If you were wondering why women feel unsafe around you, here’s why:

So, a few days ago, I wrote this.

That letter is a semi-autobiographical composite based on a guy who not only stalked me and made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe, but did the same to several other women, including friends of mine. Some of those things he did to me; some of those things he did to other women; some of those things he told us about during group gatherings, seemingly under the impression that we would empathise with him in his struggle against all the terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad women of the world.

When I wrote that letter, it wasn’t really aimed at the Nice Guy in question (I honestly haven’t seen or heard from him in months, and thank [insert deity/deities/lack of deity here] for that). It was written for every woman who, like me, has known a guy like that or been “befriended” by a guy like that or feared for her life because of a guy like that.

Because yeah, that’s a thing. Women fear for their lives because of guys like that.

That guy? When I very politely told him that I needed him to message me less, the backlash started immediately. He trashed me on social media. He would show up to events he knew I’d be at and find reasons to sit across from me, saying nothing the entire time. He told people what a bitch I’d been to him. He started making ultimatums – he would stop being friends with people if they so much as mentioned me in his presence. He knew where I lived, where I worked, where my family members lived and worked. He had mentioned violent impulses (both internally and externally aimed) several times during our brief “friendship”. He had made life difficult and uncomfortable for friends of mine in the past (which I did not know when I first met him), and now he was doing it to me. And while I like to think that I’m a fairly strong, independent kind of girl who can fend for herself, and while this guy seemed pretty quiet and shy and like he was more bark than bite, I was still pretty fucking scared.

The thing is, women don’t know which guy’s going to get violent when we tell them no.

Will it be the guy who approaches us in a club and insists on buying us a drink even though we repeatedly say we don’t want one? (Friend’s 20th birthday a few years ago – he eventually went and started buying drinks for someone else instead, and my friends and I watched the girl he was talking to like a hawk all night to make sure he didn’t have a chance to get her alone.)

Will it be the guy who calls us a bitch because he was “just trying to make conversation” while we were reading a book with our earphones in? (Outside a shopping centre in broad daylight while I was waiting for a friend to pick me up. He screamed in my face for twenty minutes while I kept telling him he needed to leave. Passers-by did absolutely nothing but look at me in annoyance, as though I was responsible for this public disturbance that was getting in the way of their grocery shopping.)

Will it be the guy who tries talking to us on the bus when we just want to get home after a long day at work, his voice raising in volume every time we steadfastly ignore his leering “compliments”? (Guy who used to catch the bus route that took me past my house. I would wait until the bus had driven off before walking home just so he couldn’t watch me go to my front gate, and I would always make sure to lock it behind me just in case.)

Will it be the guy who offers us lifts everywhere and goes shopping with us and buys us gifts and worms his way into our circle of trust so that eventually we start letting him into our private spaces, where nobody will see if he attacks us?

It could be any of them. It could be all of them. For some woman, somewhere, it has been one or more or all of them. (For some man, somewhere, it has also been one or more or all of them. Predators thrive on societies that will not believe the claims of their prey.)

None of this is news to you, I’m sure – or, if you have even the slightest hint of cultural awareness, it shouldn’t be.

But it was apparently news to this guy:

 

This is an image a commenter made calling me a

not creepy at all, dude. not. creepy. at all.

 

What starts with “r” and ends with “ape culture” and is incredibly well-illustrated by this image? I’ll let you supply the answer.

This is why women feel unsafe around you, Nice Guys – because when we stand up to you, when we point out that your behaviour is predatory and your advances are unwanted and that we want to be treated like actual human beings, your immediate response is to tear us down, belittle us and invalidate us. We feel unsafe around you because you are possessed of so much entitlement that when we don’t repay your (unwanted!) favours with romance and sex, you label us whores and liars and sociopaths. And you are backed up, not just by the friends who don’t want to make things “awkward” by barring you from social gatherings, but by the entire fucking patriarchy, right down to random internet strangers who don’t even know us but will construct elaborate “proofs” that your predatory behaviour is our fault because we should have known what we were getting into when we accepted what looked like an offer of friendship.

You want to know why we don’t want that drink? Want to know why we don’t want a bar of your “normal social interaction” (ha) or your “polite conversation” or your compliments that you swear are innocent?

Because any one of you could be the guy I wrote that letter about. Because any one of you could be the guy backing him up by calling me a sociopath and a liar. Because any one of you could be the one we shouldn’t have trusted, and because when you hurt us, any one of you could be the ones insisting it was our fault all along.

You want to know why women feel unsafe around you? It’s because you’re fucking unsafe, asshole.

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A letter to that Nice Guy I ignored that one time

A comic depicting the difference between what a Nice Guy thinks is happening between him and a girl and what is actually happening.

a shift in perspective can help.

 

Dear Nice Guy,

I’d say you probably don’t remember me, but I know you do. I know you remember me the way you remember every single girl you’ve ever latched onto like a leech who also happens to recommend books and carry shopping bags. I know you remember me because this is a small town and people talk and you wouldn’t believe some of the things people tell me you say about me, except that I guess you would because I know for sure that you said them.

I know you’ve waxed poetic at length to anyone who will listen (and a fair few people who won’t) about how I don’t know what I’m missing. And you know what? I guess you’re right. I don’t know what I’m missing. Maybe if, somewhere between the endless offers of a lift home and the free coffees I didn’t want and the little intimate gifts “just because”, I’d read your mind and deduced using my psychic powers that you were in love with me, things might have turned out differently. (Like maybe I’d have filed a restraining order. Maybe I’d have stopped seeing the favours you did me as the acts of a friend and started seeing them as the acts of a predator. Maybe I’d have never allowed myself to be alone in a room with you. But I digress.) For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right and I don’t know what I let slip by when I decided to go after that [confident] jerk [with a sense of self-worth and a whole host of interesting hobbies] instead of letting you woo me like a princess in the tackier class of fairy tale.

Then what?

You want me to know you’d have treated me like a princess, but I’m not a princess. You want me to know you’d have worshipped me like a goddess, but I’m not a goddess. You want me to know you’d have waited on me hand and foot, but I’m a functioning human being with agency and independence and I don’t need anyone to wait on me. You want me to know you’d have given me everything I could ever have possibly wanted, but you’re wrong there, because one of the things I wanted – one of the things I still want – is not you.

That’s the thing, see? You could drive me to the edges of the Earth as a “favour”, you could come shopping with me and take me out to dinner and watch movies and let me cry to you over the phone, but you couldn’t make me want you as anything other than a friend and you still can’t. You’ll never be able to. Oh, sure, if you’d asked me out when we first met, before we settled into the routine of girl-and-secret-admirer, maybe I’d have thought about it. Maybe I’d have let you take me out to lunch at a little bistro somewhere and we could have talked like real people and not like Pygmalion attempting to breathe life into his Galatea, and maybe we’d have found out that we had things in common and it would have led to a few more dates and maybe a relationship. Or maybe I would have turned you down and you’d have felt sad about it for a while but you would have moved on and we could have been friends – real friends – and you wouldn’t be obsessively combing through my Facebook photos at midnight and I wouldn’t be writing you this letter.

But you couldn’t make me love you just because you wanted me to, and you still can’t.

You say I’ll regret it. You say that ten, twenty, fifty years from now, you’ll be the one that got away. You say that when I’ve been rejected by a string of [confident, interesting, engaging] jerks and I no longer have my youthful beauty and I’m too old to have kids, I’ll wish I’d settled for you. And maybe you’re right. Maybe one day I’ll be fifty years old and single and childless – but even then, I still wouldn’t regret not being with you. I wouldn’t regret not signing up for a lifetime of being treated like a marble statue on a pedestal created by an obsessed boy-child with an ideal of perfect womanhood to which I could never truly measure up. I wouldn’t regret avoiding that slavish devotion, that expectation of reciprocity of a passion I didn’t and don’t and will never feel. No, I’m sorry – even if you end up being right and I find myself alone and unloved and unlovable, I will never regret that.

Since we’re making predictions, though – and oh, how you love to do that when you talk about me (did you really think I wouldn’t hear of it? did you really think they’d never tell?) – let me make a few of my own.

I predict that I’ll have an enjoyable, interesting relationship with my jerk (who has introduced me to sports and taught me how to shoot a gun and helped me rediscover my love of philosophy and supported my dreams of being a writer and held my hand while I cried without expecting anything in return). I predict that if things don’t work out, I’ll find someone else, and maybe he’ll introduce me to painting or sculpture or belly dancing or yoga or basketball because he’ll have interests other than pleasing me and he’ll want to share them with the woman he loves. I predict that some day, if I choose to, I’ll marry one of those jerks you hate so much and we’ll probably have a few kids and we’ll fight sometimes because nobody’s perfect, not even people in love, but we’ll make up because nobody stays angry forever, especially people in love. And maybe we’ll divorce in five years or maybe we’ll grow old together and see the birth of our great-grandchildren, but the one thing we won’t do is live out some fantasy of a man “winning” a woman with niceness and a woman showing her gratitude with sex.

That’s what you never understood about relationships, Nice Guy. You can’t win people, not with all the put-on niceness in the world. You can’t mould yourself into what you think a woman wants and hope she’ll fill all the gaps in you. You have to be your own person (do you even know who that is any more?) and cultivate your own interests and live your own life and hope that one day, you’ll find someone who thinks your life is pretty neat and wants to share it with you, someone with a life of her own that’s so neat you want to share it with her.

That’s a relationship, Nice Guy. Not unwanted gifts and free rides home and pining over someone and hoping that if you hang around her long enough, she’ll feel the way you want her to feel. A relationship is two people sharing their lives – their messy, imperfect, fantastic, exciting, terrifying, amazing lives – because it’s what both of them want to do, not because one of them wants the other to want it.

This guy I’m seeing, this jerk? He’s pretty sweet. We’re talking about getting married, maybe having kids some day. He read Hamlet for me because I mentioned I liked Shakespeare and I went to a football game with him and had the time of my life. We fight sometimes and we laugh a lot of the time and we never expect anything of each other that the other wouldn’t be willing to give. I think maybe we’re going to go the distance. But even if we don’t, it still will have been worth it, because he’s helped me grow as a person and I’ve helped him grow as a person and neither of us is Galatea and neither of us would want to be Pygmalion because what kind of relationship can there be between a man and his idol?

I hope you figure that out one day. I’d hate for all your prophecies about other women to come true for you.

Get over me. You never had me to begin with. You never will.

Sincerely,

A girl who goes for jerks.

Navigating male entitlement, or: how I learned to stop caring and block dudebros

There’s this funny idea people have about free speech.

See, here’s how it actually works. You can say whatever you like, so long as what you say doesn’t harm anyone. If you can find a platform for yourself, even more power to you. Start a blog, make a Twitter account (make ten Twitter accounts!), post on Reddit, find your happy place and go for it. Free speech, whilst not constitutionally protected the world over, is a basic human right.

Here’s what’s not a human right: an assurance that anyone will listen.

Yeah. This is where it gets funny.

I get cat-called a lot. I mean, I get cat-called a lot. And before you rush to say something snarky about my outfit choices or the height of my heels (I see you in the wings, slut-shamers – you’re not as subtle as you think), I’ve been cat-called in my daggiest jeans and my oldest t-shirt and my rattiest sneakers and no makeup. I’ve been cat-called by old men and young men and men with their young sons in the passenger seat next to them. And the one thing all those men have had in common is the idea that they have the right to make me listen to their opinions. It’s not enough for them to have the opinions; it’s not enough for them to voice those opinions to their friends (or, I suppose, their young children – seriously, dude who did that, I will never stop judging you); they have to voice them to me. They have to make sure I hear them. They think they have the right to make me listen.

And the thing is – and like I said, here’s where it gets a bit funny – the thing is, they don’t have that right at all.

One afternoon, a guy tried talking to me for the entirety of my bus journey home. I had earphones in and I was doing a sudoku puzzle on my phone and I very, very purposefully ignored him – I even had my back turned. He tried talking to me anyway. “Hey, love,” he whined from a seat behind me after I refused to make eye contact and took a seat far in front, “hey – I’m talking to you.” He kept it up as I got off the bus, too. I loudly thanked the driver and waited until the bus had departed before walking to my gate, lest the guy figure out which house was mine by watching through the window.

Recently, I was sitting near a bus stop waiting for an evening bus into town, earphones in, when a man came up to me. I didn’t notice that he was trying to talk to me, so he walked right up and started waving his hands in my face. Thinking something had fallen from my purse, I took an earphone out, looked up and asked what was wrong.

He wanted to tell me I “looked cute”. I gave him my best “not in your wettest, wildest dreams” stare and responded with a, “move along, dude,” in the kind of voice one uses for pronouncements such as oh, look, the new puppy isn’t house-trained yet. I mean, seriously? He waved his hands centimetres away from my face for that? I own a mirror, and even if I didn’t, I don’t think strangers on the street would be my go-to resource for fashion critiques.

He broke into an expletive-laden tirade about what an uptight bitch I was. I put my earphones back in, turned the volume up and waited until he was gone.

(I was lucky – it was a crowded area and he was pretty small. I doubt I’d have been brave enough to reject unwanted advances so brazenly otherwise. Even surrounded by people, it took a fair amount of chutzpah to pretend I was unruffled by the spittle flying from my harasser’s lips as he screamed epithets at me. Guess those public speaking classes paid off.)

I recently noted that the threats directed at Suey Park, creator of the #CancelColbert hashtag, were born of the idea that violence against women, particularly women of colour, is an appropriate “punishment” for non-conformity. It’s the oddest thing – people don’t seem to like it when we express our right to free speech. As though to prove my point, I was inundated with replies verging from the nonsensical (“you’re racist against white people!”) to the sickening (“I hope you die, you ugly bitch!”) to the simply tiresome (“but why are you trying to oppress our freedoms?”). I merely made an observation – that white “progressives”, when forced to choose between allyship and protecting their own, will invariably protect their own. When I refused to engage in “debate” on whether or not racism against white people exists (it doesn’t), I was met with more vitriol still. I was silencing people (by…letting them talk without responding to them?); I was a white-hater (because…I pointed out that if white people don’t want to be seen as racist, they should probably stop doing racist things?); I was unwilling to “defend my arguments” (you might just as well ask me to “defend” my belief in the existence of gravity).

At first, I amused myself by inventing colourful ways of telling the trolls to fuck themselves (my favourite is still “go fellate yourself with a chainsaw”), but after a while, responding to the barrage of internet word-vomit grew tiring. I blocked any new troll accounts, made an announcement that I would not be engaging further, and went to bed.

That was when the real hate began.

I won’t sicken you with the details. Suffice it to say that waking up to threats of murder and sexual abuse was something of an object lesson in my original point. Exercise free speech to criticise white progressives and watch the mask of liberalism crack and shatter. Freedom, it would seem, is a one-way street.

With privilege comes an overweening sense of entitlement – entitlement to our spaces, entitlement to our stories, to our culture, to our voices, to our resources, to our time. When I tell men I’m not interested in talking to them, they treat it like a personal affront. How dare I, a woman, refuse to pander to them? How dare I refuse to warp my universe until they are at its centre? How dare I – and this is what really underlies it all – say no?

But you see – and I said, didn’t I, that it’s funny how this works – you see, while they might have the right to speak, I have the right not to listen and a mandate handed to me by the good citizens of the Republic of Myself to take advantage of that right whenever I like.

I’m not obliged to listen to your cat-calls. I’m not obliged to make uncomfortable small talk with you at bus stops. Online, I’m not obliged to indulge your desire for a “debate” when you interrupt me mid-story to derail the conversation and re-centre it around your own experiences. I’m not obliged to pander. I’m not obliged to serve you in any way at all. “Republic of Myself” is a bit of a misnomer. My space is not a democracy. I make the rules and enforce them as I wish. And what I’ve decided after years of politely acquiescing to men in positions of authority, after years of submitting to men who knew what was best for me even when they didn’t, after years of being told that men have the right to my personhood is that…well, no, they really, really don’t.

Make your troll accounts; inundate me with abuse and threats; scream until you lose your voice. I will tell you to fuck off in a delightfully colourful fashion and then I will block you or walk away or slam the door in your face because you are not entitled to any more of me than I am willing to give. Not my time, not my energy, not my resources, not my voice, not my personhood, not my anything. Scream into the void, though I think you’ll find the echoes cold comfort and poor company. I’m not obliged to let you scream at me.

Enjoy your freedom of speech. I’m putting my earphones back in.

Scenes from the life of a Muslim feminist

“Aaminah, tell me you’re not wearing that out,” my mother says, consternation writ large on her face.

I am going to a party with friends, or to a late night coffee outing with the girls, or to an indie film night at the local community theatre, or just to the library to read. We have had this conversation so many times, my mother and I – she with her hair covered, in her long-sleeved shirts that are never too fitted and her trousers that are never too skinny; me with my lips painted bright red, towering over my mother in my high-heeled boots. We will have this conversation many times more.

“What’s wrong with it?” I ask, deliberately feigning ignorance. “Don’t I look nice?”

I know what she means. She knows I know what she means. She sighs. “Of course you look nice,” she says. “But do your skirts have to be, you know…” she gestures at the hem of my skirt, far above mid-thigh – exactly where I like it.

“I love this skirt,” I say. I said it the last time I wore it, and the time before that. “What’s wrong with this skirt?”

“It’s not a skirt, it’s a belt,” my mother quips, but by this point, both of us are smiling a little. She knows I won’t change and I know she won’t stop trying to convince me to change. It’s all right. This is a part of our relationship – me with my miniskirts and heels and shirts that make my mother blush, my mother with her scarves and sensible clothing that is always elegant without showing very much of anything.

We do not have to be alike in order to love each other. We have always been different, my mother and I. She is warm, genuine, loving and has a smile and a kind word for everyone. I am cold and aloof and like to pretend that I don’t care about people nearly as much as I secretly do. Perhaps the reason we get along so well is that we balance each other out.

My mother’s sleeve has rolled up slightly, caught in her wristwatch. I feign shock and indignation. “You’re one to talk, Mummy!” I gasp, pointing at her exposed wrist. I hiss, “there are men about, Mummy! Cover yourself! Have a little shame, for heaven’s sakes!”

She laughs, and then I laugh, and then we hug each other tightly. I have to bend a little, as I am already taller than my mother on flat feet, let alone in the heels I insist on wearing so often. I rest my head against her shoulder and smile. I love my mother so very much, and her repeated scolding about my clothing and resigned sighs about my hem length are just reminders that she loves me too. I am her first baby – first to grow up, first to leave the nest. I’ll be married soon, almost ready to start a family of my own, but I know I’ll still be her first baby when I have grandchildren of my own and am clicking my tongue disapprovingly at the way they dress.

“Have fun,” my mother says, gently slipping out of my arms and stepping back. She cannot resist tugging down the hem of my skirt a little. I glare at her and she laughs again. It’s the warmest, happiest sound I have ever heard in my life. “Say hello to your friends for me.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to come?” I ask her this every time I go anywhere. My friends all adore my mother. Everyone adores my mother. She’s the kind of person it’s impossible not to love at first sight. “You know the others won’t mind.” I lower my voice conspiratorially. “I’m pretty sure they like you more than they like me anyway, Mummy,” I confide in her. (This, too, I have said many, many times. We have had this conversation so many times before.)

She rolls her eyes at me. “Stop sucking up,” she says, but she cannot help but smile as she says it. “Go! I’m going to go and pray and then go to bed.”

I hug her one last time. We were separated for so long after my parents’ divorce that I sometimes feel like I’m making up for every hug we missed while we were apart. “I love you, Mummy,” I say, surreptitiously hiking my skirt back up. (She notices. She’s my mother. Of course she notices.)

“I love you too, my love,” she says, and I know she really means it. I know she will always mean it, no matter how often we quibble about my clothes or my feminism or that one time I got a little tipsy at a party. She has meant it since the day I was born. She meant it when I was an awkward, aloof teenager who didn’t know how to say it back. She meant it during the years after she divorced my father – meant it every time she said it to me and I refused to say it back because I was hurting too much. (She knows I wanted to say it but couldn’t. She understands. She’s my mother. Of course she understands.) She means it now.

We are not very much alike, my mother and I – she with her resigned sighs when I show up to visit her at work with fishnets under my plaid Hot Topic skirts; me with my rolled eyes every time she adjusts the necklines of my t-shirts because she judges them indecent. But this does not stop us from loving each other very much. It does not stop me from respecting her faith, or her from respecting mine. We know that deep down, we believe in the same Creator, even if we express that belief to the world in different ways. We know that we do not have to agree on everything in order to agree on that.

“Good night, Mummy,” I say as my phone buzzes to let me know my ride has arrived.

“Don’t bend over in that skirt,” she replies, and I want to roll my eyes at her but I end up smiling instead, because it’s such a very Mummy thing for her to say.

I have a fantastic night. My friends tell me they love my skirt. I think of my mother and smile.


Dedicated to my Mummy, who taught me almost everything I know both about what it is to be a Muslim and about what it is to be a feminist.

Muslim, queer, feminist: it’s as complicated as it sounds.

blog post cover photo

me: muslim no matter how I dress.

NOTE: I am closing comments on this post as of 13/03/2014 due to an influx of very bigoted conservatives telling me I’m a bad Muslim who’s going to hell (way to miss the point of the post!). If you’d like to contact me about this blog post, you can email me (jaythenerdkid @ inbox dot com) or tweet me.

There are three aspects of my identity that really can’t be untangled from each other:

I am a queer woman.

I am a feminist.

And I believe that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger.

Yeah, it’s the third one that usually gets the record-scratch reaction.

I was raised Muslim, but in my teens, I became severely disillusioned with the faith. Having finished reading the Qur’an in English for the first time, I started to fully appreciate just how easy it was for people to twist and re-interpret the book to serve their own needs. I realised my father had been doing that to me for years, with his rules that he swore came “from God” and his restrictions on my behaviour that were all part of me being a good Muslim girl. Cover yourself so men don’t stare at you; do not draw attention to yourself; avoid the company of men, for being around them will always be a temptation to the both of you. Obey your elders in all matters, even when you know they’re wrong. Abstain not only from sex, but from any kind of intimacy outside of marriage. Be chaste. Be a credit to your family. Be the version of good the people running your life expect you to be.

It all seemed so convenient, the way every time my dad wanted me to do something, he could find a religious reason for it, but when I pointed out things in the Qur’an that seemed to contradict him, he had a way of twisting the words so that he was in the right. It was frustrating, infuriating. It was around this time that I stopped trusting my father all together.

But that’s another story.

I think I was sixteen when I made the choice to give Islam another try – on my own terms, this time. By this time, I’d made gay friends; nurtured quiet, unrequited crushes on both boys and girls; sung in choirs and acted on stages without my father’s knowledge; cultivated friendships with boys and even flirted a little, though all in secret. I’d taken to studying my developing form – coltish and awkward, but with a hint of a promise of what it would eventually become – in the bathroom mirror late at night when everyone was asleep, wondering about how it might feel to have someone else see it, even desire it. And I thought about reading the Qur’an as a child and how it had made me feel like I was connecting with something bigger than myself, something that had space for a square peg like me. I wondered if I could find that connection again, if maybe there was more to Islam than authoritarian men telling me what to do. Maybe there was a message for me in there, and I could find it.

So I looked. I read the Qur’an in Arabic, then in English again – more critically, this time, my mind free of the expectation that I would find things that would confirm what I’d been told as a child. I read about Islamic history and the development and stagnation of Sharia law. And while I did all of that, I looked inward. I prayed. I meditated on who I was and what I wanted and where I was going and where my path might lead. I did as Allah instructed me: I questioned everything. I did as my Prophet instructed me: I sought knowledge. I sought it everywhere – in the Qur’an, in religious commentaries, in the Hadithes, in the sacred texts of other faiths, in discussions with friends who thought the concept of a creator was as ludicrous as the idea that the world was flat. I drank all of it in, filtered it through the lens of my own reality, searched for the things that I felt were meant just for me.

It was a long process. I haven’t finished yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish. I’ve spent many, many hours buried in books or deep in prayer or engaged in long conversations with my partner about the nature of good and evil and the meaning of life and what God’s purpose for us is, or if there’s a purpose at all. I think I’ve found some of the answers, and I think there are some I’ll never find, not that it’ll stop me from looking. But here is what I’ve found out so far:

It’s possible to be queer and Muslim. This was actually the easiest thing. Restrictions about pre-marital sex and sex with people of the same gender made plenty of sense in a society without contraception or antibiotics, where there were no paternity tests or laws guaranteeing child support (though Islam does have provisions for spousal support in the event of a divorce). I have access to condoms, dental dams, the oral contraceptive pill, penicillin, STD testing. I can terminate unwanted pregnancies safely if need be. Islam, Allah says, is a religion for all people in all times. I do not believe the Creator meant for us to live forever as though scientific progress never happened. And more importantly, I believe that my god is a god of love, and that expressions of love between people of any and all genders are one of the holiest acts that we as human beings can perform. The love between two men or two women or a couple of varying non-binary genders, or even that of a group of consenting adults of various genders, is a holy and sacred thing. The love a gay couple has for an adopted or surrogate child is a holy thing. The love a parent has for a gay or trans child is a holy thing. I do not believe that my God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, would ever begrudge human beings any acts of love. I believe, in fact, that it is through love that we express the part of ourselves that is closest to Allah in both substance and likeness. We were meant to love. We were meant to express that love and share it with others.

It’s possible to be feminist and Muslim. It’s possible to be sex-positive, to support the rights of sex workers, to support the rights of women to work or stay at home (both protected in the Qur’an), to support the rights of women to demand sexual satisfaction (also guaranteed in the Qur’an), whilst being Muslim. It’s possible to support both the right of a woman to wear a burqa or niqab or dupatta and the right of a woman to wear a miniskirt and high heels. I believe the concept of hijab is about more than modesty – I think it’s about comfort, boundaries and deciding for ourselves what we will and won’t let other people see. Not all Muslim women cover their hair – not even all Muslim women who are pious, devout, practising mumineen cover their hair. I believe, for the same reasons I outlined above, that a woman can enjoy intimate relations with a partner outside of marriage, provided she does so safely. I believe women have the right to live their lives without fear of harassment from men, another right enshrined in the Qur’an. Islam is, Allah tells us, a permissive religion. It is meant to make our lives easier, happier and more peaceful. Feminism is also meant to make our lives easier, happier and more peaceful. Islam is also a religion of justice (the Most Just is one of Allah’s ninety-nine names), and feminism is a movement for justice. Islam, I believe, is – or can be – an inherently feminist faith.

It is possible to be me and be Muslim. I wear miniskirts. I flirt with cute girls in bars. I drive my mother to distraction with my scoop-neck t-shirts and exposed legs. I have male friends. I have loved women and men and people who are neither or both or a complex mixture. Islam is not my father telling me that I can’t join the choir because good Muslim girls don’t sing in public. Islam is not a man telling me I need to cover myself or feel ashamed. Allah does not ask me to be ashamed of myself. Allah asks me to love, to feel compassion, to be empathetic, to give my life in service to the creator and to creation. These are things I can happily and willingly do.

The word “Islam” means “peaceful submission to Allah”. The word “Muslim” means “one who has submitted”. I have opened my heart to the love of Allah and it has enabled me to be a more loving person. I have submitted peacefully to the idea that I must live in service of the creator and creation, and it gives me joy and peace to do so. I have a path and a purpose. I understand some of why I am here and what I must do. I do not know everything. In fact, I do not even know if what I do know is correct. But I know that whatever decisions I make, however I let Allah into my life, it will be on my terms – as a feminist, as a queer woman. As a Muslim, devoted to Allah, carrying the message of love and hope and compassion and peace of the Qur’an in her heart always and forever. As a servant of creation: a speck living on a speck orbiting a speck in a cluster of specks surrounded by other specks, a whole so large that only one outside it could see all of it.

I do not speak for Islam. I do not speak for Muslims. I speak for one Muslim: myself. There are as many interpretations of the Qur’an as there are readers of the text. This is mine: a queer, feminist interpretation for my queer, feminist life. It is my path to peace. It is freedom from the shackles of uncertainty. It is my greatest and purest love.

And it is mine. Not my father’s or my mother’s or anyone else’s. Mine alone. My Islam. My way of life.

A white woman walks into a bar. She claims it.

Once upon a time, a white woman came into my life and proceeded to cast me as a background character in her life story.

It’s a perplexing feeling, being relegated to second fiddle in the course of living your own life. It feels strange to watch, almost from the outside, as you are repositioned far from the centre of your own tale so that you can be part of the scenery in someone else’s. It doesn’t stop feeling strange the second time, or the third time, or the tenth, or the hundredth. It never stops feeling strange, actually. It always feels the same – like you have been uprooted, shoved out of the way so that something bigger and more important than you can proceed without interruption.

To white people, that’s what I am – an interruption.

Intersectionality as a concept has been around since the nineteenth century, but it was given a name and definition by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 (the year of my birth!) in her paper, Mapping the Margins. Since then, it’s been adapted in theory and practice not just by women of colour, but by queer women, disabled women, trans women, non-binary people, sex workers, poor and uneducated women, women in the developing world and many others. Intersectionality gives us a framework within which we can discuss and try to understand the tangled webs of oppression and privilege that we’re forced to navigate throughout the course of our everyday lives.

No intersectionalist believes that oppression is some kind of competition. There’s no prize to be won for being “most oppressed”. What I love about intersectionality, in fact, is how open and permissive it is, how it creates a space for all of us to share our lived experiences and learn from each other. I share this space with native women who share my experiences of coming from a colonised culture; with trans women who share my experiences of feeling pressure to pass as a member of the dominant group in order to survive; with sex workers who share my experiences of navigating sexuality and agency whilst beset on all sides by people trying to rob them of both. Our experiences are not the same, but there is a thread of commonality that links us – we experience oppression and privilege in varying ways, and we understand on a very profound level what it means to eke out a life, as it were, on the margins, leveraging our privileges against our oppressions so that we might stake whatever claims we may on this territory people call “humanity”. We have found, by battling through our differences and disputes, an ideal many claim to aspire to but few ever achieve. We have found that thing called solidarity, and while it doesn’t mean we never step on each others’ toes, it means that at least we’re getting better at apologising for it.

Alas, to the last bastions of privileged cisgender white feminism, this rich and complex tapestry of human experiences we have woven is nothing but a backdrop, a mere insignificant detail adding a little colour to the scenery as they play out the stories of their lives on a stage that should belong to all of us.

I do not hate white women. I would go so far as to say I don’t hate anyone. This stage is truly big enough for all of us. There is space for every voice, a place for every story, and they are all important and valuable and worth telling and hearing. I do not believe a rich white woman’s experiences with sexism are trivial or that they should be dismissed. What I believe is that anyone who is willing to make other people into scenery so that they can become the stars of everyone else’s stories is not just dangerous, but malicious. On a stage with room enough for everyone, it takes a very specific kind of person – someone blinkered by greed and egocentrism and vanity – to demand that everyone else surrender all available space to them. It takes a mindset that is nothing short of toxic to expect that all concerns must always be and will always be secondary to one’s own.

No intersectionalist believes this, but many white feminists do.

I am not a supporting character in anyone’s story. I have eked out this space for myself on the stage, a space where I can tell my story, but also a vantage point from where I can listen to others. I am not particularly territorial about my space. I’m happy to share it, exchange it, hand the mic over to someone else with a story to tell, carve out sections for others who don’t have spaces of their own. I lose nothing by sharing my space. But I lose everything by having it taken from me. I lose everything by having myself relegated to supporting cast in what is meant to be an ensemble production. I lose everything by being denied my right to play out my own story because someone else has decided I’m in the way of them playing out theirs.

A white feminist walks onto the stage and demands the spotlight – and once she has it (and she will have it, or there will be hell to pay) – she insists it must be hers forever. No sharing, no exchange, no back and forth, no taking turns. The white feminist colonises the stage as she colonises the bodies of women of colour, the gender identities of trans women, the agency of sex workers. The white feminist takes our tapestry and rolls it up and bundles it off in a corner because it’s taking up space she wants for herself. And when we dare to protest – after all, this is everyone’s stage – she calls us bullies, bitches, beasts. She pushes us further outwards into the margins. She is not content until the spotlight does not shine on us at all.

This is the toxic and insidious work of modern-day white feminism. There is no solidarity in it. There is no sharing, no back and forth, no time or space for other people to live their lives and be acknowledged. There is just a white woman in the spotlight, demanding that everything be about her. And the sad thing is, had she just asked, we’d have happily shared our space with her. We are not greedy or selfish or grasping, at least not more so than any other human being – intersectionality is beautiful in that it is about the intersections between every kind of privilege and oppression we experience. There is no need for this false dichotomy of white neo-colonial feminism and intersectional feminism. It exists because white women created it, and all in a last-ditch effort to take over the entire stage for themselves.

It saddens me to see that so many white feminists refuse to embrace intersectionality. It saddens me and hurts me and makes me angry. It makes me wonder how insecure they must be in their power, if even the thought of sharing a stage with other people makes them blanch so. Mostly, it just makes me tired – tired of fighting, tired of being cast as a bully, tired of being pushed into the background mid-sentence so that someone who already has a platform a hundred times the size of mine can speak over me. One’s back can only be used as a stepping-stone on the way to a pedestal before it breaks, and mine, I fear, is close to breaking. I am very tired of being a rung on a white woman’s ladder to greater heights.

I find my strength where I always have – in the women here on the margins with me, staking their claim to whatever space they can find, sharing their stories and living their lives and banding together. We have no need to cast each other as background characters or use each other as props. Our strength comes from encouraging each other, amplifying each other, celebrating our successes together, commiserating together when we feel grief, helping each other up when one of us falls. This is that ideal they call solidarity – not unthinking devotion to one cause over another, not unresisting compliance, but a space within which we are free to raise our voices in harmony, not in unison. We are different in so many, many ways, but we have in common the only things that matter – humanity, love, compassion, a desire to create a better world for each other and for those who will come after us. We don’t always agree and we don’t always get along, but we always support each other and we are always there for each other in times of need. Solidarity doesn’t mean a lack of dissent – it means working together to overcome our differences and move forward. It means nobody left behind. It means humanity.

A white woman walks onto the stage and claims it. The rest of us shrug and find another stage, because whatever white feminists may think of those of us in the background, we play second fiddle to nobody. We are not bit parts. We are not props or pieces of scenery. We have our own stories and we will tell them whether white women want to listen or not.

I dedicate this to everyone with whom I stand in solidarity, and everyone who has ever stood in solidarity with me. Our stories are ongoing. In time, we will find a space to tell them all.

Dear white people: STOP TALKING. (Just for a second. Please?)

Take a seat, white people. Take a stadium full of seats, actually, because we have a lot to discuss.

Let’s take a quick look at what white feminists have been doing on Twitter so far in 2014:

  • Trying to “reclaim” intersectionality from the women of colour who created it because they feel like intersectional feminism is simultaneously “too intellectual” and “not academic enough” (and also, when did white people ever see a thing created by black people that they didn’t want to steal and make their own?)
  • Claiming that they can absolve themselves of the responsibility to own their privilege by claiming to be green instead of white (yes, REALLY)
  • Storming into hashtags like @Auragasmic’s #WhiteWomanPrivilege to sound the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON

Damn. We’re only halfway through January. What’s the rest of the year going to be like?

I thought white feminists had hit critical mass in 2013 with the whole “Miley Cyrus is feminist, stop slut-shaming her! (but really, is Beyonce feminist tho?)” thing, but it seems like they were only getting started. Women of colour are, depending on who you talk to, either too intellectual or not intellectual enough, too outspoken or not outspoken enough, too aloof or too crass, or, y’know, just big ol’ scary bullies. White women have built us up into some kind of collective bogeyman (bogeywoman? bogeyperson?) – a looming monolith of coloured folks who won’t stop whining when they misstep, who won’t sit down and shut up when they start making white folks uncomfortable, who’ve made feminism hostile to women who want to feel like they own it.

Sorry, whiteys. This movement belongs to all of us. Accept that you don’t get to call all the shots or get left behind. I don’t really care which, to be honest – at this point, I could take or leave most of you without shedding a tear. But if you’re going to stay (and really, I’d like for you to stay even though I can’t stand you, since I do support all women), we are going to need to talk about how this is going to work moving forward.

Here are some things you need to stop saying if you want to be a useful part of the feminist movement in 2014 and beyond.

1. “NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE”

Every now and then, a woman of colour will be talking about her experiences when she begins to hear that all-too-familiar wailing sound. That sound is…

…the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, white folks, but we know full well that not every single white person on the planet has done the thing we’re talking about. You do not need to interrupt us as we share our lived experiences to tell us that you would never act that way, or that none of the women you know would do those things. Maybe that’s the case and maybe it isn’t, but how does that affect the veracity of our stories? Unless you personally know every single white person in the world and can vouch for the fact that not a single one of them has ever done [x], you need to sit the hell down and let us finish talking. We’ll take questions at the end if we feel like it, not before.

Discrediting a WoC’s lived experiences by sounding the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON isn’t just rude and demeaning – it’s downright racist. It derails conversations and re-centres them around white people and their perceptions and experiences. You hate it when men do that to you, so why would you do it to other women?

2. “But what about ME?”

A WoC is sharing her experiences and you just have to jump in and point out that, hey, that happens to white women too, why isn’t she talking about that? Is she…reverse racist?

No, she’s just trying to have a discussion about WoC, and you’re derailing it. Again.

This has happened to me several times in the last two weeks alone. I try to talk about sexual violence against WoC and someone HAS to point out that white women experience sexual violence as well. YES, I KNOW. But I’m talking about the hyper-sexualisation of WoC in particular and why that leads white men to target them disproportionately, not about sexual violence in general (I talk about that all the time, why not join in on those discussions rather than trying to make this one All About You?). Or I’ll bring up the perpetuation of racist stereotypes in the NFL and someone will have to point out that the NFL mistreats white athletes as well. Yes, it does! I’m a huge fan and I’m aware of this! But what does that have to do with the fact that DC’s NFL team has a racist name and mascot and the NFL commissioner refuses to do anything about it and has even supported anti-reform sentiment?

White people, I know this hurts to hear, but NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU. We have discussions about white people’s problems all the goddamn time. We will have more discussions about them tomorrow. We will have even more discussions about them the day after that. For now, I’m trying to talk about something that disproportionately affects PoC and WoC in particular. You’ll get your turn in the spotlight. Why must you begrudge us ours?

3. “Why does it have to be a race thing?”

Short answer: because it is a race thing.

Long answer: because it is a race thing, and questions like this are why it’s become a race thing in the first place.

The other day, I tried to have a discussion about the exotification and fetishisation of non-white women, particularly their skin and hair. We’re often described in ways that specifically otherise and exoticise us, and this is both uncomfortable and dehumanising. It took about ten minutes for a white woman I have never so much as spoken a word to in my life to chime in with, “but all women are exoticised, why is this about race?”

Really? I mean, REALLY?

Yes, all women are objectified and subject to the male gaze. Women of colour are objectified in a particular way – by being treated as exotic objects, like museum exhibits you can fuck (before you go settle down with a white girl, because everyone knows we brown and black girls are just too wild and untameable, right?). That was the discussion I was having. Again, I talk about how women in general are objectified all the time. Why not join in on those conversations? Why do you feel the need to make this one about you?

(Bonus lulz points: when called on this, the woman in question claimed she’d been “branded a racist” and that we “all wanted her to die”. Well, no, but if you’re offering…)

The reason we “make things about race” is that they’re about race. It really is that simple. Maybe you don’t see that because it’s not something that affects you personally, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And when you challenge us on that – when you claim we’re “playing the race card” or “reading into it too much”, you’re invalidating our lived experiences and silencing us. End of.

4. “Why do you have to be so mean?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

This is just playing into cheap racial stereotypes. Angry Black Woman. Scary Brown Lady. Neurotic Asian. Sassy Latina. Backwards Muslim. By our powers combined, we’re the Intersectional Bully Squad!

This is one of the most down-low and dirty ways white women try to silence us, and it has to stop.

A woman of colour calling you on your shit is not being mean. She’s calling you out, the same way you call men out for slut-shaming or street harassment or rape jokes. We are trying to help you. We want feminism to be all-inclusive and welcoming and we’re doing our best to get you to play ball because the truth is, we know we work better together than we do when we’re at odds. But just because we understand the value of solidarity doesn’t mean we’re going to let you walk all over us. If you’re going to silence any criticism by calling it bullying, don’t expect to be respectfully engaged and coddled in return. We get enough people trying to silence us. We don’t need to deal with your shit too.

5. “You’re being so divisive.”

Let me take a few deep breaths before I tackle this one. Bear with me. Give me a moment…

…And I’m back. Still mad, but coherent. (I hope.) Let’s do this.

When a white woman talks about her experiences, that’s feminism. When a black woman talks about her differing experiences, that’s divisive. What’s wrong with this picture?

This continues to be white feminism’s go-to silencing technique when nothing else works. Tried calling them bullies? Tried making the conversation all about yourself? Tried sounding the klaxon? When all else fails, accuse them of being divisive and paint yourself as someone trying to save the movement from falling in on itself. That’ll do it.

Thing is, we’re not trying to divide. We’re trying to unite. We’re trying to make feminism bigger, better, broader and more open. We’re trying to make it about ALL women, not just the ones who can afford fancy suits for their TED talks and TV appearances and book signings. That solidarity y’all love talking about? We are trying to make that happen. We are bringing in women who are too poor for academia, too brash to be palatable to those upholding the status quo, too far away from support, too different to be noticed. We are taking the platforms we have – platforms we’ve fought for, by the way, because we sure as hell didn’t get given this space without having to fight tooth and nail for it – and sharing the mic with women who wouldn’t get a chance to say their piece otherwise. We are doing what feminism is meant to be doing. We are using our voices and helping other women use theirs.

That isn’t division. Look the damn word up in the dictionary. What we’re doing? That’s solidarity, the real thing. No lip-service, just putting our money where our mouths are.

What are you so scared of, white feminists? Are you honestly so addicted to power and control that it scares you when a woman who isn’t just like you has something to say and says it? Do you want us to have to beg your permission before speaking? Because that sure as hell ain’t going to happen, not any more. We do not need your permission. We have our own voices, our own platforms, and you’re damn right we’re going to use them, because this is as much our movement as it is yours, and we will keep reminding you of that until you finally take it to heart.

I do not want a feminism without white women. I want a feminism that has space for every woman, regardless of skin colour, sexuality, gender, profession, wealth, education or health status. I want a feminism where black women and native women and disabled women and trans women and sex workers and non-binary people and queer women and poor women are sharing centre stage with white, rich, cis, able-bodied, straight, educated women, because they all deserve a slice of the pie. I want a feminism where we all get our time in the spotlight. If you don’t want that, that’s divisive. Being inclusive and welcoming isn’t.

I am one brown girl with several mental illnesses and a hot temper. I don’t want this mic to myself. All I’m asking for – all any intersectional feminist is asking for – is the chance to share the mic around. Not just with us – with all women, no matter who or where they are, no matter what they do for a living, no matter whether or not they know the “right” words to express the way they feel. That’s all we want.

If you think that’s too much to ask, I have to ask you – what the fuck is the point of your feminism, anyway?