Why does it matter to specifically label our feminism? Because different feminisms imagine different peace, and in our opinion most of the mainstream feminist visions are neither egalitarian nor liberatory for more than a few privileged people.
Feminism is widely understood to be a movement that arose in what many refer to as the west in the 18th century. In this context, first wave feminism is usually defined as the wave of reform that spanned the entire 19th century, beginning with calls for female emancipation and culminating in the suffrage campaigns. It focused on dress reform, access to education, political equality, and, above all, suffrage.
The second wave, also known as the women’s movement of the 1960s and ’70s, addressed a wide range of issues, including equal pay, sexual and reproductive freedom, recognition of women’s unpaid work in the household, better media representations of women, and rape and domestic violence.
Third wave feminism, from the 1990s, was in part a generational response to some of the perceived shortcomings of the second wave. It particularly criticised the tendency of second wave feminists to overlook differences among women in their eagerness to see woman as a unifying political category. Third wave feminism became more attuned to the intersections of race, class, and sexuality within gender and more receptive to critical and theoretical work in gender studies that calls into question the usefulness of woman as the foundation of all feminist politics.
Fourth wave feminism, beginning in the late 2000s, is what our generation falls into. It is concerned with addressing issues of sexual harassment (including street harassment), workplace discrimination, body shaming, sexist imagery in the media, online misogyny, assault on public transport, and intersectionality, relying on social media for communication and online petitioning for organizing. The fourth wave is represented by campaigns such as MeToo.
This ‘wave’ framework is very white, western-centred and the reason why many women of minority societies and women of colour all over the world reject the term feminism. It simply does not include their experiences as women and as humans. The idea of feminist waves implies that one can only work within these frameworks whereas we understand social inequalities to be constant and everywhere, not just in these time periods and in the Atlantic world. Furthermore, there have always been struggles that might not fall under the focus on these waves but are equally valid and important. Mainstream feminism has historically been based on hierarchies between women, in which white middle-class women placed themselves at the top and comfortably identified themselves as the spokeswomen for all of female humanity. Their perception of gender issues, struggle and supposed inequality differed greatly from women of other societies and often harmed women of colour through essentialising them under the supposedly unifying cloak of ‘global sisterhood’. Muslim women, black women, Asian women, queer women, trans women, disabled women, poor women, basically everyone who is not the white middle-class ‘norm’ fighting her husband for a vote, were up against various obstacles aside from sexism. This is why we speak of feminisms, rather than one global feminism that does not and has never existed. Moving away from the western-centric definition of ‘feminism’ allows us to look at activism historically and contemporarily that might not label itself as feminist and yet promotes equality. There is a variety of black/Muslim/African/queer/indigenous/Marxist… feminist scholarship and activism that has helped to critically challenge white supremacist notions of global sisterhood.
Kandaka identifies with the concepts of intersectionality and decoloniality and the work we publish therefore embodies this specific ‘feminism’, for lack of a better word to describe the attempt to dismantle structural inequalities in all societies across the globe. It is important to note here that ‘gender’ is not solely the case of women and therefore, gender and feminist politics are concerned with all of humanity.
Intersectionality is a concept that comes out of black feminist scholarship and is concerned with the ways in which the social categories of gender, ability, age, race, sexuality, nationality, religion and class reinforce one another to produce marginalised subjects. The western-centric practice of putting everything/one in categorical order results in a complicated system of hierarchies that silences many people’s experiences.
For example, if there is a box for men and a box for women, power structures will make sure the most powerful voices in these boxes will be wealthy white humans. Similarly, if there is a box for black people and a box for white people, power structures will play out in a way that the more powerful voices in both boxes will be male. Therefore, a black woman does not get to speak. A black disabled woman even less, and a black disabled poor woman will never be included in conversations and consequently never be able to improve her life conditions. Therefore, rather than building a universal woman, listing difference serves to highlight those who are absent from feminist/political discourse.
Intersectionality acknowledges that there are more factors than gender that we need to revise. The MeToo movement is the most recent example for the lack of intersectionality in mainstream feminism. While it has been widely celebrated for its momentum and impact, most accounts of it fail to mention that the campaign was launched in 2006 by Tarana Burke. Burke is an Afro-American woman who started MeToo as part of a campaign to promote “empowerment through empathy” among women of colour who have experienced sexual abuse, particularly within underprivileged communities. Her project was relatively unknown until more privileged women adopted it, spoke up and made it big. This shows how the voices of women of colour continue to be sidelined, whereas white women are taken more seriously and given public platforms to speak.
To counter this, it is crucial to reflect on our own privileges and invite honesty and consideration into our work, a process that we begin in our posts “Grasping Privilege” and “If You Look Like Me”.
Non-western women criticise how white women have colonised their experiences through producing a homogeneous ‘Third World Woman’ who is generally understood to be oppressed by the Third World Man and needs saving. One way of decolonising feminism is to invite marginalised women into the conversation, allowing them to speak for themselves and simply listen. It is very important here to accept that what we might understand as liberation can feel oppressive to others. This is why we speak of many feminisms, or local feminisms, that fight patriarchy in ways they see fit in their context. We follow this practice of decolonising notions of womanhood, liberation and emancipation in finding women of colour and asking them to write about and discuss their experiences and opinions, for example in “Hijab(less) Empowerment”, “Thoughts of a Young Single Mother” or “Natural Beauty is Unnatural”.
Finally, the decoloniality of gender is a recent and seemingly abstract concept arising from post-colonial studies. It questions the origin of the gender binary (man/woman), links it to colonising structures in the era of modernity and explores ways to move beyond it. Feminist scholars of colour are at the forefront of this, exploring societal structures that existed before the European conquests impacted the globe and deconstructing how our perceptions of race, economy, humanity and sexualities are still dictated by neo-colonialism. Kandaka engages in this research, because we believe that there is no decoloniality without unmaking modern gender perceptions. Our understanding of liberation does not mean that we want to be made equal and be incorporated in patriarchal, racist, capitalist systems, no! Liberation means the unmaking of these systems, fully.
Our most important referents/teachers for these discourses are transfeminists and queer theorists (we started engaging with these conversations in the posts “Womxn Doing It For Themselves – Cemre“, “Cover Art Has No Gender” and “Mars and Venus”). They challenge conservative thoughts like “sex defines gender” or “gender is clearly definable”. Most importantly, they affirm that transformation is possible, that our fates are not sealed at birth, that borders, prison walls, and other regulatory barriers can be unmade, and that biology is not destiny. Systems can be and have been wrong and changed.
Words by Amuna Wagner
If you would like to read about these approaches to feminism in more detail, here are some of the sources I used for this post:
Armstrong, A. (2017): Certificates of Live Birth and Dead Names: On the Subject of Recent Anti-Trans Legislation. South Atlantic Quarterly, 116 (3), 621–631
Lugones, M. (2010): Toward a Decolonial Feminism. Hypatia, (25) 742-759
Mohanty, C. T. (1988): Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses. Feminist Review, (30), 61-88
Okolosie, L. (2014). Beyond ‘talking’ and ‘owning’ intersectionality. Feminist Review, (108), 90-96.
Stryker, S. (2008): Transgender History. Berkeley: Seal Press