Intersectionality in the feminist movement

Sehar Ezez

Last week, my peers Cassidy Ellis and Lindsay Macher, along with Ruth Bishop, put forth two opposing views to explain the obstacles each side perceives as issues with inclusiveness within the feminist communities. Both parties raised excellent questions regarding anti-abortion/abortion-rights opponents within the community and the problems with having members with such strong disagreements within the same organization. While I agree with Ellis and Macher that the advancement of women’s reproductive rights is a basic healthcare necessity, I also agree with Bishop that participating in the feminist community is often daunting for those who may identify with other causes.

As a Pakistani-American Muslim woman who chooses to observe Hijab, or the covering of one’s hair with a headscarf, my presence in feminist communities is a hindrance. My perception of feminism has often been that it’s the right of women to access healthcare, education, political, social and economic rights, with a strong emphasis on the first two areas. In many nations, particularly nations afflicted with war and poverty, healthcare and education are the first victims, and these two factors are the most important for women’s advancement. These two factors are basic necessities in the twenty-first century, without which social, political and economic equality cannot be achieved. 

As a woman of faith from a culture rich with traditions and customs that seem strange to my American peers, I often see it as important to retain those customs and remain proud of my heritage and faith, with an emphasis on improving social conditions within my community. However, when I assert myself in American feminist communities, I am often met with harsh criticism.

“How can you have the audacity to speak on feminism when you choose to cover yourself in accordance with the doctrine of a male-dominated culture?”

“How can you speak on the advancement of women when you choose to pull yourself back by covering your head and following such a religion?”

These two questions are the first ones I’m met with when I try to join the conversation, which presents itself as a challenge. I see my right to cover myself equally as important as one’s right not to cover. I, along with many other Muslim women, believe the choice to cover one’s hair is just that: our choice. As a Pakistani-American Muslim woman, I will maintain my right to declare myself a feminist and fight for my issues alongside other feminists. I will demand my voice be heard in a respectful manner. I may disagree with my peers in key aspects of my beliefs, but I maintain my right to identify as a feminist. 

When I’m attacked and dismissed for my choice to cover, I feel isolated. And I am not alone in this feeling of isolation. African-American women who participate in the Black Lives Matter movement, Native-American women who demand recognition of the genocide of their people and culture, Hispanic/Latino-American women who fight to fix immigration issues and LGBT women who face discrimination and harassment on an institutional level are examples of others who feel disenfranchised by third-wave feminism.

As minorities, our sense of duty to our community is coupled with our sense of duty to the feminist cause and ultimately are inseparable. As minorities, we demand our voices be heard in the feminist community, as well.

You see, we bring with us to the table a multitude of issues and the intersectionality of multiple movements. And like Ms. Bishop, I find this issue of intersectionality with my feminist identity with other identities can often be intimidating to address in the mainstream feminist movement. But I challenge Ms. Bishop, Ms. Ellis and Ms. Macher to overcome these differences. 

As women, our positions in society will only advance when we all agree that our social, economic and political advancement and our access to healthcare and education must improve. And in that agreement we must realize that we hold different views which at times must be put aside to stand in solidarity with our basic rights. To my peers in the Feminist Caucus, I ask you to extend your hand to the anti-abortion community to show solidarity. To my peers in anti-abortion organizations, I ask that you recognize when sincere efforts are made to show inclusion and that you meet them with respect, not with an opportunity to advance your own cause. Our differences will only be solved when we make sincere efforts to recognize our similarities and treat one another with respect.

Sehar Ezez is a senior majoring in history. Her column runs biweekly.