Today, on the occasion of International Women's Day, women around the world are demanding to be heard. Born of the same galvanizing spirit from the Women's March on Washington, organizers Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez are spearheading "A Day Without A Woman" strike. Its purpose is to emphasize "the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system — while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity."
While this is a poignant and necessary act of resistance, there are women who don't have the privilege of opting out of their daily responsibilities. But there remain multiple pathways to dismantling patriarchy, advocating for gender justice, and establishing true equality for women. Which is to say: it's imperative that we honor the voices and contributions of women at all intersections of feminism.
Below, women of The FADER explain how we can do this through our work, our lives, and what we still have to learn.
From my past experience working in feminist activist spaces, I think the first thing people can work on is how they cope with feelings of shame. We are bound to feel shameful when people tell us we have been doing things that are hurting them. I've felt shame when I learned that certain words I had been using about groups of people were actually harmful. It's inevitable, because we can have the best intentions and still do fucked up things. Working on ourselves internally, specifically figuring out what to do when we feel shame, is crucial. Feeling shame can either make us defensive, and make us center ourselves, or it can force us to action, TO DO BETTER, and focus on practicing intersectionality instead of using it as a buzzword.
When I was working with an "intersectional" feminist activist group in Philly, I spent hours, days, weeks tediously teaching white women every single thing there was to know about my experiences as a black Latina woman. I patiently carried them through the history of the white feminist movement, and how it excluded people like me. I would gently guide them through their wrongdoings when they would center themselves in conversations about women of color, or when they would "accidentally" silence marginalized women. I did a lot of work to create a "safe" space that was never safe for me. White women have historically, in my life, required a lot of emotional labor to deal with. Figuring out how to manage their feelings, how to guide them through their shame. White women need to pick up this work.
The more privilege you have, the more you need to listen, and the more you need to pass the mic. Personal development is really overlooked, in my opinion. People can easily join a movement, or say they want to help, but end up putting a lot of weight on marginalized groups just by being inconsiderate or self-centered. Knowing how to be a part of a group, and be helpful, are skills that take a lot of personal growth.
People not only need to donate their time, they need to donate their resources. Giving to people directly is HELPFUL. Sometimes I get stopped in the street by white people that want me to donate to organizations owned by white people just to give back to my own community. Oftentimes, money touches many hands before the crumbs of it reaches the people who need it most. Give people what they need, directly, when you can.
Yesterday, I questioned if there was anything that I could actually strike today. What I knew for sure was that as a black woman, when I walked outside the world wasn’t going to cut me any slack. Most of what I hold on to is a part of my survival. I think about women like my mother, who is disabled with Multiple Sclerosis, and all that she has gracefully endured and given up without a choice. I’ve watched her be fearlessly brazen and unabashed because everyday she has to resist being silenced.
Listening is so important! If there’s a certain group of people who feel uncomfortable, frustrated, or upset about a situation — hear their words and honor them. I’m always thinking about about how to tell and explore the narratives of women of color and the marginalized. Before I pitch an idea, I make sure I ask myself, Am I the right person to tell this story? It’s a blessing to be in a position to amplify the voices of other women in my work, but those women should also be in positions to be in control of their narratives. This is also true in spaces of action and organizing where privileged women should not be the only faces at the forefront. Feminism is not the same for all of women. It’s a revolutionary, sometimes life-threatening act for a lot of us, not a selective privilege.
To really uphold true feminism, a person must be ready and willing to step up and understand its intersections. It’s not enough for me to advocate for trans women in conversations and articles — I need to be more informed.
I didn’t go to the Women’s March in January, because I didn't feel solidarity with thousands of women who rarely show up for me. Feminism is not only marching side-by-side with other women just because you want to protect your birth control (although reproductive rights are super important). If the privileged woman wants to better understand her privilege then it’s up to her to do the work and apply it. Check yourself, your friends, and your family.
A couple of years into my freelance career, when the vast majority of writing I was doing was still frustratingly for free, I took a non-music full-time job to pay the rent. While in some ways it felt like I was moving backwards, the outsider vantage point allowed me to spot a disquieting pattern: almost all of my interviews and features were with men. Dance music is without a doubt overrun with music made by men, but still, I knew I was fucking up. And the industry was very down with me fucking up. Mediocre releases from men are so often offered up by labels and PRs on a silver platter, while, conversely, you have to really want to seek out music from pioneering women. As a writer, this is the work I needed to be doing.
Later, as an editor, I learned something new: white cis men will pitch and pitch and pitch. And then pitch some more. At first, it was hard to say no: there they were in my inbox, with their reputable links and promises of a quick turnaround. Pitches from women were fewer and far between — and disproportionately from white women — and there were often less clippings to go with them. But to work at a publication that covers a broad range of music of largely black origin and an ever-expanding selection of art, culture, and politics — which, if you take a long hard look at the landscape, is just about every publication and website out there — requires a multitude of voices. And, more often than not, a substantial amount of time and effort is necessary to seek those voices out, invest in them, and believe in them. It is not enough to lean on "experience" excuses when hiring writers: the balance will never tally if women of every background are not given the chance to earn the experience — and money — that men often believe they are due. It takes work to see and unpick the often subconscious and layered ways in which the patriarchy, racism, homophobia, and transphobia worm their way into decision-making, and into language. And that’s work I need to remind myself to do everyday.
One of the best lessons in intersectionality was given to me by my former editor, Rawiya Kameir. "Who do you mean by 'we'?" she politely typed into the comments on my Google Doc more than once. As a cis white middle-class British woman, what did I mean by "we"? The "inclusive" pronoun is not so inclusive when it's coming from just one limited perspective; I was assuming too much and flattening experience without even thinking about it. Without even thinking about it. This is the work I need to be doing more of: listening and learning.
I became a storyteller because in those moments where I felt and feel alone, neglected, and silenced, the stories of others were that beacon I looked to, as a reminder that there are other queer brown women and femmes in the world going through similar things. I view my writing as an act of service to those who are being ignored or silenced — to bring their stories visibility. And as a lover and friend, it is my service to those who are dear to me to support them in their endeavors and to create those networks that we need so desperately — when the system fails us, women and femmes of color must look to each other to find ways to survive.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it’s really important to be free. I think that women and femmes of color are often fighting against being boxed in — so I actively work to affirm myself and those around me in their existence. For many, merely existing is a radical act in itself. Dismantling patriarchy is certainly work that will span over the course of several lifetimes. I always remind myself that the learning and unlearning never stops. It’s important for women and femmes to honor and listen to one another when dealing with these sensitive conversations about privilege and oppression, and acknowledge that the work that we’re doing is extremely messy and certainly not easy. You will be humbled, you will be called out, your perspectives will shift. I also believe that it is so important to continue to unlearn the capitalist notions of scarcity and competition — our liberation is intertwined, and resources are to be shared. We must collaborate.
In professional contexts, one thing I often do is ask myself whether I'm the right person to take up space or speak on certain ideas. I think we're conditioned to be hyper-ambitious — and as a brown immigrant I really feel this — but I do believe it's possible to balance career aspirations with a functional, truly holistic feminist and anti-racist practice. That being said, as I've spent more time in the working world, I've realized that the end of my personal ambition isn't rooted in a specific title or public-facing status, but in being able to provide space and support for other young women to feel empowered professionally and financially. I do think that as ideas like feminism and intersectionality become "sexier," (i.e. gain social currency) the thankless work becomes even more important — right now, I'm tired of seeing people claim intersectionality and use terms like 'woke' to propel a personal brand on the back of true, heart-to-heart anti-oppression work.
Personally, I need to do more around understanding transgenderism. And in the past couple of years I've realized that the best work I can do is help disperse decolonized ideas in my own community/communities: that means pushing back on homophobia, anti-black and anti-Indigenous racism, shadeism, Islamophobia — all products of colonization — amongst other young people, and particularly South Asian millennials.
When I talked to OG abortion rights activist Eleanor Smeal back in January, she said, "It doesn’t matter your age — young, old, what your race is, we’re all in this together. They’re coming after us!" Add gender identity, physical ability, and religion to that list and it's spot on. They are coming after us. Corny as it sounds, sisterhood has always been a powerful tool, and I truly believe with all of my soul that it has been and will be our only hope.
Women in general are excellent at a lot of things, chief among them, I have found (in my straight, white, cisgender 26 years), is the ability to really listen to what other people are saying. When I go to work every day I am stunned at how lucky I am to be surrounded by so many undaunted women with great sets of ears. And I think that's what most of the people who got us into this mess (and have been for decades) don't do very well: listen (yes, I'm talking to you, white men, specifically of the gerrymandering GOP variety). That's why they fail at their jobs, and have, basically, failed planet earth. The main reason I'm not completely and utterly fatalistic right now is because I believe in the potential of an intersectional women's movement. That's the only way. Divided we fall, as they say. And we're seeing it right now before us, in the shape of the Women's March and the Day Without Women — problematic as they may be, I see real discussion happening between women about how to address issues of race and gender identity. The conversation must continue.