I am a feminist. And I’ve explained why on my previous post The F Word.
But I have come across a tonne of posts recently, whilst reading the ‘feminist’ tag which essentially said two things:
- I can’t understand why any women would refuse to call themselves a feminist
- I can’t understand why men hate on feminists
Now I’m not going to go into point 2, because, to me, it is a priority that women feel welcome into a movement that is meant to be for them. And if that movement is not then that’s a priority.
Here are my 5 reasons why some women of colour refuse to call themselves feminists.
1. Suffragettes were racists.
When many feminists talk about history of feminism, they name the suffragettes (the right to vote movement) and that’s the only feminists we’re taught about in school (if any). So of course many women of colour don’t buy into their racist and white supremacist movement.
You have put the ballot in the hands of your black men, thus making them political superiors of white women. Never before in the history of the world have men made former slaves the political masters of their former mistresses!” – Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National Woman Suffrage Association
So when women won the right to vote, it was actually white women who won the right to vote. Feminism as a movement has historically not only ignored women of colour, but actively oppressed them. Don’t forget, white women were just as active in the historic oppression of women of colour as white men have been to white women.
2. United we stand? More like united white women stand.
Who is this we? When mainstream feminists talk about we as in all women, who they really mean is all straight, white, able bodies, cis women.
Let’s take an example of Patricia Arquette’s little speech at the Oscars. She said:
To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody’s equal rights, it is our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.
OK brilliant. But when asked about it backstage she said:
It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now!
So essentially, in her mind, women of colour are not included in her ‘we’. I won’t go into LGBT issues in this post but check out last year’s Reclaim the Night event.
And that is the message mainstream feminism gives again and again. Feminism is not seen as a space or movement for us, non-white, non-cis, non-able bodied.
3. White women speaking for and not with
When women of colour say things – about feminism, standing up for themselves, anything, it is sidelined to give way to the white women saying the same thing – even on issues that are about women of colour or blackness!
An example of this is at a Yarl’s Wood protest, where white feminist after white feminist were called to the stage to speak about how important the issues are, when there were ex-inmates who could have done much better job but were only given a few minutes to speak.
And more mainstream – J.K. Rowling been praised all over the news for a brilliant but pretty basic tweet.
And it’s not just that. White women seem to think they know what’s best for us. Dress this way, hate your men (even though my brother is way more oppressed than many white women and I love him), worry about the gendered pay gap (which is an issue, yes, but as a women of colour, I do have other priorities – like my life being expendable to the state for example).
4. My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit
When there are ‘feminist’ events – panels, history lessons, film – anything – it is typically white women who are showcased: their views, their histories, their struggles. It is not hard to make sure your events are diverse, to actively ensure your audience is not all white and ensure your advertising correctly, to make sure your activities are diverse (not all drinking based so non-drinkers can attend for example). But no, apparently that is too much.
5. I am not your teacher
I found I am asked again and again when I am in feminist spaces (often the only women of colour) to explain everything to them. Basics about my hijab, about hair, about my culture, about intersectionality, about blackness… There’s one thing being curious. But when women go into these spaces to learn from ‘the experts’ or as a safe space, they don’t always have the energy to be a teacher. And that in itself can drive women away. Google is your friend, ignorance is not a luxury you have anymore.
Wow. This has turned into a mighty long post. Hope I didn’t loose you there. Do you call yourself a feminist and why?
3 thoughts on ““I am not a Feminist””
I largely agree with what you’ve written. I consider myself a feminist but often feel excluded from the movement due to many instances of disregard of the voices of women of colour.
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Yes same. I too am a feminist but I came across many women who won’t call themselves that even though their views are aligned.
It’s a shame but the responsibility falls on feminist movements to welcome these women in.
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Very interesting for me, as I fall into the “white cis straight able bodied” section. Thank you for opening my eyes.
As for me, feminism means being able to chose, whatever the choice is. I can chose to be a career woman or a stay at home mom. I can chose the dress I wear, be it conservative or excentric.
I agree that feminism at the start was largely white. I think it comes down to the level of development of countries? The “white” countries having been developped earlier (of course the money to develop came from colonies and such), and women there having had access to education.
I am not very sure of what I am saying though, it’s juts a theory.
I go to India often, being married to an Indian man, and the place of women in society always interrogate me. You have women at startegic posts in companies, Indira Gandhi was head of state for such a long time, and still, women will be harshly criticised if they wear something “inappropriate”.
At the same time, I lived in China for a few years, and there communism has done wonders for the place of women in society, as in: they were not considered weak creatures that need protection, but were working as hard as men, without any distinction. And you can find traces of this in nowadays’ China.
I am looking forward to hearing your views on all of this, as I feel I need to be educated on the topic!
Great post, keep going.