Intersectional Feminism or Bust: A guide to being a Nasty Woman in Trump’s America

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Driving back to New York from DC after the women’s march I wore my “Capitalist patriarchy is ruining the world and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” shirt. I was exhausted, exhilarated, and wondering what comes next, like so many others who attended. I personally found it, overall, to be an uplifting display of intersectional feminist organizing from the march committee themselves. It was clear that some of the groups around me, young people of color of many genders chanting “Black Lives Matter,” a group of Arab women wearing pussyhats headscarves carrying a sign that read “Teachers Against Trump,” and a band of radical queers, felt fully the march was for them.

Other marchers I’ve talked to have felt like the march was catering to suburban white women who felt accomplished and left a mess for women of color to clean up. There are many realities and interpretations of the march, but what we’ve seen from the new administration post-march demonstrates that, as we knew, the march was just the beginning. We need to stay critical, keep acting, and keep practicing intersectional feminism more than ever.  (If you are interested, I contributed to a great round up of march experiences for Weird Sister if you want to hear different perspectives.) 

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But where to next? I started writing this blog post in the late summer of 2016 at a coworkers request that I help her “be more feminist.” At the time I started to compile this list I was naive enough to believe that feminism was a unstoppable cultural force that was reshaping everything from our electoral politics, to the workplace, to popular culture, to reproductive rights, to yes, how we dress with cool t-shirts. None of that masked the deep misogyny, combined with racism and homophobia that runs throughout American culture, but I honestly thought that intersectional feminism as a practice was gaining mainstream traction throughout the country.

Now that misogyny, and all forms of hatred, have been given free reign from the highest office of the country, practicing an expansive, inclusive, intersectional feminism is not only necessary, but imperative. To continue to have a tangible impact, feminism must not be just an identity, but an active practice. It’s a philosophy that guides action.

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I am not a perfect feminist. I think the idea of not practicing feminism perfectly stops a lot of people from identifying and aligning themselves with feminism. The beauty of feminism is that it is evolving and my practice of it has evolved as well. For all wondering “where to next” or “How do I keep practicing feminism through these scary times” this list is meant to be an inspiration and a push from a kindred spirit, not a definitive prescription. It is full of ideas that I hope will inspire action both big and small in the days ahead.

Also, quick note here, I do use the term “women” and “woman” throughout this piece, but believe it applies to anyone who identifies as a woman. Feminism can and must be practiced by all genders!

  1. Intersectional feminism is feminism. Notice, acknowledge, and think about the intersections of identities and power. Feminism is not just about gender, or women, but about how identities that hold different levels of power in this society impact you as an individual, different groups of people, and particular spaces. These identities include race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and religion.
  2. Put your money and time behind your beliefs and values. Volunteer for, donate, support, and spread the word about organizations that support social justice and the causes you believe in and provide necessary services for women and other marginalized groups. Think about organizations that work for reproductive rights (Planned Parenthood!), those that support immigrant women, survivors of domestic violence, and queer people. Support women owned businesses that reflect your values and avoid buying from companies that work against women’s rights.
  3. Act against hatred, bigotry, and violence in all of its forms. It is a feminist act to show up to a march that supports immigrant rights. Know that violence aimed at women, people of color, queer and trans people, and others that hold less power and privilege in society is connected. Support groups combatting hate and building power in these communities. Turn up to protests. Learn the history of violence against underprivileged groups in this country and work to understand how it contributes to the current political climate.
  4. (Especially for white feminists, but applicable to everyone) Feminism is not all about you. While your experience is important it is also one of many and tempered by your identity, power, and privilege. Also, remember that your path in life is not applicable to all women and just because you have succeeded doesn’t mean that sexism and discrimination no longer exists. Get out of your comfort zone and work to listen to, understand, support, and champion the work of feminist and social justice activists who do not have the same background as you.
  5. Listen to women. Believe women. Our culture, legal system, and media actively discounts the experiences of women (and other people in positions where they don’t hold societal power) and saying they are “lying,” “exaggerating,” or “making things up,” especially when they talk about their experience of discrimination or violence. This is also called “gaslighting” – when you deny someone’s experience by saying it is not true or that they are “crazy” until they question it and discount it themselves. The president-elect of the United States does this all the time. Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca became a minor celebrity after she wrote the piece “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.”
  6. Reproductive rights are women’s rights are human rights. Abortion is healthcare. Women have the right to choose what they do with their bodies and whether and when they have a child. Full stop.
  7. Trust your gut. If you feel like discrimination “might be” happening to you or to people around you, take it seriously. What kinds of behaviors or language are making you feel that way? Talk to others in a similar situation, are they feeling it too? For example, I used to work at an immersive coding bootcamp where students learn by coding in pairs. Women students approached me asking how to tell if their pair was acting in a sexist manner, such as disregarding their requests or taking credit for their work . My response was always, “If you genuinely feel something it is probably true. Don’t discount it. Listen to, investigate, and potentially act on that feeling.” Learn to trust your own feelings about the things you want (or don’t want) to do and how you want to live your life. If you are not into something (a partner, a job, having a kid, getting married, moving somewhere, a situation) believe in yourself enough to address it and change it.
  8. Speak up. However you do it, do it! Do you witness a colleague getting shut down or talked over in a meeting? Point it out. Do you see or hear something messed up in the news, on social media, at the dinner table? Call it out. Injustice is everywhere right now and it can feel really overwhelming to say and do something about something so widespread when it feels like more terrible things pile on every day. However, speaking up can lead to greater awareness, which can lead to a course of action where you choose your causes based on your experiences and the needs in your community.
  9. Find and build your community, especially offline. This has never been more important. This world is exhausting, but relationships with other people who understand who we are and what we have been and are going through can sustain us. Invest time and understanding in people who will invest time and understanding in you. This isn’t just brunches, mimosas, and “You go girl!” tweets (though those can be great!), but showing up for your friends, talking about the hard stuff, talking about the great stuff, talking about the taboo stuff, and being there for them. It’s about organizing together and actively making the world a better place for each other.
  10. Reach out to women who inspire you. Take the time and risk to tell women you admire that you appreciate what you they do and that it resonates with you. Sometimes I’m intimidated by really badass women, but I try to swallow my fear and tell them what they mean to me. It goes a long way towards building relationships and making others feel like their struggle and work is worth it.
  11. Share your experience. When we share our stories it can validate another woman/person’s experience and help empower them to share their own. As a teenager reading personal zines by other young women (and some men and trans/gender queer identified people) where they boldly shared their stories, thoughts and perspectives I realized that I too, could find my voice as a young, queer, feminist in this world. When we can tell our own stories we realize we have the power to make them.
  12. Read and learn about women and feminist history. Understand the movement(s) that have made up feminism and the history of feminism, especially the Civil Rights movement, which inspired many modern liberation movements. Read bell hooks, Chandra Mohanty, Gloria Anzaldua, and Angela Davis, among many others.
  13. Resist perfectionism and comparing yourself to other women. There is no “perfect” feminist or feminist archetype. We are all learning and struggling. We will mess up and let ourselves and each other down. Learn to be kind to yourself while still being self-aware. Be willing to  forgive others while staying critical of the many ways sexism works its way into our lives.
  14. Be your own best advocate. Always ask and always negotiate. Always. Whether job responsibilities, your salary, a promotion, your book contract, your duties around the house with your partner, family, or roommate. Practice negotiating for what you want and need. Standing up for yourself is not creating a conflict, but opening a conversation and ensuring that you will be able to bring your best self to that situation because you are valued, not disgruntled.
  15. Say no. Set boundaries. Your body, your time, your space, and your emotional energy is yours to do with what you will. (And I don’t care what the #notmypresident of the US thinks about this one.) 
  16. Take care of yourself. Self-care can sound self-indulgent, but if you are exhausted, over-extended, sick, or ungrounded in yourself you will not be able to stand up for yourself or for anyone else. This past summer Jenna Wortham just wrote a piece in the New York Times about the havoc racist violence was wracking on her health and the health of black communities. The toxicity in this world can literally get under your skin. Take care of your health and take it seriously.
  17. Develop a healthy relationship to beauty, fitness and fashion. These industries all thrive off of women’s insecurities about their bodies and the idea that there’s a perfect standard of womanhood that we all have to be constantly reaching and competing with each other to obtain. I firmly believe that fashion and fitness can be sources sources of power when you use them to feel healthy and great about yourself, express who you are, and not to compete with other women for men or society’s attention or approval, but it’s hard to keep that in balance.
  18. Laugh at how stupid patriarchy is. Even though I make the mistake of taking myself way too seriously humor can be great way to help you through a frustrating situation and help illustrate a feminist point. You don’t need to practice stand up comedy to be funny. Patriarchy is so absurd it can be a great relief to point it out and laugh at it.
  19. Know that you determine how you live your life. You never have to get married, be in a relationship, love a certain type or person, get pregnant, or have a child ever. All of these things are absolutely up to you to choose to do or not.
  20. Believe in your own strength and power. You will express that power and act on it in many different ways. Your relationship to feminism and to yourself will change throughout your life and remember, you don’t “arrive” at being a feminist. Feminism grows and changes with you. It is a process you inhabit and in the action that you take.

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If you are looking for concrete ways to get involved, here’s a few places to start:

Planned Parenthood Action Network – sign up for their local action alerts and information

Showing Up For Racial Justice – A national network of white allies and individuals working to support racial justice in their communities

The ACLU is working on a broad range of civil liberties issues, including women and queer people’s rights, and in New York City organizes volunteer trainings specifically focused on fighting sexism

In Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander is spearheading a massive community organizing group called Get Organized BK – there’s a long list of sub-committees you can join to work on issues around social justice that you are the most passionate about

Remember, overall, keep loving, keep fighting, stay critical, practice self-awareness, try something new, reach out, and keep showing up. We need intersectional feminism, and intersectional feminists, now more than ever.

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