This Is What a Feminist Looks Like

Monday, April 22, 2013

A feminist in a dress! Gasp!

Can a black woman be a feminist?

I've been told on more than one occasion that the answer to that question is "No!" Last week I shared my story of being told I can't be a feminist because I'm black in a blog post for Birmingham's NPR station WBHM. When someone tells me, however, that I don't look like a feminist -- and I get that comment a lot -- they usually aren't talking about my race. 

Back when I worked for a weekly lifestyles magazine in Louisville, I frequently wrote articles that might have caused female readers to raise their fists in the air and yell "Girl power!" I quickly became known for as the paper's resident feminist. 

Yet, when a young woman from another department came to our office to discuss an idea she had for a women's empowerment project she went to the female reporter who sat in the cubicle next to mine.  She even said to my colleague, "I know you write a lot about feminism and that it's something very important to you." Everyone in the office, including my colleague to whom she was speaking, stared at her with confused looks on their faces. Then my colleague pointed to me and said, "Javacia writes about women's issues. Not me. You're probably talking about her articles." The look of shock on her face was priceless. 

When this woman came to our office in search the resident feminist she didn't even bother asking anyone to point her in the right direction. She walked directly to my colleague. Did she assume that I couldn't have been the feminist writer because I'm black? Possibly, but I doubt my race had much to do with it. 

My co-worker only wore neutral colors and never wore makeup or heels. She also refused to shave her arm pits or legs. Meanwhile, I was probably sitting there in a floral top, trendy jeans and pumps. I'm sure my eyeshadow was perfectly color coordinated with my outfit and my cubicle looked like the color pink had thrown up all over it. In other words, I'm sure that woman didn't come to me because she didn't think I looked like a feminist. 

Can a woman be both feminist and so-called feminine? Absolutely! And frankly I'm tired of having this conversation. It's getting old, people.

Julia Gazdag recently addressed this topic quite wonderfully in a post for Hello Giggles and in that article referenced a quote from Caitlin Moran who reminds us that "the purpose of feminism isn't to make a particular type of woman." 

Gazdag goes on to say: 

The idea that women cannot express their femininity and be autonomous is really saying that women must emulate men to have a voice, when in fact, the goal of feminism is for every woman to feel empowered as a person instead of feeling gendered.

Amen. 

I believe in the equality of the sexes and this is what makes me a feminist. Period. Writing and empowering other women to write is what I consider my calling and this calling has become my form of feminist activism. The validity of my work should not be questioned simply because the finger tips typing my feminist texts are adorned with fuchsia nail polish. 




4 comments:

  1. I have a sociology professor in undergraduate who was a feminist but there was nothing feminine about her. . I agree that you can stand up for women's rights without losing your femininity. . . Throughout history, women have stood up for feminism without losing their femininity. .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oops, should've been "had" not "have".

      Delete
  2. I agree 100 percent Javacia. I am also immeasurably feminine and I see fashion as a platform for addressing feminist issues (when it's not being patriarchal and/or racist). My feminist pedagogy is strengthened, not weakened by my dedication to personal appearance as well as collective growth.

    Thank you for this piece!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really liked this quote....

    "The idea that women cannot express their femininity and be autonomous is really saying that women must emulate men to have a voice, when in fact, the goal of feminism is for every woman to feel empowered as a person instead of feeling gendered."

    ..more and more I see a trend of women becoming more and more like men. Even in fashion, men and women attire seem to be converging on the same point. I think there is immeasurable strength in femininity, and strength in a woman who can maintain her femininity and humility, while still making her mark on the world. It is our differences from men, that make us strong.

    ReplyDelete