Feminists Get A Lot Right — Let’s Celebrate That

I’d like to take this moment to do some cheerleading.

Feminists take a lot of shit.

In this era of real-time social media, think pieces, and call-out culture, feminists cannot escape public critique — including from within the feminism community. And often, this critique is necessary.

I’m not talking about the outcry from those who still argue that feminists need to stop whining about the wage gap and shave their armpits — that kind of misinformation is not our fault, and I’d rather not waste energy screaming at those folks. I’m talking about criticism from other feminists and people who are concerned about how feminist activism often misses the mark when it comes to intersectionality.

Critique helps us learn about the types of oppression that affect our peers; the more we get woke, the more we understand just how fucked up our society is and how deeply rooted oppression is in our institutions. It’s often imperative that we look within our own community to point out forms of oppression that have been overlooked.

The analysis on how the Women’s March could have been more inclusive of trans people, disabled people, people of color, and others, for instance, teaches us how to further the intersectionality in our feminism. This is nothing short of vital.

Yet, despite the necessity of the constant picking apart of feminism, it’s often hard to find the positive. We have to sift through loads of videos from MRAs and TERFs, misguided articles praising White Feminism, and critical, not-well-thought-out think pieces in order to find positive messages about our movements. We rarely discuss what feminists are doing well.

Yes, intersectional feminism thrives on criticism — but we can’t also let that criticism be our downfall.

If problems come to seem insurmountable — and if we lose sight of the fact that intersectional feminism has fostered much-needed progress, even as it still needs to evolve — we may lose hope and give up on any attempt at seeking change.

We cannot afford to throw in the towel. Undoing the destruction oppression has caused in our society requires maximum effort.

We cannot afford to throw in the towel.

So while we analyze and reevaluate our feminist politics, we must also encourage and assure one another that there is hope for real change, while remembering to lift each other up. We must take moments to appreciate our successes and our growth; to champion one another another so we can stay motivated in this fight.

As a proud black asexual feminist who’s been in feminist spaces for about five years and tries my best to keep up with current social justice conversations, I’d like to cheerlead for a minute and celebrate a few things I’ve noticed that feminists are doing right.

We Foster Important Conversations

Every time I visit a feminist website or vlog, I learn something new about privilege and oppression that I hadn’t previously thought about. Many feminist sites are consistently publishing more information about body positivity, mental health, subtle racism in public spaces, transmisogyny, and much more.

Content from feminist writers are shared on social media a thousand times over. The conversations continue within Facebook groups, Twitter threads, subReddits, Tumblr posts, and beyond.

This info is brought up at dinnertime family discussions, on break in workplaces, amongst friends, and in college classrooms. These conversations educate, debunk harmful myths and stereotypes, change opinions, help marginalized people unravel their internalized oppression, and incite political action. These conversations are the building blocks of individual and societal change.

We Call For Systemic Change

Feminist predecessors aimed to take down the patriarchy. Many of us today fight the kyriarchy, the system of oppression where all types of oppression, including ableism, racism, sexism, and all other negative -isms, intersect.

Many opponents of feminist agendas don’t understand that we need systemic change — they think that having a black president and a woman candidate for a major party, or the closing of Riker’s Island, show signs of progress.

They do — but feminists and other activists understand that our battle isn’t solely with random sexist and racist situations, but with institutional oppression. We know that minorities in the presidential seat and the closing of one jail complex do not end workplace discrimination or undo the damaging effects of mass incarceration.

When it comes to oppression, we’ve learned to dig deep. We’ve learned to seek out and attempt to dismantle the roots of the systems that allow injustice to thrive in our society’s laws, workplaces, prisons, and public spaces.

When it comes to oppression, we’ve learned to dig deep.

We may celebrate the little victories, but we also know that we have to roll up our sleeves and get right back to work.

I witnessed this first hand interning at the Feminist Majority Foundation, a national research and action organization that seeks to empower women. I wouldn’t call it the most intersectional organization. However, I did notice that their approach targets issues on many fronts. The organization educates voters during local and national elections, works with college campus ambassadors and youth groups to educate younger audiences, and spreads the word about legislation that restricts access to birth control, emergency contraceptives, abortion, and sex education.

Feminist organizations like the Feminist Majority Foundation have many moving parts to confront various systems of oppression. This is commendable; this is progress.

We Fight Amongst Ourselves

Every time I see a feminist criticizing other feminists, someone responds, “Why are we tearing our fellow feminists down? We should be fighting actual enemies, not one another.”

What these feminists, who are often cisgender white women (yeah, I’m pointing fingers), don’t realize is that sometimes we are our own enemies. Sometimes our enemies are the ones defending their fellow feminist’s oppressive behavior.

We cannot revere feminism like it’s a magical unicorn impervious to human bias. Feminism is practiced by imperfect people who sometimes do oppressive things.

This infighting isn’t a petty cat fight. Our disagreement is needed for us to hold one another accountable. We have to remind our fellow feminists when their privilege is standing in the way of someone else’s liberation.

We must debate one another because those critiques further conversations on how we can be more inclusive. Without infighting, feminism would remain with those who have the most privilege and fail to uplift those who need feminism the most.

We Support Loads Of Issues

Though the 101 definition of feminism points to gender equality, feminism has branched out from that limiting description.

Many feminist spaces also discuss race, religion, disability, body positivity, culture, mental illness, gender, sexuality, economics, relationships, and more. If there’s injustice somewhere in our society, we’re trying to do something about it.

Now, that’s not to say that feminist movements are completely intersectional and inclusive. There’s still a lot more work we need to put in to make sure all marginalized groups have a seat at the table.

Additionally, some feminists haven’t quite jumped on the intersectional bandwagon. Some are still riding the wave that focuses on the concerns of middle-class, cisgender, abled white women.

To those women, I’d like to remind them of a famous line from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.”

In other words, you ladies can’t get free unless we’re all free. If you’re still arguing that feminist movements need to focus on your particular needs before they address the oppression of others, you’re supporting a system of oppression that will eventually lead to your demise. A lot of Trump supporters have already learned that lesson the hard way.

You ladies can’t get free unless we’re all free.

Thankfully, this need for intersectionality isn’t news to many social justice seekers. Intersectional feminist publications do their part in shining light on these many issues. Websites like this one, The Body Is Not Apology, Everyday Feminism, Bitch, Autostraddle, Black Girl Dangerous, and countless others do this by amplifying identities that were historically marginalized in the mainstream feminist movement and in the current media industry. In centering the voices of disabled people, queer people, people of color, and others who are often left out of activist spaces, feminists gain further insight into how feminism can be more inclusive.

We’re Not Afraid To Embrace Our Labels

We embrace “feminism” despite the fact that the word has been dragged through the mud for generations.

Folks ask us why we don’t abandon the word “feminism” for something that sounds more “progressive” or “inclusive,” like “humanism.” Anything but “feminism.”

But feminists have continued to claim the label. Likely this is because we know that humanism is already a thing, and that no matter the name, people will throw dirt on this fight and make it out to be something evil.

Feminism has a legacy that is both flawed and fantastic. Because of its flaws, some women of color embraced alternative labels such as Womanism. Those who branched out created ideologies that sought to empower those who were often left out of mainstream feminist movements, and they also called for those mainstream feminists to level up their feminism to make sure it catered to more than the just white women.

In addition to these feminist labels, we also embrace our individual labels. We introduce ourselves using our identities, such as black, asexual, queer, fat, and neurodivergent, which might not always be embraced in our society. Using these labels, we let everyone know where we’re coming from, acknowledge the ways we face privilege and oppression, and celebrate our individuality. Many of us even claim these labels as a way to fight for equality and better treatment of our marginalized identities.

Of course, feminists are not a monolith. Some of us are better at doing these things than others. And I cannot emphasize enough that there are many things that feminists, individually and collectively, need to do better.

But in these current times — the era of #45 — the work we’re doing in intersectional feminist activism is imperative. And that’s worth remembering.

So feminist friends, I’m rooting for you. I appreciate you. Keep doing the work.