Why I used to detest feminism and why I am a feminist

ActivismUS Politics
on 24 Comments
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Portrait of Audre Lorde by Robert Alexander, 1983. (Photo via AfroDiaspores)

I did not identify as a feminist long ago, in fact I would squirm, roll my eyes, groan and shoo away any mention of feminism with a simple wave of my hand. Feminism was a word I detested, that I deplored, that I viewed as nothing more than a means to strap myself boldly to the very mechanism which has for so long abused so many and prolonged the imperialist adventures across my land, and others. And why? Why would I have denounced feminism, whilst I now unashamedly hold it tightly in the palms of my hands?

A simply question which requires an answer riddled with complexity; because the mainstream voices of feminism are those of privilege; the ‘western voices’, the ‘modern’ and often-white and overwhelmingly orientalist voices, who for so long have lined their pockets with magazine covers drenched in black-face or in their obsession with the many variations of the Muslim veil (headscarf) which wreaks of white mans burden. This colonial feminism, which uses the sufferings of women in order to promote occupation, destruction and the wiping away of an entire people in order to sell the latest photograph of a destroyed, battle-scar covered woman, to sell their white faces and white hands clutching and caressing black children, to sell us stories of an Africa which can be fed with help from you, their loyal sponsors, for only $1 a day. This is the feminism that I saw. It was pounded into my head, that this was feminism. That those who regularly stand atop podiums and rail against the burqa or niqab as being “oppressive“, who deny a woman’s choice of dress, who belittled a woman’s choice of language or religion – I, like many, assumed that these were the sole examples of feminism. And I wanted nothing to do with this brand of feminism. I would spit and swear and rant and rave and refuse to join them in their crusades. And why would I? I want nothing to do with those who wish to profit off the suffering of the subjugated, nor do I want anything to do with those who use women as mere props in their propaganda campaigns – selling liberation behind white masks of occupation.

And for these reasons, and a laundry-list of others, for which I detested feminism astonishingly became reasons which lured me towards feminism. Post-colonial feminism. I am a woman of colour who is reclaiming her voice and telling her story so that aforementioned ’western feminists’ will no longer own our narratives, so that they will not sell our flesh and market our faces for their so-called campaigns for ‘freedom’ – they will not be able to tread across our lands and lull so many into a deep slumber with their propaganda. No more.

It is enough that we are pawns in your game of liberation. It is enough that we are made inferior against your nakedness for choosing to cover our flesh or fawned over should we also decide not to. It is enough that our black and brown faces are plastered on your television screens, your books, your magazine covers: For $1 a day you can save this brown child. For $3.50 you can read more about this veiled woman appearing on our magazine. For less than $5.00 a week you can adopt an African child. Support our military endeavors and save Africa. Help us expand our drone bases across the Middle East-North Africa so we may free these distressed women.

Our flesh bought and sold for nothing more than feel-good campaigns, photoshopped of dignity and intentionally disassociated with the imperialism which caused the immeasurable suffering they are here to relieve us of. 

And so, the boundless layers which describe my womanhood, and my humanity, will not be watered down and marketed for western audiences so that I may appear just-like-you, nor will they be hustled by western feminists, many of whom have built their entire carriers by breaking the backs of so many women of colour. 

By refusing to submit to this brand of feminism I reclaimed my tongue, my identity and I reclaimed myself.

Post-colonial feminist authors worth mentioning, a select few of many:
Arundhati Roy
Gloria Anzaldúa
Chandra Talpade Mohanty
Audre Lorde
June Jordan

24 Responses

  1. Dan Crowther
    March 2, 2013, 4:48 pm

    Umm, ok. Good rant I suppose….

  2. Keith
    March 2, 2013, 5:23 pm

    Interesting article to make its way onto Mondoweiss. An interesting attribute of capitalism is the systemic ability to co-opt the opposition. Radical beginnings slowly change under the influence of money- more members, more donations, bigger budget, etc- so that the means become the end. Currently, American feminism seems preoccupied with abortion rights and eliminating the glass ceiling, the goals reflecting the priorities of the white, educated, upwardly mobile (and frequently Jewish) leadership. Any concern for Third World women seems tainted by de facto imperial orientalism which seems to favor humanitarian interventions, the white man’s burden becoming the white woman’s as well, as ‘feminist’ women celebrate the right to partake in combat and pilot drones.

    Radical feminist women surely must understand that hyper-masculine misogyny is a byproduct of our militaristic warfare society. You can’t maintain a militarized empire without normalizing aggression and promoting violence. Those traits which we associate with women- nurturing, compassion, community, etc- need to be downplayed, competition and fear of the ‘other’ emphasized. It is why we close schools and open prisons. A real American feminist is also an anti-imperialist, and is opposed to neoliberal globalization. She isn’t concerned with the glass ceiling and the acquisition of personal power within the current system of corporate/financial rule. True feminism will work for a fundamental change in our current global political economy.

    • tree
      March 2, 2013, 8:25 pm

      Radical feminist women surely must understand that hyper-masculine misogyny is a byproduct of our militaristic warfare society.

      You have it backwards. Militaristic warfare societies are a by-product of hyper-masculine misogyny. Zionism is a near perfect example of that, in that it began with the idea of the “muscular Jew” in Palestine as opposed to the “feminized” diaspora Jew. In its infancy it had no military power, nor the ability to make war, but Israel became an overaggressive and militaristic society from its foundation as a “masculine” Jewish alternative.

      • Dan Crowther
        March 3, 2013, 9:58 am

        All this talk of masculinity and violence makes me wonder, what is more violent than the maternal instinct? Those men are their mothers sons, no?

        Seems to me, if anything, it’s the “protect at all costs” mentality that does the most harm, any mother could have come up with Dick Cheney’s 1% doctrine. So maybe the “warfare state” is a masculine construction, as I write I can see where that’s true – but the surveillance state, the prison state? I lay those mostly at the feet of women in general, mothers in particular. This is one of those comments – and I find myself making a lot of them like this – where I wish MW had a Google Hangout type thing, saying these types of things is easier than typing them…..

      • Annie Robbins
        March 3, 2013, 10:24 am

        eee gads dan. where do you come up with this stuff?

      • Dan Crowther
        March 3, 2013, 10:30 am

        HAHA! Hey Im just saying, we talk all the time about how violent and aggressive men are inherently, I happen to think women have their own inherent impulses towards irrationalisms and violence, even if its carried out by men. I dunno maybe its my Northampton Ma upbringing that ruined me…

      • libra
        March 3, 2013, 11:25 am

        annie: eee gads dan. where do you come up with this stuff?

        Where indeed? Surely someone should be keeping a very close eye on Dan, if not locking him up.

      • Bumblebye
        March 3, 2013, 11:30 am

        Dan are you being deliberately daft? Where are the women drafting the surveillance state laws, or the laws that sentence so many to such long prison terms? Maybe your mom spent too much time looking over your shoulder, monitoring your activities?
        The surveillance/prison state is still masculine – think of the priests and rabbis who want to control lives, who want to know the far end of the f*rt! Over regulation of the lives of individuals has gone hand in hand with de-regulation of big business, protecting them from the people getting together and making their voices heard thru fear and intimidation.

      • Dan Crowther
        March 3, 2013, 1:50 pm

        “Dan are you being deliberately daft? Where are the women drafting the surveillance state laws, or the laws that sentence so many to such long prison terms? Maybe your mom spent too much time looking over your shoulder, monitoring your activities?”

        Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton are probably the surveillance states biggest proponents and backers – the record is there. This idea that women by their womanhood are opposed to such things is absurd. You can say that the “masculine” state has coopted the worst of the maternal instincts for its purposes, but even then you admit the existence of those instincts. We can either look at women as subjects of history or it’s objects, it’s the same argument I make against Zionists.

      • Donald
        March 3, 2013, 2:29 pm

        I haven’t done it, not being omniscient, but it seems very very likely to me that if you counted up all the violent deaths inflicted over history, the overwhelming majority were inflicted by people of the male persuasion. Much of that is because men are (on average) bigger and stronger. But that doesn’t explain it all. I’m guessing, again without really knowing, that if you looked at gun murders in the US that most are inflicted by men. The serial killers seem to be male.

        But it’s also true that women are perfectly capable of violence and murder and female political leaders don’t seem to be any better than males, as best I can tell.

      • sardelapasti
        March 3, 2013, 4:05 pm

        Bumblebye – “The surveillance/prison state is still masculine ”

        No, it is sexless. Criminals like Obama and Cheney and Bush are male and those like Weinstein, Clinton, Ros, Meir, Bandranaike, or I.Gandhi are female. What is good for the gander is good for the goose.

        Our only common topic is, as far as I know, supposed to be Palestine:
        This here is apparently a site for solidarity with the Palestinians; therefore sympathy for extraneous matters including feminism, vegetarianism or bimetallism may be seen with sympathy by some but agreement on none of them is a must. Note to the Editors: free rein to discussion of what is not specifically Palestinian issues is likely to be more damaging to conversation here than the presence of propagandabots.

  3. Citizen
    March 2, 2013, 5:30 pm

    “Support our military endeavors and save Africa. Help us expand our drone bases across the Middle East-North Africa so we may free these distressed women.”

    Yes, there’s pink-washing, and black-washing. And democracy-washing. Using gays, blacks, and the ignorant to white-wash US special relationship with Israel and its very negative impact on the world.

  4. tokyobk
    March 3, 2013, 3:13 am

    I think there is a case (and it does not have to be “Western” since millions of Muslim women chose not to wear it) that the burqa erases a woman’s individual identity and is oppressive.

    The burqa is certainly oppressive in every place where women are coerced or forced to wear it. Most places where the burqa is worn are also places where woman are legally inferior to men in the most basic ways.

    Equality is actually not very nuanced. Women (and gays and minorities) ether have equal access and rights or they don’t. As annoying as patronizing white liberals can be, as much as feminism is used by colonialism for cover, and as much as humanitarian interventions have actually been disastrous and disrupting, anti-colonial feminism can be used to run interference for very conservative elements of “native” society.

    PS Western culture is hardly unique in “civilizing” rationalizations for conquest.

    And this particular discourse becomes a kind of one-upmanship in, ironically but not surprisingly, which resonates in Western venues of culture and education.

    I had the chance to meet Audre Lourde once, a powerful human indeed.

    • Krauss
      March 3, 2013, 2:10 pm

      The main problem is that feminism has been used for cover by neocons for a long time now to justify wars oversears. Women were used prominently in the last decade as props and as justifying means for both Iraq and Afghanistan. Especially for the latter. But a key component of the neocon war selling was, basically, “we’ll turn the savages into civilized men and as we do that, their women will prosper”.

      That was the subtext and on more than a few occassion, even the head/main argument.

      Nonetheless, as you point out, the Burqa is an oppressive instrument. And it’s a problem when liberals are wincing away from denouncing it, for fear of political correctness(if we are blunt).

      There’s been a lot of debate in Europe, for instance, over honor killings and even more so about the general culture that stems from such practices and their milder variants(such as controlling what their daughters are allowed to wear, but letting the boys get off a lot easier off the hook or even deciding which boyfriends they are allowed to date, if they can go out dancing etc).

      Since the left was silent on these issues, it was hijacked by nastier people. But the problem was that there is a problem with oppressing women. The Middle East is ranked as the worst place for women – in the world. That used to be sub-Saharan Africa, but no more according to the U.N.

      It’s for these reasons that my patience is thin with people who dismiss feminism as a tool of “Western imperialism”. While true that it has been hijacked by neocons, remember, the neocons also showed sudden affection for gays and women during the Chuck Hagel debate, and when he was finally placed before the senate, all those concerns evaporated as the true opposition came through: his stance on Israel.

      Similarly, it’s easy to point at neocons and others who have misused feminism as a prop for their own cynical and exploitative purposes, but that doesn’t mean that there are serious grounds to be critical about the treatment of women not only in the middle east but also in the middle eastern diaspora, and the burqa is a good(albeit somewhat extreme) example. I remember reading last year that a girl who was in the Harry Potter movies was killed by her parents and/or brother for being ‘too Western’. But killings are rare. Much more common is the subtle but pervasive controlling of the daughters. It’d be easy to wash your hands by saying “hey cultural patterns are different”, but that’s a cop-out.

      • tokyobk
        March 3, 2013, 8:34 pm

        Well stated.

        Personally, I think the burqa and niqab (not headscarf) are oppressive in themselves, but that’s irrelevant to women’s equality because a woman has the right to chose any type of dress she wants for whatever reason. The key is does she really have a choice. If the niqab was not socially and often legally enforced in Saudi Arabia, what percent of women would wear it? Certainly some, perhaps a majority which would be their right. But there is no reason a person in the “West” should not have the right to judge societies which force all women into veils, just as people in the “East” judge Western deficiencies and inequalities by their standards.

  5. leenb
    March 3, 2013, 3:24 am

    This sounds weird but I hate the term ‘woman of color’. It is just so.. racist. It’s as if there are two categories in the world, ‘whites’ and ‘people of color’. I wish people would stop using that term.

  6. quercus
    March 3, 2013, 7:16 am

    @Dan Crowther. With your dismissive “um …. good rant I suppose….” you have completely and utterly misunderstood the text.

    Western or American feminism seems to be more preoccupied with a woman’s right to have a legal abortion, than it does about the right of women living in places such as Afghanistan to be able to live without the fear their village will be subject to airstrikes, to live without the fear of learning their son, father, husband, brother, was killed because he was a suspected militant.

    The sublimely egotistical feminism that covers itself in the cloak which bears the words ‘women’s rights’. The uber self-righteousness of these ‘feminists’ who, because they CAN live without the fear of their village being bombed, without the fear of learning their father, son, husband, brother, has been killed by violence, have the luxury to bore us all with their musings about the unfortunate, beleaguered who keep their heads covered in a cloth.

    They disgust me, utterly.

    • tokyobk
      March 3, 2013, 9:29 am

      In places where women have a legal right to abortion they also tend to have redress when their fear is of their fathers, husbands, brothers and even sons having rights over them.

      These are hardly exclusive concerns. One neither justifies nor mitigates the other.

      The Taliban’s treatment of women as property was reprehensible (by standards within the West and the majority of Islamic societies) when the US was Arming them and also when the US is bombing them.

    • Dan Crowther
      March 3, 2013, 10:23 am

      Quercus,

      I think I understood the message in the article – the reason I called it a rant is because it fails to ask itself two basic questions: would feminism or feminists be ANY different if they were more “representative” and (2) is it “feminism” when it becomes a movement designed to undo imperialism and exploitation across borders, regions, class status etc? In other words, why are we calling socialism feminism and why are we giving feminism and women in general the credit for universal human impulses towards egalitarianism etc? Cuz I think thats a bunch of crap. The fact of the matter is, there’s plenty of brown and black “western feminists” who are the type of A-hole the writer describes, so you have to think what’s in them is in her; as long as you care about identity and give to identities these unique, mythical qualities, you’re gonna miss the point. Feminism should have been ditched a long long time ago, it should have been a vehicle for political awareness etc and then left aside, with continued organizing and so on done purely on class and solidarity grounds – but this did not happen, because women, on their own, created a hierarchical structure that completely mimicked the “masculine” structure they said they so detested. Me personally, I happen to think women helped build the masculine structure in the first place, as Dave Chappelle so elegantly put it, “if a man could have sex in a card board box, he wouldn’t buy a house.” But we’ll leave that aside for now.

  7. Citizen
    March 3, 2013, 11:53 am

    The test of virtue is power. Israel shows what former underdogs have done when empowered. History shows what queens have done, just as it shows what kings have done.

    There’s an old saying, “Behind every man is a woman.” Might be mom, or wife, or SO.

    I am happy when females have the same rights as men. Everyone should have equal opportunity to be both evil and good. No institutionalized handicaps, or privileges.
    As to morality and ethics, I don’t perceive any gender difference at all. What I see is individual men and women taking advantage of the system and prevailing culture of the moment everywhere to feather their own nest and boost their own ego in every way possible.

    Is a nanny nation better than a macho nation? Better for whom?

    • MK_Ultra
      March 3, 2013, 5:06 pm

      @ Citizen:

      Is a nanny nation better than a macho nation? Better for whom?

      A nanny nation is best for the nannies and a macho nation is best for the machos, of course. Interestingly, in both nations, the head honchos are from the same sex. :)

      • RoHa
        March 4, 2013, 12:06 am

        But what about the manny nation and the nacho nation?

      • eljay
        March 4, 2013, 9:22 am

        Mmmm…nachos… :-)

  8. Elisabeth
    March 4, 2013, 7:01 am

    Men seem to have a bigger problem in keeping their hands of other people who do not want to have sex with them, be it women, other men, or children. Cardboard box or no.

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