Thursday, 1 May 2008

feminism and women of colour

was planning to have an early night last night, then i saw this post by deborah about women of colour and feminism. to which i just had to reply, and the next thing you know it was 1.30am before i went to bed. and today my younger child has fractured her ankle and her leg is now in a cast. she's been in a bit of pain, and i'm hoping i don't have 2 sleepless nights. so since i'm stressed out and tired out, i'm going to copy my reply to deborah, and just let you mull over that. goodnight.

hmm, well i'd consider myself a feminist and i'm a coloured woman. and i do find aspects of western feminism particularly racist. or maybe i'm confusing western feminists with western women. but there are aspects that bother me. for example, a large part of the way the attack in afghanistan was made palatable was the terrible way that women were treated. so the feminist narrative that the taliban were sexist bastards that oppressed women (and i'm not saying they weren't) made it much easier to go bomb the shit out of them. the result was that the lives of those very women wer made worse as a result, whether due to sexual violence, poverty, loss of males in their lives to share the burden of raising a family etc.

ditto for the women of iraq who were going to be "liberated" and the symbol of their liberation would be the fact that they would be free to wear miniskirts. excuse me? by whose standards are miniskirts a symbol of liberation? by my standards, they are a symbol of women conforming to male views of sexual attractiveness, a symbol of the desire to please and be pleasing to men. you might view it as expressing your sexuality. i would say, why do you need to express it and why in that way?

you can see that there are two ways of thinking here. many eastern women just don't see this expression of sexuality as liberating. but how do we get treated when we try to express that view? in some forums, we do get treated with respect. but in others, not at all.

one coloured writer (too late to go looking for her name now) has also talked about the class issue when it comes to feminist thinking. there seems to be an underlying assumption by some white western feminists that western women are liberated and eastern women are oppressed. this fails to take into account the lives of lower class women in the west, which are far from liberated; and upper class women in the east who can and do exercise much power. these false assumptions lead to failed policies. they also lead to disempowerment, because a "whitey-knows-best" attitude (which comes about when you believe that western women have achieved liberation so know how it's done, and now have to liberate all the women of the world) can discount the views of coloured women and ignore their contribution to ideas about their own well-being.

add to this, the issue of language barriers and lack of access to the internet & internet forums, and the women of colour around the world have much less of a voice than white women. so much less input into the discourse and development of feminist thought.

and the notion that we have achieved liberation or equality in the west is such a myth. so when i hear people say "they have to learn that we treat women as equals in this country", i feel like gagging. we so do not, in so many many ways.

oh, and the point i was trying to make above re afghanistan and iraq is that there is no point in feminism if the result of your actions leave women worse off. perhaps the feminists were active in anti-war movements for both afghanistan and iraq, i don't know, so maybe i'm being too harsh. but if you want equality for women, you have to stop armed conflict. because the men might be the ones who die, but the women get raped. and being left alive, they have to try to stop their children from starving. and they fail so have to watch their babies die from hunger or preventable diseases.

i have to admit that i've not read any of your links, deborah, nor have i read hardly any feminist blogs. i'm sure many of the women of colour (and lots of us use that phrase in this country, at least i've heard it a bit) have said what i've tried to in a much more eloquent way.

finally, sorry to do this, but i'm going to link to something i wrote last month, on the off chance that it might shed some light.


Deborah said...

I hope your daughter is recovering, Anjum, and that you got some sleep.

As I said over at The Hand Mirror, fantastic post. Yes, some of the women of colour have been saying things like this. What gets me is they have been saying this for a long, long time - as it were, it's old news - but white feminism doesn't seem to have heard it, or to want to see it.

strawbrie.jam said...

I completely agree with your points about Iraq and Afghanistan, and I completely HATE that (western) feminism was used as the reason for being the countries. It's the lamest excuse ever, and I think it is an insult to women who do consider themselves feminist. I am also completely with you on the whole issue of mini skirts, (or belts as I've heard the shorter ones called). I appreciate that people should have the right to wear that if they choose. But WHY in anyone's right mind would the choose to wear THAT? It is beyond me. I think though in a way western society is still rebelling against the years of completely covering up (ie. long sleeve, high collared, ankle length dresses) and I guess that's natural, and from the point I can understand, but I certainly don't want to be a part of it. I think that's actually a lot of the reason that people have issues with Muslim women wearing the hijab.

I think in terms of feminism in the west, things aren't there yet. Women may have made progress in terms of education. The number of women attending University now is usually equal to (sometimes higher than) men. Although that said more traditionally 'masculine' subjects such as engineering, and some of the sciences don't show this same pattern. But I think the area that women still have a lot of progress to make is in the area of management and leadership. Of course this is all probably from more of a middle class perspective, there are still many issues for less well off women.

To finish I think this quote by Virginia Woolf sums up my views well, "as a woman I ahve no country. As a woman my country is the whole world" And I think when we actually take feminism to be a belief in the sisterhood of all women, and the idea that women and our rights are worth valuing and htat we can contribute to society. I think when we take that as being feminism then all women are on the same page, and it doesn't matter what colour or country we're from, we're all of this world.

Julie said...

Thanks for you comment and post on this Anjum - could you please flick me an email when you get a chance? julie dot fairey at gmail dot com. Thanks a lot!