I am thinking about how we take progressive ideas and use them to contribute to oppression.
I am thinking about how women in certain contexts/circumstances/groups can tell other women that changing their surnames on marriage is adhering to the patriarchy, pure and simple, which ignores these women’s circumstances. Ignores families one wants to separate herself from, ignores the possibility of not marrying a man or of marrying multiple people, ignores that the history of one’s initial surname might differ from expectations, ignores histories of having white surname structures forced on one. These are histories that complicate the idea of a single proper choice, or explode the idea of there being any choice at all that feels okay to live with. I for one will never find a surname unmarked by oppression, but still have to use one, still have to have this reminder of being under the thumb of kyriarchy thrown in my face every day.
About how women who’ve never been there can say to a survivor of domestic violence, ‘Why did you stay? You could’ve gotten help, support.’ Never mind that the police won’t listen to a woman with her skin, never mind she can’t afford to get away, never mind that her partner is her carer, too. Why, sister, didn’t you stand up for yourself, show yourself to be a strong-minded woman, why didn’t you secure for yourself the help you need? If we’d been in your shoes… if you’d been in her shoes, things would have been different. They wouldn’t have been her shoes.
About how feminists can focus on abortion rights, but are nowhere on the flipside of choice. Nowhere on the rights of women who are told they shouldn’t have children, who may have been encouraged to have abortions, because they’re too poor, too old, too sick, too fat, not white, not cis. Sometimes, in fact, viciously against those women’s reproductive rights. The choice narrative is only applicable to those to whom they choose to apply it.
About women who use the rhetoric of freeing their fellows from the patriarchy to police other women’s gender presentation. How trans women can never win; those who dress too feminine are supposedly upholding the binary (never mind safety, never mind never getting the chance to be herself before) yet dressing too masculine is held up as evidence of not really being a woman. Being a hairy-legged feminist is contributing to our bad image, some say, but did they consider that this is a valid personal choice too, or the expense (in time, in money, in energy) involved in performing beauty rituals, or what goes into learning the societal codes around them, or that feeling okay in one’s own body – the work, the goals of feminism – might be more important than feminism’s image? How about not shaming women for their gender presentation, not pushing away femininity as worthless and in so doing reinforce the patriarchal idea that traditional domains of women are, not turning aside from women who feel good hairy and make-upless, but accepting and encouraging it all in hope of a more accepting future?
I am thinking about how pointing to a singular experience of womanhood fails us. Pointing to an uncomplicated block of women’s story – uncomplicated by intersections, histories, cultures, circumstances: uncomplicated by women’s lives – points to no one’s story. That is, it might point to yours for a moment, but then other people get to own the story of womanhood, and you’re not one of the real women anymore. I am thinking about how women are individual people, a fact more powerful and grand and vital than any need to force us all into narrow ideas, or narrow applications of ideas, framed as progressive.
We are more than that. Woven through our lives and selves there are untold tangles and threads and knots of messy, beautiful, unboxable uniqueness. Ignoring what’s within each person means a feminism without relevance or rightness, a feminism that does not serve women.
Note: I’m noticing that the first paragraph owes quite a lot to a conversation WildlyParenthetical, meloukhia, amandaw and I had, which WildlyParenthetical references here, so thanks for that, folks. I’d also recommend you have a read of amandaw’s Feminism Objectifies Women.