Monday, January 23, 2017

Your Feminism Should Be Intersectional

The Women's March on Washington made a huge statement. I think that's something we can all agree on here. However, I did notice some issues that I'd like to bring up.

I was not in attendance as I had some family business to attend to. I wanted to attend one of the marches because as an archivist I would have loved to document the event and do some oral histories with participants. (In fact, the oral history offer stands - contact me if you'd like to be interviewed about it.) Despite not being there, however, I did notice some issues with intersectionality that I'd like to address - feminism, after all, is for the benefit of us all, not just cisgender, straight, abled white women.

White Feminism Leaves Everyone Else Out

Traditional feminism has focused primarily on middle-class white women. Whilst it makes sense for it to have historically started this way, given that middle-class and upper-class white women have the most societal leverage and therefore will be most likely to be taken seriously, in the 21st century we need to make an adjustment here because middle-class white women are not the only women who exist. I saw a phenomenal sign from one of the Women's Marches imploring the white women marching to attend a Black Lives Matter protest in these numbers, too. There's a stereotype fueled by the media and our own prejudices that non-white people, in particular black people, are more violent, one that is decidedly not true. If you attend a BLM protest, you'll notice that it looks exactly the same as the Women's Marches did - loud and forceful, but peaceful. People who use protests to enact violence are few and far between, and they're opportunists. The media inevitably always chooses to focus on those few people instead of the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors, ignoring the message and selectively hearing the violence.

Likewise, non-Christian women are dismissed, as well, especially those from religions perceived to be less "woman-friendly," such as Islam. There are many Muslim feminists out there, and it would serve the movement well to listen to them and their take on the issues presented to women worldwide. White women are not inherently the most "liberated," just the most listened to due to their increased visibility and privilege. 

Indigenous women, too, are left out of this conversation. Groups of them showed up to highlight their own issues, of which there are many that middle-class white women couldn't even dream of (access to clean water being one of them). They were summarily ignored by many people at the protests, as well. Considering that the right to life is a major issue for the disabled, this struck a chord with me - who are we to deem who is worthy of life and who is not? Once you're born into this world, you deserve to have access to the things you need to survive and, perhaps even more significantly, you deserve the dignity of being treated like a human being. When your needs are routinely ignored because another group of people puts themselves above you, that's dehumanizing.

Disabled women are frequently left out of this equation, as well, although I'm glad to report that many of us were there at the Women's Marches this weekend. The Autism Women's Network had some representatives there (along with the fantastic sign "Autism is not a boy's club"), and I saw a lot of other disabled people who managed to make it. However, the Marches were not designed for us - they were not accessible to all, and that's a big problem. If you claim to support all women, you have to support all women, including those women that so many of you see as subhuman, the disabled. We have opinions and issues of our own, and these opinions deserve to be heard and our issues deserve to be addressed. We, too, are women, not inspiration porn or something to pity. Increased accessibility would have enabled us to attend in greater numbers. If your feminism doesn't include disabled women, it's not feminism. Period.

Not All Women Have Vaginas

Perhaps most dismaying of all was the large number of signs regarding the "grab 'em right by the pussy" quote from Donald Trump or about birth control and abortion that ignored a vital fact. Yes, sexual assault is a major problem for women. Yes, it absolutely needs to be combated. Yes, we need to stand up for women (and men and non-binary people) who are assaulted and raped. However, if your sign said something about your reproductive system, you ignored a large number of transgender women who don't have one. In a sea of cisgender women screaming about how their pussies bite back, transgender women, who face a unique set of issues of their own, felt lost and ignored. You don't need a vagina to be a woman, you just need to feel like a woman. TERFs routinely engage in transmisogyny and actively exclude transgender women from their feminism, and that's wrong. Feminism is for all women, not just the ones you want it to be for.

How Can You Help Change This?

Yes, you, dear reader, have the power to improve this for the better. Here are some of the things you can do:
  •  Actively research feminists who aren't white. Read their writing and learn from their perspective. Many white feminists' writing is still racist, so take it with a grain of salt.
  • LISTEN TO OTHER WOMEN. I cannot stress this enough. As a disabled woman, I find that I'm not taken seriously in certain contexts and that's incredibly frustrating. Listen to one another and support each other's issues. One of my best friends is a lesbian and I've learned so much about LGBT issues from her that I didn't know about before. (Incidentally, she was in Washington on Saturday with a sign reading "Angry Lesbians Against Fascist Pigs.") 
  • Accept that transgender women are women, plain and simple. If you feel like you're female, you are, no questions asked. 
  • Increase accessibility for disabled people in feminist spaces. With increased accessibility will come increased visibility as disabled people can assert their rights and their humanity. 
  • Don't assume that someone's religious beliefs mean they're "oppressed." No matter your religion, you can still be a feminist.
  • Explain to men why all of the above is important and also benefits them - because it does. If women are uplifted and are finally equal with men, men won't have to deal with toxic masculinity anymore. 
If your feminism isn't intersectional, you're probably not actually a feminist or just support feminism for cisgender, abled, straight white women, whether or not you actually realize this. It shouldn't be something we should still have to talk about in 2017, yet here we are.

Feminism should benefit everybody, not just a select few. Enough said.

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