Excuse Me: Can I Have My Feminism Back!

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I have started writing this as a response to “Feminism & White Privilege” by Robyn Oyeniyi   http://teamoyeniyi.com/2013/12/27/feminism-and-white-privilege/

This thought provoking blog led me to think about my own understanding of feminism and how it has evolved and shaped my own life over many years. Many things, that I have always had clarity & certainty on.

Then comes a curve ball from http://ofcourseitsaboutyou.com/2013/12/27/white-feminism-and-the-denial-of-privilege-or-none-of-use-are-buying-your-book-robyn/  Quiet an angry & personal rant against Robyn and the views she expressed in her blog. So I ask myself can an article on feminism that dismisses the voice of another woman legitimately claim to be “feminist”? And how helpful is a view of feminism that becomes divisive and alienating.

The crux of the debate is that white feminists need to “check their privilege” claiming that many white feminists are oblivious of their position of privilege and ignore the intersectional issues of race and color. This is where my own hackles started to rise. The complexities of issues faced by women of minority status should never be brought down to such a simplistic equation of white vs black. I believe all women lose through such debate.

Chimamanda Adichie suggests we should all be feminists in this amazing must watch video

I have always been comfortable in identifying as a feminist. In all honesty it goes to the core of who I am as a woman. To me it is not a “label” I stick on myself (or others for that matter) but more a way of thinking, reflecting, acting and reacting to the world around me. I would best describe feminism as a way of viewing gender differences and how discrimination, sexism, inequality and interpersonal violence are imbedded in distorted gender relations. Of course issues of race, ethnicity, class, disability and age intersect with gender and many women do experience multiple levels of discrimination and disadvantage. My own feminist “framework” has been shaped by academic study, reading & research but more importantly by working for, with and beside hundreds of women from diverse backgrounds who have courageously shared their own stories of pain, abuse and disadvantage. It is in this sharing of experiences, we begin to understand what it means to be a woman in a “man’s world” and why we need feminism. Without it, I believe explanations and solutions to discrimination, sexism and violence become almost impossible. I am not implying feminism has all the definitive answers…but it can certainly ask the right questions.

To me, the women’s movement has always been a place of rich & robust discussions  with an acknowledgement of difference as well as divergence. Collectivism trumps  individualism, the women’s choir does indeed have many voices. I am concerned at current discourse which attempts to have a narrow definition of women’s disadvantage, at the same time publicly criticising and dismissing dissenting  voices.  The women’s movement is about giving women a voice…not been descriptive of what that voice should be.

In recent times we have seen the advent of on-line “feminist” magazines, Feminist Times and Mamamia as examples. While obviously cornering a niche on-line market of sorts both have come in for criticism for victim blaming editorials written under the guise of “feminism”.  Charlotte Raven takes a swipe at both feminists who wear high heels and women who stay with their abusers in a rather inane editorial http://www.feministtimes.com/a-feminist-in-high-heels-is-like-dawkins-in-a-rosary/

Similarly ,Mia Freedman came under fire for her blog  http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/sexual-assault-and-alcohol/  A victim blaming  piece suggesting women can avoid sexual assault by monitoring alcohol drinking. The common thread between both blogs is an attempt to define & prescribe women’s behaviour…at the same time keeping the focus off the very real issue of patriarchal power and privilege.

Classic examples of individualism trumping collectivism.

Well Sorry, I want no part of this version of feminism. You don’t speak for me and I would imagine you don’t speak for the tens of thousands of women who struggle daily with violence, abuse, poverty and homelessness. High heels shoes and vodka cruisers are far removed from the reality of their existence.

My response to Robyn’s blog included in her blog site.

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Reflecting on Beijing, Amrita Basu, political scientist at Amherst College, noted the increased participation of women from developing countries. Western women did not dominate the agenda. The acceptance of differences and acknowledgment of diversity transformed human rights into something useful for women the world over.

We are now 18 years on from Beijing and the struggle for peace, justice & equality continues. It may be the quiet resistance of women claiming safe spaces for themselves in their homes and workplaces while at other times it is voices raised that are too loud to ignore. When ex Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave her now famous misogyny speech in parliament, I visualised thousands of women across Australia screaming YES…not because they may or may not have politically supported her but because what she said resonated with us as women. Over 2.5 million views of Youtube would suggest the validity of this,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihd7ofrwQX0

The women’s movement is filled with millions of “sheroes’. Women of incredible courage, perseverance and resistance. Women working at the front line supporting, advocating, lobbying and organising. Most unrecognised except by those who understand and appreciate their efforts. Other women may rise to the prominence of recognition but can still acknowledge the collective work of their sisters who have been part of the struggle. In 2011 the Nobel Peace Prize was shared by 3 women….Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia  and Tawakkol Karman fromYemen. All three were recognised “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work” Worthy recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize for absolutely amazing women. The work of the women of Liberia is best described in “Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War “ by Leymah Gbowee

Other collective action worth mentioning has been  the establishment of Destroy the Joint. A Community Facebook page developed in response to sexist comments made by radio “shock jock” Alan Jones who bemoaned the fact that women were in fact “destroying the joint” and named several women who should be put in a chaff bag and dropped in the ocean. The response was incredible with close to 40,000 likes and corporate sponsors withdrawing advertisement from Alan Jones.

I believe the collective action of women to address sexism, misogyny, discrimination, inequality and violence is needed today as much as ever. If we exclude women’s experiences & voices based on race, ethnicity and class we will have a very limited lens to view women’s reality. Their struggle is our struggle. However I don’t support divisive and patronising views of feminism shaped to suit individual thought. I have a bit of the 3 Musketeers philosophy in me..one for all and all for one. What affects one woman affects all women. Their struggle is our struggle..it is this invisible thread of connecting women’s lives that draws us to continue to work toward making our corner of the world safer, more equitable and just for all women. We can all do what is needed in our own way to achieve this.

So yes I am a feminist…to quote Rebecca West 1911

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat”

I can gratefully acknowledge the hard earned gains won by women of past eras. I am a beneficiary of their struggle. I am also grateful for having the opportunity of playing a small part in the collective action of women to continue this work to make the world a better place for my granddaughters.

The ‘ privilege’ I feel as a feminist is to have meet so many amazing women from a diversity of backgrounds who have and continue to enrich my life in a myriad of ways.

About Bettsie

Writing on things important to me... Feminism Australian Politics Social Justice
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6 Responses to Excuse Me: Can I Have My Feminism Back!

  1. Oh Betty, you are such a wise wise lady!

    As you know, gutlessly run & hide when feminism is discussed due to the very points you raised above. Maybe as I come from a different age group, one that did not fight for women’s rights, was just surprised when I hit the work force & was like “Huh, what do you mean I am not equal”, I don’t have the same background knowledge the likes of you & Robyn have. Therefore, my naive why can’t all women just support each other, regardless of race, creed, religion, circumstance etc does not fit in the feminism conversations 😦

    Pieces like yours give me hope that dills like me who are not knowledgeable can be included, not alienated. Thank you!!

    • Bettsie says:

      You are far from a dill Noely..anything but. Your expectation that all women should support each other is exactly what feminism should be. While I identify as a feminist, I am far more comfortable talking about the women’s movement. I really see some of this divisive feminist rhetoric sitting outside of this. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if women are card carrying feminists or not so long as they help women up not tear them down. Keep on travelling your own road Noely…you are doing just fine

  2. Team Oyeniyi says:

    Betty, I love Rebecca West’s words more every time I see them. I think it fits me too. I so wish I had been at the forum in Beijing!

    I think the varied responses I got from my article were for a couple of reasons. Id didn’t go into a lot of detail; perhaps more detail would have helped. Several people misinterpreted my dislike of the WORD intersectionality to mean I disliked the concept.and that coloured their reading of the remainder of the article. Love the concept, but wish the word didn’t sound like a traffic direction.

    I loved Scalzi’s piece Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is as it encapsulated to issue so well.

    “Amrita Basu, political scientist at Amherst College, noted the increased participation of women from developing countries. Western women did not dominate the agenda.” Exactly! I am always wary when I see Caucasians throwing any term around that seems to be able to be (mis)used to let them off the hook, but some readers missed that was the point I was making, I believe.

    The high heels article was annoying, I thought. The Mamamia article got me into a debate about the role of parents in raising children who respect and expect women’s equality and rights. I’ve also had heated debate around the question of the use of the “b” word, whether men can be involved and proactive prevention versus victim blaming. Which all goes to prove your point “If we exclude women’s experiences & voices based on race, ethnicity and class we will have a very limited lens to view women’s reality.”

    I learnt a valuable lesson. Next time I will ensure the context is clear. I’m just not a detail person! 🙂

    • Bettsie says:

      Thanks Robyn..I thought you blog was excellent and context clear. Sometimes people read what they have a mindset to read. I really dislike the idea that women from other cultures need “rescuing” by white feminists. Many are doing for themselves far better than we can. One of the reasons I used the example of the women winning the Nobel peace prize. So many other examples..the role women have played in the Arab Spring, organising for improved rape laws in India, Education in Pakistan and Afghanistan to name a few. Sometimes I think our “we have it all mentality” can result in a complacency that women of other culture don’t have.keep up your great blogging Robyn..good to rattle the cage sometimes…we all need it

  3. Well Bett,that article was really brilliant,really!The many women you mentioned plus the women we encounter daily in our lives who are ‘sheroes ‘should/do make us proud to call ourselves Feminists,we owe them much!James appreciated the piece very much too.Let’s value different women’s feminism & celebrate it !truly impressed Bett!

    • Bettsie says:

      Thank you Colleen and James. Worries me that so many women run from even having discussions on feminism while the situation for women continues to get worse. I know you both do your bit to keep up the good fight on behalf of women everywhere

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