A few weeks ago, I attended an online workshop with a group of white French feminist women.
Kathy Caprino in a Forbes article explains, “Feminism at its core is about equality of men and women.” However, as many of us are aware, the term “feminism” has many different uses, and its meanings are often contested (Stanford 2018). This is heavily due to the fact that middle-class white women from Western Europe and North America have led feminist movements and theoretical developments throughout history.
Since moving to France in 2018, I have continuously found myself in such spaces, unsurprisingly, as the only Black attendee.
More often than not, these gatherings have left me feeling quite uneasy since they usually bring to light how completely different our world-views are.
Maybe that's why I started rolling my eyes and heavily sighing at the end of this latest meeting when one attendee began excitedly chatting about how unexpected it was for the facilitator to (briefly) bring up the fact that Black Lives Matter before the others quickly changed the subject to how brave it was of Anne-Sophie (not her real name) to have had travelled all alone to Spain at the age of 20.
Undoubtedly, it was quite evident that we also have different opinions about what it means to be a feminist.
I am not trying to say that one way is better than the other, since from the moment I moved here, I was actively seeking out spaces just like this, that highlighted feminist voices, because I was under the impression that that was what I needed to feel a sense of belonging.
However, after some very unfulfilling conversations, I slowly started to realise that what I was really looking for was feminist spaces for womxn who not only looked like me but who have also experienced some of the same racial, social and cultural struggles that I was facing and continue to face in mainland France.
So, after reading Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, I finally started thinking more about ‘Intersectionality’ – a term coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 – and whether or not I should just start labelling myself as a Black feminist since mainstream feminism was clearly not cutting it for me.
Black feminism focuses on the intersectional (or overlapping) experiences of being both female and Black since the socio-cultural (racism, sexism, colourism, lack of access to quality education and healthcare) and socio-economic (wage gap, access and availability of affordable housing) experiences of being a Black female differ in many ways from that of a white woman (ibid.).
Therefore, I hoped that by adding my racial identity to my feminist beliefs that I would feel more comfortable with my place within the feminist movement.
However, soon after adopting a new feminist label that I honestly felt quite comfortable with embracing, I was confronted with another dilemma: the “WAP” music video!
“WAP” sent feminists into a tailspin, wondering whether or not they should or should not embrace and support Cardi-B and Megan thee Stallion’s overt and raunchy display of feminine sexuality.
Should we cast this video and song aside since it was co-written and directed by men? Were these artistes doing more harm than good by surrendering to the male gaze?
While reading through the countless debates in the comments section of every major news outlet’s posts about this oeuvre d'art, it dawned on me that I really didn’t care that deeply about the video or its implied messages. I was more entertained by the back and forth between supposed feminists than by the raunchy dance numbers.
I knew that if I jumped on the “ban-the-WAP-music-video” bandwagon that I would be just another hypocrite since YouTube – thanks to my viewing history – often recommends everyone from Lady Saw, “who got your man”, to Destra, who is a self-described “Lucy”, as well as Shensea and Spice, as soon as I log in.
According to the many self-proclaimed male and female feminists in the comments section, this grotesque indifference meant that once again, I had to adopt a whole new feminist label: that of a “bad feminist”!
A bad feminist, as coined by Roxane Gay in Bad Feminist: Essays, is a feminist that loves and does things that could seem at odds with feminist ideology, such as listening to and enjoying music that is degrading to womxn and loving the colour pink, all while challenging the status quo. Think Dolly Parton in 9 To 5.
There you have it ladies and gentlemen! My journey as a feminist had transported me from mainstream feminism to Black feminism to bad feminism.
Therefore, I had to finally come to terms with the fact that I am indeed a walking contradiction. I fight for genderless roles but will be quite offended if a man does not open the door for me. I demand that my thoughts be heard during a work meeting but prefer when my boyfriend orders my dinner at a restaurant.
So, the question still remains: am I a feminist, a Black feminist or just a bad feminist? I believe that the only way that I could truthfully answer this question is to state that at any given moment, I could be any one of these, and at the next, a combination of the three.
I guess that this is what it truly means to be a feminist! Right?
Melanie Jacob is an experienced inclusive media strategist, who also provides one-on-one coaching, workshops and webinars via Melanie Jacob Consulting to individuals and organisations that truly care about being part of a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world.
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*Originally published in SOCIALight Magazine Conscious Growth column Issue 18. Link