Special thanks to Shawn Smith for his intellectual & spiritual contributions.
Yes, there are some people who do not self-identify as feminists. Actually, I know quite a few friends who reject the label. And the reason why I bring it up is because, as always, thoughtful fellow friends have pushed me to rethink what is in the label “feminism.”
I was raised in a feminist household. Hmmmm…. Let me rephrase that. I had an intersectional feminist upbringing. Why do the terms matter? Why can’t we just say feminism?
This morning, I received a piece where Sumeyee Erdogan, Turkey’s president’s daughter, is accused of not understanding feminism and of advocating for gender inequalities. The article is not only dreadfully written without first-hand information and with a lot of speculation, but it also fails to define feminism and address the ways in which women of colour have been oppressed by it. With this I am not saying that women of colour and women of faith do not support patriarchal systems, because often times we do. However, in a lot of cases mainstream white feminism has not provided us with answers, tools or options.
Also this morning Every Day Feminism published a piece on myths about feminism, where the author argues that some of these myths are the reason why several women and men do not identify as feminists. While I agree with the overall tone of the piece, I was worried that, just as the first article, a very essential discussion was missing: Feminism, in its white-Western-bourgeois-privileged form, has been quite oppressive to women of colour and women of faith. That, I believe, is the main reason why many women and men around the world do not identify as feminists.
I have experienced mainstream white feminism through my identities both as a Muslim and as a woman of colour. Mainstream white feminism has failed Muslim women in several ways. For instance, through their very colonial and orientalist assumptions about Muslim women (particularly hijabis and niqabis), their obsession with “liberating” women from their faith (often through very inappropriate tactics) and their idea that “over there” women are simply more oppressed, among others.
But that’s not all. Mainstream white feminism has been also very oppressive to Indigenous women like my mother and I. First of all, Indigenous women have a problem with depicting feminism as the invention of the white woman. No, white women did not invent it. And no, white women are not “welcoming us” into a “Third-wave.” Indigenous feminism is a thing. Just like Islamic feminism is a thing. Indigenous feminism resists mainstream white feminism because it is exclusive. It is an all-white-heterosexual-cisexual-privileged-ableist-girls club. It is also very colonial… Let’s not forget that mainstream feminists have policed coloured bodies (i.e. eugenics), have criminalized us, have denied us access to equality (i.e. suffragettes did not consider Indigenous women worthy of the vote), have endorsed heterosexual and cisexual privilege, have forgotten disabled women, and still want to “save us” from men of colour (all here).
Going back to my upbringing, terms really matter. Yes, my mother was a feminist, but not any kind of feminist. She was, and still is, an Indigenous feminist, who strongly opposed the mainstream white feminist discourse of “we are all women and we are all sisters.” The famous Clinton phrase of “Women’s rights are human rights” meant nothing to her. Why? Because, historically, these “rights” that have been given to white women at the expense of women of colour.
My father, on the other hand, has never identified himself as a feminist. Why? Because being a Latin American man born in the 60’s his experience of feminism was the whitewashing of the gender equality discourse. Nonetheless, he raised me not only to be concerned with the practicalities of “traditional” feminists discourses (i.e. equal pay, abortion rights, the rights to vote, etc.), but also to be concerned with the oppressions of others (i.e. disabled people, sex workers, LGBTQ2/S, immigrants, etc.), which have been largely neglected by the mainstream white feminist discourse in major ways.
Now, I do identify as a feminist, but as an intersectional feminist who aligns with both Indigenous and Islamic feminisms (and all the complications and challenges that both of them pose). I do not believe in mainstream white feminism because I do not think that the world is black and white. I have never experienced the world just as a “woman.” I have always been a “Woman+,” which means that I have always been a “woman+colour,” a “woman+ThirdWorld,” a “woman+religion,” etc.
So, I do understand women of colour’s suspicion of “feminism.” In fact, I encourage it because mainstream white feminism needs to be resisted. But in calling myself an intersectional feminist I also invite others to explore what other feminists of colour and feminists of faith have been saying for a long time: feminism is not a white invention. And although the term has been co-opted by mainstream white feminists, the notion of women’s rights, equality and leadership can be found elsewhere among other communities before they even entered the white Western imagination.