What the Word Feminism Means To Me

At one point last year, I felt in serious doubt of my feminism.

Maybe it was because I hated that the #MeToo movement seemed to mean nothing in South Africa, a country where rape is a serious epidemic. My brother also asked me what feminism meant. He told me that he believes men and women should be equal but does not identify as feminist. What he said at that particular moment had me wondering. Now I am wondering again, what does feminism mean to me?

I knew I was a feminist ever since I was a child, I just didn’t know the word or definition. I would take on any boy who treated me inadequately. Most of them would usually call me stuck up.

Just like my brother, I did not know what value the word feminism carries. The first time I heard it was in the song ***Flawless by Beyonce. I immediately thought, “Oh, I’m a feminist.”

In high school, my newly obtained feminist title inspired me to do speeches for assessment marks on the topic. After the second speech I made on gender issues, my Afrikaans teacher said she hoped that one day I was going to do something about it. Her words stuck with me.

The 2018 death of the mother of our nation, Winnie Mandela, revived my feminism. She kept the ideas of her husband alive while he and many other anti-Apartheid leaders were imprisoned and exiled. While our country was transitioning to democracy, she was painted as the unfaithful wife of Nelson Mandela, and as a murderer. White oppressors, along with black patriarchy, tried their best to keep her down. Her legacy is now told by us, the people.

I think we need history lessons on feminism. There are still too many untold stories, especially those of women of colour.

Violence against women and children is terrifyingly high in South Africa.
Since I was 13, I have always wondered, “Is it safe for me to walk around the corner alone?” I also wonder about the prospects of me being physically assaulted or abused by a partner. I’m not a woman who conforms to patriarchal standards. It is therefore not an impossible prospect in this country that I might be assaulted.

Police and government must do more to address the horrors women and girls in South Africa face on a daily basis.

To me, feminism means not allowing a man to have any kind of power over you. I still consider myself an unlearned feminist. I’ve learned about feminists like Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem and Kimberlé Crenshaw and I’m making it a priority to read more. I just wish I knew about more African feminist idols.

I also still consider myself an impractical feminist. At the moment I talk, write, post and like about it. Is it enough in this digital age? Is there more I could do?

Like this post? Read more on Girls’ Globe…

We need to talk about Black Women NOW

Precilla* was raped by her cousin when she was nine and later by an uncle. She never spoke about it. Why? Her father and other men in her family were always talking about protecting her. But instead of protecting her, they were raping her. Confused, she chose to remain silent. The reality for many black women is silence and the reasons why they choose this are complex.

For many black women silence means survival.

As Feminista Jones says, the bodies of black women have been used for labour and exploited to serve the needs of others while our needs are swept under the carpet. We are ‘othered’ – taught to be silent about the problems we face, reminded that racism is the bigger issue, not sexism or violence. Black girls are taught that you do not talk about problems. As a black woman, you deal with it. Loyalty to the “community” reigns supreme, even when the community (brothers, fathers and sons) are often responsible for violence and abuse.  As a result, many women and girls remain silent about injustice that occurs.  We do not trust the police; after all, our fathers and sons have been terrorized by the state. The police also rape and abuse us too – why should we trust them? If you dare to speak out, you are selfish. The community posits that we are making them look bad in front of white people.

Black women’s experiences of violence are a different ball game altogether. I am not saying that the experiences of white women do not matter, but we must recognize other discriminations can affect your experiences. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the theory of “intersectionality” in 1986 which can be explained as how the different types of discrimination interact.

It is not black lives that matter, but black boys.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states 1.3 million American women experience domestic or intimate partner violence every year.  However black women are almost three times more likely to die as a result of domestic or intimate partner violence. Black women only make up 8% of America’s population, yet 22% of all the homicides that result from DV/IPV happen to them. Homicide is one of the leading causes of death for black women aged 15 to 35. 60% of black girls will be victims of sexual assault by the time they are 18. The average life expectancy for a black transgender woman is 35 years. When a white woman experiences street harassment, it rarely leads to death. Black women are being killed, increasingly, when they do not pay attention to street harassment.

In the United States, our silence on this issue contributes to the further abuse and suffering of women. We often ignore the median wage for black women in America is $602 for those in full time employment compared to $738 for white women. And black women, especially mothers, are forced to stay in bad relationships where financial needs are imperative. In a society where manhood is defined by your ability to provide for your family, when black men fail in employment, they assert their power in the household with the women taking the blows. Take one second to think about how many women of colour have died – and realize that we do not even have enough accurate data or research. The invisibility of black women has carried on for too long. We have been ignored, told to shut up, or killed when we speak up.

This culture of silence we have within communities is stripping black women of their humanity and dignity.

The hardest thing to accept is in our society we do not see black girls to be valuable and important. It is not black lives that matter, but black boys. We silence our daughters because of race solidarity, forgetting that race solidarity does not mean one is quiet about abuse and violence. We want freedom for our sons but we neglect the freedom of our daughters. We expect our daughters to fulfill the strong black woman stereotype that is detrimental and has caused us more harm than good. This so-called strength that we demand of black women, to carry on without breaking from the code of loyalty is becoming our downfall. We must stop the shaming and the blaming. We must start talking properly about black girls. As Janine Jackson said, “what we don’t count, we don’t care about.” We must start caring about black girls and women – and the men in our lives must join this fight too.

Learn more by following #HerDreamDeferred on Twitter.

 *name changed to protect identity 

** I do not claim to speak for all black women in this post.

Cover image c/o Flickr Creative Commons