1. I spent most of high school being bullied, feeling like a fat freak who was destined to be alone for life. In retrospect, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. A kid I knew got beaten up for being Greek. One group of guys spent lunch hours in the cafeteria joking about starting a “Gay K.K.” to lynch LGBT students.
Eventually I figured out that I was never going to be able to just be quiet and suck up the bullying and the toxic atmosphere. I started speaking out in class and I joined the NDP and got involved in politics.
Click! In grade 12, two things happened that led to me calling myself a feminist. The first was that our school’s drama teacher decided to put on a community theatre production of The Laramie Project. I went to see it twice, both times crying through most of it but leaving with a new sense of purpose. Seeing The Laramie Project made me realize how screwed up things were in the world at large, not just in my little world.
It also made me realize that it these conflicts weren’t just about actions – like the BC Liberal government closing women’s centres – they were also about ideology. I needed tools to fight back. That’s where I had my 2nd feminist click moment: during a Grade 12 English assignment. Picking a philosopher to research I drew bell hooks out of a hat, so I went to the library and picked up a copy of Feminism is for Everybody.
bell hooks’ definition of feminism is: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” By “oppression” she’s talking about multiple types, including homophobia and racism. hooks was clear: feminism isn’t about hating men or playing the victim; it’s a foundation from which to fight for equality. I had decided it was going to be my foundation.
2. Anti-click! When I did my degree in Women’s Studies in University, I was introduced to the idea of privilege, but it’s hard to get too deep into the analysis when your class is made up of privileged people – people privileged enough to go to University, at any rate. I knew that I had privilege by being middle-class, white, straight, able-bodied, and cis-gender, but looking at the academic idea of privilege wasn’t what made me realize I was living it.
I came across an article in my local paper about a request by the Tsilhqot’in nation asking that Begbie Square in New Westminster (named for the infamous “hanging judge”) be renamed and the statue of Begbie replaced by one of Tsilhqot’in hero Chief Ahan., who is believed to be buried under the Square. We learned about Begbie in Grade 4, but never about Ahan, or how Begbie sentenced him to death. Seeing the story made me realize just how incomplete and biased my education had been.
My whole life I’ve been walking around my neighbourhoods and unquestioningly accepted the fact that practically every landmark name comes from European history. My whole life I happily took off my ancestors’ Christian holidays from school while never questioning if other people’s traditions were accorded the same recognitions. I realized I couldn’t quite imagine what it would be like to live in a society where I wasn’t seeing me reflected wherever I go.
The “anti-click” happened when I realized it had been comfortable for me to start a “feminist” blog while taking for granted the legitimacy accorded to my traditions and history over those of First Nations people and people of colour. I was reinforcing the way in which the mainstream feminist movement has and continues to exclude women of colour in favour of changes that will benefit elite, white women.
It’s not good enough for me to just say the blog is “anti-racist”. By not discussing race and racism, I’m just reinforcing the unequal status-quo and promoting feminism’s reputation for exclusion and silencing. Same goes for integrating analysis of ableism, class, and poverty into my writing.
Part of this is the concern that I don’t want to be “speaking for” marginalized groups. But if I don’t try to address these issues at all, is that really respectful or just allowing problems to continue as long as they don’t impact me? It’s not fun to realize that even though you might not have directly caused a situation (be it Residential Schools or the racial pay gap), you have been complicit by benefiting from the results.
3. My other anti-click came in 2006, when I became keenly aware of the generation gap in the feminist movement and the domination of many mainstream feminist organizations by older white women (which I’ve written about previously).
But overall I’m optimistic about feminism and its capacity to change and grow and address divisions, as long as there is commitment to work from a definition similar to the inclusive one proposed by bell hooks. Here’s what keeps me hopeful:
Click! I went to the 2010 National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. and met feminists in high school and college, starting up new feminist clubs on campus and taking action on issues like health reform.
Click! 9 and 10 year-old-girls are using new technology to take on sexism in hip hop: http://www.gender-focus.com/2011/03/07/little-girls-vs-lil-wayne/
Click! I get some extremely racist, sexist, and homophobic commenters arguing with my blog posts, so I figure I must be doing something right.