“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” _Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems
I'm a feminist! It surprises and confuses me that this word still carries so much weight to it; ugly suppositions and negativity. Anyways...I had no intention of writing a long post this morning but...so much is on my mind and heart. Twitter blew up the other day with feminists from all over the world (women of color) responding with the hashatg #solidarityisforwhitewomen. First thing...I don't agree with the hashtag but I definitely agree with the anger and the necessary dialogue that has to happen. Women Studies was my minor at the University of Alberta (over 20 years ago now) and the exact same exclusion was apparent then (as it is now). When I took my first class and fell head over heels in love with it...what I didn't immediately realize was the exclusion of women of color; I didn't see myself at all. Nowhere. There was a blank nothing...invisibility, denial or degradation. It was stark and hurtful. So this was feminism...the empowerment of women but where was I??? Why were my concerns not being addressed??? Why was it supposed that all women had the exact same concerns to begin with?? Why was there no talk of the racism apparent in Western feminist thought?? Built into it's very history? Why was there no recognition of white privilege?? So many questions...but no answers!! Equally so...when I tried to talk about feminism to Indian women they looked at me as if I had grown 3 heads. There was a palpable anger, hatred and ostracism that occurred because I identified myself as a feminist. Not to even mention the overwhelming racism that is present in Indian culture as a whole (separate blog post needed here!!). One of the things I quickly realized was this right here...just because you are a woman, doesn't make you my sister. So true, so true.
Thankfully I found the works of Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Patricia Hill Collins, Bell Hooks, Ntozake Shange, Gloria Anzaldua and more. These women gathered me up, sheltered me, spoke to my deepest heart and threw me a lifeline. They didn't speak for me or tell me what to think or how to feel...they showed me a path so I could think for myself, feel for myself. But here's the thing...I found these women on my own; they were not included in class discussions and reading materials. Why??? When I asked my professors I usually got a blank stare or a sidestepping of my questions. That was over 20 years ago and I had assumed things were better, more inclusive, more representative of who I am in this world...of who I can be. Not so, not so.
"I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you.... What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language." -Audre Lorde
In those 20 years since...I have gone through an evolution within myself and now that I have a daughter...things are that much more urgent for me. I want her to be whoever she wants to be without any culture or society putting her in boxes of their making. I want her to stand strong in her identity without the negative labelling of race and gender telling her what she should think...who she is. I want her to have the clarity of her voice, the right to her anger and the space to share her stories. I want her to move in this world claiming all of herSELF without having to negate or deny any part of who she essentially is. Her race and her gender make her unique in this world (as they do for each of us)and they are not negatives. But how do I get her to see that when it's so deeply entrenched in every societal institution?? Including western "feminism"
(Magic, archival print available here)
“I am my best work - a series of road maps, reports, recipes, doodles, and prayers from the front lines.” -Audre Lorde
Gender and race don't intersect equally nor does one automatically and generically trump the other. I think it's very individual to each person, the societal context we live in, the histories we carry on our backs and in our hearts. All those many years ago...I didn't see myself being represented in feminism...and even today...I still don't fit in. But this being an outsider -which has caused me so much suffering for most of my life-is such an amazing gift!!! It has been an act of grace that I am thankful for...no boxes to fit in, no path to follow, no ideologies to subscribe to. I can take what I believe, what works for me at his time, what makes my heart sing... from any source. And that is beautiful!!! It's powerful...empowering...feministing. So, friends..while there is much work to be done...we can gather up our voices, share our stories and make ourselves heard. We can. We will. We are!! We are doing the essential work within ourselves, in our partnering and mothering, in our work and communities, our friendships and politics...in our writings. We are!