By Mariana Álvarez Castillo •
Originally published on Afroféminas •
Regarding the feminist commemoration dates, it is important to think about some of the discussions that have historically taken place within the movement, but that in the context of the recent 8M are shaken, deepened, and resumed. I like to think that this is what these dates are for: not to assume that all the answers have been given, to surrender to the dilemma, the contradiction, the discomfort of being an activist, being anti-patriarchal, being anti-racist.
We know that feminism is, since its founding, a western and white movement … and we also know that much discussion has been necessary for the category of “woman” to be de-universalized. In this regard, Islamic women, Black women, Indigenous women, trans women, fat women and peripheral women have told us a lot each time they questioned this category to make visible how non-hegemonic women live feminism.
Thus, the anti-racist struggle within the feminist movement persists, because for colonial thought and its dominant system, the racialized women were not women, they were not human and much less feminists. Racialized women were not subject to rights as white women were. We know that leading suffragettes, such as Carrie Chapman Cat (1859-1947), saw in the female vote a possibility to strengthen white supremacy and in no way dismantle the power relations that existed between white women and racialized women. Today, carceral feminism, imperialist feminism, trans-exclusionary feminism persists… and also a feminism that is disguised as empowerment, appropriating the identities of non-dominant cultures. The anti-racist discussion, like many others, is still valid.
We also know that feminism is not the only way to be anti patriarchal and that many women have positioned themselves politically against gender oppressions without calling themselves feminists, precisely because they have not felt called upon by hegemonic feminism. Even so, authors like María Lugones, bell hooks and Oyèrónkẹ Oyěwùmí, to name just a few, have come to dispute the term to decolonize it … to think of another feminism, other bodies and other latitudes, but today how do we live that otherness? How do black, Caribbean, latina feminists respond to womanhood?
From the Dominican Republic and on the occasion of March 8, International Women’s Day, the Feminist Anti-racist and Decolonial Collective Junta de Prietas, posted on their Instagram account a video of their performance that is titled by the indelible question of Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a woman? Under the theatrical direction of Isabel Spencer, from Maleducadas Collective, and through the lens of Joannè Gòmez, Junta de Prietas again brings up the question, are women the black ones? Does feminism recognize the perspectives of non-normative women?
In that video of close-ups that enclose the irreverent gestures of Agatha Jamine, Alicia Méndez, Isis Amador, Johanna Agustín, Fátima González, Ruth C. and Yuderkys Espinosa, each one insolently waves small fabrics that recall the paraphernalia of the purple scarf, symbol of hegemonic feminism. Standing in front of the camera they remind us that:
• Are only those educated, studious and knowledgeable about the world, women? When we talk about studious women, what knowledge do we mean? Do we legitimize another production of knowledge that is not white, academic and Western? Do we really wonder which women can access these spheres of knowledge?
• Feminism will be anti-racist or it won’t be, say all the banners … But what practices do we establish beyond mentioning intersectionality? Why is it that when a white woman speaks of intersectionality with an inclusive tone, she is deconstructing her privilege; But when a black woman mentions the oppressions of feminism, she is dividing the movement? Are we actually relating in an anti-racist way?
• What is femininity? How is it embodied? Is it biology that decides for us? Junta de Prietas says are starving women not women?… So, only the ladies are women? Can third world black women be ladies? Do third world black women want to be ladies? And of course, those who are born with a penis, are they not women?
• Honoring ancestry, memory and community is another way of making history. Empowered and individualistic feminism is not the answer for those of us who seek to weave other narratives, to get out of the ghost of productivity and binary thinking. How to reclaim, in the words of Junta de Prietas, our untold story?
In this performance, Junta de Prietas very forcefully embraces historical tensions and criticisms for which many people have never stepped on feminism, while others who have been feminists, today are not.
From my subjectivity, I enjoy thinking that feminism continues to be a path through which women of otherness can travel, thanks to the work of our teachers, thanks to my friends with whom I share and reflect daily, thanks to the migrants who deconstruct belonging. However, I have not come to defend feminism as a flag bearer, on the contrary, I have come to think about what it means to keep the discussions going and dispute certain areas, not to be included, but so that inclusion is no longer necessary. Feminism cannot be something that we do not question, it cannot be an imposition, it cannot be lived with instructions or attitudes supposedly worthy of the title. Feminism cannot be untouchable or sacred. Feminism should not generate idolatries but neither should it ruin our lives, as many say. I think that feminism should be that space to which we go to deconstruct ourselves in order to build ways of feeling that are not based on power relations or punitive behaviors. Feminism can be a space to embrace our contradictions, to imagine the realities we want and try to lift them up, but more important than that, feminism must continue to be a starting point to discuss, problematize and denounce, inside or outside of it.
The performance of Junta de Prietas makes it clear to me that beyond calling ourselves feminists or not, what we must work for, it is to participate in the discussion, to dispute the terms, because what is not named does not exist.
Mariana Álvarez Castillo is a Diasporic, Caribbean and Decolonial Feminist, who holds a Bachelor of Arts from the Central University of Venezuela, and a Master’s Degree in Image Studies from the Alberto Hurtado University of Chile. She currently works as an Audiovisual Producer in Mexico City and writes for Afroféminas Magazine.