All shapes, all sizes, all colours
Feminism is a journey, cliched, yes, but accurate.
The feminist understanding I had when I was my niece’s age is definitely different from where I am now. For a start, I am unapologetic about it. I can see and hear my nieces having more nuanced conversations about feminism and society in general, as they get older and as they develop on that journey (which for the record, I don’t think there is an end to, those who consider themselves feminists who know all, probably need to check themselves). Admittedly, my nieces are significantly more mature than I was, my feminist conversations at age 15 were essentially about finding a deeper meaning in Destiny’s Child lyrics…I mean “bug-a-boo”…that is definitely something that required thinking.
Unfortunately, as you have those nuanced conversations, you have more difficult debates and you find fractures within the feminist movement. Usually, I welcome this, but there are times where quite frankly there is no space for discussion; that instance is when we talk about making feminism inclusive. There is no debate here; culture, heritage, race have a crucial part to play in the feminist movement. These aspects, make our feminism better, because they make feminism more representative of what the world actually looks like. But the reality is, often unless you are from a different colour, heritage or race that is not Caucasian, feminism can look pale and stale (that’s only one word away from what we accuse our politics of being).
I have experiences as a woman, but my experiences are shaped by being a Muslim and Asian woman. I have encountered sexism that is also mixed with Islamophobia and racism. That’s an experience that is different to the average woman involved in Feminism in Scotland. There are experiences that women from different cultures and races bring to feminism which advances it, makes it a stronger fighting force. It helps the movement fight patriarchy in all its forms and in all corners of society. But it’s not always welcome, in fact I’ve heard it be called a “distraction”.
That’s what left wing men called (sometimes still call) the feminist movement, a distraction from class war. The very same feminists recall being angry at that then…
I’ve had the misfortune of being involved in these conversations and dropping my jaw at the notion that incluson could be an after thought. I even had the misfortune for working for a “feminist” organisation where people thought like this. When i would suggest ways to be diverse, to be political and overt about that intersectionality, i was branded a problem and told i was “fighting the organisation”, if anything I was fighting to make it better. I would hear comments about working class women and there was a disrespect for the inclusion of trans women. I was even asked “is it not tough to be Muslim and attempt to be feminist?”…that’s a sentence that isn’t about to be forgotten any time soon.
Intersectionality (actively doing it, not just saying the buzz word) isn’t that difficult. In fact I made you a chart:
This all came to a head for me this week, yet again. Remember that blue/black or gold/white dress? That Twitter explosion that made Sky News? (yup a tweet about a dress made sky news, the 2 women a week who die at the hands of a current or ex partner doesn’t, I felt sick too). Well it caused an online storm, and The Salvation Army in South Africa thought, why not use this as a platform to change what is trivial into something important? And good on them. It was this:
Kudos to Salvation Army in South Africa for making a point about domestic abuse. rightly so.
However some have pointed out that it’s not all applause; Jezebel points out that awareness raising of this kind often doesn’t make much difference and that aside from staring at a bruised women, are we achieving anything? Others have pointed out that in 2015 we know that domestic abuse is not just physical and we need to point that out emotional abuse more often.
Interestingly, these thoughts came to me after one specific one; South Africa has a population of 52.8 million people, 51% of that population are women and 79.2% of the entire population is Black African. This is a picture of a white women, to a predominantly black community, where it is the majority of black women who will be coming forward for support on domestic violence. By no means am I suggesting that the 8.9% of the white population and the women within that do not experience domestic abuse – absolutely not, all women in every corner of the world are part of the same statistic; 1 in 4 regardless of their race. What I am saying however, is that in a predominantly black African country, we use a Caucasian women on a poster to deliver a message. It’s a key example of why intersectionality matters. The articles above (including one from a feminist online mag) don’t pick it up. Why? maybe they haven’t noticed – when you are of an “intersection” (not the best way to put it, but in this case the only way) not noticing is not a luxury you have. It can be the first thing you realise, because you see something missing.
That in a nutshell, is why intersectionality matters.