by Zenen Jaimes
I did not identify as a feminist until this past summer because quite frankly, I knew nothing about it. This summer, however, I had the chance to live with four queer feminists that introduced me to the wonderful world of feminist blogs. I never had a formal introduction to feminism and I have never taken a class with the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, so my academic grasp on the subject is tenuous at best.
However, as I think back to my life, and the different communities I have lived in, I find it difficult to apply many of the things I have learned over the past couple of months. How does the feminism I encounter on the Internet world apply to my mom, a low-income immigrant Latina that cannot turn on a computer?
The short answer is it doesn’t.
Even the Spanish word for feminism “feminismo” does not inspire the same sorts of images or responses to a woman that has lived her whole life under the ideas of “machismo.” I can go to sites like Viva La Feminista where the intersections of these identities are often talked about in deeper ways. But feminism still remains a “white issue” in the same way many of the environmental movements in this country are perceived by many people of color as just “more whining white people.”
A big part of these divisions come from media portrayals of how feminists must look like, sound like, and be like. Feminists are portrayed as educated and upper middle class. Which is the exact opposite of Latina portrayals in the media.
But I don’t think we can blame these divisions entirely on the media. The fact is, mainstream feminist communities still do a terrible job of representing the issues that truly affect women of color in this country. Abortion, reproductive justice, sexual assault, immigration, and rape have a completely different dimension in my community. But traditional feminist discourses like to look at these issues as a race blind.
A lack of representation in feminist discourses is not the only problem (I recognize that this blog is new, but it has yet to include an entry by a woman of color). When women of color try to bring up these issues in feminist discourses, they are often dismissed as trying to destabilize the movement and promote infighting that doesn’t further the feminist cause. The fact is racism is still a problem within society and feminists do not live in a vacuum.
Feminism cannot truly move forward until it actively seeks to portray the oppression of all women. We have taken several steps since Bell Hooks first wrote about the racism that plagued feminism. But merely saying we are doing intersectional work does not give us a free pass. Anti-Racism work is hard, but it’s the first step needed to create a mass movement.