I just had an attack of the 500-line comment, so I decided to turn it into a blog post instead. On her blog, Angry Black Woman has a post up called On Feminism, part 1 where she quotes from Why I am Not a Feminist, or “My Anti-Feminist Manifesto”. The author hits on many of the problems that have plagued the feminist movement since its birth. Namely, she takes issue with the rampant white, middle-class, Western privilege that exists in many parts of the movement.
She isn’t wrong.
I’m only a fledgling when it comes to participation in feminist activism, and I have a whole heaping of privilege to boot, but I’ve seen the issues that she points out crop up more than once in the feminist blogsphere. My “Check my what?” post isn’t just for non-feminists, but it’s also there to try to help feminists, who already understand gender oppression, understand how to acknowledge and deal with their other privileges. So, yes, I understand (insofar as I can) her choice.
But, I can’t help but wonder why feminism has to be defined by the privileged. There are plenty of strands of feminism that I vehemently disagree with (most of them having to do with feminists who want their gender-based oppression acknowledged but refuse to acknowledge their white, class, cisgendered, etc privilege), but I don’t let them define feminism. And if I did — if I refused to call myself feminist because there are people out there too busy naval gazing to see the big picture — then who will be there to show others that there is a different side to the movement? Who would be there to further my particular interests?
As someone who has a whole heaping of privilege — white privilege, class privileged, able-bodied privilege, and cisgendered privilege in particular — I am in no position to pass judgment on women who feel the movement has failed them. Mainstream feminism has a long, long way to go in recognizing and redressing the rampant unacknowledged privilege, and I can’t blame someone for not wanting to walk into that battlefield. But at the same time there is a part of me who sees the, “I’m not a feminist, but…” argument that has done so much to keep us from forming solid relationships with each other. Every time a feminist woman — especially when she has very good reasons — says that she doesn’t use the feminist label, I feel it as a loss.
Which, I guess, brings me back to my first question: why do we have to define ourselves based on what other feminists think? Why can’t feminism be about connecting with other women and discussing the subjects that matter to us (talking about our own issues; listening to the issues of others)? Why can’t feminism take care not to engage in the deplorable behaviour that has been outlined in the Manifesto?
In the end, the only thing I can do is to be the one working towards building a feminism that people like Ms. Hernández would be proud to be a part of. I know that I, alone, don’t have that kind of power, but I know that I’m not the only ally. I’m not the only feminist working towards a feminism that understands that women come in all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, from all different cultures. And I can only hope that one day it will be enough. That one day when people think “feminist” it will conjure up a positive image of women coming together to fight for diversity, rather than the negative one of an elitist movement of middle-class white women.