When I’m asked what it means to be a feminist, my go-to response is stating that I want equality between the sexes. I feel uneasy reiterating that though, because feminism is such a nuanced and complex set of beliefs. Feminist theorist bell hooks’ definition of feminism is the version I prefer and try to live by:
Feminism is not simply a struggle to end male chauvinism or a movement to ensure that women will have equal rights with men; it is a commitment to eradicating the ideology of domination that permeates the Western culture on various levels-sex, race, class to name a few — and a commitment to reorganizing society…so that self-development of people can take a precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desire. (bell hooks, Feminist Theory, From Margin to Center).
This is a complicated definition, one that is not only linked to ending sexism, but ending racism, classism, and even bigger systems of power like imperialism and neoliberalism. This is hard to sum up in a casual conversation, however, and since feminism already has such a negative connotation within our society; it’s just so much easier to say that you want women to be equal to men, rather than delving deep into academic jargon and supporting political positions that are considered “radical” by many.
I’m trying to stop defining feminism through a lens of equality and the gender binary though, because I don’t believe in this notion of “equality” at all. “Equality” is linked to neoliberal policies, and if that version of feminism is supporting a female presidential candidate who supports the same aforementioned policies as a male candidate, then how is that progress? That’s just putting a new face on the same problematic policies and laws and calling it progressive. Equality is not looking at how our laws and policies are problematic and flawed in the first place, it’s just elevating women to work in a corrupt system. I don’t want to take part in that, because slapping a female face on the same policies and positions that have screwed people over doesn’t equate true progress to me.
However, I do realize that I’m in a privileged position by saying all of these statements. I live in Los Angeles county: one of the most progressive counties in one of the most progressive states in this country. I can vote for third-party candidates knowing that although my candidate won’t win, the party that truly is the lesser of two evils (I think you know which one I’m referring to) will ultimately win. If I lived in a swing state like Ohio, I would definitely be voting for Hillary in 2016 (if she decides to run). However, since my area is guaranteed to go blue, I can truly vote with my conscience without worrying about “throwing my vote away”.
You see, I want justice, not equality.
Justice is a better goal than equality, because it calls for revamping of broken systems. It calls for representation of everyone, even those whose voices are never heard or are constantly devalued, belittled or dehumanized. Feminist poet and all-around-badass Audre Lorde once said “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.[…] Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices”. To me, this concept of acknowledging that using the tools that were used to build a broken system will never dismantle it is a powerful one.
My feminism supports grassroots organizing. It supports unions, ending mass incarceration, universal healthcare, affordable education for all. It supports all people, not just those in power and who support hegemonic power structures that only help the privileged and the elite. It supports third-party candidates and community engagement. It’s based in this notion of intersectionality, that all oppressions like sexism, classism, racism, and more are interconnected, But most importantly, my feminism is based in justice, not equality. Justice for people who are hurt, ignored or rejected by the system. We need to truly grasp at the root, not just lay down cement and call it new, and that’s what justice is.