Why am I a Feminist?
I am black. I grew up with two tenets: don’t let anyone treat you differently or as less than because you are not white, and do not act white.
The first one: okay, I get it – every race is beautiful, don’t judge someone based on their skin colour, we’re more similar than we are different, nobody is better than the other, racism isn’t cool, etc. I agree, except it seemed when it came to me being a girl, the same rules didn’t apply. Not so much as a kid, but as I moved into puberty, the rules changed. It did matter how light my skin was, how straight my hair was. I didn’t have the same privileges and freedoms my brothers did. I was getting mixed messages; one moment it’s “You can be anything you want to be” and the next it was “You can’t be outside at night”. Sex ed, despite being liberal, still talked about “male urges” while ignoring female urges; not only did it fail to talk about female masturbation, it kept positing sex as being the same as intercourse/procreation – which is not only heterosexist, but positions women who actively want to engage in sexual activity (outside of procreative purposes) as being deviant. While racism still exists, it seems as though people in general recognize and understand it and know it’s wrong; With sexism, people will still cite biological and traditional justification of it.
I grew up knowing black people who believed that being black meant not getting an education, having kids young, and talking like they just got off a plane from Jamaica or Atlanta. They believed this. They believed that black people who went to school, got good grades, and spoke Canadian english were trying to be white. They believed this. YOU’RE BLACK! How can you believe this nonsense? But as I got older I realized that a lot of women believe in similarly limiting attitudes: believing that their worth as a person diminishes if they engage in sex too often, or dress in a way that suggests they like sex – or even if they just like sex! Or changing their choice of post-secondary study because “what if I get married and want kids? I couldn’t possibly be a doctor.” One time at work I was replacing the jug for the water cooler and a female coworker noticed and said, “Oh! What are you doing? You can’t do that! You’re a woman!” – which puzzled me because I clearly just did, which I pointed out, and she just kept chiding me, saying “but you’re a woman! You shouldn’t be doing that”. YOU’RE A WOMAN, TOO! You honestly believe this s#*% about what you can and cannot do?
Another reason why being black influences me so much is because of my ancestry. I mean, if my ancestors could endure the tolls of slavery, I think I can replace a water jug.
Black women have added a lot to feminist thought and it inspires me. I love this piece by Sojourner Truth. Her speech helps to understand the social constructs of gender and just how malleable these understandings are. Women are strong, a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and we should draw on that strength more often. There is nothing weak about being a woman. If a man needs me to lean on him to make him feel like a man, than he ain’t my man. The black women before me didn’t fight just for me to be complacent and accept the status quo. I’d rather live alone than serve a man and his ego; black women spent too many years being forced to do so. I love and respect myself, and my ancestors, too much to do that. And I wish more women loved and respected themselves more to want that for themselves.
In Part III, I will continue writing from a personal standpoint in describing another reason why I am a Feminist: my little brother.