By Erika L Sánchez
16 December 2013
Malala Yousafzai delivered a speech to the UN on her sixteenth birthday. Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
As several media outlets have already pointed out, this has undoubtedly been a huge year for women. Though we experienced an onslaught of attacks on our basic reproductive and human rights (Texas, you're killing me), we should celebrate feminism's various triumphs: women everywhere spoke out against rape culture, Wendy Davis kicked some serious ass on the Texas Senate floor, ultra-precocious 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai gave a speech at the United Nations, and the Solidarity is for White Women hashtag on Twitter got people all hot and bothered, and caused many of us to have important and difficult conversations. The list goes on and on. I'm committed to remaining hopeful, but as always, there is still much work to be done, particularly when it comes to the inclusion of women of colour in the larger feminist sphere, something that has bothered me since I began studying feminism, a problem I'll likely continue to gripe about on my death bed.
Of course, this issue is nothing new – it's deeply-rooted and I don't expect us to solve it in my lifetime, but it never will be solved if we don't try. I, forever romantic and borderline naïve, would like to imagine a world in which all feminists hold each other's hands and sing about vulvae. (I'm only half-kidding.) But maybe future generations will be able to pull this off, so we should at least help establish a foundation for them.
Obviously, feminism is not a homogenous ideology. To me, the most basic definition is this: "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people" (thank you, Gloria Naylor). Beyond that, the diversity is endless. Inevitably, we will disagree with one another, and ideally, healthy discourse makes us all learn, grow, and become better activists and allies. Quarrelling about who's feminist enough, however, is a waste of time and a disservice to us all. I propose we all make a pact that we won't brutally attack each other for having differing points of view. Perhaps it can be our collective New Year's Resolution.
The recent criticism of Michelle Obama, for instance, was incredibly upsetting to me. As a woman of colour, I feel such mean-spirited critiques are manifestations of what is wrong with contemporary feminism. It was clear that Michelle Cottle could not see beyond her privilege to consider that much of what Michelle Obama does, is in fact, feminist. She slams the first lady for focusing on nutrition and exercise without considering how some of our communities are in dire need of guidance and resources. A veggie garden in the middle of a food desert is pretty darn radical, if you ask me. Not only that, the author seems to quickly gloss over the fact that women of colour are often stifled by the stereotype of "angry black/brown women". While she does acknowledge the issue, she doesn't seem to truly care or understand just how paralysing these kinds of stereotypes can be.
But I digress. This is only one example in which white feminists dismiss our realities. Unfortunately, it's all too common. Before a woman attacks another for not being feminist or militant enough, I recommend she asks herself the following: am I an ally to communities of colour? Do I care about women's issues that don't directly pertain to me? Do I care about poverty? Do I address racism? Do I try to support and uplift women of different ethnicities and backgrounds? Is my feminism solely based on my own needs and wants? Am I concerned about the LGBT community? If I'm a pro-choice activist, do I also fight against forced sterilisation? While I don't want to dictate what feminism is or isn't, I do believe that regardless of what one believes feminism is, we should care about all women.
Mainstream outlets also continue to think our stories are not lucrative or newsworthy. All this talk about the booming "Latino market", for example, is in no way reflected in major news websites. Personally, I've felt there in many instances that a publication wanted my work to fulfil some Latino/a quota. Even if my article did really well, that would be the last I'd ever hear from them (this publication is an exception, I should note). In my head, I imagined the editors patting themselves on the back for publishing an article written by a brown woman and then going right back to news that consistently leaves us out. This makes me feel a) like a token b) like a chump and c) incredibly sad. I know many other women who've had similar frustrations.
Feminists of colour need a platform. We need to be part of the conversation. I think I can speak for many of my fellow Latina feminists when I say breaking through and being heard often feels impossible. (While we don't all come together for a weekly meeting, I do commiserate with several on a weekly basis). It's absolutely exhausting to kick down so many doors. Why not just let us in and speak for ourselves? Why is it that mastheads continue to be so white while our country is becoming more and more diverse?
As the journalist Cindy George once said, "If you don't cover black or brown people, your coverage is dishonest." Our stories matter and our concerns desperately need to be heard. Publications need to consistently publish and hire diverse voices. They should do it because it's the right thing to do; not simply when it's trendy or because Twitter says so. Who's with me?