Throughout this semester, the ShoutOut! cohort has discussed a multitude of topics; ranging from gun violence to sexual assault to white patriarchy and racism in feminist circles. When I first joined the ShoutOut cohort, I didn’t know what to expect. My first assumptions were “A feminism class? At a PWI (Predominately White Institution)? It’s giving white feminism.” I knew my class would be filled with individuals who didn’t look like me. But, this is my fourth year at the university so that was expected. I was scared that some of my more radical views would be seen as confrontational and not constructive. When you’re a Black person in a predominantly white space, especially a Black woman, you are constantly hyper aware of how others will perceive you and what stereotypes will be ascribed to you when you express your opinions.
With somewhat of a background in Feminist Theory and knowing the various waves of feminism, I knew that Black women were constantly erased and abused in white feminist circles. The issues that white women advocated for weren’t applicable to ALL women. It was disheartening to learn about this and see it play out in my life. I definitely empathize with Black women who do not identify as “feminists” because this space does not always feel like it is for us. There is a constant demonization, downplaying, and erasure of our voices.
Although I came into class as an apprehensive feminist, I knew the values that I hold dearly and that no matter how I was treated or perceived in a space, those feelings were mine and deserved to be vocalized. My evolution as a feminist started in high school when I believe that all women should be independent and have their own money. This view prompted me to look down on stay at home moms or “gold diggers.” I didn’t see the point in relying on someone else for money but I was completely ignoring the fact that many women are being abused and manipulated in these situations. There are women who are constrained by the social norms of their culture and may not feel like self-sustainability is a choice. We also have to consider how low income women who are financially constrained in those spaces. Finally, the most important realization was that there are also women who just want to be in those spaces and that is completely valid as well.
I have these same feelings about sex work. I may not want to be a sex worker but I hold space for and appreciate women who are sex workers. I admire their confidence and sexiness. I think it’s important to acknowledge the various ways that women in these situations have agency and there are many women who don’t. It’s important to be welcoming to women who are sex workers and love their jobs and but dismantle systems where women and young girls are forced into sex work.
That’s what feminism is all about. It’s about accepting and meeting women where they are and dismantling systems that oppress them. I may not want to participate in everything other women do but that does not mean that I should look down on them or ostracize them. It’s about understanding each other, listening, and growing together.
This idea of understanding how societal structures play into and influence the daily actions of individuals has informed my evolution as a feminist. It has also informed my discussion contributions in class and the grace that I give to my fellow cohort members when they express their opinions. If you are struggling to find your space in feminism, try to be open-minded, do your research, and advocate for the underdog.