Labels on my soul: “feminist”

It’s funny that I’m writing this when years ago, one of the most-read and most popular posts on my (now sadly deleted) Facebook blog was about how I wasn’t a feminist. I guess a lot has changed since then – or rather, not enough has.

To be honest, I have a lot of problems with feminism. I have a problem with the silencing and marginalisation of women of colour. I have a problem with vindictive attacks on trans* women by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs). I have a problem with the stigmatisation of sex workers. I have a problem with the rampant biphobia displayed by a certain corner of the radical feminist movement. I have a problem with “political lesbianism”. I have a problem with the silencing of women who aren’t academics, who don’t write papers and bestselling coffee table books, who don’t attend seminars or speak at conventions. Oh, yes, I have a whole lot of problems with feminism.

And in a way, that’s why I have to be a feminist – because if people like me who have problems with feminism keep walking away, the problems will never be fixed.

I believe in a feminism that is sex-positive, gender-inclusive, trans*-friendly, cross-cultural, intersectional and universal. I believe in a feminism that is for all women, not just wealthy white cishet columnists who write for ivory tower publications. This feminism does exist, although the mainstream tries its jolly hardest to silence it. But I, like many women and allies, refuse to be silenced.

The thing is, the world does still need feminism. We live in a society where female bodies are considered public property, where female sexuality is a marketable commodity, where female bodily autonomy is virtually non-existent (yes, even in the developed world). We exist in a world where one in four women in Western countries will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, where access to safe and effective forms of birth control is too scarce and regulated by mostly male gatekeepers, where women are hyper-sexualised and treated as objects created for male pleasure whether or not they consent. Casting our eyes abroad, we are party to the perpetuation of female genital mutilation, to the rape of virgins in South Africa due to a folk belief that it will cure men of HIV, to the infanticide of female babies born to families who can’t afford their dowries. These things happen not because they are inevitable, nor because they are part of the natural order, but because we as a society allow them to continue to happen.

Feminism is necessary. I do not wish to bring a daughter into a world where she will be sexualised and objectified before she even reaches her teens, where she will be told that it is her responsibility to prevent men from raping her, not a man’s responsibility to choose not to rape. I do not want to raise my sons in a culture that tells them that they may claim ownership of women’s bodies and sexualities to do with as they please. I do not want my children to learn that women are worthless unless a man deems them worthy and that men exist as the arbiters of female worth and importance.

Equally importantly, I do not want to be a party to the hyper-sexualisation of women of colour. I do not wish to be associated with a culture that turns a blind eye to the rape of Native women by white men. I have no desire to claim ownership of trans* bodies, viewing them as objects of morbid fascination and not the individual property of individual human beings. I do not want to look on, unmoving and unmoved, as society condones the erasure of GSM identities, the restriction of reproductive rights, the stigmatisation of sex workers, the fetishisation of disabled people’s sexualities. Because these, too, are feminist issues – ones we ignore at our peril.

My feminism, as the popular rallying cry goes, will be intersectional or it will be bullshit. Women of colour are raped disproportionately more often than white women, and their rapists are overwhelmingly white men. Trans* women are beaten, raped and murdered in shocking numbers as society stands by and does nothing – yea, even implicitly condones a kind of targeted violence reminiscent of genocide. We keep out our tired, our poor, our huddled masses, designating them not worthy of inclusiveness in feminism if they work in the wrong profession, or if they haven’t written essays and spoken at seminars and read all the right books. We turn a blind eye to the mistreatment of women in the developing world, chalking it down to non-white savagery rather than ingrained misogyny. This is not good enough. This is not feminist enough.

Feminism fails millions of women every day. It fails them in big ways and in small ways – by dismissing their lived experiences, by denying them entry into women’s spaces, by treating them as objects of curiosity rather than autonomous beings with their own needs and desires. Feminism fails women of colour, trans* women, women from gender and sexual minorities, disabled women, poor women, sex workers and women in countries that aren’t predominantly white constantly. Feminism fails every time a woman’s story is not heard because she is not rich enough or white enough or literate enough to be given space to tell it. And it will keep failing and failing and failing until we step up and do something to change it.

Yes, I have problems with feminism. But I am still a feminist. I am not a feminist because I want to be – I am a feminist because I need to be, because no woman will ever achieve true freedom or equality until all women achieve it. I am a feminist for my trans* friends and my sex worker friends and my fellow women of colour and my disabled friends and my friends who aren’t wealthy or literate enough to be given a platform from which they can tell their stories. I am a feminist for Malala Yousufzai, who was shot in the head for believing that all women deserve the right to an education. I am a feminist for women in sub-Saharan Africa who will pass on HIV to their children because they were infected by men who were taught that contraception is sinful. I am a feminist for my mother, who raised six children and then went on to complete a university degree despite society telling her she was past her prime and no longer worthy nor deserving of success. I am a feminist for women who, upon being raped, were dismissed because they were wearing a short skirt or were a little drunk when it happened. I am a feminist for women who are too femme or not femme enough or too sexy or not sexy enough or too smart or not smart enough to be accepted by a society that has appointed itself the arbiter of their worth. I am a feminist for all women. I am a feminist for myself.

I am Jay, and I will be a feminist until the world no longer needs feminism. This label has been imprinted on my soul by a society that still sees women, particularly non-white, non-straight, non-cis, uneducated or disabled women, as inferior. I may not like it; I don’t like it. Feminism needs fixing, and far too few people are willing to listen to those who’ve identified its problems. But I refuse to stand by, unmoving and unmoved, as the world punishes women simply for being. I am Jay – woman, worthy. I will be a feminist until I no longer have to fight to prove it.

2 thoughts on “Labels on my soul: “feminist”

  1. *happy dancing* Yay! This post caught me at a time where I was seriously considering giving up on being a feminist. Your inspirational words have nudged me back to the path I started on decades ago. God puts me where I need to be to hear the necessary words, the ones that are always direct and life-changing, simultaneously. Thank you so much 🙂 ❤
    Addendum: I have no agenda in leaving comments on this blog, am not a disguised troll, don't have a horde of same waiting to pounce, or any of that sort of nonsense. It's difficult to trust a stranger. Me, I consider myself on probation until told otherwise. 😉

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