And I, a feminist, have said this along with many others.
Jessica Yee says it best:
We’re not really equal when we’re STILL supposed to uncritically and obediently cheer when white women are praised for winning “women’s rights,” and to painfully forget the Indigenous women and women of colour who were hurt in that same process. We are not equal when in the name of “feminism”, so-called “women’s only” spaces are created and get to police and regulate who is and isn’t a “woman” based on their interpretation of your body parts and gender presentation, not your own. We are not equal when initiatives to achieve gender equity have reverted yet again to “saving” people and making decisions for them, rather than supporting their right to self-determination, whether it’s engaging in sex work, or wearing a niqab. So when feminism itself has become its own form of oppression, what do we have to say about it? Western notions of polite discourse are not the norm for all of us, and just because we’ve got some new and hot language like “intersectionality” to use in our talk, it doesn’t necessarily make things change in our walk (i.e., actually being anti-racist). And I have to say that these uncomfortable processes have been worth the many paths that brought the different contributors of the book together to tell their sometimes uncomfortable truths — not just about feminism, but about themselves and where they are coming from.
But now I’m going to take a stand and say that I’m constantly questioning what feminism even is, and I’m increasingly disturbed every day by the gate-keeping of who and what gets to decide the answer to that question.
So here’s another truth about me: I’m at a point in my activism where in many spaces I no longer feel comfortable just saying that I’m a feminist, full-stop, without adding a few words before or after. I say I’m a multi-racial Indigenous Two-Spirit feminist. I say I’m a hip-hop feminist, a reproductive justice feminist. Like many people, I feel like I’ve been burned out by the mainstream usage and representation of feminism and I’m not making any apologies for what I call myself, because I’m speaking the English language of the colonizer, and if it takes people a few extra words to give me my right to self-determination of what I want to be called in English, so be it.Being uncomfortable with this truth about feminism helps keep my fire alive to change it, and also helps me to not forget where we’ve really come from and where we’re really going.
Like any woman of color, I can’t simply give in to feminism completely. It is a Western ideology that does not mesh well with mine. It has its roots embedded in a history that not only had White men oppressing their own women but their women were equally involved in oppressing my indigenous people – men and women together. I refuse to obediently follow every postulate stated by Western, Eurocentric feminists. Does that make me an incompetent supporter of women’s rights? Does that render me unsuccessful in this march against oppression and malevolent patriarchy? Does that invalidate my opinion on how to bring gender egalitarianism about? Does that make me an adversary in this struggle? Does that make me a bad person? My questioning of agendas and modus operandi should be taken as positive criticism for change.
When a white feminist conducts a conference on gender equality, I want her to introduce me as a Human Being, not an example for her friends and sponsors to examine and exhibit and capitalize on. I want her to ask me what my thoughts are concerning feminism in academia. I want her to understand that there are compartments to my feminist movement; that feminism in my society in the professional realm is far different than feminism in the domestic dimension. I want her to understand that things are not simple. I want her to stop reducing my people to a piece of cloth. I want her to look back and realize that feminists, too, can be very well racist and oppressive. I want her to know that enforcing her idea of success, happiness and liberation on women alienated by her very own culture does not help. I want her to talk to my sisters, cousins, friends, teachers, activists, women from the village, women from the city, women from every corner of my country, my culture, my history before she even thinks of concluding her thoughts on how to define feminism around the world. I want her to open her mind.
I want her to know that the conference she conducted on academic discussions on women’s rights, while poorly-paid migrant workers – my brothers and sisters – are preparing lunch for their lofty thinkers only to get deported the next day, is no good when she can’t acknowledge her own participation in silencing the rights of those around her. I don’t want to be invited to seminars where someone indirectly hints at me wearing my “cultural attire” to show diversity. What am I? A mannequin for the lot?
I want her to know that it is not necessary for anyone to have a post doctoral degree in women’s studies to speak about her own experience and to be regarded by the ones listening and reading. I want her to get rid of her own privilege before she goes on to highlight that of others. I am tired but undefeated of the constant sight of colored students who are expected and sometimes demanded to learn languages, theories, -isms that erase and appropriate but, worse, further colonize their history, heritage, culture and identity.
I want the West to understand that my women and men and I will not adhere to every single idea stated from that corner of the world concerning emancipation and progress. I know the men of my culture have committed extreme acts of brutality against their women but it makes you no good when your ancestry points to lineages and more lineages of colonizers who tortured and enslaved both men and women of my culture.
I am a feminist but consider the ineffectiveness of a title when sub-titles are added for further clarification, explanation and validation. When I speak on public radio or show up on TV, I have to explain my identity: A multi-cultural, anti-racist, Muslim feminist. Sub-titles are created when the primary title fails to encompass other identities, other voices. This is also why I have no issue with women of color creating their own movements like South Asian Women Equality, Womanism, Muslim Gender Equality, Racial and Gender Liberation, so on and so forth.
So stop forcing me to believe you have purged yourself of racism, of cashing in on my experience and history. Stop telling me feminism is “perfect.” Stop telling me you’re here to “help” and “save” me and my sisters. The only person you need to save is yourself before you turn into a subtle instance of yet another colonizer.