I’ve identified as a feminist for the past five years, and it’s been a long journey. Finding my voice within a movement that I have always subconsciously seen as belonging to White women, originating with them and possibly dying with them, has been challenging. But along the way, I found myself and my feminism.
My first foray into feminist ideology was through Germaine Greer. Although I now find myself disillusioned from her and her trans-exclusionary stance, before I genuinely explored her brand of feminism, she acted as a prototype from which I created my own. Greer taught me how to reconceptualise female sexuality and how to exist within a world that privileges the male gaze over my own. For most of my teenage years, others sexualised my body while simultaneously demonising me for it. They quickly labelled me a slut while marvelling over my assets. For many years, I felt ashamed and hid the parts of me which society deemed provocative. However, through finding Greer, I realised that it was up to me to take control of the narrative and show that my sexuality wasn’t to be defined by others, but rather by me. If I wanted my breasts to form part of my sexual identity that was for me to decide, and decide I did.
So here I was, sixteen and in control of my body, a self-proclaimed feminist who was excited to align herself further with the movement. Only now I had to face the idea that everything I thought I knew didn’t speak to me on a deeper level because beyond being a woman, I was, or rather am, Black. The White feminists who I initially looked to suddenly didn’t appear to be in touch with the issues I faced, and when I found bell hooks – and promptly after intersectional feminism – I found a new home for myself.
In the introduction of her seminal work, Ain’t I a woman: black women and feminism, hooks reminds readers that “Black women could not join together to fight for women’s rights because we did not see “womanhood” as an important aspect of our identity.” She rightly points out that society conditioned Black women in the 80s to see race as their primary identity marker. Today, movements such as #BlackGirlsRock exist alongside safe spaces such as sister-hood, which privileges the voices of women of Muslim heritage. These spaces allow women who have complex identities to express themselves and their feminism. But, when I talk to older women within minority communities, there is an overwhelming sense that feminism is not for them. And yet, despite this, they often subscribe to many feminist values which unite a seemingly fragmented movement, emphasising the fact that they still do not see the importance of their “womanhood”.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, I began to understand why older women continued to feel disillusioned from the movement. The aftermath of the atrocious event led me to place my “womanhood” second to my race, and suddenly I found myself morphing into a sponge of knowledge about racism, discrimination, and anti-racist ideology, all while forgetting how these issues linked to my personal feminist beliefs. Society forced me to become Black first and female second, and as a result, I lost the opportunity to discuss how dangerous racial stereotypes of Black men were seated within the same ideas that created gendered stereotypes. Perhaps, more importantly, I was denied the opportunity to emphasise that we need to adopt a holistic approach in keeping with intersectional values to tackle the systemic problems that plague our society. Rather than draw attention to the interwoven nature of the issue, I focused on racial elements and forgot how it links to feminism. Older women within my community have faced a life of being Black first and female second; it’s hard to remember we are both simultaneously when society forces us to privilege one over the other.
Now I’ve reached a place where I force myself to remember that feminism is not just for White women, or women in general, but for everyone. Seeing the issues we face as being interconnected might just be the key to establishing real change. After all, we’re always stronger together than we are apart.