A lot of men and women shiver at the f-word. Its four syllables drawn out often get suspended in thought, comma’d and followed by a pause in which the word is tossed around and around and then blanketed by some explanation. For some reason, being feminist is or bringing up feminism can sometimes been seen as dangerous territory, a no-go zone picketed by large sharp fences. There’s a problem with being strong. Independent. Courageous. Brazen. And being a woman. A fierce black woman.
There’s something inherently wrong with the idea that as women we are supposed to sit back and watch life pass us by. It’s even more wrong, as Gayle Lynch wrote in the “Black Women’s Manifesto”, that a black woman is expected to be “matriarchal villain or a step stool baby-maker”. We have come a long way from the days in which women had no right to speak up or define their own destinies. Society sees us angry passengers in the locomotive of life; we see ourselves as strong-willed and passionate fighters in the jungle of capitalism, swinging and swaying and doing whatever it takes to survive.
Save our ship? No. We won’t be sinking.
Because black girls don’t swim. Thus, we’ve had to become more creative about the ways we tie our hair up and prevent ourselves from falling overboard. As black women we are launching movements, rising as leaders, and doing everything we damn sure want to because we know we can. And we refuse to let color be a reason to hold us back. We refuse to allow our gender, more importantly, to be a limitation, but rather a gravitation towards levels that many men have not dared to imagine. Because what would the world be like with a female president? Or a black female president of that matter?
Some may not recognize it, but intertwined in third-wave feminism is the idea that every woman is of a different ethnic background and live with a variety of set of beliefs. Thus, we must be woman-of-color conscious as we begin to frame and define what feminism is to us today. It’s not just about bra-burning equality or the messages of upper class white women. Being feminist, particularly as black women, means that we embrace both the messages of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the women’s liberation movement of the 1980s. It means believing that equality for women should be granted without the restrictions of race, which often can underserve or undermine the desires that all women have. There is a grand structure to protect all women, yes. However, it is even all the more important to analyze cultural factors that could be setting women back. As feminists we believe in a woman’s right to have control of her own body and sexuality. However, genital mutilation is still an active problem for our black sisters in Africa. How do we deal?
Feminism is not something to be feared, but rather embraced. The singular definition of feminism is broad but uniting: it is the process of defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. As black women, our story as liberators is complex yet inspiring; it rides on our heels with the stereotypical image of the “angry black woman”. Being feminist does not need to be something to bite your tongue on, nor does it need to be hard to understand or deeply taxing. You don’t have to bare hair “down there” or run around with a pro-life sticker on your car. Being feminist can simply be, as suggested by its definition, the desire to see all women be free to think independently and to be free from oppression of sexism. It can simply be caring that women get equal pay or protecting women from being victimized. It can simply be the desire to want all women to feel empowered enough to leave destructive relationships or take responsibility of knowing what’s going on inside her body.
It can simply be the desire to just want to help a fellow sister – just like you.
So go ahead and say it. Loud and proud. We are all feminists. The f-word doesn’t bite.