Feminism, inclusivity, intersectionality and women.
The fight for women’s rights globally is an urgent movement. The list of ways in which women are not just unequal in the world, but marginalised and subject to violence is as long as history itself and reaches across all cultures. Perhaps because of this vastness, Feminism is itself a broad movement. One person’s feminist ideology can be so very different from another’s and yet all sit under the banner that is ‘Feminist’.
I have the word ‘feminist art’ in my description here on my website, so for clarity and transparency here is what I mean when I use the word feminist, and also phrases such as ‘women supporting women’.
We are all on a journey of learning and unlearning. Nobody is wholly ‘unproblematic’ in all areas, even those who never speak at all. Negotiating being a work-in-progress online surrounded by the voices of millions of others who are also their own works-in-progress is a weird old journey, and one that, I believe, requires a gentleness and generosity of spirit. We each are a product of our own cultures, upbringing, geography, etc, with hugely varied exposure to diverse voices, academic writings, and activism. We are all at different stages of deconstructing the patriarchal, capitalist and racist systems that damage us all, and we are all negotiating living within them - all the time.
So with no further ado - and with the caveat that I am not an academic, nor the leader of a movement, and I don’t speak for any institutions or organisations - I am just a person who likes to design things that I want to wear, who identifies as a feminist.
Many of the products in my store use the word WOMEN. People who use the word WOMEN to describe themselves are included in this. I don’t use the word trans-women as I believe the word WOMEN includes them too. I get a lot of messages concerned that trans inclusivity is erasing women but I don’t believe that to be the case.
I also get asked, “why not make explicitly trans activist tee shirts and badges if you are affirming of trans rights?” I have thought a lot about this. In much the same way as I don’t make Black Lives Matter merchandise, I don’t think it is my place to make this part of my business. It would feel a bit like piggy backing somebody else’s oppression. Your money for trans activist merchandise is much better in the hands of LGBTQ+ artists and makers.
Some products in my store use the word WOMXN.
I admit I was slow off the mark to make these available, it took a couple of years of people asking for products with womxn supporting womxn on them before I actually did anything about it.
I went to an amazing talk by curator Madeline Hodges, about how the press and then the Wellcome Institute responded to the arts programme she curated there, using the words womxn and women interchangeably as a genuine expression of how the artists in the programme identified. More here https://www.liveartuk.org/blog/daylighting/
The artworks I made using the word womxn came from an understanding that it is a term used by people for one reason or another who don't feel that they are included in ‘women’ despite having many of the same needs. My experience of it being used is to include people in the maternity care circles that they need while also honouring their identity. Using it here I am making clear that people who need support from women but have felt excluded by the language around it are welcome and celebrated. It’s quite a gentle term in my opinion. It’s imperfect (as much of our language is) but at the heart is love, understanding and inclusion.
In practice a group of women that wish to might use it to describe themselves in a way that better reflects their diversity. Say for instance I wanted to curate a feminist themed makers market with I might advertise as “feminist makers market, 100 stalls of art and apparel made by womxn artists“ it would show that perhaps not every artist would use the word women to describe themselves. But the overall theme of the work / market etc is still located in common sisterhood.
Since I wrote this and made these things, the word womxn is being re-examined. I’m not sure that it is a word that means trans-inclusion, as genuine trans inclusion just uses ‘women’. But I do know that many people do identify and use womxn as a self-descriptor as well as organisations using it to reflect the diversity of their members. Language is a complicated beast and ever-developing. I am sure this lengthy descriptor will be updated in time.
I aspire to an intersectional feminism, and I do get asked what I mean by this.
Kimberly Crenshaw coined this term 30 odd years ago to describe a framework for examining oppressions. It’s a very useful way of thinking about things. Without an intentional, intersectional lens white western feminists (I am very much talking about myself here) are in real danger of building feminist activism in a way that perpetuates harm. It’s about both recognising that women’s oppression is experienced differently and also recognising where privilege is held.
I am no great writer or teacher, so I will link you up to the more in-depth WIKI here
“Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person's social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege Examples of these aspects include gender, caste, sex, race, class, sexulaity, religion, disability, physcial appearance, and height. Intersectionality identifies multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage. These intersecting and overlapping social identities may be both empowering and oppressing. For example, a black woman might face discrimination from a business that is not distinctly due to her race (because the business does not discriminate against black men) nor distinctly due to her gender (because the business does not discriminate against white women), but due to a combination of the two factors.”
Intersectionality is not a blunt instrument used to decide how feminist something is or isn’t. An intersectional analysis invites a thoughtful and nuanced reading of how we ‘do’ our feminism and holds the space for the nuances and tensions of a movement that seeks to encompass both the global and the personal. It’s vital that our feminism can accommodate the tension of the breadth of its movement, for the lives of the most marginalised and oppressed women and girls depend on it.