All encompassing feminism

Ben Ray

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: feminism is not one thing. Now, I know for the majority of people who are even remotely aware of its existence, feminism is, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie claims in We Should All Be Feminists, “the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” But, I would like to complicate that notion by stating that there is no one, true feminism, but rather there are plural feminisms, which are multiple and dynamic. These feminisms are attitudes, points of view and political lenses through which we might challenge the status quo of a patriarchal society. It is important here at the beginning of this piece to explain that it is not that I consider those equalities that Adichie cites are unimportant. In fact, I think that they are very important. Yet, this cannot be all there is.

Feminisms cannot merely encompass those things which we have been conditioned to believe are important. What does “political equality” entail if it does not consider the heteropatriarchal order that exists already in our society? Can such inequalities be liberally corrected within the systems in which they currently exist? Or, do we need to conceptualize complete liberation from these systems in order to exist equally? Furthermore, what does equality mean? Who gets to decide who is equal and who is not?

These are the kinds of questions that feminisms are set to answer. It seems obvious at this point to ask, “Well, what can feminism do practically?” This is an interesting question because who said that feminisms need to be practical any way? When we fight for equality, it seems to me that we must be fighting for liberation as well. Equality, then, becomes a practical medium for liberation from heteropatriarchal mandates–reproduction, economic production, and racial purity. Unlike Adichie, I stake my claim in a more radical kind of feminism that resists the tendency to settle for uncomplicated and un-interrogated notions of liberal idealism–freedom, equality and citizenship.

I realize as I write this that it may be from a vantage point of privilege that I take this stance. Perhaps a confluence of white privilege and class privilege cloud my conceptualizing and prioritizing of the needs and aims of feminisms. Perhaps, even, I cannot understand the importance of using a common definition for feminism in making more people feminists. Yet, these possibilities seem flat to me and rely on the very closed categories of which feminisms should be most critical. What is important, in my estimation, is that no feminist ever be satisfied by what feminisms mean, what they can do or for whom they can be effectively utilized.

Feminisms must be multivalent, alterable and untethered from staunch definitions produced by even the most ardent feminist. Within this piece that I have written, I have been prescriptive to some ends. By saying what feminisms must be, we whittle down their possible activations and radical potentialities. Any conception of a feminism, whether it be queer, or Black, or Womanist, or lesbian, utilizes feminisms in a particular way and semantically circumscribes feminisms’ meanings within a particular political agenda. This semantic circumscription transforms feminisms to Feminism–that enigmatic belief in “the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

However, this is no free-for-all. Feminisms cannot, I believe, be used against their own interests. There have been numerous debates happening across this campus, for example, about what a feminist can be. Well, this is a difficult question that forces us to think of feminisms in the manner that I have described throughout this piece. Quite simply, feminisms cannot be tied down to strict definitions, but they also cannot be used in whatever way seems to be most politically efficacious. Feminisms, above many other things, value the lives and experiences of people who do not fall under the protection of the heteropatriarchal system. Therefore, feminisms do not take under their purview the ideals of this system, which values compulsory reproduction, production and racial purity. These are some of the things that feminisms cannot accept.

I suppose if there were something that I wanted from feminisms, it would be the future. I say this with all the seriousness that I can muster and with all the righteous indignation that I allow myself. The future, in my view, must be a feminist one if liberation is imaginable. Feminisms must continue to complicate ideals, challenge the status quo and resist their own limitations.

Ben Ray is a graduate student in gender and race studies. He serves as the Event and Planning Coordinator for the UA Feminist Caucus.