My reasons for never choosing to identify as a feminist before were simple and honestly boiled down to one thing: Feminism felt like the advocacy of [white] women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to [white] men. It is important that I share that because I do not think I am alone in that feeling. A few summer’s ago I was asked to take part in a women’s leadership event on campus and I wrote to the conference organizer, I finally decided that I have to work from where I am; right now I am a woman who is a leader who does not quite understand what it means (to myself or others) to be a “woman in leadership”. I believe this lack of connection to that particular identity has to do with my racial identity. Because I rarely, if ever, refer to myself as a woman without qualifying it as being a black woman and I think the two things carry very different meanings, and often those meanings are dichotomous.
It is not that I currently disagree with myself or that my opinion has changed in that regard. I do still believe that what it means to be a Black woman and what it means to be a [White] woman are often at opposite ends of the spectrum, however what I can appreciate now is that both neither side is more liberated than the other. I had no interest in fighting alongside, speaking on behalf of, or advocating for white women. It felt like the whole world cared about white women, and I wasn’t interested in joining that club. What I can now see is the shadow side of that archetype. The [White] woman is docile, attractive*, nurturing, agreeable, emotional, nervous, weak. And what happens when they step outside of that ideal? They are annihilated. Instantly unattractive. Instantly stripped of femininity. Instantly a bitch, a lesbian, a spinster. I thought it was a blessing of sorts that Black women got to be strong, independent, assertive, and still sexual beings. However, it is simply a different cage. Because we, too, are not allowed to step out of our prescribed idea. Black women cannot cry. We cannot be vulnerable. We cannot ask for help. It is the reason why (in my experience) so many Black women secretly or not-so-secretly loathe white women. Because they are allowed to be everything we could never be. We are not even allowed to dream of becoming that, it is filtered out of us since childhood. As I’ve lived and breathed and connected with more women my understanding of feminism has changed.
For me being a feminist means I get the choice. I choose whether I am yielding or rooted, I choose whether I am emotional or stoic, I choose. And my choices are not invalidated by the society I am a part of, instead they are supported. It’s two sided. I decided who I am and in return that person is affirmed as acceptable. As it currently stands, choosing to be anything other than my given archetype of
Angry|Sexual|Aggressive|Assertive|Sassy|Independent Black Woman means I’m selling out. I’m weak. How dare I declare that I need a man, no you don’t, black woman you are STRONG and can do bad all by yourself! But Jesus…Atlas bent under the weight of the world, must my back break to prove a point to society?
I watched as my very best friend who is shaped like a cello get hit on by black man after black man before I finally asked her. Do you only date black guys? She explained to me that white men never asked her out. Then she lost weight dropping from a size 14 to a size 6 and all of a sudden here were the white guys. She did not do it for them, but as a natural consequence of movement closer to the white woman ideal (read: thin) she was closer to her archetypal prescription.
It is why one of my favorite feminists is Beyonce. Because she makes even feminist question the limits they place on the word. She’s too sexual–but that is her choice. She’s a mother–are the two mutually exclusive? She uses the word bitch and other lyrics which have been used to objectify women for years–Not in a gender specific way and she also refers to herself as a “Bitch” shall I site articles on the reclaiming of oppressive language? I don’t want to live in a cage. Within boundary lines that I did not draw and did not agree to. I do not want a man telling me what I can or cannot do with my body. I do not want to be bound by other people’s opinions of me. I do not want to feel invalid when I choose an unpopular choice. I do not want to feel obligated to assuage egos of the normative. I do not want to be seen as less than. I do not want to be anything other than me. And I want to be valued for that, 100%, not just 78. That is why I’m a feminist.
*another story for another day