As a Gender and Sexuality Studies major, I can’t help but to run with circles that praise Bell Hook’s book, Feminism is for Everybody. This summer, I have a little more time on my hands than I normally do, so I have decided to read it in order to further my personal, feminist education. The truth is, as a feminist Latina, I found it incredibly refreshing to read a book about feminism by a woman of color, a woman who took acknowledged and discussed the struggles some women face, within the movement. In my discussion of feminism with people of varying ages, education levels, and across the gender and political spectrum, I have often heard people who try to divorce classism, racism, and ability from issues of feminism. The more I have become personally entrenched in the movement, I have discovered that the truth is, as Audre Lorde puts it:
“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
The personal, is political. The contingencies I face due to my identity are no more or less important than those of others. Inequality is a universal issue, and in some form, structural violence affects us all. Privilege plays a role in determining how much or how little obstacles we face in different settings, and I really appreciated the discussion of classism and racism within the feminist movement because some of the other feminist writings I have read have come from women who were white and middle class and were fortunate enough to not become marginalized within the feminist movement (at least not because of class and race).
Feminism: Self Reflection is for Everybody
In the “Consciousness Raising” chapter, hooks reflected on the idea of internalized patriarchal forces as they pertain to women. One particular quote stuck out to me:
“Without confronting internalized sexism women who picked up the feminist banner often betrayed the cause in their interactions with other women.”
This quote to me, made me more critical of my own sexist views. When I started thinking about where this discomfort stemmed from, the first thing that I looked back at, was my childhood. I am Latina, my entire family always supported me in all that I did, however patriarchal values seemed ever-present in our family gatherings (the women did domestic work, men sat at the head of the table, as the eldest granddaughter I was/am expected to serve my Abuelo his dinner when we eat with our extended family on Sunday nights, etc.) Beyond that, I’ve grown up in the United States, which remains a patriarchal society and whose media reinforces the treatment of women as “different” and “lesser” than men by dehumanizing, sexualizing and perpetuating negative stereotypes about them. That is what made me start thinking about my own actions, and how I inadvertently perpetuate the patriarchy through my sexist behavior. After all, complicity within patriarchal systems is just as harmful as the perpetuation of it through direct action!
Here’s a list of things I do (which inadvertently reinforce oppressive social structures), and reflected on why I should not partake in these behaviors:
Tying my worth to what I eat.
At first, it seems obvious that we should not tie our value to what/how/when we eat, however way too often I’ve heard and have said I was “good” because I ate healthfully all day or “bad” because I indulged in junk food. Saying those things offhandedly is harmful however, it helps to internalize the idea that what and how we eat makes us better, or worse people; when in fact, what we really mean is that it makes us better/worse at conforming to very narrow, patriarchal views of beauty.
Forgetting to ask people for their preferred pronouns.
As a feminine, cisgender woman, the way I choose to look, act and dress is stereotypical of the gender roles women are expected to fulfill. The fact that people always correctly assume my preferred gender pronouns makes me privileged. I have never been made uncomfortable by having someone use incorrect pronouns when referring to me. This privilege makes it easy for me to forget to ask other people for their pronouns, instead of assuming them. In order to become a better feminist, I must make the spaces I inhabit safe and welcoming to people of all gender identities- after all, gender equality is the goal!
Taking the gender binary for granted.
Working under the assumption that a gender binary exists, gender is discussed in terms of either male or female, which is limiting. Most writings or conversations work under this assumption by default, however the concept of the gender binary discounts people who are intersex, transgender, androgynous, gender fluid or of other identities that do not fall within the binary. The fact that this might feel like the “default”, to me and others, is a result of power dynamics and privilege that favor people who identify as either male or female. However, in order to become a better feminist, I must do a better job of acknowledging the privileged and oppressive nature of taking this binary for granted and challenge myself to think, speak and discuss gender as a fluid spectrum (with infinite, possibilities) rather than a binary (with a mere two options.)
Getting particularly jealous of other women.
One of the most anti-feminist things I’ve ever done is compare myself to other women, or vie for the attention of men and consider other women as competitors for their attention. The fact is, that jealousy might be human, however only competing against other women for promotions, dates, compliments etc. undermines any sisterhood that may have developed between myself and the other women I interact with. This jealousy also works under the assumption that I do not or cannot compete with men or anyone who identifies as anything other than male or female. The truth is, instead of becoming jealous for the accomplishments of another woman, whether personal, professional or otherwise, I should do the feminist sisterhood justice by being happy for her and considering her accomplishment as one for all women.
In what ways do you inadvertently perpetuate sexism? How can you become a better feminist and activist? Let me know!