Tag: feminist

we are here.

Beyonce-Feminist-VMAs

People keep talking about feminism as though it’s a singular thing. For me, it is; to paraphrase an Andrea Cornwall essay, inherently pluralist- there are feminisms not ‘feminism’.  As valuable and integral as this is for a vibrant, diverse, challenging, inclusive, growing body of analyses, stances, approaches, practices… it also complicates spaces, it also (as I’ve been accused/branded of doing) ‘problematises’ things. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it’s just how we handle it and how we are able to work with it, how we’re able to take things on board or reject things and the ways and whys in which we do them.

It matters.

So much of our feminisms and ideologies and constructs are contextual, and without devolving into cultural relativity; how do we even begin talking about ‘sisterhood’, about ‘movements’, about ‘solidarity’?

They’re all big words and have a valuable, important, necessary herstory behind them. They’re not words to use lightly or they will end up mired in resentment, in scepticism, in eye-rolling and eyebrow-raising, in pandering, in ‘saying the right words’, in co-optation.

I struggle with my feminist identity a lot: when do I call something out, how do I call out my fellow ‘feminists’, is my analysis still privileged, is my analysis a load of crock, am I being called out and held accountable, how do I respond to that?

A lot of that has to do with these binary constructions of ‘good feminist’ and ‘bad feminist’, and while I struggle with these ideas themselves I know I’ve been party to it too. But, does my questioning of someone’s stances and the incongruity between their support for certain things and their professed alignment with feminist principles (whatever they may be) mean I’m branding them a ‘bad feminist’ or am I holding them accountable? Am I discounting that we all fail to live up to our ideals- that I too have failed, spectacularly, on many an occasion at staying true to these things I say I believe in? Does questioning a stance equate with branding rather than opening up an avenue for discussion? Does holding ourselves- and each other- accountable always mean that we’ve forgotten our imperfections and our humanity and the fact that we’re all pretty much hardwired to fuck up?

Does my questioning Beyonce for her skin-lightening, or trying to unpack the VMA performance mean that I’m disregarding her self-identification as a feminist? That I’m overlooking her successes in a space where the odds are often stacked against black women? Or does that mean I’m trying to feel my way through a more complicated world of feminism- where it is a means to market goods, where it is means to sell an idea of equality, where it is currency? Does the question itself imply a questioning of everything or only the particularities of where we all bump up (!) against one another?

Roxane Gay (apparently) talks about this a bit in Bad Feminist (I haven’t read it yet- but all her essays and the interviews seem to touch on a lot of what I’ve been thinking and feeling) and I think so much of this discussion has to also do with taking care of ourselves and of each other, of our movements, and of our struggles. These struggles are nowhere near the end, we’re nowhere near equity or equality or fairness or justice, and we must ensure that we’re sustaining ourselves, that we’re nurturing each other, our spaces, our voices; if we are to begin to build, transform, create more equitable spaces.

That isn’t to say that I don’t chafe at ‘feminism’ or ‘feminist’ being applied to everything willy nilly. I do. That isn’t to say that my feminisms don’t have certain principles that underlie it, that define it, that give it shape. I do.

I question if it is really feminist for Nike to run the Girl Effect campaign, for example. It’s been effective and has a lot of support and has definitely raised some issues to think about, but it’s also Nike.  It’s a video that makes you feel things, it ‘raises awareness’, I’m told.

But.

What about the women in Nike’s sweat shops? What about their pay, the conditions they work in, the healthcare they (don’t) have access to, the lack of job security? How about the analysis of ‘girl effect’ itself and its messaging- is women and girls’ education or ‘empowerment’ only important if it contributes to the economy and to an increase in material wealth of a village/town/dwelling? Is ‘selling one’s body’ (sex work?) not being conflated or viewed through a moral lens? What about the other ways in which women and girls are at risk for HIV- from their partners (husbands, usually) or through vertical transmission? What about access to contraceptives or comprehensive sexuality education? Or the fact that healthcare systems in a lot of countries are overburdened, are weak, are inaccessible? Or the impact of religious fundamentalisms or militarised societies, or living in a conflict situation (hey, ho Gaza!)? Yes, it’s a simplistic and generalised understanding of an issue- but how does that affect interventions, approaches, ideas?

Does the end justify the means?  Girls having access to education is a good thing (what kind of education, quality education? What happens next, have other social strictures fallen away, do the necessary structures exist?)- you’d be hard pressed to find people disagreeing with that.  But, what else does this rely on; what else does this impact? Our oppressions are inter-linked, are inter-connected. Is it really ‘progress’ if we do so at the expense of others?

I also struggle with this equation of ‘girl power!’ with feminism. Yes, but also.. no.

I don’t like binaries. Feminism isn’t about women vs. men and I am so tired of dealing with this that I refuse to engage with that line of ‘argument’ anymore.

Feminism is, for me, about equity. Equity understands power. It understands contexts. My feminism is also about justice. Justice understands contexts. It understands oppression. It understands our handed down, meted out power structures. And equity and justice understand that this affects all of us.

I can get behind ‘girl power!’ as a cutesy, charming attempt at getting more girls interested in STEM fields, for example. I can get behind the idea of ‘girl power!’ in encouraging girls to try their hands at sports.  What I struggle with is this idea of ‘girl power!’ as something to compete with men at, to beat men at. But, the competition itself is rigged,  the playing field is uneven, the standards themselves are questionable- and that needs deconstruction, that needs questioning and challenging and breaking down.

A while ago, I did a vlog for Belle Renne’s Powerful Woman Monologues series talking about how I’m tired of women tearing down women and how it’s also a cultural (across contexts that I’ve known and experienced) myth that we need to break down, how we’re also set up to compete in a power dynamic that is often set against us.  (side note: this Roxane Gay list for female friendships is a must read- I would extend it to other relationships in my life too)

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Source: The Hindu.

I come back to this a lot, because it isn’t just women tearing down women; but within our many different social justice causes as well- we tend to turn on each other or throw each other under the bus. It is not acceptable for me to read an essay questioning visa practices (and linking it to post-colonial struggles and constructs of ‘deserving’) where someone’s (I think,  justified) anger finds purchase- yet again- by instrumentalising women’s bodies. It is not OK for you to rage against institutionalised racism but then threaten to impregnate women of another race as a ‘lesson’. As a woman of colour, I cannot stand by that. Yes, racism is real and it’s problematic, and it’s fucked up- but women’s bodies are not receptacles for other peoples’ anger and hatred, no matter how justified. Our herstories are testament to our bodies being used as instruments for other peoples’ bullshit.  Learn from it, don’t repeat it.

Similarly, how do we even begin to talk about the ‘pay gap’ without talking about race, and class- and in my context, caste?  How do we begin to talk about military interventions without also talking about how this affects women and girls? How do we talk about supporting the military without talking about power? How do we talk about ‘all women’ without ensuring that we’ve created space for our genderqueer and trans* comrades? Do we even talk about disability? How do we talk about  intimate and domestic partner violence without also interrogating it within same-sex spaces? How do we do the work of solidarity?

They’re difficult conversations. They’re complicated. But they’re so, so necessary. We need to understand that we need multiple lenses, that we need to have our intersections, and that we need to understand these things; what the past has taught us, and we bloody well need to stop throwing each other under the bus so we can move ahead in some transient, temporary (& ultimately useless) idea of ‘victory’, or ‘progress’.

Claiming an identity is more than just a badge, we have to understand where it comes from and try to work towards that too. It doesn’t mean you can’t criticise- oh, please do! It’s a living, breathing thing- we have to navigate it and play with it and laugh and cry and try to shape it as other people do the same… and it’s absolutely OK to say ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I didn’t think about it’ or even ‘I disagree’. We have to interrogate ourselves too. We have to hold ourselves accountable too.

So. Let’s problematise.

 

On ‘stopping’ war criminals, feminist leadership, and cricket

Patriarchy, reflected through all the structures and institutions of our world, is a system that glorifies domination, control, violence, competitiveness and greed. It dehumanizes men as much as it denies women their humanity. So we need leadership that will explore and expose these links and challenge patriarchy. The only leadership that does this is feminist leadership.

As I’m reading attempts to define feminist leadership by Peggy Antrobus, Charlotte Bunch, and others; I’m struck by the fact that I’m not just tired of defending ‘International Women’s Day’ to people, or questioning the Hallmarkisation of the day (what do you mean, ‘Happy’?); I’m tired of questioning where I am on the spectrum of justifying feminism to anybody- including myself. I chafe at pieces that make Women’s Day about explaining why feminism is good for men and boys, at pieces that focus on protecting men from HIV/AIDS, and at women who throw around the word ‘feminist’ without much thought or care into what it means.

I was told that I was overthinking it, that I was being pedantic, that I was being elitist. Am I, though? Am I?

A few days before International Women’s Day, Invisible Children launched #StopKony2012 and the video.

People far more clever, articulate, and experienced in development than I am, have explained that horrible, uncomfortable dread I felt at watching the video. In case you’re interested and haven’t already read them, here are a few:

Rahul Dravid, one of the greatest players the world has ever known, announced his retirement from first class cricket yesterday. The tributes from cricketing greats and fans from across the world made me ruminate on one of my childhood heroes.

It wasn’t just that he was one of the greatest batsmen that cricket has known, or that he embodied the ‘spirit of the game’. It was that he played his game in the midst of (arguably) the greatest players of this era- Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Sourav Ganguly, Shane Warne… he played it on his terms.

He played despite being overshadowed, unappreciated, overlooked, constantly called on to justify himself, questioned, sidelined… he played on. He played with humility, with earnestness, with patience, with dignity and integrity. He never shied away from self-criticism, or self-reflection. He called it when it was a poor performance, steadied the ship when it wobbled, and single-handedly saved face for India on multiple occasions.

As the week comes to a close and I look back at what I was struggling with in the run-up to Women’s Day, I realised and was reminded of a few things. If you don’t criticise, self-reflect, analyse, ask ‘why'; ‘how'; ‘when’, ‘what’- if you don’t ask the questions; you end up doing a lot more harm to things you purport to care about. If you don’t call it when it’s pandering, when it’s empty rhetoric,  when you’re letting things pass unchallenged, then you are culpable too.

I was reminded that even if the focus is shifting away from women and feminism, whether feminism is getting a bad rap- my focus must not waver, my belief must stay steady. I must remain patient, steadfast, and play on.

I didn’t write a post about Women’s Day. I spent it studying Transformative Women’s Leadership instead- it felt like the right thing to do.

The revolution will not be televised.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

these ideas of who we are.

The wonderful Belle Renee is currently curating a series called, ‘Powerful Woman Monologues‘. Inspired by the film ‘Miss Representation,’ Belle Renee challenged us to think about how the media impacts our lives, or what we’d like to see changed- and what we can do to push for change.

I made a video for the series, titled ‘these ideas of who we are‘. I haven’t done spoken word or performance poetry in a few years, so I’m a bit rusty.. but do comment & let me know what you reckon.

The series is an excellent idea, I encourage you to read the other posts & follow the series as it’s updated- and I really, really encourage you to contribute!

Day Zero Project:
#77: Vlog 1/5, 2012
#88: Figure out your own feminism.