What makes me a feminist? First and foremost I am a woman. I demand an equal right to life. I resent the opportunities I am not given on the basis of my sex. I will fight for these rights, physically if I have to. I resent the ways in which I have had to struggle in order to survive. I am bitter about the many men who have hurt me, on a personal level but professionally also. As women, we have all had these experiences purely because we have been programmed to believe we are physically and intellectually inferior. Many of us haven’t the fight to strike back because we already believe we will lose.
In some parts of the world, it is extremely dangerous to identify as a strong woman. Women in parts of rural Pakistan/Afghanistan have their noses torn off for refusing to make the dinner. In Central America, self-identifying trans women are brutally murdered for deviating from the extremely cis gendered norm. Young Turkish women are coerced into taking their own lives since honour killings carry a mandatory life sentence. Our sisters the world over are suffering still, controlled by the very men who claim to protect and provide. In fact, up to 70% of the women in our vast world will experience domestic abuse. It is astonishing, when the figure is this high, that our Western media is constantly demanding an end to feminism or at least writing about its decline. And there are women, mainly white middle/upper class women, the Brunis and the Perrys; but a few working class too, who believe that this might be true. Even though ¼ of their female British citizens are subjected to threats and violence in their own homes. That they actively choose to disassociate from such a crucial and necessary cause is astonishing and doesn’t make sense. How is one able to claim such ignorance when feminists have been highlighting these issues before I was even born?
I like to play privilege Buckaroo in my head. I am a cis gendered woman with a few years of life behind me. I was educated in my relatively developed corner of the West. I have the sort of face that fits and a name I constructed to impress white people from whom I may need to seek employment. I struggle to think of all my privileges because, from where I normally sit, people haven’t always been welcoming. I am a BrAsian woman of Pakistani/Kashmiri heritage but I’m kind of a beige-y brown so people generally cannot place me. I’m the ‘other’, I have to ‘specify’ and this makes me suspicious to some folk. They want to trust me cos I like to drink gin and know all the lyrics to Pink Floyd but I start to twitch when people bring up the ethnics and their alien ways, and this alarms them. I should do a better job of being British and give over my old allegiances, deny my ancestral journey to this greatest of islands. But I can’t. Not because I hold dear my old culture or religion but because women like me have to smash through the patriarchal crap for women like my mother.
A child bride, uneducated, one of eight daughters; existing only so that one day she would cook and clean and bear children. Nobody asked her about her plans, she wasn’t taught consent or autonomy. She suffered. I haven’t had the best of lives but comparatively, I had the strength to fight back. I had white middle class teachers and a second wave feminist aunt. It no longer matters that my mother struggled to feed and clothe all four of us on £40 week child benefit, I looked forward to hippy guitar mornings with Mr Davies, the primary school teacher who gave me first Parker pen. I was not going to be like my mother, I said. I wasn’t going to be so weak and unable to help myself. I was going to elevate my status and never look back. Except.. It’s a little bit selfish thinking like that. I had hope. I could read English. My teachers believed in me; I was destined for great things. My mother was never given the opportunity. She wore a plait with a middle parting, a shalwar kameez and she wouldn’t look anyone in the eye. It made her look shifty but she was just painfully shy. I have privileges my mother wouldn’t have dared to dream about. I must remember this.
When conscientious white feminist friends start questioning the validity of the word feminism in the fight for equality for ALL women, it makes me think again about my privilege and the relative ease with which I can proclaim to be a feminist. Women of colour are struggling to find their place in this crucial global movement. But also, women of the working classes. Has it been hijacked by the white woman who believes in equality for well to do white women alone or is this another divide and rule mission for the patriarchy? It’s easy for a man to say that oppression is about class first and foremost, especially if that man happens to be called Marx but the fact remains that that is his privilege as a man. And a white man at that. White women with money (and some without) have the time and resources to make a stand. Banging on about equality whilst ignoring the prejudice and discrimination faced by women of colour, disabled women, trans women etc. is not the feminism I believed it to be. It’s patriarchy manifesting in the very people who were privileged enough to recognise the inequality they were themselves subjected to.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
We cannot let the patriarchy take the word ‘feminism’ away from us. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my issues with it, BUT I am damned if I let the patriarchy dictate its usage.
Fems, let us be inclusive. Let’s literally give a shit about ALL women. Listen to the women who have been toxically shamed into believing they are inferior, because they are black or mentally unwell. We need to be aware of our language and the way patriarchy subtly controls people who are the ‘other’.
Who’s with me?