There is a proverb that says, “if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together”. I’ve found this to be true and it’s what, for me, makes the sisterhood aspect of this month’s Liberté, Egalité, Sororité theme so important.
For liberty and equality to mean something it needs to be inclusive. Audre Lorde famously said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”. When she spoke those words, she may well have been sending a message to a feminist movement that had historically centred a white, heteronormative, cis-gender narrative. This legacy continues to be felt as highlighted in Ijeoma Olou’s book ‘So You Want to Talk About Race’. Olou writes “…even though black women have been at the heart of every feminist movement in this country’s (USA) history – nobody marches for us when we are raped, when we are killed, when we are denied work and equal pay. Nobody marches for us.”
In 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’ which explores the idea that discrimination does not exist in isolation and one person can face multiple discriminations at once. A white cis-gender woman may face prejudice in the workplace because she is a woman, but a disabled, queer woman can be discriminated against because she is queer, disabled, a woman or for all these reasons at once. Striving for equality without acknowledging the unique challenges we face as individuals equates to erasure and invalidates the experiences that are all too real for those who live them.
In her book ‘Hood Feminism’ Mikki Kendall delivers a stark indictment of the feminist movement, she writes: “Food insecurity and access to quality education, safe neighbourhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. Instead of a framework that focuses on helping women get basic needs met, all too often the focus is not on survival but on increasing privilege.”
It is the responsibility of the sisterhood to fight for all its members including those who may be too poor, too exhausted or too ill to join the fight themselves; just because they are not out in the streets marching doesn’t make them invisible.
Social media has made it easier than ever for us to make noise about injustice. The success of movements such as #metoo and #blacklivesmatter proves there is power in numbers and that change can happen if enough of us demand it. If we are to achieve a truly feminist society, we must make space for every single one of us to be heard because that is the only liberty, equality and sisterhood worth having.
Written by Rachel Matthews