I’ll be the first to admit, like most women, initially disowned the label feminist. Why? Well, for starters, I didn’t feel that as a woman of color there was any room for my own perception of the world in feminism since historically it has been concerned with the political and economic rights of middle and upper class white women. But, as I ventured into my personal journey of embracing that I am a feminist and enduring four frustrating years of being a Gender and Women’s studies second major, I have found a voice for myself, as a Latina woman in feminism. However, those same women’s studies courses which has enlightened me, angered me, but overall provided me with the proper tools to define feminism for myself, has taught me the first most important thing to know about feminism: It is flawed on a multitude of levels. Which is precisely why I am writing this.
There is a widely growing trend of young women claiming to be devoted feminist yet lack not only the history and knowledge of feminism but also lack the essential aspects about the discipline/movement and all its form. There is no right way to do feminism. On the contrary to what Webster dictionary and Beyoncé define feminism as, there is no one definition to the multi-dimensional practice of feminism. There are no set standards, guidelines, rules or regulations that one strictly follows and therefore are feminist by standard. In fact, lack of orthodoxy allows for freedom of speech and action. I completely understand why so many women would not want to label themselves as feminist and why so many would. Like everything in this world that is labeled and put into a category in order for humans to make sense of it, there is a long list of stereotypes that are associated with feminism in order to scare women off from embracing that title. Being a feminist immediately means that you are this anti-sex, man-hating, no makeup wearing, and hairy monster of a woman that refuses to conform to any gender norms that society has imposed on us since birth. As well as refusing every kind of body modifications. There is also this idea that women who wear makeup and dresses and enjoys sex cannot be feminist. Both of these notions are complete myths. This tension between ideas of the right way to be a woman is ongoing and has dictated the lives of women. This tension is dictated more than ever by standards of beauty as well as the attributes and characteristics society says are appropriate for a woman to have. The ongoing pervasive debate of distinguishing a good woman and a bad woman can be applied to feminism. Just as much as we essentialize gender and womanhood, we also essentialize feminism and what is the best way to do feminism.
Feminism is a perspective. Feminism is not the opposite of patriarchy but a critique of the well-established system. The discipline of feminism was and still is combating the multiple facets of patriarchy and racism through the experience of women. Disciplines such as sociology, psychology, biology, law, business, etc. are androcentric and have deliberately excluded the experience of women by making women invisible through the artificial separation of the public and private sphere which has confined women to the home. Feminism is a perspective which allows the ‘other’ gender to make a space for themselves and include their experiences in order to best represent women. Without a gender lens, we cannot accurately understand reality.
Coming to one of my strongest feelings about feminism: Feminism is not a sorority. We need to move away from this false sense of a sisterhood which feminism is not and was not created to be. Feminism scholars often disagree with one another, just as much as I cannot agree with most of the students in my women’s studies courses on what woman empowerment actually means and to whom. It is okay to disagree with another woman on political beliefs and to not instantly become friends with every woman you meet. It’s as simple as respecting someone for their beliefs and their work. I see you, we don’t have to be best friends, but I see you and I respect your hustle.
Feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. There are hundreds of ideologies, theories and movements each with different agendas. There is Black feminism, Radical feminism, Lesbian feminism, Islamic feminism, Dalit feminism, Third world feminism, Liberal feminism, Eco-feminism, Post-modern feminism, Socialist feminism, etc. the list can go on. Each movement is powered by women who are interested in the liberation of women who share similar perspectives and the transformation of a society. When there is so much difference in concerns and interest there is bound to be disagreements and of course criticism from one feminist group to the next, from one woman to the next, from one generation of feminist to the next. But, the underlying theme of all these movements, regardless of how different their interests may be from your own, each group is working towards the empowerment of those women to have their voices heard, to believe that their voices and experience matter and that they are free to make their own choices. We don’t have to believe in the same feminism as long as feminism is pluralistic and each idea is respected even if we don’t believe in it. Yes, feminism is flawed but what is has done for women’s right is far more progressive than any other ideology or perspective has done. One of the biggest contributions feminism has done is bringing women out of the margin and into the center making them visible. Although feminist is flawed, it is a perspective. Each woman has different perspectives of reality through their own experiences but feminism is powered by those perspectives of women and that is why it is so important to understand that by respecting each other’s perspective, ideas, lifestyles, and experiences, there can be some kind of solidarity within feminism.
Feminism is a choice and if a woman does not want to be a feminist than that is her right. But as a feminist, it in my responsibility to not only respect her personal choice but to also fight for her rights as a woman. Feminism is supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t necessarily make those choices ourselves. It is not my duty as a feminist or a human being for that matter to shun any woman by the choices she makes whether it is from the music she listens to, the clothes she wears, the make-up she puts on, her profession, if she like having sex or the kind of people she chooses to be intimate with. As a feminist I understand that there is no good or bad woman nor is there right or wrong way to do feminism. However, as a feminist and specifically woman of color, I know that feminism is nothing without multiplicity, diversity and intersectionality as well as understanding that what may be empowering to some women may not be empowerment at all to other because of economic, racial and sexual identity differences.
I encourage all women AND men to further there understanding of feminism as well as developing and defining a feminism as it relates to you. At the center of feminism is experience. Your experiences matter, demand your voice to be heard and feel free to make whatever choices suit you.