By Karen Onyekachi Odidika // March 8, 2018
Happy International (Working) Women’s Day!!!
It is the IDEAL day to bust out that look you’ve been worried about looking downright stupid in. Or to, for once, not bother at all with your appearance. I myself am sitting in my London flat, wearing a tattered nightgown, my beautiful ‘fro in a satin bonnet, taking an almost-well-deserved break from life as a law student. Come as you are. Do what feels right. I don’t know your life and yet, today, I dare to tell you how to live it.
When I was asked to write this post, I found it hard to settle on what form it would take. Would I go full-on Karen and pen a thesis in a few hours, complete with footnotes and aloof academic language? Or did I actually want anyone reading this thing? I settled on the latter and, to hold myself accountable, I’ve summed up my thoughts into short reflections on the myriad ways we can all challenge and uplift ourselves - and one another - in the fight for a more equitable future.
On resisting POP! feminism: At a time when feminism has become more popular and more closely scrutinized (for better or worse), it is also increasingly commodified and cheapened. I love a good political fashion statement as much as the next Bad Bitch™, but there’s something to be said about the fact that some of our most widely shared and accepted symbols of feminist struggle are empty allusions to #girlpower and #whoruntheworld, mass-printed on t-shirts by brands whose only interest is profit maximization. (Pssst. It’s even worse because their production processes often exploit cheap labor and endanger our environment).
Challenging pop feminism requires that we expand our ideas of participation in the feminist struggle. I mean, yeah, we should be looking beyond symbols to take action. But an even easier step is to expand the range of icons we’re willing to take on as symbols of this political time. How many of our feminist victories highlight white, cisgendered, conventionally beautiful, classed women? What does it mean that we so willingly buy into these representations of ‘great’, ‘successful’ and ‘powerful’ women? And who do we exclude from our feminism by perpetuating those images? Given the origins of this holiday, what does it say about us, that accumulating wealth in inherently unequal societies has become the clarion call of our movements for equality?
On connected struggles (and staying in our lanes): I should add here that POP! feminism isn’t the only enemy of our progress, babes. Carceral, white, puritanical, neoliberal, and trans-exclusionary radical feminists all hold us back from complicating our preconceived notions of what women deserve to be fought for, and with.
I’m thinking a lot today about how some expressions of empowerment can come at the cost of other women. This is especially the case where those women are racialized, poor, of the “developing world,” etc. You name it, we’re blind to it. To give you a sense of what I mean, check out this worthwhile read by Kimberly Seals Allers, on how the struggle for work-life balance in the US has ‘progressed’ to the detriment of nonwhite women. Or this one by Melissa Grant, which highlights some of the reasons that sex workers and advocates of trafficking victims are so opposed to a seemingly feminist Anti-Trafficking Bill that the US legislature wants to pass. I know a lot of you don’t live in the US, but I hope you’re starting to see my point. The task of empowering and protecting, even (and especially) from those dangers that seem plain evil, is more nuanced than we’d like to think.
Right. Deep breath. I promise we’re almost done. You’re staring at your screen, wondering why Moons and Junes decided this was a good way to celebrate. Fair enough. How about I share some of the ways I aspire to be a better feminist? Yeah? Yeah.
Karen’s feminist agenda (2018):
–Resist becoming caricatures of the women you call sisters.
–Think more deeply about who your friend groups are made up of. Who’s missing? Why?
– When you advocate for women’s rights, try not to put yourself at the forefront of a struggle you don’t experience. Don’t be a voice for the voiceless. No one is voiceless. Pass the mic. Amplify other voices. (or at least emulate Frances McDormand’s inclusion rider, which Stacy Smith first brought up in this TED talk)
– Take care of yourself. Look after your mind and body. Keep seeing your therapist. Assert yourself in spaces that seek to silence you, hopefully with support from friends and allies.
–Remember that self-care also involves weeding out the biases and beliefs that hold you back from extending compassion to others. Those hurt you, too.
Hey, friend. Let’s check in real quick. If like me, thinking about this stuff fills you with even just the faintest bit of guilt, I imagine you’re tempted to a) promise to follow up while b) looking the other way because - oh, I don’t know - life is too short to be filled with that much depressing work. This is supposed to be a short, easy post (haha) but I would be failing you - and myself - if I didn’t throw out a reminder that our global sisterhood is not without its complications. Whatever discomfort we feel when we are reminded of our own shortcomings, we must harness into the will to be better, to DO better.
Trust me. It’s what we owe each other.