Better Feminism 2017

On Saturday Night Live the day after Trump’s inauguration, Aziz Ansari joked, “Yesterday, Trump was inaugurated. Today, an entire gender protested against him.” He was, of course, referring to the Women’s March, a global protest (seriously, people showed up to protest on all 7 continents) against Donald Trump. This seems like a super happy news story. What could go wrong with millions of women all showing up to say, “Hey, we do not like this guy”?

Apparently, a lot. I saw this story on Twitter shortly after by Weezie, a Native American who was at the Women’s March:

It’s heartbreaking that any person could be made to feel so unwelcome at a march that literally millions of people all around the world went to. The march was meant to include everyone – so why didn’t it?

A lot of people’s feminism is  flawed. If 2017 is going to be the year of women, which it should be (and is shaping up to be already), we have to figure out what a feminist really is.

So first, I want you to close your eyes and picture a feminist. What do they look like?

Image result for rosie the riveter

Most people picture someone like this: a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman. (You’re right, it’s impossible to know Rosie the Riveter’s true sexuality or gender identity, but just go with it.) In fact, women of this demographic have been the face of the feminist movement forever, but they have not been the sole passengers on the Feminism Train. Over the course of history, it has not only been white hetero cis women who have had to fight for their rights. If this is what you pictured, don’t worry. That image is social programming, which we all need to work on breaking away from. We can’t move forward together unless we understand each other, and that’s where Intersectional Feminism comes in.

This “face of feminism” does need liberation and equality, don’t get me wrong. But feminism doesn’t end with her. That’s where Intersectional Feminism comes in: it’s inclusive of everyone’s unique struggles, including those of women of color, disabled women, trans women, queer women, non binary people… Feminism that only cares about the traditional “face of feminism” is coined White Feminism, and is generally uninclusive of other groups. (It’s important to note that not all white feminists participate in White Feminism.) Often, White Feminism will attempt to police what issues “feminism” is “about”. Like in Weezie’s Twitter story, where the white women were trying to shut them down when they were trying to bring attention to Native American movements. Considering that it was a worldwide march comprised of many different groups, each with their own struggles, no one had any right to decide what other people could and couldn’t bring attention to. In 2017, it’s our job to do our best to leave this kind of White Feminism behind.

“There is no such thing as single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde

The first thing to do is identify to which groups you belong and what your personal advantages and disadvantages are. For example, I’m white, middle class, and cisgender. I don’t have to deal with racial issues, poverty, or transphobia. I have a lot of privilege over those who do struggle with these things. I am also a queer woman. I experience problems that straight women do not – people delegitimize my relationship with another woman, discriminate against me, tell me that I’m wrong, et cetera.

Think about this for yourself, even if it’s uncomfortable. Recognizing your privilege is hard to do because it weighs you down with guilt. It’s tempting to dismiss it by saying, “Yes I’m white, but I’m not racist” or “Yes I’m a man, but I’m not misogynist.” But even if you do well on a personal level, there’s a societal level at which you have an advantage over other people. The sooner you own up to that for yourself, the easier it will be to listen with an open ear to other people telling you about their experiences, and to then work with them.

Reading is very important. Start with this article by the woman who coined the term “intersectional feminism,” Kimberlé Crenshaw. Next, there are books on intersectional feminism (it’s one of my goals for the year).  Follow more women of color, queer women, women of a different religion than you, poor women, etc. on Twitter. Listen to what they have to say, and think about your role in all of this.

Know your history. The first wave of feminism, or the beginning of organized feminism, began at the Seneca Falls Convention, where a Declaration of Sentiments was drawn up. These early feminists would go on to fight for abolition and suffrage. The second wave began in the 1960s and was tied to the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Rights Movement. During this time many different types of feminism emerged, including radical feminism, marxist feminism, and lesbian feminism. This is when all the burning-bra-type stuff happened, which is what most people are referring to when they talk negatively about radical feminists.

The second wave segued into the third wave in the 90s. The third wave is more generally accepting of everyone, and understands that the world is a complex place that requires complex feminism. But really, it’s not quite so difficult to conceptualize: everyone has a place in the feminist movement. The splitting off of the second wave, with lesbian feminists hated by mainstream feminists and so on, will do nothing to help unite us all against a common cause. Instead, we need to join hands with whoever is willing to do so, no matter who they are, and work toward our common goals. If you see a fellow feminist bringing attention to an issue that doesn’t affect you, use your own voice to help them. We need to use the privilege that we may have and lend our voices to those who need them. We need to do these things because if we don’t, we will splinter. And if we splinter, we will break. And if we break, we lose.

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