Feminism is for men too!

“So what about the men?!” Is a sentiment that plagues every contemporary feminist who is actively advocating for the dismantlement of patriarchal constructs. Typically it’s said in response to any miniscule advancement that women have made (after centuries of women being subordinated or being shut out of economic and educational opportunities) and typically said by someone who’s not paying attention. This week, WE are looking at how feminism impacts men and boys.

 

The ultimate goal of a feminist mandate is to uproot the violent system of patriarchy. In advancement of that goal, feminists have done extensive work and research to investigate social norms and to expose them for how detrimental they are for our societies, including men. It was through feminism that we started to question the notion of masculinity and how we constructed it in such a rigid fashion that created emotionally stunted men and, in worse case scenario, violence perpetrators that are incapable of resolving conflict in a healthy way. Feminism has, at the very base of it, advocated that it’s okay for men to cry. Even further, it was feminist activists that fought for men’s right to paternity leaves and for men to be more involved in the lives of their children and their domestic affairs. Now WE won’t labour on how patriarchy relegated women to the home, but WE will point out that women carry the burden of care work ( meaning they wash, cook, clean, feed the children and any elderly relatives that may reside with or is dependent on them, provide emotional support) in the home than men in addition to their income earning jobs. Through the work of feminists, the family dynamic and division of labour in the home is (slowly but surely) being shifted as more and more questions about the harmfulness of genderizing care and domestic work arose.

 

More importantly, what feminism has done is hold men accountable in a system that praises men for their wrongdoing, rather than punishing them. Now, some men view this is a threat rather than a benefit. However, by critiquing harmful behaviours perpetrated by men, feminists are setting of the next generation of men to be more self-critical and reflective in their actions and stamping out misogyny one generation at a time.

Riding the New Wave.

Social Media has become a powerful tool for activism and advocacy for marginalised groups. Both LGBTQ+ and women of colour, more specifically black women, have found strength in numbers and a community that shares their struggle. As a result, they have been able to cause a change in narratives about women and LGBTQ+ people and demand recourse and justice. Welcome to episode 7! We’re talking “New Wave Feminism”.

 

Look around you. In the news, social media, television programmes, there’s been overwhelming messages about women’s empowerment, the elevation of women into positions of power, women’s reproductive and sexual rights and, perhaps more ubiquitous, sexual harassment. This wave of feminism focuses on these particular topics but enlists the use of media to push these ideas with a particular goal in mind: justice for women. Women holding people who abuse power accountable as well as demanding tangible redress for this abuse. 

 

As mentioned in the episode, a prominent feature of this wave of feminism is the use of hashtags as an avenue for storytelling, experience sharing and way of demonstrating how exactly long standing systems of oppression affect women’s daily lives. #MeToo, #LifeInLeggings, #SayTheirNames and #YouOkaySis (to name a few) were hashtags used to bring awareness around sexual harassment (including street harassment) but also as a way of demanding justice, starting conversations about bodily autonomy and the tenets of patriarchy that allow men to get away with harassment. Under new wave feminism, digital media has been harnessed and shaped to be a field in which this generation of feminists ideate – basically taking school out of the classroom. 

 

Also important to new wave feminism is the insistence and re-energization of intersectionality as a way of critiquing. While not new (as you would have noticed from previous episodes), intersectionality has seen an uptick in usage throughout this wave.

 

Like its predecessors, new wave isn’t without its fair share of critique. It has been criticised for being “slacktivism” which is to say that it exists only in the virtual world as the users who are active online don’t exercise this activism in the real world. Others have blamed it for not having much teeth as it tends to “villainize” individuals rather than conceptualising solutions for overarching systems. It has also been labeled as a predominantly Western and global north iteration that hasn’t created space for the global south.

 

What do you think about new wave feminism? Has it been useful? Does it need improvement? Share with us! 

 

Our next episode will look at how feminism helps/impacts men and boys.

WE at the Intersection

If you’ve been following our #FeministLiteracy series (and if you haven’t…what are you doing with your life?) and the work that WE-Change has done over the years, the word “intersectionality” should feel like home: familiar. If you don’t have the pleasure of knowing us for that long, stay tuned as we take a dive into what intersectionality is and how WE have incorporated it into our advocacy and activism.

 

When Kimberlé Crenshaw enlisted the term, her point of reference was how gender, race and class discrimination overlap for African-American women, shaping their experience before the law. Subsequently, the term became a powerful method of qualitative analysis of how multiple systems of oppression (sexism, racism, homophobia, etc) work in tandem to prevent Black Women from receiving equal opportunities or access to quality education, housing, medical care, you name it. And though the context in which Crenshaw framed her theory is America, this analysis is extremely applicable to Caribbean women and that’s why WE use it to inform how WE design our programmes and go about our advocacy work. 

 

One of our staple programmes, the Social and Economic Justice programme, was designed based on our understanding of the position in society that queer women occupy that not only shuts them out of economic opportunities, but relegates them social outcasts. Unaccepted. With this in mind, the programme equipped women with information on the ways in which women are economically disadvantaged, unpaid care work but also built the capacity of lesbian, bisexual and trans women to actively participate in advocacy. 

 

In more recent years it has been associated with existing in multiple social groups and how they work together to construct your identity (for example, Jane is a Black Caribbean trans woman who lives in an inner-city community). But it does go beyond identities or a way to describe multiple identities. Intersectionality allowed Black women to describe how distinctly different their experiences were from White women – who, though they shared the experience of being discriminated based on gender, still had white privilege.

 

WE hope this was useful in understanding the concept of “intersectionality” (and so will use it correctly in the future lol). Next week WE’ll be at it again talking about Feminism vs Womanism! 

For resources, take a look at the ones linked in our very first blog post in the series: What is Feminism?

We’re Not New to This: Caribbean Feminism

For many, “da feminist ting deh” occupies a space on the long list of imported goods and services that wash our pristine shores every day or another aspect of American culture that we mindlessly took on. It’s something unnatural. Not original. A thing “undermining women” and a “threat to civilization”. 

WRONG. 

We explore this in this week’s episode 4 of our feminism literacy project. 

Caribbean women have been practicing Feminism through bodily autonomy, creating spaces for themselves to critique their living and labour conditions and lobbying for greater economic opportunities for centuries. When they weren’t manifesting Feminist praxis, they were theorizing about their life experiences and those of their foremothers, analysing them through Caribbean lenses and locating these analyses in the Caribbean reality. This documentation has lead to the creation of Caribbean Feminism as a valid scholarship and mode of analysis and legitimised the narratives of Caribbean womanhood. Before 1974, the lives of women were effectively erased from the annals of Jamaican history. Dem neva exist. Their work on slave plantations, their lives, experiences and, importantly, their contribution to revolution and liberation were undocumented and excised. But one woman, Lucille Mathurin Mair, wrote her dissertation (now the book “A Historical Study of Women in Jamaica, 1655-1844), which was in and of itself a revolutionary undertaking. Mair’s seminal study characterized Jamaican women as audacious and gave the world its first insight into their daily lives. From her research and writings, we discovered that Jamaican women were natural insurrectionists and developed their own particular styles of resistance. It served as a springboard for wider research into the lives of enslaved Caribbean women which further introduced us to terms like gynecological resistance (*cough*abortions*cough). 

 

Mair inspired a host of Caribbean women scholars in several fields (Economics, Sociology, History, Development, you name it), to critically look at the lives of women and the systems that need to be changed in order for them to more than thrive but to survive. Women like Judith Wedderburn who, as co-founder of the Association of Development Agencies and economist, was able to deconstruct Jamaica’s debt to the International Monetary Fund to demonstrate the disproportionate impact it had on women and their livelihoods. Remember Tambourine Army? The militant group of women and survivors who took to the streets to protest against violence towards women and the sexual abuse of girls? This movement was a result of the Feminist ancestral energy within us and groundwork that had been laid centuries before us.

So, Feminism in the Caribbean is neither new nor foreign. It has existed in practice for centuries and in theory for decades. WE-Change is a proud product and beneficiary of the Caribbean Feminism. And WE a go keep mek noise and keep mek trouble.

Join us next week as we take a dive into “Intersectional Feminism”. What is it and why we need it? 

Resources:

  1. The Relevance of Black Feminist Scholariship: a Caribbean Perspective https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B748GowCTH2meGtsXzBvZlAxc1E/view?usp=sharing 
  2. Class, Colour and Contraception: The Politics of Birth Control, 1938-1967 https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VuUNyZM3uc-TDSY8td-vllGAQU9F0TkJ/view?usp=sharing 
  3. Homegrown Feminism in the Caribbean https://www.telesurenglish.net/opinion/Homegrown-Feminism-in-the-Caribbean-20160920-0004.html 

Busting Myths

If you want to see some of the spiciest hot takes (Translation: uninformed opinions) and the most vitriolic commentaries on the internet, open Twitter dot com and search for “feminists”. Going as far back as 2010 in the digital space, the amplification of hate towards feminist identified people became more insidious. “Bitter”, “man-hating” (you may also notice that the insults have remained woefully…bland), “lonely”, “ugly” are some of the more common descriptors that are levelled not just at feminists, but at the very nature of Feminism and what it was founded on. With the digital space’s virality and penchant for giving a voice to the loudest empty barrels, these particular assumptions manage to remain tethered and synonymous to Feminism. Episode three of the #FeminismLiteracy Series is tackling these myths and assumptions in an attempt to lay them to rest…or at the very least to educate on their fallacy. This blog post, however, instead of looking at the “not all”, will explore the why. Why do these myths and assumptions exist and why do they prevail?

With that said, here are three reasons why these myths and assumptions have managed to find their way to freedom and STAYED:

 

1. DERAILMENT

 Think of hecklers. Hecklers are known for their disruptive and interruptive behaviour during performances, events, sporting matches, you name it. At their core, they exist to draw attention away from whatever is being centred by using disparaging comments to either spotlight themselves or cause others to question the message, authenticity or credibility of the performer. When hecklers of Feminism and feminists call women/non-binary people “bitter”, “lonely” or “man-hating lesbians”, it is often in an attempt to magnify what they deem as a personal failing to partner with men, in a society that values cisgender heterosexual romantic pairings. If they can prove that the women who espouse Feminism are “undesirable” and have not conformed to what is the cornerstone of our society (🤮), then the message gets discredited and the focus is shifted towards the personal life of the individual feminist.

 

2. FEAR OF LOSING POWER.

WE’ve mentioned before that a major component of Feminism is to critique systems of power and that includes the people who hold them up. In a society built on hierarchies with people who are invested in maintaining them or aspire to climb their way to the top, a concept like Feminism that calls for its complete destruction incites fear. It’s why men, in particular, are the most vocal detractors. Under Patriarchy, men have and stand to benefit the MOST from it and this is especially true if they’re cisgender, heterosexual, white and from the Global North (think of America, Canada and Western Europe). Promoting and spreading assumptions ensures that their position at the peak of the social, political and economic pyramid remains unchallenged.

 

3. PLAIN OLD IGNORANCE.

People do not like to read. That’s it. That’s the explanation. 🤷🏾‍♀️

 

Next week WE take this closer to home! We trace the development of Feminism in the Caribbean, looking at the ways in which Caribbean women have moved women and their needs from margin to center!

 

Feminisms: A Suh Much?

Fun fact! There are about 10 different types of onions that exist in the culinary world. True story! There are sweet onions, red onions, shallots and Spanish onions, each of which adds their own distinct flavours, smells and taste to a dish. Each one very different from the other but having the same function. And much like onions, Feminism, as a discipline, theory and school of thought, has several different branches. This week, WE want to expose you to the types of Feminism that have existed throughout time. 

 

Under the Feminism umbrella, there are several iterations that propose varying responses, solutions and perspectives to the problem that is women’s oppression. In episode two, WE described the more well-known types which are Liberal, Radical, Marxist/Socialist, Black, Eco, New Wave and Caribbean. “You see why you can’t trust this feminiblahblah? Look oomuch kinds deh deh (Look how many there are). Yuh nuh see dem confuse (Don’t you see that they’re confused)?” 

 

Nah.

 

 

The thing is, the different kinds of Feminisms were birthed at unique periods of time as a response to the very particular needs and desires of the women in that era and the discrimination they faced. However, as new knowledge and more critical analyses of women’s lived experiences and the structures (the social, political and economic circumstances/barriers) that prevent them from living, well, their best lives, occurred…a newer, more fitting perspective had to be conceptualised. For example, Black Feminism was created to address the cross-cutting discrimination that African-American women faced by including race as politics in the mix. It was a revolutionary and critical move for Black women who could not find a community among White feminists (*cough*White Feminism*cough*) or Black men who were political activists during the Civil Rights Movement. In the same breath, Caribbean feminists (And feminists from other Global South or formerly colonised nations) had to carve out space for themselves within Feminism to accurately represent their realities. For us, geopolitics, globalization and the impact of colonialism are significant when discussing the unique experiences of Caribbean women and their ability to navigate their home countries and the world. 

So…no. Feminism as theory, politics and discipline is not cOnFuSeD. What it has done, specifically Black and Caribbean Feminism (WE make no apologies about where WE fall), is allowed us space and a base for which to constantly critique institutions, even the different Feminist leanings, and to constantly insert ourselves and our communities into the conversation. Marxist Feminists asked us to look beyond the individualism promoted by Liberal Feminists toward women’s labour under a capitalist structure. Black Feminists asked us to critique our societies through race, gender, class and sexuality lenses and Caribbean and Global South Feminists asked us to include colonialism and globalization inna the pot!

Stay with us where next week WE tackle the myths around Feminism!

 

 Resources:

 

  1. For a quick read: http://www.gender.cawater-info.net/knowledge_base/rubricator/feminism_e.htm
  2. For a deeper read: “The Variety of Feminism and their Contribution to Gender Equality” http://oops.uni-oldenburg.de/1269/1/ur97.pdf
  3. Defining Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins http://www.feministezine.com/feminist/modern/Defining-Black-Feminist-Thought.html

 

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