When I was a lonely college freshman living with an obnoxious roommate, I bought a “feminist as fuck” shirt in the hopes of making outspoken conservatives in my various classes uncomfortable. On my campus, comprised of mostly white and upper-middle-class students, I wore it proudly and I was pleased with all the positive comments I received on the shirt. Students and faculty alike commented on my bravery and my edginess.
A couple years later as I’ve gained some more perspective on social justice and activism, I’ve realized that buying a feminist as fuck t-shirt didn’t make me more of a feminist or a better feminist. I had just fallen into the trap of virtue signaling and marketplace feminism.
When I first found feminism, I was critical of its value. I understood the importance of fighting for equality, and I had definitely experienced sexism myself, but I felt like people were just getting angry over nothing.
I mean, we’re allowed to vote now, right? There are laws saying we shouldn’t be discriminated against for being women, too… right?
Then I took a class called “Reading Politics: Gender and Sexuality.” By gender and sexuality it really meant feminist literature, which focused a lot on philosophical readings by the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft and bell hooks. I learned a LOT in that class. (Yes, we have several rights that we didn’t have before, but we have a long way to go!)
But a lot of the time we didn't talk about intersectionality enough, and I had a hard time relating. It was great that we had a couple bell hooks papers to read, but a lot was left out when I learned about the history of feminism. Where were indigenous perspectives? Asian perspectives? Trans perspectives? Differently-abled perspectives?
I also wanted to learn more specifically about sexuality, but we never talked about it. I was just beginning to understand my own queer sexuality at the time, so the fact that we never discussed it in a class labelled “Gender and Sexuality” made me feel a little left out. And when I asked any questions or didn’t understand anything, I felt shunned. I wasn't allowed to make mistakes.
This is the second installment of “Back to the Basics” a brief primer on Radical Feminism. You can read the first one “Back to the Basics: Let's Talk Patriarchy” here.
Two or Twenty?
In patriarchal, heteronormative, cis-centric Western culture, gender and sex are often used as synonyms. Many questionnaires use sex and gender interchangeably. In-utero, ultrasound technicians often use the presence or absence of a fetus’ penis to inform the parents if they’re having a “boy” or a “girl”. More often than not, our society tells us that what is in-between your legs tells us if you’re a man or a woman, boy or girl. This is absolutely not true.
Gender is a social construct of identity to manufacture and maintain control. It’s a social construct because it only exists because we make it exist. The sex/gender correlation the hegemonic West uses gives easily identifiable characteristics to biological processes that tell us how to respond and interact with other people. Through these characteristics, we create our identities and our realities.
There is nothing inherently biological about gender. Gender is an aspect of how we identify ourselves and how we want other people to identify and interacts with us.
A General Strike is for ALL Women
On March 8, International Women's Day, the Trump Resistance is organizing a general labor strike for all women, trans and non-binary folx. The strike mirrors the Women's Strike for Equality in 1970 which celebrated the 50-year-anniversary of the 19th Amendment. This is your general reminder that less than a century ago the civil liberties for the majority of the country were non-existent: women couldn't vote, black people couldn't vote, most Asian people were barred from immigrating. America's long history with ethnocentrism, sexism, racism and xenophobia wasn't really so long ago –– it never really stopped existing.
The general labor strike, currently in the works, is loosely organized through Women's March, the organization that put on Women's March on Washington, and supported by many other high profile, long-time activists like Angela Davis. Francine Prose initially called for a strike in a piece published in The Guardian (linked above). However, like most movements supporting civil rights, there has been quite a lot of confusion and criticism surrounding the strike.
Sady Doyle wrote an op-ed for Elle discussing the complexities of a general labor strike for women. Doyle ultimately calls striking a privilege of the middle to upper-class and wonders if a women's strike will be as powerful, today, because women's labor is generally, more-or-less paid. Doyle voices an issue that I'm sure other's have as well: is a women's strike really necessary, now?
So you happy Bey is pregnant? -- I am, too
In Catherine Young's article "Black Venus Rising" she highlights Beyoncé's mastery of image management. Young writes, "Here is a Black woman creating clear boundaries about how much of herself will be accessible to us and making myth of her legacy in the process. 'You get this much and nothing more' she seems to be saying. Her art exists for your consumption, but her body itself does not." Everything about this photoshoot and pregnancy announcement was intentional. Young makes an important observation, "The Image becomes transactional in nature; subject and subject rather than subject and object. She regains control of the interaction by admonishing us for our eager intrusions." This sort of agency is not something most Black women can experience because their lives are perpetually compared to white women. To take it one step further, this sort of agency is not something most women can experience because their lives are perpetually compared and formed in contrast to patriarchal norms. Young also discusses the symbolism prevalent throughout the photos: Venus and Madonna.
Adrianna Campbell's article "An Art Historian's Take on Those Beyoncé Pregnancy Photos" takes this analysis further: "Beyoncé as subject, patron, and distributor of her image speaks to her agency, and it is a staggering level of power available to few women throughout history, such as Nefertiti and Queen Elizabeth I. So it is no coincidence that in one of the photographs, a bust of Nefertiti sits on the floor facing away from Beyoncé. The accompanying text reads, “In the dream I am crowning, Osun, Nefertiti and Yemoja, pray around my bed.” All of these historical archetypes of womanhood have been inaccessible to Black women. And because of her fame, notoriety, and platform, Beyoncé is able to transcend barriers that pin motherhood and mythic-ness to whiteness.
Let me frank: I absolutely love it. Beyoncé is a genius. This critique is going to centralize on the symbolism of Beyoncé's pregnancy announcement and our response to it. It has nothing to do with Beyoncé as a person or her pregnancy announcement as a message. I'm not holding her accountable to my critique because I don't expect celebrities or anyone to be perfect. Beyoncé's pregnancy announcement only serves as a timely case study to bring attention to this perspective. I want to be able hold both Beyoncé's success as a celebrity activist and her missteps together because I think acknowledgment of both is important for any successful change. We cannot let our love for popular figures blind us to furthering our cause.
What is Patriarchy?
If you're familiar with feminism, you've undoubtably heard of The Patriarchy -- the sort of omnipresent boogieman that feminists claim to be dismantling or overthrowing. But what is it?
A patriarchy is essentially a social structure that places men in the primary position of power. This means men predominantly govern, own property and dictate moral authority. I'm not going to go into the history of patriarchy because you can do that yourself on Wikipedia. In feminist theory, patriarchy is the power structure that oppresses and enforces gender: male supremacy.
Feminism is complicated and messy and frankly really frustrating and alienating. There are so many things to know, so many perspectives and understandings. How do I know if I'm being a good feminist? What does it mean to be a feminist? How do I practice feminism in my every day life? What is the point of feminism?
I also struggle with these questions everyday. I'm continually debating definitions and perspectives and adding to my existing understanding of feminist theory.
To address some of these basic (basic meaning baseline, not easy) definitions and ideas, I'm going to start a mini series of posts called Back to the Basics. This will be the master post and I will continue to link to the posts as I publish them below.
Radical feminism holds a dear place in my heart, but often it gets characterized by others to be some kind of man-hating and trans-hating cult. I want to change that. I want to create a space and community for radical feminism outside of Tumblr, and outside of Reddit, where it has been co-opted by other activists into stereotypes and other unsavory things.
Some definitions + where I stand
At its core, feminism is about gender equality -- raising women and other underrepresented genders to a place of respect and equity in all spheres of life -- opposing patriarchal oppression. Radical feminism operates under the thought that the patriarchy is the primary source of oppression for women and other underrepresented genders. Radical feminism aims to reform or "change the roots" of sex and gender based oppression. Related to radical feminism, Marxist feminism or socialist feminism operates under the thought that female oppression is defined by economic factors in line with Marxist or other socialist ideas.
I would consider myself a Marxist radical feminist -- at some point in the future I will go into more detail about my Marxist ideology but for now: I believe in class struggle and I believe that capitalism is inherently exploitive and unjust. My brand of feminism combines aspects of both radical feminism and Marxist theory. The patriarchy and sex and gender related oppression has existed long before capitalism, but capitalism has contributed (significantly) to the subjugation of women and other underrepresented genders. Feminism has a large front line; it has battles on social, political and economic/class fronts.
A note about TERFs
TERF is an abbreviation for trans exclusionary radical feminist. TERFs or gender critical feminists do not recognize sex and gender as separate aspects of identity and therefore see trans-activism as sexism and counter-productive to feminism. Trans-women are viewed by TERFs to be imposters and not "real women." TERFs co-opt biology and dated theories about gender and sex to inform their opinions. I am not a TERF -- it is possible to be a radical feminist and still support trans-activism.
From here on out, you've been warned: I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to talk about radical feminism and other leftist ideas. Please stick around and subscribe to my email list if this is something you're interested in -- its just a low-key monthly-ish newsletter with featured content and potentially some extra goodies like podcasts. I look forward to our future conversations!
This afternoon I packed a weekend's worth of clothes, filled my car with gas, and drove to my parents' house in Richland, WA. There was a lot more snow than I expected. I was worried my car wouldn't make it up the hill after my little detour to the river -- but it was so pretty that I couldn't help going for a quick walk. I even rehearsed a phone call to my dad to ask for help if I got stuck.
Like most people, probably, with the new year upon us, I've been thinking a lot about how I want to harness the potential energy of 2017. I love this stuff. I've found potential energy is the largest source of motivation: new beginnings, new idea, new choices, new experiences. Everyone loves a fresh slate.
Like most people, probably, I also have a laundry list of things I want to finish this year. But at the top of my list, is my mental health. And rather than taking a solution-based approach, I want to take a problem-based approach. I've struggled with anxiety and depression and an eating disorder for several years now. To be honest, I don't think there was a time when I didn't have unhealthy eating patterns or high levels of general anxiety or feelings of absolute worthlessness. I could go on and on about how those have affected my life and my relationships both positively and negatively, but I'll save that for a different day.
Within the last couple of months, I've really started to make some headway in my mental health journey. I've gone from not really believing in self-compassion to accepting self-compassion but not really knowing how to properly use it. It might not sound like much, but I'm proud of myself -- it took a lot of work.
I want 2017 to be a year of intentional and mindful decisions. Instead of expecting myself to do everything, I want to successfully give myself the space to step back and trust in my judgment to maintain a decision. I test drove my intentional decision making this semester after much encouragement from my therapist. For me, school is both a stressor and a coping mechanism. Because of this, I often oscillate between thinking school is the best and school is the worst. This would manifest in my periodic inability to successfully complete assignments because of emotional problems but beat myself up later when I would get papers and assignments back with grades that I was not pleased with. This semester I tried to combat this negativity not with "it's okay!" and other forms of ineffective cheerleading but with recalling the reasons I made in the first place to put off or not finish an assignment.
Rather than the solution based resolution which would have been something along the lines of "be less of a perfectionist" or "stop beating yourself up," I want to take more of a problem-based approach to get at a behavioral issue I was routinely falling into.
2017 is going to be a year with a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, not just for me, but for our whole country and the entire world. But it also gives us the perfect opportunity for a renewal and lasting change. Let 2017 be the year to think critically and mindfully about our lives, both big and small: play devil's advocate to the op-eds you read on Facebook, read about a political point of view you're not familiar with, radically commit yourself to standing by your decisions.
Rebekah L. Markillie
a PDX based creative who enjoys reading books, contemplating the oxford comma and rolling for initiative.
What's Up Radical Feminist