I am essentially a womanist, and if we’re being specific, an afro-feminist. My feminism is about and for African and black women. I still do however identify as a feminist which is a lot broader. This is probably because African and black men keep trying it and even though white women (and white feminism) are problematic, It’s sometimes a lot easier to identify and empathize with a white woman over an African or black man. That being said, this post is about women especially how our feminism still cuddles up to oppressive structures like the patriarchy and capitalism.
I think because all women are oppressed under the patriarchy, sometimes we often assume that our problems are the same and that one brand of feminism will solve all of them. But we know that is both false and dangerous. This one feminism-fits all narrative is always geared for white women and it goes without saying that what a white woman in Manhattan needs a different kind of feminism from a Luo woman in Kendu Bay.
This is why intersectionality is a core tenet of the current wave of feminism which is premised on the personal being political. Intersectionality recognizes that personal identity markers like race, class, weight, sex, gender and sexual orientation are politicized, so much so, that they are simultaneously a source of privilege or a justification for your oppression. Intersectional feminism recognizes that even though all women are oppressed, there are degrees to that oppression depending on whether you’re white, rich, straight or cisgender. Intersectional feminism seeks to dismantle oppressive structures that may not be solely about gender but still contribute to the oppression of women because they are not privileged under other identity markers.
The problem therein lies with women who identify as feminists but fail to recognize that they are privileged under certain identity markers and therefore propagate or are complicit in the oppression of women who do not have the same kind of privilege.
I have described white feminism as problematic. This has been true since the nascence of feminism. A lot of women that are regarded as feminist icons centered their feminism around white women and it was performative so as not to lose proximity to powerful white men. These women recognized that their whiteness gave them an advantage and even while fighting for women’s’ rights, they didn’t dare to rock the boat that is white supremacy. For example, Elizabeth Cady Stanton-a vocal proponent for women’s suffrage-was just as vocal in her belief that white women were superior to black men. Once when it seemed like coloured men would be enfranchised (given the right to vote) before white women, she said:
‘‘no; I would not trust him with all my rights; degraded, oppressed himself, he would be more despotic with the governing power than even our Saxon rulers are.’’
Barbara Andolsen in her book, “Daughters of Jefferson, Daughters of Bootblacks”: racism and American Feminism, notes:
“… the white women who led this movement came to trade upon their privilege as the daughters (sisters, wives, and mothers) of powerful white men in order to gain for themselves some share of the political power those men possessed. They did not adequately identify ways in which that political power would not be accessible to poor women, immigrant women, and black women.” Yet despite the blatant racism and class bias of the women’s suffrage movement, black women, discouraged and betrayed, continued to work for their right to vote, both as blacks and as women, through their own suffrage organizations.”
But even right now, white feminists still trade on the white privilege and rarely use it to bargain for the betterment of women of colour. It is common knowledge that white women earn more than black women, but very few white feminists have tried to correct this. White feminists will be very vocal about things like women being shamed for not shaving their pubic hair (this is important as body shaming isn’t cool) but won’t say anything when their friends and family call the police on black people simply for existing.
White feminism cares about select parts of the patriarchy and couldn’t care less about white supremacy.
Rich African women are another weak link in feminism. These women are often assumed to be feminists especially if they are in positions of power. This is partly because women have to work harder to climb corporate and political ladders, we just assume those hurdles automatically make them pro-women. More often than not, these women uphold the patriarchy and even though their brand will exploit and masquerade as pro-women, they rarely do anything to mentor or empower women.
But worse than these women (in my opinion at least), are women who have class privilege because of their proximity to men: that is either through marriage or biology. Women like this, for example, have house-helps that are underage and/or overworked and underpaid. Women like this try to cram into their daughters feminist ideologies like independence and sexual accountability but will turn around and blame their domestic workers when they are raped by their husbands and sons. They understand why a male member of parliament threatening to rape a female member of parliament is abhorrent but are oblivious to the house-help that barely gets two hours of sleep every night. They don’t see how wealth sets them apart and have no qualms stripping poorer women of their dignity.
Privileged women are the worst. (Yes, I’m also included here.) You conveniently forget you have access to opportunities most women do not have (due to class)…Drink your cocktails and be quiet by the way.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a class of people (women for the purposes of this post) that Guy Standing refers to as the precariat. These are women that may not necessarily be Melinda gates rich, they may not even have job and financial security, but they are educated and, you know, they aren’t starving. This is essentially the average millennial woman.
We forget that because of our education (and other forms of exposure and privilege) we have access to at the very least, information that a lot of women do not have. We are therefore prone to an elitist version of feminism and refuse other kind of women access this elite feminist club.
For example, we advocate for the sexual liberation of women, but look down upon sex workers and as such are complicit in the dehumanisation of women who just happen to be sex workers. Because of our disdain for their work, we do not think it important to champion for better living and working conditions for these women. It is ironic because we feel superior to these women because we have sex for free and fail to recognise how the patriarchy perceives all women as some version of sex workers. A quick examination of language and societal conceptions, you will realise sex is perceived as something a woman gives to a man and usually after he’s supposedly earned it. Sex for women under the patriarchy was never designed to be on our own terms.
Gender and sexual orientation
It is a consensus that straight women are the weakest link in feminism. Because women are conditioned to aspire to marriage (to men), straight women are a lot more tolerant of misogyny if it means they eventually get proposed to.
Cishet women-straight women whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth-often refuse to acknowledge the privilege they have. We know transgender women are killed just for being transgender. We know lesbians are denied access to human rights like health. But worse than denying our privilege, we ignore and perpetuate their oppression all together. We refuse to check our language and weaponize our ignorance when we’re called out on it. For example, we misgender trans people or refer to their sexual orientation as a lifestyle but then are offended when we’re labelled transphobic and homophobic and demand that they understand that the continued erasure of their existence isn’t malicious. We need to do better.
I think all women experience body shaming at some point in their lives. Different cultures have different body types that they consider ideal and I may be wrong, but the average woman has one body type.
But we also live in a world where Eurocentric beauty ideals are shoved in our faces. This means that it’s a lot easier to exist as a skinny woman than as a fat woman. Yes, skinny women in Africa experience disparaging comments about their bodies because the average African woman is well-endowed. But it is also unfair when skinny women center themselves in conversations about fat-women. Not only is it derailing, it is also a false equivalence. Yes, people are mean to you. But there is no system in place that absolutely hates you. Fat women get killed for being fat. Fat women are told they do not deserve to eat; they do not deserve to exist.
At this point, I have to mention mainstream feminists. Mainstream feminists especially in Kenya, are women who are hyper-visible especially because of their connection to media. These women, more often than not, have all forms of privilege except maybe for race. They identify as feminists. The problem is their feminism is shallow and exclusive. Their conversations on feminism are basic and these conversations are only had with women who are just as privileged as them. Their conversations ignore the work that has been done by other feminists and are curated to ensure they don’t lose desirability and proximity to men that they are very much aware accords them privilege. Their feminism is counterproductive and regressive. It’s really unfair that these women get credited for feminist work and are seen as the face of feminism in their respective spaces.
It’s a shame really that we continue to dehumanise other women and femmes because of desirability. We need to realise that the patriarchy conditions all women to compete against each other for men and so every time your feminism isn’t intersectional, what you’re essentially saying is, “the dehumanisation of other women isn’t a big deal as long as I get to maintain my proximity to men that are also conditioned to dehumanise me.” You do realise that is foolish and you deserve to catch these hands. Well, not my hands because I am tiny and I’m not gonna start fights with people. But you can catch my tongue because I’m a smart mouth like that. Also, I realise that sounded gross and sexual, so I’m done.
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