International Women’s Day: An Open Letter

Hello, I am a feminist. A half white, half Asian feminist.

But I beg you, non-feminists, not to be so sensitive to words that you refuse to keep reading. This is for you, too.

I’m writing to you today, on International Women’s Day, to ask you to do three things. Only three.

  1. Be a feminist.
  2. Be intersectional.
  3. Let those with less privilege speak, uninterrupted.

First, be a feminist. This might seem ridiculously hard if you’re a dude, but contrary to the popular myth, feminism is not a celebration of the plight of men. Instead, it is a celebration of women, and, as it’s been recently defined, “the radical notion that women are people.” So I ask you, man, woman, or someone in between, that you celebrate women and champion along side them for their cause.

To answer the common question, “But why can’t we call it gender equality?” I propose that feminism is the appropriate word. Currently, the Western world exists with a highly patriarchal structure — that is, people who are heterosexual and male often have more privilege than those who are not heterosexual or male. In this context, by privilege, I mean, “an advantage granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” There have been countless studies on privilege, and it has been proven time and time again that (white) male people have more systemic power than non-(white) male people. For a better illustration on privilege, watch this short video below:

While it might be tempting to argue that women have had “equal rights” for quite a long time, women only got full voting rights in 1920, which was 96 years ago. Some women are alive who were at one point not eligible to vote because of their genitalia. Not only that, but even now, with women HAVING voting rights, many decisions are made regarding the legality of their bodies and the accessibility of their health care, and these decisions are made by people who tend greatly toward being male. By titling our cause “feminism” we are claiming that patriarchal structures put disproportional disadvantage on non-heterosexual, non-male people, and that a non-patriarchal structure would ideally fulfill the goals of gender equality. Not the existing system.

I want to draw attention to what is being blamed, not the who, per se. Yes, there is male privilege. Yes, there is white privilege. Yes, we acknowledge that there are some white male people who have less privilege than other people. However, the vast majority of privilege does not lie with non-male and non-white groups because of societal norms and structures that perpetuate white male privilege. So no, we don’t blame “all white men” but we blame the system that gives white men disproportionate power, and the consequence of dismantling this system will inevitably result in power distribution to other people who are not white, male, or heterosexual, and inevitably as well, result in a shift in power away from white men. Thus is the nature of power.

Next, be intersectional. Being a feminist, as “radical” as that may be, is not enough. As pointed out (helpfully, ironically!) by many men’s rights activists (MRAs*), there are thousands of villages in the world where women have acid thrown upon them, and there are other places where violence against women is a serious problem (FYI the US does have a significant problem with violence against women). There are also women in minority groups who are strongly disadvantaged in the workplace because of the way their hair is textured, because of the color of the skin, or because of the sound of their names. These groups, more than white female groups, suffer the disadvantages of being both female and non-white.

* As an aside to that, MRAs parade banners of men’s plight without proposing any substantial solutions, and use these arguments as a means to silence feminist rhetoric as opposed to providing any substantial initiatives for change — if you have proof of situations in which this does not happen, please send them to me because I’ve heard so many issues and no concrete solutions, that I have no reason to believe otherwise. They cite bias as the primary reason to discount and question the legitimacy of studies on privilege but rarely take responsibility for the sexist comments that follow the supposedly “objective” perspective they hold. MRAs are, frankly, bigots who use the guise of objectivity to mask their subjective and unfounded sexism. Case closed. Next.

One example of a lack of intersectionality, as relevant to the current primary elections, is the anger and outrage that many had over Bernie Sanders’ tone with his statement “Excuse me, I’m talking,” and the simultaneous blind eye that people turned to Hillary Clinton’s speech and her terse, security-escorted ejection of  a female Black Lives Matter activist who was attempting to voice her concerns. Neither of these statements were good for either candidate to make in the eyes of the press, but the way each was treated is a clear symptom of the race issues our country has.

It is important that minority voices are augmented, because as seen over countless incidents, non-white folks are still not taken seriously, are questioned for their legitimacy, and are still demonized for their actions. Even if you believe “Slavery happened so long ago,” here is an accurate picture of how long we have actually not had slaves (keep in mind, slavery also exists outside of the U.S., and our business leaders regularly take advantage of them for cost savings)

IMG_1329
Image by Zerflin Web & Graphic Design

 

Minorities are also disproportionately incarcerated. Black women are more than 6 times as likely to be incarcerated as white women; Latina women, more than twice as likely. So in addition to the existing plight of women, minority women have the added pressure to overcome the odds of their own races’ disadvantages.

sKd8SMS

Finally, let those with less privilege speak, uninterrupted. It is phenomenal that you are still reading, and that you are still interested in celebrating International Women’s Day with us. I urge you to post your favorite badass woman, or celebrate the achievements of your female peers. I urge you to bring to light the many great things that women have done, and use your existing social status to bring to light the suffering and struggling of others who are less privileged than you.

But more importantly, don’t use your status to overshadow those with lower privilege. If someone steps up to speak about their struggles, let them speak, uninterrupted. If someone opens their mouth to speak, and tears flood their faces, let them cry, uninterrupted. If someone screams and their faces turn red with anger, let them scream, uninterrupted. When someone, for their entire life, has been discounted, decried as sinful, harassed, oppressed by actual laws, been physically and verbally assaulted, and time and time again looked over as biased, irrational, or criminal before ever having done a wrong, all due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and/or socioeconomic class, they will be angry. Very angry. And they deserve every second of that anger. They deserve every breath that is exhaled for the purpose of exposing their experience. They deserve to speak every unpleasant word and sound that flows from their lips, because we, as a society, have failed them.

They are entitled to have emotions about their opinions because it is a subject of their lives, and not merely a matter of trivial philosophical chatter. The benefit of privilege is that you can look at a situation like oppression “objectively,” because it has not influenced your life in any way.

They will beat their chests, raise their fists, shout to the heavens and back, and sometimes they may cry and scream. Thus, it is our duty to listen, take notes, and change our world for the better; so that screaming isn’t needed, so that fear isn’t needed, so that all people may feel that for once, their voices are recognized, and that they are recognized, as human.

Happy International Women’s Day.