The Future of Feminism

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I had a job interview today that was both exciting and terrifying, and one of the questions that I was asked was “How do you see the state of feminism today?” Well I was a bit overwhelmed in the moment of answering that question and got out something about being in flux, but the thought and the question have been hanging out in my brain ever since. I think it’s a very interesting question, but I’m almost more interested in where feminism should go. As it stands, there is a lot of splintering in feminism. We have everything from evangelical feminists to radical feminists, to intersectional feminists, and each of those groups has very different aims and beliefs.

Now overall I think most feminists are struggling with how to overcome some of the slanders that have been leveled at them from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and remind people that feminism isn’t a dirty word, as well as remind people why feminism is necessary. There’s a lot of education about the struggles that women still face, and particularly education about structural sexism as opposed to individual sexism. The focus has moved from overt beliefs that individuals might hold about women being inferior to men to the structural ways in which women are still oppressed. These are what hold feminism together today, as well as the desire to keep feminism relevant through new media forms.

 

There’s a lot of conflict in feminism though: how do women of color feature, how do women of non-Christian religions feature, what about intersectionality, are transwomen women (answer: yes). In addition, there’s a lot of conflict about what issues to focus on: abortion, healthcare access, equal pay, media representation, street harassment, rape culture…oof. There’s a lot going on, a lot of people doing different things, and a lot of styles of feminism. One of the things that I think characterizes feminism’s current state is its sheer diversity.

 

But if I were to characterize where I think feminism SHOULD go, it would be a very different matter. So without further ado, here is Olivia’s List Of What Feminist’s Should Do (If I Ran The World).

 

1.Recognize intersectionality. Holy shit have feminists been bad at this in the past. Particularly white feminists. Particularly upper class feminists. We CANNOT fight for women’s issues without recognizing the diversity of women’s issues and the way they intersect with and inform other issues. We need to draw on the diversity we have and embrace it, rather than trying to say “well my oppression is more important than your oppression, so stop talking about your issue”.

 

2.Take responsibility for past failures. This means listening to black women in particular.

 

3.Take a more global approach. Feminism as it exists in the U.S. does not recognize that its version of feminism may not be appropriate for all locations. It also doesn’t recognize cultural contexts, and that what it views as oppression may not be oppression for everyone involved. A good example of this is feminists who try to save Muslim women from the hijab. Islam has its own feminists. If you want to talk to them and work with them and discuss how feminism can become a more global movement, that’s great. If you want to walk in and tell everyone else how to be feminist, shut up.

 

4.Focus on choice. Many feminists are already doing this, but I think this message needs to get out there more. Any time you allow women more choices and more freedom, you are helping to reduce their oppression. While we all need to be aware of the context of our choices (for example stay at home moms need to be aware of the history of working in and outside of the home and understand the pressures that might have led them to their choice), we should never tell anyone that their desires and choices are wrong.

 

5.EDUCATE EDUCATE EDUCATE. Get out the information about why rape jokes are not ok, about why street harassment is harmful, about how attitudes in workplaces are discriminatory, about how we can make more opportunities available for women. Use evidence, research, and anecdotes. Give examples. Make it personal and make it universal. Many people don’t understand how harmful their actions are: she deserved it, it’s just a joke, it’s just a compliment, that’s just how things are, she could ignore it if she wanted to. Make it clear why these are BAD excuses.

 

6.Spend more time with the GLBT movement focusing on breaking down the gender binary. While we are still focused on “women’s rights” (and I realize I’ve used that language throughout this post because of convenience but it’s not the best language to use) we are promoting the idea of women and men, when perhaps the best way to allow freedom for all individuals is to allow for all gender presentations and identities. Not perhaps. Definitely. Read some Judith Butler.

 

So if I were queen of the world, that’s how things would go. Does anyone have suggestions for how they’d like to see feminism go? Leave em in the comments!

 

Written by Olivia James

Social Justice 101: Intersectionality

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So here is the beginning of my attempt to create a backstore of blog posts that I can whip out at a moment’s notice so I don’t have to go through the work of re-explaining privilege or intersectionality or institutional sexism again and again. I’m going to do my best to explain intersectionality in a nutshell, although it is an incredibly complex topic. I’m also going to try to link to a few articles that get into a bit more depth or explain particular aspects of it as well.

SO. Oftentimes when we think about social justice problems we think of them as separate. You might be a feminist, or an advocate for the rights of disabled individuals, or working on race issues, or fighting for GLBT rights. Most often we see these things separated out in the practical work that advocates do (at least partially because it’s really hard to tackle more than one thing at once). But this can also be a serious problem. In feminism in particular, there have been many instances throughout history and today in which feminists use certain kinds of power and privilege to oppress other women: in general, feminism has been for white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, upper-class women, and for people who don’t fit those definitions it has been incredibly difficult to gain recognition in the feminist community and have their concerns heard.

And so out of this problem, the concept of intersectionality was born. Intersectionality is the idea that all of our kinds of privilege interact. It’s not a simple question of having privilege for one thing, and then getting part of your privilege pile taken away because you’re part of a different marginalized group. Different oppressions can build on each other, like trans-misogyny, or they can affect each other in really complicated ways (for example being black and having a mental health concern is very different from being white and having a mental health concern). In some cases, even though you have a lack of privilege, you may be using your other privileges to oppress others in the same marginalized category as you (white women do this to black women in feminism all the time by silencing their concerns).

Intersectionality is also about understanding that we exist in a variety of different systems, and sometimes one system is acting on us more strongly than another. For example if I enter into a conversation with a disabled individual about able-bodied privilege and I try to say that I understand because I have mental health concerns, or that it’s just like ____ or say that they’re ignoring my perspective because they’re talking about their own issues, I’ve just effectively used my oppression as a silencing technique for someone else’s oppression. Intersectionality requires a great deal of listening to all kinds of experiences, and yes, even respecting the one black, Jewish, lesbian, trans-gendered woman you know and understanding that her experience of privilege and oppression is different from other experiences of privilege and oppression.

While there is no time in our lives that oppression doesn’t exist for us because we are female or a person of color or disabled or fat or lower class, that doesn’t mean that all of those oppressions exist in the same ways at all times, or that they are pertinent to all other forms of oppression. Intersectionality asks us to examine what privileges we may be using at any given time, and how that interacts with our oppressions, as well as how it can create unique forms of oppression for other individuals.

For some more resources on intersectionality, I suggest Natalie Reed’s blog (although it may be taken down soon, so get over there while you can), or these websites:

http://blog.twowholecakes.com/2009/07/101-thoughts-on-intersectionality-or-why-theres-no-dark-skinned-fat-black-women-on-more-to-love/

http://www.reddit.com/r/SRSDiscussion/comments/p8k1z/effort_intersectionality_101/

http://lipmag.com/opinion/broadening-feminisms-intersectionality-101/