When we hear about feminism in the media, it seems to be this homogenous idea for all women, that represents all women but what pop culture understands as feminism is only a small portion of the vast varieties of FEMINISMS. Yes feminisms, plural not singular. The movement in its inception was only represented by white, upper middle class, heterosexual, cisgender women. Black women, lesbian women, immigrants, indigenous, poor, disabled, trans, none of these women were talked about or represented and as the second wave approached feminism started to redefine itself by these women who felt they needed a voice of their own.
By the time the third wave had hit, we had defined feminism through the
concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality looks at how a person’s various identities can affect their experiences. For example, how would ones class and race affect their experiences of the world? If for example you were poor and white, your skin colour would give you privilege. Simple truth is, you wouldn’t have to worry about being followed around in a store in fear that you might steal something because rationally we know stealing is about an individual’s choice. But we make it a race problem because we associate certain qualities like criminality to different groups of people. In this way we disempower certain people based on the categories of identity they inhabit.
To me, history plays a key role in understanding feminism because if the structures of the past were really gone than it would be history but they’re not. To say something is in the past like slavery is to deny the structure of oppression has just transformed to something more subtle like when racist ideologies within a society link criminality to race. That’s why the argument that feminism is not needed anymore because women have achieved rights means nothing. Patriarchy has just transformed the way it oppresses women, regardless of the rights we won.
This understanding of the importance of history in feminism came from me trying to learn about my own historical and cultural identity. Personally, I never felt I fit into the stereotypical Serbian identity but I couldn’t throw away my heritage. I enjoyed having a unique culture but I was also assimilated within the Canadian context. Never fully Serbian or Canadian where ever I went. However, recently I have accepted that I am both a Canadian citizen and a Serbian Immigrant and I don’t have to choose either identity. Both pieces makeup the whole that is my existence.
Unfortunately, with the rise of nationalism and colonial ideologies of the “white nation”, time has shown that nothing is ever truly in the past, it just changes form. As Trumps America is resembling Hitler’s Nazi Germany in the 21st century context of globalization and capitalism, more and more. We need feminism more and more. We need people to understand that tearing others apart and oppressing them because of their differences won’t make a country great. Instead, it will tear itself apart.