Not Ashamed: Feminist

If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.

Feminist: an advocate of social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

That’s the dictionary definition and the one that every feminist I know would agree is correct. We might have different ideas about how to procure those rights, but it is inherent in the definition that this is about equality, not about subjugating men (the way they’ve subjugated women for most of history).

Anyone who says that it means something else is wrong. If they aren’t feminists or are opposed to feminists, well, why are you letting them define what feminists are? And if they claim to be feminists…they might be adding their own spin, and their spin doesn’t apply to every other one of us who wears this label without shame.

I can’t even fathom the logic of expecting me to be ashamed of wanting myself, of wanting all humans, to have equal rights.

I’ve been very lucky in my life to have parents who did their best to raise me to believe that my worth, and the rights and respect I deserved, was not tied to my genitals. That I was as capable and deserving as my brothers.

I’ve had male friends all through my life, many of whom have not treated me as anything less than their male friends.

If you don’t believe in feminism, I know better than to believe my personal essay will change your mind. I’m not going to waste my time saying things here that others have already said.

Instead, I want to talk to people who believe in feminism but have never heard or taken time to find the definition of the phrase “intersectional feminism” or “intersectionality.” Again, there are plenty of essays online, so I’m going to paste in a definition, and then I’m going to say a little about why I care.

Intersectional feminism: The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.

Intersectionality: A concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.

I have things that work against me in life. I’m not straight, well off, cis, or male. But I am white-skinned, fluent in the primary language of the country in which I live (and without an accent), and my parents made sure I was educated as best they could manage. So, that tells you about the mix of things that are part of the configuration of my oppression. Yes, that’s a dramatic word, but not a word that feels wrong as often as I’d like.

However, there are also a few things that I have going for me (as listed in the above paragraph). And some of those are huge. The colour of my skin? Huge. Women who are arguably exactly like me but whose skin is not white have a measurably greater weight of oppression.

And if I truly mean, in my feminism, that I believe in equal rights for all people, that has to include people of colour, people with accents or who don’t speak the language of the country in which they live, and uneducated people. I have to take their experiences into account, not just leave room for them in my feminism but make room for them.

That means I will be constantly trying to learn, to keep an eye on my assumptions, to listen to the voices of those who aren’t like me. I feel like I’ve seen a lot and known a lot of different people in my life, but that doesn’t mean I know all I need to know to make sure that my efforts are for all people.

I’ll give you an example before I go. This is something I only learned this autumn, in spite of actually having had multiple black female friends. Just knowing someone socially doesn’t mean I know their context. For instance, I didn’t realise that black women in so-called white cultures have traditionally been de-feminised. They have typically been portrayed as masculine or as too beastly (usually as sexual beasts) to be feminine or pretty. So, whilst many white feminists are often leaning towards non-feminine appearance or masculine behaviours and roles as part of how they try to throw off the oppression that comes with being female gendered, being allowed to be feminine is something that black feminists have had to fight for. (At least that’s how it was explained to me. My apologies if I’ve misunderstood or over-simplified.)

Which means that feminists (white feminists) who look down on other feminists who wear dresses or makeup aren’t taking the context of black women into account in their efforts. (This is also part of why shows like How To Get Away With Murder and Scandal portraying strong, capable, pretty black women is so awesome.)

My main approach to intersectionality in feminism, given I know that I don’t know everything that is relevant to everyone’s feminism, is to believe in choices. That it’s not about all of us having to be the same or having to take advantage of all the same opportunities. For me, it’s about having the options. The option to dress in a more masculine or feminine way. The option to have a job outside the home or to be a housewife. And so forth.

That won’t solve all the problems that come up with trying to be intersectional, but it’s how I start.

And, in this effort, there’s no room for shame. Because I am not ashamed that I’m female, nor am I ashamed to believe that being female should not give me fewer rights or opportunities than males. I’m only ashamed when I lose sight of the importance of intersectionality, because I really do believe in the equal worth and, therefore, equal rights of all people.

Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).