Columns, Opinion

Bearing Witness: There’s no good or bad way to be a woman

Not a day goes by in which a woman’s appearance is not criticized. Not a day goes by where people don’t place a woman into categories of promiscuity or the opposite based off of what she wears.

Feminism is defined by Roxane Gay, the author of “Bad Feminist,” as a movement with a primary purpose of achieving equality “in all realms” between the sexes.

But not all women agree on the principles of feminism, and not all women have the same gendered experiences.

The term “intersectionality” was first coined by law professor and activist Kimberlé Crenshaw, but women have been grappling with their intersectional identities since the dawn of time. Intersectionality is a framework that identifies systems of power that interlock and impact marginalized people. Intersectionality is a term used by black feminists to explain their struggle.

In her renowned TED talk “The urgency of intersectionality,” Crenshaw asks the audience to stand, then tells people to remain standing only if they know the names of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Eric Garner. The majority of the room remained standing, as the four names were those of male victims of racialized police brutality and misconduct.

She proceeded to name Michelle Cusseaux, causing many people to sit down. “Tanisha Anderson” — more sat down. After Aura Rosser and Meagan Hockaday, only four people were left standing.

These women died the same way that the men died —  unjustly killed by police. Their names are not well known. Their names are not at the forefront of activism. But why? Intersectionality is the answer. When you combine being a woman, which is a subordinate identity to that of a man, with being black, which is a minority race, black women face a new type of oppression — one in which their struggle is often less visible, and one in which their pain is less fought for.

In efforts to bring recognition to racial violence against women by the police, Crenshaw started an initiative called #SayHerName, which not only recognizes black girls and women affected by this violence, but creates a social network of people who are all facing pain from this issue. The #SayHerName movement is essential to the black feminist movement.

What creates conflict is when the term “feminism” is taken by other women who think there is a good and bad way to be a feminist and a woman.

According to Gay, some women perpetuate essential feminism, arguing that women’s biological and psychological qualities make them equal to or superior to men. This ultimately hinders the movement. The feminist movement is so ambiguous and misrepresented in society that educated women with significant platforms for change buy into and spread essential feminism.

Gay explicitly disagrees with essential feminism’s ideals in “Bad Feminist.” According to Gay, there is no such thing as a standard woman. As each woman is unique, each woman’s human experience is unique — ultimately suggesting that feminism should account for “the complexities of human experience or individuality.”

Due to the fact that essentialism is widespread in society, any woman who does not perform its ideals correctly is deemed inferior. This idea not only widens the gap between men and women, but pins women against each other when the whole idea is to unite under equality between the sexes.

If the feminist movement is designed to help women, and we are the ones who are hindering it by constructing gender in a way that creates an inequality between women, then how do we expect men to understand?

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