liberation for all (future post on Islamic Feminism to come). Therefore, the often imperialist undertones of “liberation” suggest that one is “liberated” when they suit Western European and white standards of liberation. For me, this is conveyed in multiple ways. I cannot be liberated if I choose to wear a hijab, for Western ideas of liberation impose a Western worldview (remember there is a context of Islamaphobia perpetuating The War On Terror which suffuses much of our media and the ways we think of Muslim women as victims to justify war). I cannot be liberated if I choose not to have sex before marriage, because this is deemed a “backwards” attitude towards sexuality rather than a choice I could have made myself. To follow a religion contradicts Western ideas of liberation, and the idea that one could have faith but simultaneously seek radical reform of organised religion and criticise the use of religious ideology to oppress, is not accepted. “Liberation” for brown bodies, and especially sexualised female brown bodies is projected as having heterosexual sex with white men. We are viewed as “oppressed” if we deny white men our sexuality, if we cover our bodies, if we control our own sexuality; and thus the exemplar, or paradigm of female-liberation which we are supposed to strive for is one that is sexually available to white men and which meets white, Western beauty standards. This conceptualisation of “liberation” is not for me; this conceptualisation of Liberation is oppressive, suffocating and imperialistic. To me then, liberation-feminism must be more radical than this.
In light of this, my perception of feminism is one which aims to oppose all supposed norms before being able to articulate itself fully. One which aims to challenge all conceptions of equality, liberation, freedom, happiness, beauty, logic, power and truth because I know that all of these concepts are taught to us within a paradigm that allows oppression to continue; which maintains the status quo. My perception of feminism is one which is simultaneously universal and individual. Which fights on all fronts but may also sometimes fight for seemingly-opposite things because different people are oppressed in different ways. For example, a feminism which fights simultaneously for a society free of slut-shaming and victim-blaming; as well as for a society wherein wearing the hijab or burka or any form of covering or religious covering by choice would not make you a target or marginalise you. A feminism which fights against rape being used as a weapon of war; but also fights for a world wherein we do not war. A feminism which fights against the sexualisation of female bodies but also for greater space for female sexuality. A feminism for all people, but a flexible and active feminism. A critical and radical feminism.
My selfish reservations then, when it comes to “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts being sold in mainstream high street stores; or Bell Hooks’ quote “feminism is for everybody” being made into mainstream graphics, is not born of a desire for exclusion or that I do not want everybody to be a feminist; but is born of the knowledge that not “everybody’s feminism” is for me, or will include me. That if everybody can call themselves A Feminist then feminism has likely become too palatable, too diluted, too acceptable. I want everybody to be a feminist, but I want everybody to consider what that means to them, and whether their conception also includes “everybody”. For me, feminism has to be unacceptable; it has to offend; it has to be radical. If it is not these things then it is probably not working against the norms and structures that are so oppressive to so many; instead, it is probably, once more, being manipulated into working within the structures, into claiming “freedom” and “equality” in acceptable ways, ways that only rearticulate or change but do not end oppression. Well, when your existence is already unacceptable to society, that does not quite feel good enough.
I’m here for a society wherein feminism is for everybody; but where it takes more than just proclaiming it to be one. I’m here for every woman, not just some. I’m here for every person. I’m here for real change, radical change and all sorts of simultaneous and what may possibly seem opposing changes. Intersectional, radical, unpalatable and abrasive; that is the feminism I’m about. So ask yourself, what kind of feminism is it that you’re about?