Feminist want equally, but what does equal mean?
Written by: Ayesha Go | Photos by: Colin Pieters
Feminist. An invisible tattoo branded on select groups of women. Bold and prominently displayed on their body, but one I've become custom to hiding. As a young woman of color who is trying to figure out, and in some cases not figure out, the world, the word feminist has always an uncomfortable one because of its complexities and multi-meaning said to crusade for the same issues. My discomfort for the word isn't rooted in a deep, profound way like not wanting to live life without labels and not feel forced into the confines and borders of a title. More so the discomfort comes from the hypocrisy of the word: feminist has never meant equality from my experience.
While I may feel a disconnect between me and the 'F' word, it's hard for me to admit since my best friend (Beyoncé) has proudly waved the flag while giving hope to women and being an example of a triumph, dedication, and success despite limitations and constant criticism. A beautiful example of a feminist.
When I began my first year of undergrad in 2008, my freshman year was my first encounter with the 'F' word. I had been accepted at New Jersey's state college, which wasn't my first choice but soon learned to make it a place I would call home, and a spot at the women's college within the university. Like many universities, there are sub-colleges and departments with a focus on a specific subject matter. Mine was the women's college. Not sure how I got accepted as it wasn't an interest of mine, but I received a scholarship and figured it was worth a try. How bad could it be living in a dorm with all women, learning about women's studies, and being taught by women.
Part of the requirement of being a student at the women's college was to take a mandatory course on women studies. I can't remember much of the class nor what the concept behind it was, but I do know I didn't like going and would come to class late because it's wasn't a priority for me. I thought I would be learning about the magical power of women and what it meant to demand equality, instead what I found was a class that talked about nothing that resonated with me and bashed men. I couldn't understand how a college that was supposed to be progressive and wanted equality among sexes could in the same breath talk about men not being able to be nurses because it's weird. I found the class doing the same thing men had done to women for years but reversed. I was seeing reverse sexism that wasn't looking for eqauality but rather finger pointing and shaming being wrapped in a bow and called feminism. I didn't want anything to do with it nor any association. During that first year, I was so traumatized and disinterested in all the feminist ways that I always stayed at my friends' dorm for the entire academic year: I would rather sleep on the floor of someone's room than in a bed I was paying for. In addition to the male bashing and reverse sexism, my roommate, who I think also waved the feminist flag, was an undercover sex-driven, hypocritical boy-crazed Christian that didn't make my time at the college any better.
After my first year, I moved to a different campus, although I did return two years later because of a shortage of housing options, and didn't attend any other events the college offered. I was done with feminism.
Since 2009, anytime the word feminist came up I was ready to dodge it. I knew men were treated differently than women, just as I knew white women and black women weren't always treated equal. I wasn't ready to get behind a concept just because I was a woman. How can we combat the discrimination between men and women? How could white and black women learn about each other's experiences to get a glimpse into the other side? How could we learn what was important to each other? What about Muslim women and their experience? We're so quick to say because of the way they dress they're oppressed, but we haven't discussed the other side of this where women willing wear traditional clothing to cover themselves and take pride in it. The hijab, burka, etc., shouldn't automatically be deemed oppressive if we haven't had those discussions with the women behind the veil.
Another reason I couldn't connect with feminism is my love for Hip Hop. Hip Hop has been a part of my life for as long as I know: my mother has a recording of me singing Naughty by Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray" at the age of 4. I can remember moving to Jersey and blasting California Love in the house cause I was so proud of being from Cali. I remember the pride I took in memorizing songs and being able to recite them word for word: the day I memorized Biggie's verse in Notorious Thugs is one of my favorite accomplishments.
The package of feminism made me feel like I could no longer listen to the music that shaped me, taught me, and impacted my life more than a course at college. The artform had been in my life long before a nicely crafted, well-photographed college brochure was in my face trying to fill a diversity quota. So I'm supposed to disown the culture that taught me about my ancestors, literature, and praised being intelligent. I wasn't with it.
A genre, which is often deemed unimportant and rarely acknowledged, not big enough to receive due accolades, yet is always blamed for what's wrong in the world. Feminism seemed to shun Hip Hop because of the lyrics, which I can understand, but I didn't see criticism of other forms of music. Where was the outrage over Rock and Roll, which also promotes promiscuousness, partying, drugs, and women being used as objects? What about the pop songs that are made to be easily remembered with catchy beat that grabs the attention of young kids although it's filled with sexual innuendos that pass for innocent lyrics because of the bubble gum nature of it? There it was. The hypocrisy yet again. An outcry for the ban and disappointment in Hip Hop while the other genres sit back in relief just happy it's not them on the chopping block.
A college with reverse sexism plus my culture being verbally tarnished equaled me being anit-feminist. I could include the lack of outrage when sexism is displayed in films or on television, yet it's deemed art. I could also argue the education system being stuck in the 1940s with classes like Home-economics being offered to girls and boys taking Wood Shop: I was actually took the former class and not the latter. I could continue to list the issues and causes feminism ignores and doesn't touch upon--when will this conversation about people of color and their natural hair happen--and until then, I will always see the underlying hypocrisy sewn on the edges of the waving flag.
I'm not a feminist in the traditional sense. I'm not combing through song lyrics to find all of the covert sexist lines and causing for a ban of hurtful terms. I'm not berating myself, my body, or others for the ways they present themselves to the world because they don't appease me. I'm not doing things, that I actually don't want to do, just because I want to shout out loud I'm doing it because men can do it.
What I will not do is put myself down because of my feelings. I shouldn't feel the need to down play my love and support of women because I don't rock a feminist tattoo in bold letters on my body. I love women. I admire women. I aspire to be a better woman everyday.
As someone trying to get in the music industry and create my own business, I've used my musical privilege and support of women to dig deep and find the women that are underrated and deserving of more recognition. I bring up women's names in any conversation to make people say their names and think about their contributions. I judge women by their talent, ambition, growth, and legacy and not just to piss men off. I treat women, and men, the way I would want to be treated: the true definition of equality.