I suppose it is more than a little surprising, that in my journey from being a wee little ‘un learning teh feminism when I was twelve, to reaching college age this year or next, that I can still call myself a feminist. Given the way it’s trodden down some of the folks real close to me. Especially given that – given the strength with which I’m told I don’t belong.
My click moment into feminism came when I was fresh out of primary school, an eager literature student starting to realise that media was verymuch about hetero/cis/sexual white men. And feminism was simple. It took a little shaking up of my good Catholic mind, but that’s okay, it needed that.
I still agree with the basics of feminism. Bodily autonomy. Representation in the public sphere. Equal consideration on equal terms. I’m not giving that up, not ever.
Then, when I was fourteen-ish, I settled on a queer identity (the word I used then was bisexual, but I don’t use it any more, for verycomplicatedreasons), and, well, that’s what intersectional feminism was for, wasn’t it?
The thing about intersectionality is that it still frames a certain model as its default. Feminism has become more welcoming to queer women than it used to be – I’ve seen that happen over the last few years – but there’s little hope of belonging if you live outside the West, if you’re coloured, if you’re postcolonial, if you’re genderqueer, if you’re disabled. I’ve seen complaints that feminism is supposed to be about ‘women’s rights’, so none of these aspects of identity should be agitated for by the feminist movement. That disappoints me.
Because – aren’t I a woman as well? Heaven forfend that I should be counted so, if I don’t fall into a certain mould of the model feminist!
Who are you to tell me that?
In the past, before I even started writing under this name, I’d see how little interest the big feminist blogs took in Southeast Asia – or even in Asia – unless it was sweeping generalisations about an entire region, aggregated as those-brown-people or those-beige-people or those-yellow-people. Or, basically, those-people, which means not-us.
I’ve been told that cultural appropriation is merely ‘borrowing’ or ‘paying homage’. I’ve been told to leave my postcolonial sensibilities outside the discourse when white/Western feminists step in to discuss issues that affect women elsewhere in the world. (‘It’s for your own good!’ is the prevailing undercurrent.) My disabilities are erased, are not taken into consideration. When I speak up on these, I divide the movement.
And so, my disillusionment.
The feminist movement is fragmented; but it is not these multiple identities that I carry which are to blame. The problem is the refusal to accommodate diversity, to respect all lived experiences under the umbrella of feminism.
So. So I still call myself a feminist, still.
Part of it is a lack of another label. Thursday’s fiddled with ‘equalist’, or ‘humanist’, but I refuse to use those words, myself, because those words have histories too. They’ve been used to silence feminism, to dismiss its role in society. And that’s the one kind of opposition to feminism that I can’t get behind – the opposition born out of patriarchy and a privilege-laden notion that feminism is an irrelevant irruption of hysteria. That’s the only critique of feminism I’ve ever met that’s turned my stomach so. (And if I can stand with you, mainstream feminism… why can’t you stand with me?)
Part of it is optimism, too. I like to think I can change things. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here, would I? Despite the threats and the microaggressions and the days when I’m hopelessly out of spoons, I still think that I’m part of something – that there are others like me – that could turn this wretched broken system around.
But as a concession, I realised I couldn’t call myself a mainstream feminist any more. I need to add labels now. And we’ve talked about adding labels – all those explanations that differentiating between ‘women’ and ‘trans women’, between ‘people’ and ‘queer people’, between ‘folks’ and ‘folks of colour’ – merely reinforce what the default is. Well, to hell with that! Because I know what the default is, and my compatriots, we know that too. What I’m trying to do is to remind mainstream feminism of how the default has been constructed.
Radical feminism is a term that leaves a dirty aftertaste, because it’s been used, historically and now, to mean a certain brand of feminism that resorts to binary essentialism and the exclusion of trans women and genderqueer people. But I couldn’t find another term, either. I’m radical because I’m on the fringes. I’m on the fringes because of what you’ve made the default, the mainstream.
Until I can find a better term, then – until I can wrest back that idea of being part of the mainstream – I’ve to resort to adding qualifiers. I’m an intersectional feminist, a postcolonial feminist, a radical feminist. Queer and coloured and Southeast Asian and disabled, all of those things. That kind of feminist lah. Those worlds are part of me, are within me.
And/But I’m not too ready to relinquish the word feminist, because IM IN UR MOVEMENT, BEIN MAHSELF, forevers.
[This post was written for Bitch Magazine’s Feminist Carnival.]