She is (not) like us
On isolation, unacknowledged privilege and feminism beyond gender.
Alaya Purewal, Edited by Issey Kainer
“I couldn’t believe it that this was happening to her, someone like us, she is exactly like us. She isn’t poor or an immigrant.” These were words echoed at a feminist chapter gathering and it made me wonder: are we all fighting for the same cause? How can we all be part of the same movement if so many of us don’t see all of us as victims of the same mechanisms of oppression? If we are seen as ‘others’, how is one part of the same movement? Does this overarching feminism that is indifferent towards people of colour, the poor, differently-abled people become the voice of us all? When white women debate about women wearing the hijab, they take away that agency from Muslim women. When they talk about the ‘submissiveness’ of Japanese women in their society they take away that agency from Japanese women, too. Why do we continue to be so trans-exclusionary? When women wear pink hats to the Women’s March, isn’t that a gesture of telling trans women that you are beyond us, you are not one of us?
When you start asserting a narrow perspective of what feminism is for you and assert it on other people who don’t have a similar context to you, what does that mean? I’ve had countless conservations with white women who only assert the role of gender as the plight of feminism and completely neglect the role of race, class, religion, ability, sexual orientation, cultural context, so what does that say about the rest of us? Is feminism only about gender?
Don’t get me wrong, I think its necessary for everyone to be a feminist to aim to dismantle opressive systems, but whose feminism are we exactly aiming for? Are we talking about 76-cents-to-a-dollar feminism that fails to acknowledge that in their very own country, Latinas, black women, and differently-abled women that make 54 cents to a dollar? Or are we talking about truly understanding intersectionality and acknowledging our own privilege.
Intersectional feminism is not just for a ‘woke’ label, but a true acknowledgement of the privilege that one has. This isn’t only directed towards white men and women or men of colour for that matter– there are hierarchies and separation amongst women of colour as well. Women of colour don’t have to have the same story. If I were to look at my own life in India, I have enormous privilege that needs to be understood. I have never been discriminated against or denied access to resources because of my caste, I have never worried about the possibility of not continuing my education, and I have never been told by my parents that I could not achieve as much as my brothers.
So, why is this important? Can’t we just move beyond our differences and focus on dismantling the patriarchy? How do we achieve that if the way we construe our oppression is so firmly linked with the others. Oppression unlike many of us, doesn’t segregate struggle categorically. Intersectionality is very real and the way it affects us is a manifestation of all factors. By making it solely about gender, it inherently avoids talking about other factors that affect people and makes it solely about the struggle of people who are mostly affected by the gender they identify with.
So many times, I find myself isolated in the feminist discussion, like my voice has no meaning and I feel failed by the feminist movement. Feminism is enshrined within me; it, for me, is the only way to dismantle what it is so so crippling to my success and the people around me but why does it isolate people like me? If the feminist narrative is only about gender, are we not ignoring the fight of others? There have been innumerous times of frustration and feeling completely hopeless, maybe this is not my fight if it does not even address my problems, and even if it addresses my problems, it does not address problems with people less privileged than I, but that has never been an option. To give up means for them to win, to give up means that none of this will actually change, and to give up means that there is one less voice that wants to change the demographics. We can’t have an eye-on-the-prize approach to feminism.
So yes, I am done being accommodating and silent when someone fails to acknowledge the scope of this movement beyond their movement, when they don’t recognise their privilege and intrinsically make the movement exclusive and atmosphere isolating for anyone who does not identify with only their struggle.
So what I ask from all of us including myself is to think about each issue from different lenses- how does this affect other people because making the problem solely about you, or people like you, does not achieve substantive gain other than for you.