The year 2014 came and went, with feminist feats and failures galore. But alas, that year is over and now it is time for us to get to work on 2015. Ijeoma Oluo, author and feminist, got the ball rolling at the beginning of January with her fun Twitter hash tag #FeminsistNewYearsResolutions. The responses ranged from thought provoking to down right hilarious. But now we need move past 140 characters and delve into some details. Making jokes about how to combat patriarchy, though necessary to keep ourselves sane, will only take us so far.
If we want serious reform this year, we need to get serious ourselves. So here is my feminist to-do list. Six goals for which every person should strive. No, they are not easy, but yes, they are worth it.
- Less Talk, More Action
“Haven’t I heard this before”?
Of course. This is not a new concept; it applies to 99% of life. But that doesn’t make it any less important to the feminist movement. Sitting around reading articles or talking with a friend is good. Taking the time to educate yourself or discussing new findings with peers is important for feminist advocates.
But let’s get going here. Start a feminist book club and invite people who wouldn’t normally engage with the issues. Help organize a rally/march. Join a feminism-related campus group. Volunteer with organizations that create support systems for females.
Less talk, more action: because feminists can’t kick butt sitting down.
- Speak up, Every Time
Speaking up: another item on the to-do list that has a wider application, but is still vital for feminism.
In fact, I would argue that outspoken self-identifying feminists are needed more today than ever before. As I discussed in a past post about the point of Third Wave Feminism, there is far less consensus and understanding surrounding the feminist movement today than during the 20’s and 60’s. For the growth of feminism in 2015 we need men and women to step up and speak up. We need to be louder than the dissenters. We need feminists to take a deep breath and engage in conversations with the skeptics, dissenters, and antagonists. Even if it’s awkward. Even if it’s difficult.
Easy conversations don’t create change.
Though some days can feel like one giant pile of patriarchy being thrown at our faces, we must do our best to voice our concerns and disagreements in productive discussions.
- Seek Knowledge
Nothing is accomplished when uninformed people argue with other uninformed people. That is simply passing insults and assumptions back and forth.
If you are already a well read and active feminist, seek to expand your knowledge. If not, seek knowledge to educate yourself on the movement. As I wrote in my article about Male Feminists, everyone has the individual responsibility to learn. It is not up to people of colour to educate you on racism, people with different abilities to educate you on disability rights, or self-identifying feminists to educate you on feminism.
Moreover, plan to study topics with which you are not familiar or comfortable. Yes, seeking a deep understanding in a certain topic is good, but a deep and narrow set of knowledge can sometimes be inferior to a wider understanding of critical theories (and their dissent/rebuttals) when trying to understand such complex issues.
- Focus on Allies
In 1916, Lyda Judson Hanifan first used the term ‘social capital’ to describe, “those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people”. Today, it has become a common catch phrase in the public and private sector. In his book Social Capital, John Field puts forth the notion of ‘social capital theory’ with the thesis that “relationships matter” and “social networks are a valuable asset”.
Think about your life; how often have your friends and family helped you get a job, study for a test, or driven your children to school, etc. You couldn’t possibly live such a prosperous and productive life if you did not have loved ones to aid and support you. In much the same way, feminism cannot thrive without allies. No movement can achieve as many goals or cover as much ground if it does not gain and nurture its allies. Feminism cannot combat sexism without the support of people from all walks of life.
Though it may be nice and may feel safe, meeting with your friends who share the exact same thoughts as you will not create allies. One creates allies by practicing To-Do #2 – engaging in new conversations. These conversations do not always need to be with obvious dissenters, but also people who are unfamiliar or unengaged with feminism. You never know how a few conversations may open someone’s eyes.
- Practice Intersectionality
Geek Feminism defines Intersectionality as a concept used to describe “the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another”.
Kimberlé Crenshaw brought forth the concept many moons ago - 1989 to be exact. Today it is used in many critical theories, feminist theory being no exception, when discussing systematic oppression. As critical theorists, we need to ensure that we are looking at issues from more than just our comfort zone of feminism. Especially considering that the framework of feminist theory explicitly states that every perspective is valuable.
By practicing (and preaching) Intersectionality, we can more easily achieve tangible advances for the movement. First, when one immerses themselves in other theories, they gain a greater understanding. Not just of that theory or connected theories, but of society as a whole. (Remember To-Do #3?) Second, when one practices Intersectionality, one gains allies in new places. Ableism can only end with the help of able-bodied people, just as sexism can only end with the help of males. (Ah, To-Do #4!)
- Don’t Get Bogged Down
Last but most certainly not least is building that backbone: working on resilience and trying not to let the weight of the world knock you down.
I (and countless other self-identifying feminists) have talked ad nauseum about the hurt and hurdles of progressing the movement. It is no walk in the park of patriarchy.
The most important thing to remember is don’t beat yourself up. Revolutions do not happen one day, people do not change their worldviews with one conversation, and the movement does not rest on your shoulders alone.
If there is a day when you simply don’t feel you can engage in a difficult conversation, that is ok. If someone is attacking your beliefs, it is ok to walk away. You are not a paid educator and you are not obligated to engage with every contestable comment. As long as you hold your high head, refusing to let the backlash get you down, you are on the right track.
“The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability as opposed to resilience and hard work, we will be brittle in the face of adversity.” – Joshua Waitzkin