What NOW | The Resistance Will Be Bold and Uncomfortable
The Resistance Will Be Bold and Uncomfortable | Shanice Brim
When reports first surfaced about a cast panel gone awry during promotion for The Handmaid’s Tale I was confused. While, I agree with Priya Nair at Bitch Media that much is to be said of Margaret Atwood’s extensive borrowing from the histories of sexual violence experienced by enslaved Black women, the subject matter of The Handmaid’s Tale (sexual violence, gender roles, the life of women under repressive regimes) is one that makes up the bulk of feminist theory and action. This is why so many of us were disappointed to hear cast member Madeline Brewer insist that the story was “just a story about a woman” and not “feminist propaganda.” This attitude is dangerous. And under this new administration which is blatantly looking to roll back the progress of feminist movement and other movements concerning marginalized groups, it’s infuriating.
The night of November 8, 2016 was a terrifying moment for many us (well, maybe not the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump.) Despite having protested and written about the deaths of Black people at the hands of police since the death of Trayvon Martin, and despite having looked on in horror as Ferguson burned, the election of Donald Trump made more real for me how much this country hates me. The days after were like something out of a fever dream. An ungodly quiet had settled over New York. I rode the train to and from work for a week and you could’ve heard a pin drop on every car I entered.
But then something happened. People started organizing. Protests and teach-ins were planned. Everyone gathered together and the word of the year became “Resist!” However, since the days of the Post-Election marches, it feels that people have reverted back to a passive “resistance” — a resistance that doesn’t make any waves and doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable. And, as we’ve seen with Pepsi and Kendall Jenner, it’s already being sold back to us. This is not the resistance I signed up for.
We have to dig deeper and we have to be braver. We are in desperate times. We are attempting to organize under a president who has admitted to sexually violating women and is running an administration that includes known white supremacists. What is happening in this country isn’t happening in a vacuum. The far-right is making big moves on both sides of the pond; in England we saw Brexit and Marie Le Pen had a plausible path to victory in France. In this historic moment it is important that we boldly proclaim our feminism. It’s also important that we think critically about our actions and the foundations of our movement to ensure that when we build campaigns and participate in feminist action we are not merely fighting for the attainment of “privileges” and “rights,” but for the attainment of justice and liberation.
In Beyoncé’s now famous single “Flawless,” Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi defines a feminist as “a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” This is all well and good but what does it actually mean? In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, bell hooks writes:
Since men are not equals in the white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to?
I ask, “What does ‘equality’ actually mean?” Is equality simply adding more women to an existing oppressive system or organization? When we say we want government parity, which parties are we talking about? Do we want equal amounts of Republican women? Who is that helpful to? When we talk about the lack of female CEOs we have to ask ourselves what it means? If we have more female CEOs of exploitative businesses is that equality? We have seen from the situation at Thinx, in which the CEO is accused of having created a fat-phobic, sexually/economically exploitative environment, that women climbing up the corporate ladder will not create a feminist utopia.
When we say feminism is about “women’s rights,” what does that mean? As a Black woman, I have a lot of “rights.” Thanks to the Voting Rights Act I technically have the right to vote, but I see my fellow Black people turned away from polls and a Republican party who consistently finds loopholes and proposes legislation to make that legal. I have the “right” to be innocent until proven guilty but I see that did not work out for Sandra Bland or Tamir Rice or Michelle Cusseaux. Asking for rights in a system that was not made with your rights in mind in the first place isn’t enough. For me, feminism is about ending systems of domination, repression, and exploitation. It requires that we be critical of the institutions we interact with.
As a Black feminist, it disheartened me at the Women’s March to see white feminists taking selfies with police officers when my heart stops every time I’m near one. It’s bizarre to me that white feminists engage with and attempt to work with police in such a manner lacking not just in intersectional thought but historical memory. Black women and girls are harassed, beaten, murdered, and sexually exploited by police and have been for years. As a Black woman, I understand that police are agents of the state and the state has no investment in me and my safety. And, quite frankly, it often is not invested in women and girls in general. In regards to domestic and sexual violence, the police have consistently failed women. Audre Lorde Project’s Safe Outside The System, Critical Resistance, and the book The Revolution Starts At Home have been influential in rethinking community reliance on police and have offered guides on how to start building the communities we want to live in. This takes a lot of hard work and research — but feminism was never supposed to be easy. We were always supposed to push and challenge ourselves, our ideas, and our assumptions.
In these next four years, we have to recommit to pushing ourselves. Our foremothers, when they began doing this work, were working together to create a world they had never seen before. My foremothers worked together to make a United States without chattel slavery, an idea that seemed impossible in their time, a reality. During the 70s, our foremothers gathered with one another to educate each other and to strategize about how to create a world in which women were free from domination. Somewhere along the way feminism, at least in the mainstream, became about funneling women into the system as it exists. We have to recommit ourselves to political education, to meeting with one another in an effort to brainstorm, and imagine new worlds. This is uncomfortable work, but in order to create change we must unlearn what society has taught us to believe about ourselves and about how the world should work.
These next four years will require that feminism become political again. It’s no longer just enough to call ourselves feminists. It’s no longer enough to put on pussy hats. It’s no longer enough to push reform. It’s time for us to dig deep. To educate and challenge ourselves. To stop name checking “intersectionality” and start allowing it to inform our work. Mainstream feminism has consistently dropped the ball with women of color, women under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, poor women, disabled women. . . We have an opportunity to rebuild this movement and make it one that can actually create revolutionary change. We can’t do that by apologizing for or watering down what we believe in. We can’t do that by using the language and narratives of feminist theory and fiction while being to afraid to speak the name feminism. And we certainly can’t do it by staying in our comfort zones.
Feminism is a major topic of discussion right now. It’s imperative that we make sure it isn’t superficial and that we are holding publications, public figures, and each other accountable about what is being done and said in the name of feminism. It’s important that this time we all be in it together even if learning what it means to be truly in solidarity means having uncomfortable conversations. We must be clear about what we want. When we say “resist” we have to mean it. Even when it’s exhausting, boring, or makes for unpleasant conversation. The resistance will not take place over a Heineken. It will be messy, friendships will be ended, family will be uninvited to dinner. But would you rather hold your tongue or be free?
Shanice Brim is a writer and community organizer in New York City. Her work has been found on Saint Heron, Philadelphia Printworks, and Blavity.