Women Fighting Patriarchy … Against Each Other by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente


Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente. Women and PatriarchyIt 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.”

RacismUse 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.

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Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Awakenings, Islam

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21 replies

  1. I’ve heard some of these so many times! People forget that feminism is the belief that genders should be equal, but ideas on how equality can be achieved are going to vary from person to person. It’s as if feminism is being confused with ‘anything to do with women’ and that can make it so hard to present the movement in a positive light (which is stupid because it’s my favourite movement ever)

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    • Hello Squidge. Thanks for your comment. We forget what feminism is about because women are not used to hear we are persons with individualities so when we act like such tensions would appear. That is why I stress the fact is not necessary to agree but to give a turn to the way we interact with other women. See the person and the individual in other as I claim that quality in me, so I can embrace our differences as part of a same, sometimes painful, process of awakening and growing.

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      • ma’am i a student of a delihi university ,india . i need to write about any feminist woman movement in last five year. your thought of division within in the feminist as my country have more hindu as compare to muslim. and in 1985 when a muslim woman case came the her husband divorced her according to islamic law by saying ” divorce ” three times . she knocked the door of judiciary and also she got the support of feminst and country prime minster but lost, as my county is secular according to indian constitution ,could not get the support of muslim femanist women .suppose if same case happened with hindu woman then court could take decision in support of that woman as hindu man are not allow to do that according to hindu religion . so please do suggest something about your opinion and recent case . i’m a student of history honours in delhi university

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  2. Unfortunately, I find that everything in this article rings true. It is possible that these issues prevent many women from calling themselves feminists, thinking that they are lacking in various areas and are not worthy of the name. However, I’d like to think that these kind of attitudes and the difficulties we have accepting our differences are rather general human issues, pertaining to many areas of interest and genders, rather than a women’s problem.

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    • Hello Lori. Thanks for your comment. Many women even have problems to call themselves persons. The situation of othering where we are placed by “nature” in patriarchy system is a complicated one to deal with when you want to come out. I consider important to adress the difficulties we have because as long we are aware of this and how affect us, we can tackle them and develop solutions.

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  3. “No struggle that seeks to fight patriarchy outside without accountability of the one we carry within has a prognosis of success.” YES!

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  4. Ramadan Mubarak Vanessa! Thank you for this thought provoking piece. You have given me a lot to ponder as I don’t make lunch.

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    • Ramadan Mubarak!!! Thank you for reading. I am eager for another skype full of LOL and ROFL and LMAO but also overwhelmed with mutual learning. I hope I am adressing the right person LOL. Blessings in this holy month for you and the people you love.

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      • Yes, right person. :) Blessings right back at you & your honesty about addressing painful issues is always, always appreciated.

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  5. Hi Vanessa —

    Equality movements of all sorts, including feminism, have difficulties — as you said — because we live in societies that a) don’t respect us, and b) are hierarchical, i.e. “divide and conquer.” This makes it hard for us, because we’ve internalized both of these attitudes. Especially at the beginning of being a feminist, these attitudes are still present, but over time, I believe we begin to soften. As a result, we need to have to treat ourselves and other feminists — especially young feminists — with gentleness and compassion, instead of anger and divisiveness. We have all been wounded by patriarchy.

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    • Hello Nancy. Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. I consider Feminism as a life process too, one that every woman must do at her pace because is about to work on yourself and collectively at same time. I consider important to respect that and, as you say, be compassionate to each other paying attention that language is important because it creates or endorse realities.

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  6. Because, like you, I believe sisterhood is powerful–and have experienced it to be–it is far more painful to me to feel misunderstood or attacked by other women–especially by other feminists–than by patriarchal males.

    Taking a long view, however, I agree with Nancy that changing the world is not easy, nor should we expect it to be. Lowering our expectations (but not our goals and hopes) is sometimes a good idea, as otherwise we will be disappointed all the time.

    I can hear the pain that provoked this post, and I am sorry you have had to experience it. Blessings.

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    • Hello Carol. Thanks for your comment. I have experienced these situations I describe in my post but also I have seen many feminists involved in them both as targeted and provokers. Since this happens more often than I wish, I wonder if there is something we are not addressing properly. For me, is the way we interact with each other, what some feminists call the “micro-machismo” or “daily patriarchy” that is so inserted in our daily life that we don’t see it and even we reproduce it. I know these situations are not exclusive of feminism but in feminist frames tend to be more visible I think because it suppose they should not happen.

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      • “For me, is the way we interact with each other, what some feminists call the “micro-machismo” or “daily patriarchy” that is so inserted in our daily life that we don’t see it and even we reproduce it.” Yes, Vanessa, this is exactly the case!
        Is it because mainstream theology is based on a God incarcerated in patriarchy? Because we have absorbed this god’s qualities just as we “absorb” negative and positive qualities of our parents…because as children we are such vulnerable sponges of learning?

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      • Actually, most of this attacks has come from people who define themselves feminists and atheists and for that, superior to me.

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  7. What Vanessa has experienced and expressed so eloquently are Human failings, not feminist failings. The claim of sisterhood does not exempt us from those failings. The word militant comes to mind here. Militants are angry human beings, sometimes justly, sometimes not. The whole “who’s not with me is against me,” attitude. We have to mellow and age out of that. We need to learn to work smarter together and be more accepting of the goals and Starting Positions of women from other cultures.

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    • Hello Anina. Thanks for your comment. Of course, these situations are not unique to feminism, but within feminism tend to be more visible and painful. Sometimes I think that women, in our struggle to free ourselves of patriarchy and regain our individuality as people tend to focus and stick to our own struggle and in an attempt to legitimize it, we have walked over the struggles and contributions of other women and even over them as people. I think it’s the little habit of seeing ourselves as human beings. It is still difficult for us to say “You know, I suffer like you: like you, my humanity has been violated, even if not in the same way.”

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  8. I burst out laughing at Vanessa’s last comment: women as feminists and atheists and therefore superior … oye!! Have experienced that too. Paradoxically, also experienced women as Christians (in a friendship circle) and NOT feminist also thinking they’re superior to me!

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  1. Mujeres Luchando patriarcado … uno contra el otro por Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente | Evangelizadoras de los apóstoles

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