Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Importance of Intersectional Feminism


Well hey there, it has been a hot minute since I spoke to you! I always want to find a time to sit down and write, but time seems to run away from me and before I know it, it’s Monday morning and I have a million more tasks all yelling at me to get done! March has been a funny month; obviously, it is International Women’s Month and on March 8th was International Women’s Day! I attended the march in London and was so inspired to be in the company of so many incredible women. 

I was a bit quiet on social media on March 8th, which I felt slightly guilty for, but I had an interview for a new job (spoiler: I got it!) I guess that has been the reason for my absence, my mental health has not been great and I have been trying (and weirdly succeeding) at getting my professional life together.


I began to realise how incredibly fortunate I am to have such a strong support network around me, and when I fell, there were people there to pick me up, give me a drink and push me on my way. It got me thinking that while I probably take these people for granted, I also take my freedom for granted. Now, don’t get me wrong, a few weeks ago, it felt as if my world was imploding slightly, but in the grand scheme of world implosion, my freedom meant I could simply go out and find another job; have a wild night out; get and book more tattoos. I have that freedom, yet so many do not.

When I was 16, I discovered Caitlin Moran’s “How to be a woman” and knowing very little about feminism, or women’s rights, I picked it up and read it four times. Yes, four. It was illuminating and eye-opening and when I started talking to my friends about this amazing book, we all started to share our own ideas of foetal feminism. We were finding our feet and questioning our places in the world. As I got older, I started reading more feminist literature;  Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates, The Vagenda by Holly Baxter, Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. I angled my studies to women’s history and the portrayal of women in literature, I started loudly proclaiming I was a feminist and it felt fantastic, it felt free.

And then I went to university…



I moved from London, a diverse city, to Sheffield, a relatively white city with albeit a diverse-ish university. It was around this time I started to talk- really talk to women from BAME backgrounds; and as ignorant as it sounds, I realised I did not know much about feminism. It was as if someone had thrown a bucket of water over me that made me go, oh-me getting my nipples out is not the most pressing feminist issue? I had always thought of myself as so educated and so on it with women’s issues, that the idea of taking that step back, recognising and honestly, shutting up had not even occurred.  I realised I could name 10, 20, 25 white feminists, but did I know anything about One Billion Rising, had the name Audre Lorde or Indira Jaising even entered my knowledge? No.


I can honestly, say it was not until my second year of university, four years after dipping my toe into the subject did I truly begin to understand the importance of intersectional feminism.


So what is Intersectionality I hear you say?
Intersectionality is a term that was coined by American professor KimberlĂ© Crenshaw in 1989. Although having existed before, it was putting a name to the definition; the definition being:
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.”

 

I once had a woman say to me at university, ‘but what about white voices? Do we not have one anymore? I should be able to advocate for my rights and what is important to me!’ and yes, you should. However, the amazing thing about white women’s feminist rights (generally speaking) is that they are universal to all women, however, can you directly relate to a woman in  Bangladesh or Rwanda? I suspect not, and this is where intersectionality comes in.

 

If we elevate those women, the women in the developing world, the victims of rape and abuse, working-class women, trans women, non-binary women, BAME women, and elevate their voices above Miss middle-class Mediterranean. (I am talking about myself here) then we all win. It is about knowing that if woman A has all the same issues as woman B but she is also a victim of an oppressive governmental system where she is forced into marriage, raped and is a victim of genital mutilation. Well if all her problems are resolved and we can help to end the treatment of Woman A, then we will also end up solving the problems of both Woman A and B; B just had to wait a bit longer.

 

It is important to know that feminism is for everyone, but there are women who need it more, there are voices and struggles that need to be elevated more. Sadly, feminism as a movement has become predominantly white, middle class and very cisgendered, and heterosexual. While the #metoo and #timesup movements are incredibly important, as Chitra Ramaswamy said the #metoo movement about race is being largely ignored. Women march in troves for pussy power, but where are they on gay pride or a black lives matter march?

 

For International Women’s Day this year, it was refreshing to see so many social media accounts, calling for intersectionality. I  stated if your feminism is not intersectional, then what is the point of it? It is time to acknowledge that, even I, with my off-brand white skin tone, have very far to go in my understanding and appreciation of feminism. It is not something that can be learned overnight, but it is something that needs to be as inclusive and as intersectional as possible.

It is important that remember that raising the voices of those who need it more, does not dampen your voice. Taking a step back, and honestly saying, ‘I am sorry, I don’t know enough about that topic to comment,’ is a valid thing to say, it is showing that you accept your limitations in the debate. Not everyone can know everything about the issues and don’t be scared to get things wrong, or ask questions. Asking black women/trans woman/non-binary woman etc about the struggles they face, won’t make you seem like an ignorant moron, it shows you want to learn, and want to be able to start to understand the struggles of others.


One must keep learning, keep elevating those voices who may not have the privilege or the platform you do; feminism must become intersectional, it’s not just for straight Sally and her conservative crowd anymore; it is for the 3,756,040,237 women around the world. So come on, let's say it once more for those in the back:


IF YOUR FEMINISM IS NOT INTERSECTIONAL, IT AIN'T FEMINISM


 Belle is the editor behind The Hairy Potato; she describes herself as a Pinup Potato and proud Intersectional Feminist. Although by day she works in social media, her passions include writing, reading and finding fashion that will make her stand out. Rarely seen without her red lipstick, this mid-century maven is always ready for a debate with a glass of whiskey and a slice of pizza!

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