Yesterday I was sitting in the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Caucus. Many interesting things came out of that space, and one of them was a comment by a participant, her name was Maria. She stood up and said that we need to “clear up the feminist movement, it is becoming too white and too straight”.
I, naturally, tweeted this comment. I received a ‘raised eyebrow’ on twitter for it. And I am assuming that there were many more raised eyebrows. I realised that the tweet does seem quite threatening to white and/or straight self identified feminists within the movement, and white and/or straight self identified people outside of the movement.
I think the comment was threatening or caused discomfort for two reasons: the tweet was out of context, and would have been better understood if the audience reading it had been sitting in the session. Secondly, white and/or straight feminists (and all people) are threatened by the notion of giving up power. This is often due to the fact that they do not know what it means to give up power, to share the space.
The call for this ‘clearing up’ was in fact a call for the diversification of the feminist movement, a greater inclusivity of all people from various race, class, gender, sexual identities and every other category. Not a removal of white and/or straight feminists from the movement.
We need to acknowledge that for too long, since the beginning of the feminist movement, that white and straight/heterosexual voices have dominated the movement, have set the agenda for people who self-identify otherwise and for whom the agenda may not apply. The movement has also always been dominated by middle class concerns (which are often white and/or straight feminist concerns). What Maria was calling for was a movement that was inclusive of all voices. A movement where all voices feel they can speak and have authority.
The movement needs to steer clear of prescribing an agenda and “giving voice” to people. People have their own voices, they must simply be allowed to speak and must be listened to when they speak. All experiences are legitimate, all experiences are powerful, all stories are valid – all that is necessary is that the power balance in the movement shifts. It must become a true collective. And that is what was meant by the call to “clear up the feminist movement”.