If I am completely honest, “I don’t call myself a feminist” has been the mantra I have held dear without explicitly saying it. Upon seeing the statement above, many will find it highly ironic, confusing, or perhaps even stupid. Fair enough. But before you cast your judgements or draw any conclusions, I urge you read this entire post. Also, I may be more precise in what the title is to read, the latter half would say, “I Don’t Call Myself a Feminist online.”
Many of you who have followed my blog for a while are no stranger to the fact that I talk about issues regarding feminism. However, I have made sure these issues are discussed on my blog and my blog only, yes, even to the point of turning down opportunities to talk about feminism on other sites. After all, it is here that I feel the safest talking about it, knowing that many aspects regarding my personal experiences with living as a woman are brought to light. From issues like cat-calling where women of various backgrounds can relate to more specific issues among black women, like colorism, and issues concerning gender roles that are ascribed to Nigerians and #BringBackOurGirls, I find that my being a woman covers a wide array of experiences and demonstrates a bit of intersectionality that comes with feminism. This is the premise with which I talk about feminism on this blog and the way I perceive feminism to be in its truest form: a vast collection of experiences of women from all walks of life and the drive to pursue equality for all of them.
However, I have noticed that mainstream feminism is not intersectional. And because of that, though I have been open with discussing feminism on my blog, I have not called myself a feminist here or anywhere else online.
No, this is not because I want to be painted as a docile woman who is here to make sure every single one of my words are sweet and palatable to those who hear them.
No, this is not because I am afraid of being labeled as a feminazi (which, by the way, is a dumb word).
I am reluctant with calling myself feminist because I will automatically be associated with mainstream feminism when talking to those not familiar with feminism. Because of this, I have interpreted calling myself a feminist as a betrayal of women of color both here and abroad.
It has been common practice for many white feminists to police women of color and how angry they should be on certain issues. And considering the history of feminism and black feminist voices like Sojourner Truth, this is a big offense. It is the reason why hashtags like #FeminismIsForWhiteWomen exist and women of color, black women included, share their frustrations with the movement in articles like this one. These are the same women that step into non-Western traditions and deem what is oppressive or not without the permission or the amplification of the voices of women who are part of those traditions (i.e. wearing a burqa if you are Muslim, etc.). And from my observation of these feminists, it is also evident that they also do not see feminism as something worth constructively critiquing which is the perfect recipe for both the marginalization of women of color and the stagnation of the feminism movement.As I brought this to the attention of three other black and African feminists on Twitter, they completely understood my struggle and reluctance. One of them told me that there are women that opt to call themselves womanists or black feminists. But I have noticed that, even in the conversation of the black feminist, the issues surrounding the black African feminist are marginalized in this sphere as well.
It seems like finding the perfect title to assert my belief that men and women should be treated fairly and equally and should be given the same opportunities is an impossible act. If I were to find the perfect title for myself, it would be something like “black, Pan-African, Nigerian, Canadian, American, Christian feminist.” But that’s just overkill.
And after talking to one of my best friends about my dilemma, I found that trying to find the perfect word to encapsulate my anti-sexist ideals was overkill as well.
She told me that my experiences as a woman not being at the forefront of the feminism conversation is precisely the reason why I should call myself a feminist. She mentioned how my varied background has the potential of catching the attention of a girl who can identify with a part of myself that she does not see in mainstream feminism, kind of how Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Adichie is for me. Also, it is because of my being vocal about the experiences often excluded from mainstream conversation that some of you are now aware that they exist.Rather than using the underrepresentation and the marginalization as an indication that I should disassociate myself from the feminist label, it should be the fuel that drives me to call myself one. And considering the diversity that exists in womanhood, it is all the reason to be open to hearing about the experiences of other types women who have been marginalized in feminism. When I think about this, I am encouraged, empowered, and thankful for the friends that I am surrounded with. I am also reminded that I ought to take my own advice and hold people responsible for their actions instead of dismissing applicable labels.
So with all of that being said, allow me to re-introduce myself. Hello there! My name is Mary and I am a feminist.