“I have come to believe over and over again that what is important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” Audre Lorde
I don’t remember when I first started to identify as a feminist. It’s one of those things that happened without my putting too much thought into it, because it makes complete sense to me. Womyn are equal to everyone and to any task and deserve to be recognized, celebrated and afforded opportunities to be great, just like anyone else. It makes perfect sense to me and other feminists but not necessarily to the rest of the world.
It always shocks me when people claim not to get it or say they aren’t feminists. How can anyone not see it? It’s everywhere; the unfair beauty standards, the overwhelming rates of sexual violence against womyn, employment discrimination, the exclusion of womyn from leadership and decision making positions, the treatment of womyn who refuse to conform to the narrow roles society has created for us, I could go on and on. Men are believed to be inherently superior to womyn and for the longest time, womyn have been denied opportunities, treated as property and violently abused in a bid to maintain men’s dominance.
Feminism gave me the language to name and think about the issues that were driving me crazy. I was catcalled on the street for the first time when I was 11 years old, by a group of boys who were in my class. For them it was a joke, something they saw other men doing every day; for me it was the first time I thought about my safety walking alone, even during day time. It always frustrated me that most compliments from my relatives about my intellect ended with the disclaimer that “men don’t marry books,” as if my excellent academic work was a cause for worry because of how it would affect my marriage prospects rather than a source of pride. I have since learned to recognize and name these and other incidents as sexism. They still frustrate me, but now I can engage with them beyond that frustration and question them not only within myself, but to others who hold them.
Feminism to me has always meant sisterhood. In a patriarchal society, womyn are conditioned to distrust and compete with each other, especially for male affection. We are told that there is not enough room for more than one womyn to shine so we must fight each other for it. I do not subscribe to the shallow and often unfair generalizations that have been used to stigmatise and keep us away from each other. Statements like “I don’t have many female friends because womyn are petty” really get on my nerves. Where was this convention of womyn at which we all declared our pettiness? And just because you know one petty womyn doesn’t mean we all are. Womyn are not a homogenous group, we come in different sizes, shapes and with different personalities.
I also just don’t trust womyn who don’t have any female friends- Why don’t other womyn like you? Why don’t you like other womyn?
My feminism challenges the notion that womyn cannot be friends without some cattiness in the background. We do not have to be in constant competition with each other because there is more than enough room for all of us at every table. Life is way more beautiful when you are surrounded by womyn who love and support you and delight in your prosperity.
Feminism means the ability to re-imagine the world in which we live beyond racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic oppression and work towards creating one based on the feminist principles of Equality and justice. Just this weekend at the Bayimba Festival, we envisioned and created a Feminist Utopia.
There was a body corner where shame was suspended and the citizens of Utopia could go and engage with their bodies, taking a picture of their favorite or least favorite body part and writing a note to it. All body types, shapes and sizes are welcomed and celebrated in Feminist Utopia. We also suspended judgment on things like abortion, homosexuality and sex work because in Feminist Utopia, we don’t criminalize love, prevent womyn from making informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health or earning a living. There was a board on which we were co-creating our feminist futures where each person wrote what they would keep in Feminist Utopia and what they’d leave out; then there was a family corner where we celebrated all kinds of families including single parent, two parent, families with heterosexual parents and families with homosexual parents. The wellness corner was where we used art to care for ourselves through ilustrations, writing, painting and drawing. Although, taking down the installation was emotional for me, I am glad that a Feminist Utopia co-created by us and the citizens at the festival existed. I believe that this is the greatest thing that feminism has been/ given to me. It has shown me that the world we live in right now is not ideal, but also that we can change it if we are willing to do the work of confronting oppression. Womyn who came before us fought for the right to go to school, own property, earn a salary and still, many of these fights are ongoing because millions of womyn still live in situations of terrible oppression. Nevertheless we have made great strides and will continue to as long as we continue to challenge the oppressive status quo. It is not impossible, it can be done.
Feminism to me, means hope.