There is still hope for the feminist movement

by Portia Zuba | Feb 2, 2018

One of the reasons I believe the female sex has been poorer politically, socially, and economically than the male sex is because of the portrayal of women in classic pieces of literature. Stories like Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” have been rightly criticized for perpetuating the narrative of “women as helpless and fragile and in need of a masculine presence in their lives for protection.” Virginia Woolf, in her book A Room of One’s Own, summarized how men used literature by creating a character named “the professor” who had everything very few women had at the time, and yet insisted on writing about the inferiority of women. Now, a lot of narratives that showcase the strength of women, thanks to feminism, have been presented in stories like: The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Circle, but the struggle for equal prosperity of the sexes is still ongoing. Feminism (the advocacy of the equality of men and women) as a term has generated a lot of misunderstanding that has limited the movement from having a real impact. Feminism has had negative connotations like: “a misandry movement”. For example, in Rwanda girls who identify as feminists are usually labeled as “Ibyomanzi” which means girls that disrespect men. However, I believe that the feminist movement has been hurt by problems within the movement itself more than it has been hurt by the public’s misunderstanding of the movement’s intentions. I will explore the problems that have made it difficult for women to truly identify with this movement that is otherwise revolutionary and very much needed.

First, feminism has not been intersectional. Intersectional feminism is a feminism that stands for the rights of all women, taking seriously the fact of differences among women, including different identities based on radicalization, sexuality, economic status, religion, and language. This definition is powerful, because it shows what the ideal feminism should be. Feminism should be a movement that values narratives of all women and not just one narrative. Sadly, these differences are not considered and often they have been used as an excuse to impose western ideals on women in countries that are not yet considered “gender woke”. Women all over the world have different struggles, but then the west has given more freedom to a woman than most places in the world. I understand the need for women in developed countries to support women in developing and middle eastern countries in the fight for basic rights such as being able to own a bank account. However, this need to intervene to help women in other parts of the world has constantly portrayed women who are not in the west as people who are always victims and who should be pitied. A quote that can exemplify this point is that of professor Nicola Pratt of the University of Warwick in her article The Gender Logics of Resistance to the “War on Terror”: constructing sex-gender difference through the erasure of patriarchy in the middle East: “Condolezza Rice embodies a neo-colonial feminism that seeks to improve the condition of women abroad and liberate them from the oppressive traditions of Islam.” This point demonstrates the ways in which some prominent feminists have ignored the traditions, values, and cultures of other women by imposing their own ideals in the name of freeing them from male oppression. What this demonstrates is the way women, especially those in middle eastern countries, have their voices taken away from them by well-meaning western women who wish to liberate them. This narrative, that is perpetuated by prominent western women on women in developing and Middle Eastern countries, ignores the efforts of women in countries that are still behind in terms of gender equality in fighting for their own rights and their progress. This narrative that stems from within the feminist movement continues to perpetuate the poverty of the female sex, because it depicts some women especially those in war torn countries as damsels in distress, and obliterates all possibility of these women being anything other than victims.

Another piece of evidence that feminism has failed to acknowledge differences among women is that of Audre Lorde in: The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” In her paper, she acknowledges that she was the only black lesbian invited to talk about the issues that women faced. To paraphrase her, it was not wise to discuss women issues without all women: women of color, third world, transgender, lesbians being represented. One quote that was the representation of what Lorde was saying was: “What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy?” This quote is powerful, because it shows the irony within the feminist movement. Feminism as a movement, like Lorde points out, is concerned with fighting against the inequalities that are caused by patriarchy, yet there are inequalities among the women themselves especially because women in marginalized groups are ignored. Marginalized women (transgender, homosexual women of color) are ignored, because feminism as a movement, has historically assumed that all women struggles are the same, and therefore feminism has been mostly represented by the experiences of cisgender, heterosexual white women. Differences amongst women have been considered as a threat, yet they could be used as a strength through encouraging more women to join in the feminist movement. Consequently, feminism as a movement has not had the intended impact due to the repeated failure of acknowledging that women have different struggles; and that all those struggles should be appreciated, and represented by all women and not a specific group that might not have faced those issues firsthand.

Additionally, the Feminist movement has been hurt by the call out culture within the movement. Popular culture examples demonstrate how unforgiving some of the comments on women who identify as feminists by feminists can be. Recently, Emma Watson was criticized by a woman for being “a hypocrite” because she posed in Vanity Fair with her breasts out. Some journalists have criticized Beyoncé for not being a feminist in her album Lemonade, simply because she chose to get back together with Jay Z after he humiliated her on a public platform by cheating on her . To quote blogger Asam Ahmad in his article “A Note on Call-Out Culture,: “calling someone out isn’t just a private interaction between individuals: it’s a public performance where people can demonstrate their wit or how pure their politics are.” The problem with pure politics is that it makes it difficult for different types of feminism to coexist and this limits women. By calling out Emma Watson for showing her breasts in a magazine on Twitter in such a disgraceful manner, Julia Hartley-Brewer not only showed that women who identify as feminists cannot be what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called sexual beings, but she also proved how the feminist world can be cold and harsh when people don’t meet the expected standards. Additionally, by calling out Lemonade as an un-feminist album, Beyoncé’s critic emphasized the pure politics within the feminist movement, by showing that women like Beyoncé who make choices that might not be supported by feminists, are bad role models of feminism.

I identify as feminist, but I am also a christian. I am sure most christians would concur that the Bible is one of the most un-feminist pieces of literature there is. I struggle to reconcile my christian self with my feminist self. I fear that if I make choices for my future family that aren’t considered feminist, then I will not be considered feminist by my fellow feminists. I am writing this piece because I shouldn’t worry about this. It is time that we all went back to basics, and remember that feminism, in words of Roxane Gay, among many other things is about giving women choice. I like to think that feminism is like a huge piece of fabric that looks different and should be different on every woman.

Portia Uwase
Portia Uwase Zuba’s academic interests are Economics, International Affairs, and French.