Feminism: The Not-So-Universal

Feminism– it’s a hard thing to define really. It’s something that perhaps doesn’t have a definitive definition per se, yet ideologically it does allude a somewhat universal commonality, and that simply is female equality on the basis of the sexes.

For some women it’s about pay equality and glass ceilings, sexism and patriarchy, others reproductive rights and choices, or even man-hating, sexuality, vaginas, and other trivial subjects. And that’s exactly what the problem is, there isn’t necessarily a universal united movement. It’s exclusionary and often oppressive.

While the diversity of feminist interests and approaches provide an epistemic value of pluralism, often such diversity also has it’s dark and underlying parochial side. So, how does this divide women and tamper on a strengthened commonality of shared resistance?

These pluralistic definitions and approaches divide women geographically, ideologically, culturally, and racially through continued unconscious subalternisation. In other words, you have the marginalised woman who has a voice, who has access to social activism through capital, digital media and presence, and who has a particular agenda; then you have the marginalised woman with no voice, no privileges or capital both intellectually or institutionally, and who is spoken for, yet more often than not forgotten.

I recently read a column in The Conversation, by David Redmon about the dark side of Mardis Gras beads and production processes of which entail the exploitation of teenage Chinese women who work inhumane hours under exploitive conditions. It’s these kinds of instances where new age dialogues of feminism in the West tend to lack a universal reciprocity that often mutes women in the global periphery. On one hand you have the Beyoncé, Lena Dunham feminists who glorify, capitalise and empower themselves with sexuality and seriousness in one exclusionary reality. And yet, across the globe you have the subaltern woman who is forced into exploitive productive labor, probably sitting in her own urine. She has no choice– either that, or flaunting and capitalising on her sexuality but without the glory, without the empowerment, and as for the the seriousness, well, there is nothing serious about it other than she as a woman is being exploited in every unthinkable manner possible. The point here is not to be dogmatic or to bash this ‘privileged’ feminist, she is part of the intersectionality of dialogues, and more importantly her choice enables her a means of sexual liberation– uninhibited, free. However, the point is the power of choice and what such power one woman holds dominion over the other. If she encounters such power, how can she orientate herself, equally so, when the subaltern woman cannot. Such disparity needs to find a space where each woman, and everyone in between, has a more equal choice in her agenda, and what comes from that becomes universal.

For instance in 2016, Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M launched a so-called feminist campaign, however this was simply an offbeat, faux-empowering marketing tactic for first world women. Yes, it did include body hair, afros, bald heads, full-sized figures, transwomen, women of color, bad manners, muscles, age, liberation, and lesbians. You’re probably wondering what the problem is. Yet again we have forgotten the subaltern woman, the woman on the periphery of the globe with no capital, no fashion, no liberation, and no voice. She is the woman who is exploited by the very companies that export cheap labor, cheap textiles and continue to reproduce the very oppression that she, the forgotten woman suffers. Campaigns like this do not speak for that woman, her injustices and suffering remain hidden. See we exist in two different worlds where the new age Western feminist is sick of catcalling, perverts and not being able to free the nipple without it being sexualised (and probably closing the gender pay gap). While the subaltern woman is fighting for her life, dreaming of an education and wishing of a world where maybe she doesn’t feel as if her body has betrayed her, a body free from ownership. While neither is more important than the other, one woman holds more power for resistance than the other, so why can’t she be the advocate, be the universal for the woman who is silenced?

Here is the intersection of the not-so-universal movement of feminism, which is indeed exclusionary and insensibly separatist.

While armpit hair, nipples, birth-control, opinions, power, and sexuality are the fight for the Western modern woman; education, empowerment, individualism, safety, justice, and voice are the fight for the subaltern woman. So what does equality mean? Can we unite?