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What does today’s feminism mean?
Feminism is getting hotter. Sparking a global spring, girls and women are taking on the world political-economic order on the ground and through technology. More power to this movement for equality, equity and transformation of all forms of domination. Welcome to a moment that tireless struggle has again born.
Once the dilemma was about the “I’m not feminist, but…” kind of feminism, the belief in and practice of its politics that nonetheless ran from the backlash stereotypes associated with its identity and community.
However, going more mainstream has attached feminism to wider practices and representations, raising questions about the relationship between feeling powerful and undoing powerful hierarchies, as well as making us look harder at feminisms mix with capitalism, its long-marketed racist and sexist ordering of women, and its containment of the broadest goals of empowerment.
Take bootylicious feminism, also seen in Nicki Minaj’s dancehall queen version. Beyonce’s brand champions women as flawless and sexy, smart and powerful, economically in control and unanswerable to the politics of respectability. It also sells sex as it sells feminism.
Indeed, here, sex sells feminism, potentially popularising a narrower project than dismantling the beauty myths still packaging the meanings of female sexuality. What do hypersexual feminisms do for kinds that are not or refuse to be sexy?
I’ve wondered about this when my friend Nicole was shamed for playing J’Ouvert topless but for nipple coverings, and in an old short pants, making explicit just how little pretty mas nakedness has opened a space for women’s non-prettied bodies on the road, on their own terms, even on Carnival days.
I’ve thought about this when women face censure for shamelessly breastfeeding their babies. I’ve reflected on this as I envision the postcolonial feminisms I want for my little brown girl.
There’s feminist struggle for sex positivity. Existing double standards shame women in ways that men—even those who are molesters, rapists or adulterers—don’t face, and strippers, sex workers and “skettels” usually scorned behaviour means they are least protected by the law, unions, immigration officials and health institutions. This must change.
The question isn’t whether women have a right to make the choices they do. Instead our attention should be on the choices available, and the ones still determining women’s greatest rewards, pleasures and value.
It’s no coincidence that just as girls have been “taking over” education, media and labour markets, they have been increasingly pressured to still embody specific femininities and stilettoed super-sexiness.
What does this mean for feminism’s trenchant critique of women as objects for consumption, and for black and brown women’s refusal to reproduce reduction to their bodies at the expense of their humanity?
Freedom from sexual and other forms of violence. Choice regarding marriage, children, and same sex desire. Access to reproductive justice, including safe and legal abortion.
Transformation of the colonial gender stereotyping still pervasive in contemporary pop culture, advertising, nationalism and tourism. Value not for how we look nor for the femininities we do, but simply because we are.
The kinds of economic rights that mean we neither gain greater wealth nor greater vulnerability from the exploitation of our bodies in public and private life. For me, this is what feminist goals of sexual liberation mean.
All women know there is no pure place for resistance. This is more rather than less reason for thinking critically about diverse instances named feminist. It’s reason for differentiating between the gender consciousness we now have of rights and inequalities, and feminist consciousness that aims at more than women's individual wealth, choice or leveling of power to a radical reimagining beyond current terms and boundaries.
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