What is Feminism?

Over the past decade, the word “feminism” has saturated our media, social networks, advertisements and even our t-shirts. Since this heightened recognition and hyperawareness of the political ideology, its definition has been twisted and contorted and bent out of shape; its application a bit…questionable. However, despite the fury towards Feminists and Feminism, it does not detract from the very real fact that Feminism, particularly Black Feminism, has given us one of the best understandings of this world, its systems, their effect on different groups of people and their influence on our interpersonal relationships. 

 

Black feminism as a foundational theory can be accredited to the work of Dr Patricia Hill Collins who gave meaning and analysis to the everyday experiences of black women and the discrimination that we face. In her book, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (1990), she introduced to us the conceptual framework “matrix of domination” which explained how our different social categories (race, gender, sexual orientation, class, geography etc) are interconnected and overlap to cause us to experience domination (or oppression) in different ways. For instance, Latoya, a light-skin lesbian woman, and Kristina, a dark skin bisexual woman both face discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender. However, Kristina faces an additional dimension of discrimination because of the colour of her skin. This model was a breakthrough in understanding the complexities of black womanhood and how we exist in this world. It also helped to inform how we (and WE) advocate. 

Patricia Hill Collins

Patricia Hill Collins. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil

 

But why is any of this relevant? Why should you care about or care to understand Feminism, especially as a Caribbean national? The fundamentals of Feminism allow us to critically think about our society and address the inequity and inequalities that exist and prevent people from living a fulfilling life and, the reality is, Caribbean Feminists have led and been at the forefront of social and economic development and change in our region. Joan French, a Jamaican born feminist, scholar and activist, is credited with leading and, eventually winning, the fight for unmarried teachers to have maternity leave in Jamaica. Caribbean feminists successfully advocated for parliament to unanimously pass legislation to outlaw the practice of child marriage in Trinidad and Tobago in 2017! Their work ensures that the legal marriage is 18, giving young girls opportunities which were once dictated by a conservative and patriarchal law. Feminists have LITERALLY changed the world!

 

So the next time you hear something negative about feminism – think critically about it. Nothing is perfect, including feminism – but WE’re challenging you to use feminism to help you think more critically about society, systems and power. Keep tuned to our #FeminismLiteracy project!

 

Resources:

 

  1. #FeminismLiteracy Episode 1: https://youtu.be/WDAFPTHjxoI
  2. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics” by Kimberle Crenshaw https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=uclf 
  3. “Feminism Is For Everybody” by bell hooks.
  4. “Understanding Patriarchy” by bell hooks https://imaginenoborders.org/pdf/zines/UnderstandingPatriarchy.pdf 

Written by WE-Change

WE-Change is a community-based organisation committed to increasing the participation of women in social justice advocacy in Jamaica and the Caribbean. WE-Change was launched on May 15, 2015 out of a need to address and respond to the 'invisibilisation' of lesbians, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women in the LGBT rights movement in Jamaica. The organisation is women-led, women-focused and intersectional in its approach to advocacy, and guided by the outcomes of the Beijing 1995 Platform for Action.

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