It is painful to find out the lack of understanding among feminists when controversial issues are discussed, to the point that it seems we have failed in achieving a key factor: transforming the way women perceive and interact with each other. I have been in discussions that begin with great aptitude for addressing issues about which a voice is needed, to finish in symbolic violence by stances in which I can hardly find a trace of feminism. I offer here just a few examples.
Invisibility: At least in two situations
Case nº1: “No. A woman like you can’t be feminist. That doesn’t exist.” Denying my existence as a feminist is to deny that there are women in the world able to empower themselves, beyond your permission, in their contexts. No one owes you an explanation, by the way.
Case nº2: “She is not my ally (because she is not like me),“ say feminists who do not accept Muslim women as such, but praise the pro-women statements uttered by a privileged man, well advised by his publicist, because “Everyone can be feminist.”
Racism: “Use your brain, Latina...“ I have encountered this expression from white women, but it is increasingly common among southern women of different background that don’t consider a Latina woman an equal. For non-Muslims, I am not a real southern woman due to my facial features, for Muslims, not enough Muslim because I am a convert.
Colonialism: “Let me tell you what real feminism is about, it is clear you don’t know it….” Any attempt to convince another person that a your vision is THE ONE correct one, it is colonialism. Any attempt to intervene the subjectivity of others, may give rise to a colonial attitude. It is colonialism to tell a chubby woman to go on a diet, an hiyabi to take the head scarf off, a niqabi she is with-no-agency-being not giving her space to speak for herself.
Mobbing: “You’re not really a feminist, I wait until my friends/organization hear about (such and such).” When I hear this, I think of Michael Corleone`s code of loyalty to “La Cosa Nostra.” On behalf of “The Movement” it seems lawful to use emotional blackmail, isolation, and other disciplinary mechanisms against women, knowing that we struggle daily against the “Getting Approval” commandment. In its online version, mobbing involves calling friends on social networks to massively attack one who holds an unpopular opinion. There is nothing like “THE” feminist movement, there is something better: feminists in motion, in movement, in change. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually cultivated respect for our various rhythms and flowing?
Personalization: “My personal issue with you, is a feminist issue. So, you’re an obstacle for feminism.” This position is quite dishonest, but common. Two or more feminists have a personal discussion and begin to “recruit support.” Thus, a problem that could be solved in private becomes a battle camp in which everyone ends resentful with each other, even with people they do not know. It is a pity to note that the “obstacle for feminism“ generally explains antipathy, jealousy, and yes, envy among feminists for given progress, achievements and development. There’s no more effective way to affect the growing of a woman than attacking her political potential.
Entitlement: At least in two situations:
Case nº1: “All Muslim Feminists believe…” WAIT. Your opinion is not my opinion and while I welcome that you’ve found your voice, I ask you to not take over mine.
Case nº2: “If you disagree with me, then you are supporting patriarchy.” No more than you. Patriarchy inhabits us. As women, we’ve been domesticated by the system to serve it, from making a sandwich to spreading slut shamming. We have been educated to hate ourselves and others; we have been socialized to live in otherness and detain other women in otherness.
And the system makes sure that every day, in many ways, we reproduce hatred and otherness against one another.
There is a big difference between disagreeing in opinions and despising or harassing other women for their opinions, attacking her appearance or identities. Part of feminist awakening is to work in establishing the difference between both. I’m not saying we have to agree on everything, but finding new ways to deal with the disagreement is critical. We cannot build fairer societies for women, if we don’t destroy the interaction mechanisms, legacy of patriarchy, through which we reproduce injustice among us.
No struggle that seeks to fight patriarchy outside without accountability of the one we carry within has a prognosis of success. Saying “I am a feminist” or “I do this because I am a feminist,” is not enough. Feminism must be lived, we must practice a feminist ethics, we must have the courage to fight patriarchy inside, no matter how painful this could be as well finding ourselves in other women, although they may seem very different to us. And this costs an effort, a daily awareness.
There are many definitions of Feminism but all of them imply the ability to recognize the abilities of other women, together with those of our own.
Feminism is an option for women’s autonomy and freedom: For ALL WOMEN, not only for those who are our friends and think, live, or look like us. Despising other women’s way of empowerment that does not reflect us, it is vanity. Who seeks to satisfy their ego through a feminist discourse is leading a masquerade in behalf of her pride, not supporting women advancement and the visibility of our subjectivities.
Appropriating the quality of subject/individual and thus, with rights, opinions and decision-making, is something that every feminist claims for herself; however, very often we forget that unless we recognize this same claim in others, we are not pushing any change forward to women equality. Nobody wins any discussion reproducing patriarchy. At least, no one wins what we should consider is worth winning: Respect, equality, justice and autonomy.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Writer, Mentor and Community Educator in Capacity Building for Grass Roots Female Leaders and Advocates. A Muslim Feminist who is an Independent Researcher of Gender and Islam in Latin America on Feminist Hermeneutics, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. She blogs in Spanish at Mezquita de Mujeres, a site dedicated to explore the links between Gender, Religion and Feminism as well to Women from the Global South as Change Makers in their communities.