Why do we specifically label our feminism?
Because different feminisms imagine different peace. In our opinion, most of the mainstream feminist visions are neither egalitarian nor liberatory.
Feminism movement officially 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 suffrage.
The second wave, also known as the women’s movement of the 1960s and ’70s, addressed issues such as equal pay, sexual and reproductive freedom, recognition of women’s unpaid work in the household, better media representation of women, rape and (some forms of) 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 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 a unifying political category and the foundation of all feminist politics.
Fourth wave feminism, beginning in the late 2000s, is what our generation falls into. It addresses issues of sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, body shaming, sexist imagery in the media, online misogyny, and intersectionality. It relies on social media for communication and online petitioning for organising. The fourth wave is represented by campaigns such as MeToo.
This framework of waves is very white, western-centred and the reason why many women of minority societies and women of colour (woc) all over the world reject the term feminism. It simply does not include their experiences as women and as humans. It confines social inequalities to these time periods within the Atlantic world. Struggles that might not fall under the focus of these waves are equally valid and important, but not mentioned.
Mainstream feminism historically relies on hierarchies between women. White middle-class women place themselves at the top and crown themselves as the spokeswomen for all of female humanity. Their perception of gender issues and oppression differs greatly from the majority of women and they often harm woc and poor women through silencing their voices under the banner of ‘global sisterhood’. Muslim women, black women, indigenous women, Asian women, queer women, trans women, disabled women, poor women (everyone who is not white middle-class) are up against various obstacles aside from sexism. This is why we speak of feminisms rather than one (non-existing) global feminism.
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 follows the concepts of intersectionality and decoloniality. Our work engages these specific feminisms, meaning the attempt to dismantle structural inequalities and oppression in all societies across the globe. Gender is not solely the case of women. Gender and feminist politics have to be concerned with all of humanity.
Intersectionality is a concept that comes out of black feminist thought. It 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 individuals. The western-centric practice of putting everything/one in categories has created a complicated system of hierarchies that silences many people’s experiences.
A simplistic example: if there is a box for men and a box for women, the most powerful voices in these boxes are white. Similarly, if there is a box for black people and a box for white people, the most powerful voices in both boxes are male. A black woman is not heard in the black box nor in the woman box. A black disabled woman even less, a black disabled poor women even less.
Intersectionality acknowledges that there are more factors than gender that we need to revise. Rather than imagining a universal woman, listing difference serves to highlight those who are absent from feminist/political discourse. The MeToo movement is a recent example for the lack of intersectional awareness in mainstream feminism. While it has been widely celebrated for its momentum and impact, hardly anyone mentions that the campaign was launched in 2006 by Tarana Burke. Burke is the Afro-American women who started MeToo to promote “empowerment through empathy” among woc who have experiences sexual abuse, particularly within underprivileged communities. Her project was relatively unknown until move privileged women adopted it and made it big. This shows how the voices of woc continue to be sidelined whereas white women are given public platforms to speak.
To counter this we need to reflect on our privileges and invite honesty and consideration into our work. We begin this process 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 homogenous ‘Third World Woman’ who is generally oppressed by the Third World Man and needs saving. One way of decolonising feminism is to centre marginalised women in our conversations and listen. To accept that what we understand as liberation can feel oppressive to others. This is why we speak of many feminisms, or local feminisms, that fight patriarchal systems in ways they see fit in their context. We follow this practice of decolonising notions of womanhood and liberation by making space for woc to discuss their experiences and opinions, for example in “Womxn Doing It For Themselves – Conversations with Kat”, “Hijab(less) Empowerment“, “Thoughts of a Young Single Mother” or “Natural Beauty is Unnatural“.
The decoloniality of gender is a seemingly abstract concept arising from post-colonial studies. It questions the origin of the gender binary (man/woman) and modern colonising structures, 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 humanity, economy and sexuality are still dictated by neo-colonialism. Kandaka engages in this research, because we believe that there is no decoloniality, and thus liberation, without unmaking modern gender perceptions.
Liberation does not mean becoming equal to men and being incorporated in heteronormative, ableist, patriarchal, racist, capitalist systems. Liberation means the unmaking of these systems, fully.
For these discourses, we look to transfeminists and queer theorists (check out “Womxn Doing It For Themselves – Cemre“, “Cover Art Has No Gender” and “Gabriele: Mars and Venus“). They challenge common assumptions 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 are interested in 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