It appears that there’s still some confusion as to what feminism is. And I’m getting kind of tired of it.
Among the outcry at Emma Watson’s decision to pose topless in Vanity Fair and the criticism of Wonder Woman’s lack of armpit hair (both of which deserve an in-depth discussion of their own), I’ve become increasingly weary of what may still be the public perception of feminism: do not shave your leg hair because it’s what the patriarchy wants, do not expose your décolletage because it’s what the patriarchy wants, do not take on traditional homemaker roles because it’s what the patriarchy wants etc. This notion isn’t just problematic; it is scary and also possibly quite dangerous. There’s plethora of issues facing women in society today and that’s where our focus needs to be, not on whether Emma Watson’s breasts should get her fired from the United Nations (yes, it went that far).
A quick history lesson: the first wave of feminism was borderline racist. That is to say, it was dominated by the archetypal image of white, straight, protestant Christian, able-bodied cisgender woman. Naturally, the outlook and perceptive of feminism was modelled after their image and aimed to serve their own specific needs at the time. This led to primary focus being placed on the gender aspect of women’s collective identity in their fight for equality as they did not see any other aspects worth going to the frontlines for (e.g. sexuality, race, disability etc.). Thus, there existed a movement based on abortion advocacy, contraceptive awareness and workplace discrimination.
The linear development of this original model feminism has led to widespread belief that gender is still the only aspect of women’s identities which require representation and awareness. This exclusionary practice results in various marginalised identities feeling voiceless and disempowered by the movement which claimed to liberate them.
It was second wave feminism which saw a shift in focus to include issues surrounding body politics, specifically with regard to the over-sexualization of women. In the current wake of third wave feminism, these notions are being fine-tuned and perfected in what we now deem “intersectional feminism”.
Intersectional feminism highlights the importance of recognizing that simply classifying as a woman is not the be-all and end-all of a woman’s identity – there is so much more to be acknowledged. Women may also be disabled, queer, Muslim, a person of colour etc. Moreover, we must acknowledge that there are issues unique to each demographic that the ideal First Wave Feminist would never encounter. Muslim women face constant criticism for donning hijab and black women face workplace discrimination for their choice of hairstyle. This intersectionality is the key to true societal progression, spanning every demographic in the struggle for equality.
The core principle is that the progress of women overall moves in conjunction to the progress of other marginalized groups.
Remember this: minority women will not partake in a movement which doesn’t include them. For feminists who claim to be purveyors of true social justice: broaden your concerns to include the prejudice experienced by transgender women or women of colour or any other woman who may not be receiving the recognition they deserve in a Eurocentric society. The complexities of women deserve to be celebrated and protected. And if your feminism remains exclusionary of women who do not look exactly like you, perhaps you may need to rethink your branding of “All Women”.