Oftentimes I get dubbed as a “feminist” due to my constant rambling about how women should have rights equal with (not “to”) those of their male counterparts; how women are in no way inferior to men, not biologically nor intellectually; and how women should be able to do whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want, and however they want, without having to ask for a man’s permission, nor having to put up with their primitive impositions. Further, many a times people would assume that I must be a feminist, especially considering that I am keenly dedicating my life to the development and emancipation of Pashtun women (both in academia and in my personal life). And, yes, while all that is true about me, the belief that I am a feminist is not.
Yes, there, I said it. I do not, in any way, consider myself a feminist. Not anymore, anyway. And I will explain why in just a second.
My readers need to understand that it wasn’t too early when I came to realize and learn about feminism. And by not too early, I mean in my early 20s. I made it through undergrad, always wondering why women were always suffering in the hands of men (particularly in developing countries); often subjugated; often maimed and abused; and often treated and considered lower than mere cockroaches. And while I was always an advocate for women and their “rights,” I never blatantly called myself a feminist per se. Part of the reason was that I did not acknowledge the existence of the word before, and even if I did, like many people, I automatically assumed it to be a more discreet denotation of what I’d like to call the “men-hater’s club.” I assumed that that was all what feminism was about; hating on men because they were the ultimate cause of women’s sufferings and oppression. But boy was I incredibly limited in my conjecture!
However, it was in my last year of undergrad, when I took a course on Gender studies, that I was exposed to terms like “feminist/feminism/womanism,” and it was then onwards that I suddenly embraced the feminist tag with a fervor, not truly understanding the true essence of the label (and by ‘true’ label, I am not referring to the “men-hater’s club”!). I don’t, till this day, truly understand why I embraced the label so passionately, and kept it, up until a couple years ago. Perhaps, it was “cool” at the time and had become a trend, so I suddenly felt the urge and the need to associate myself as one too. I mean, why not? I’d studied International Development Studies and I was passionate about women’s rights. So, it was perfect at the time. My readers, however, should know that I deeply despise labels and being labeled, because it then gives off the perception of the absolute “belonging,” which I feel limits me as a human being and most importantly of all, as a woman. And I do not like to be limited in how I view the world and how the world views me. Not. At. All. But back then, I made an exception. For being labeled a “feminist” almost gave me a feeling of empowerment, because, I, too, felt like I was part of a meaningful foundation; a part of something powerful; a part of a movement that dared to think and promote the conviction that women are, in fact, living, breathing humans too!
Nevertheless, now, a few years later, I walk away from this label as fervently as I first embraced it. And people, close friends and colleagues, as well as my professors would sometimes ask me why I don’t consider myself a feminist anymore. And as much as I’d wished I had a concise answer to this question, I would just tell them that there are too many definitions to the label and that it misleads people into thinking that I’m one type of feminist, when I could be of another type – a type that I, myself, feel most comfortable with. Yet, not many people are particularly aware that the label encompasses a plethora of types, and while they may have similar goals, they may not have similar meanings/definitions. And, I personally have a problem with this.
Believe it or not, my having to walk away from labeling myself a feminist and making this conscious choice has, to many, been particularly alien and, for lack of a better word, rather daunting. I was talking to a friend once — a friend whom I love dearly and who calls herself a “staunch feminist” — and she told me how she couldn’t understand why I’ve decided to shrug myself of the label altogether, when clearly all my thoughts and actions indicate otherwise. And I just turned to her and smiled – my dimpled smile that is – and told her that just because I don’t label myself a feminist does not, in any way, mean that I don’t know what the movement is about, in essence of course, nor does it imply that I’m against the objectives that the many types of feminists promote. While there may be some that I disagree with, there are many that I certainly agree with and have, in fact, incorporated into my life goals/objectives.
I guess my reader must still be wondering why I’m droning on and on about this topic, when I have yet to provide a reason as to why I do not consider myself a feminist anymore. I mean what gives, right? Well, partly the reason is that when we look back at the early origins of the word ‘feminism’, one will realize that some of the “heroes” of the movement were, sad to say, the same people who were advancing arguments like how White women should have the right to vote in order to ensure that they’d outvote Blacks in elections, and that birth control would prevent the “unfit” (Blacks, again, of course, as well as other people of “colour”) from reproducing. Hence, blatant racism and classism were deeply rooted and intertwined in early feminism, even though people of all classes and races participated in freedom marches as well as the civil rights movement. Yet, there always existed this subtle and uncanny form of bigotry that has since leaked its way into the present day, which is a gross fact that most self-proclaimed feminists don’t like, or perhaps even refuse, to acknowledge. Hence, going back to my argument about the the different types of feminists, the concept of intersectionality, of considering other lived experiences, is present in some (not all) types of feminism, but is not universal. And simply sweeping these issues under the carpet doesn’t make them go away, for it alienates people, especially women (who are not White, obviously) that may feel excluded by spaces where it’s pretty blatant that they are not welcome.
However, I do not want to mislead anyone reading this into thinking that feminism is a bad thing. No, it’s not. I mean for those of us who have read or studied gender-based books/courses, will quickly learn that feminism is a heavily sex-and gender-focused movement. And that, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. Right? Right! Sex-and gender-based oppression are things that happen and need to be addressed. Unfortunately, my view of the world doesn’t split identities that way; I can’t just only look at women per se, even though my focus is Pashtun women. I see the whole body; the whole picture. And gender, by itself, does not refer to women only, as most people seem to assume. Gender includes both women and men! Yeah, sure, women have problems, but so what? (And when I say women, I am referring to my Pashtun women.) We all know this. It’s old news. And we all know women are constantly faced with all sorts of violence. Again, that’s nothing new. It’s all already been said and done. Countless times. Thus, what I am trying to relay is that we need to dig in deeper. We need to understand the environment in which they’re living; their culture/beliefs; their way of life; and we also need to look at the foundations upon which their subjugation is based: who is being oppressed? How is the oppression happening? Why is it happening? And can we simply blame the man for always oppressing/subjugating women? Couldn’t it be possible that women oppress other women as well? As a Pashtun woman and as an academic, I can’t view the world from such a skewed lens anymore. It’s too biased and undermines the purpose of intellectual research, ‘cause pointing fingers and putting the blame on one person/sex, or groups of people, doesn’t help solve the problem; nor the issue at hand. Not necessarily anyway.
But then again, there is more to it than just gender. I mean let’s take reproductive rights, for example. When one focuses on such rights solely from the perspective of middle-class White women, then they might miss the larger picture of reproductive justice, and the social/cultural issues that might also potentially impact women with disabilities, Black women, other women of colour, etc., which inevitably allows one to leave non-White women out and make them feel excluded. So, to me, lived experiences are too complex to carve apart. And perhaps feminists do need a space that is just about sex/gender– keeping it as narrow and fractional as possible – but for me that’s a problem and it’s definitely not a space for me, because nothing in my world is that simple (yes, I love anything and everything that is complex, especially when it comes to issues pertaining to women and development). And hey, that’s okay, right? Who said that every single woman should be the same, with the exact same thoughts, beliefs, and actions? I choose to be different from the norm (is being a feminist a norm these days? Seems like it!). And I’m entitled to my own feelings and opinions. If someone has a problem with my not choosing to label myself a feminist, then that’s not really my problem now is it? People often assume I’m a feminist because of my passions, but I’m not.
“You are a feminist! Why don’t you just admit it, damnit?! Or maybe you’re a feminist in all but name,” they would tell me, shaking their heads from side to side, confused. And I would just smile and tell them that I don’t really need labels to identify as a female – a woman – who wants to and is helping other women challenge and fight against patriarchy, inequality, and oppression. And while prominent feminists seem to be representing their movement as rooted in anti-sexism; that, by itself, is not the only thing I want to fight against. Because, as a visible minority (coloured) woman living in the West, and as an ethnic Pashtun woman, I can’t just limit myself by focusing on sexism alone, which, don’t get me wrong, is a very prominent problem to fight against. But, I am also anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-women-oppressing-women, etc., for these, too, are issues that are heavily embedded within the Pashtun societies in which I will be conducting my research over the next few years (and perhaps even decades).
So, yes, to conclude: I am not a feminist. I am just a Pashtun woman who is very passionate about women’s issues, especially among Pashtuns. 🙂
Finally, I would like to end this article with a little write-up that my dear friend, Farah, shared on her Facebook wall, which I absolutely loved and felt that it pretty much summed up the gist of my article. Here it is:
First of all, there is always that bunch of rabid “feminists” who question your feminism all the time – as if, being a human being and being a feminist are two entirely different things, and being a feminist=being a super human being: “Oh, you like that show and you call yourself a feminist?”, “Oh, you need to inform yourself more on what feminism means, what sexism means, what racism means….what shit means, what piss means, what fart means. And how and why when a feminist farts it smells better.”
Ok, I may have overdone it there a little but you get the point. And the most annoying of all: “You don’t consider yourself a feminist???? WHAT IS WRONG WITH EQUAL RIGHTS, YOU MISOGYNIST WOMAN.” As though without having that inane label, I lose all my right to be a decent human being, and without that label, I also lose sensitivity towards issues that not only mean something to me, but have personally impacted me.
The label is over-used, pointless, and not needed. We are not the labels we intend to wear, we are the things we *do*, what we feel deep down inside, we are our thoughts, we are the people we spend most time with, we are our habits, we are imperfections.We are human, I am human, and just by virtue of being one, I too can feel and empathize and try to make things better. No labels required.
Also, the argument that we must consider ourselves ‘feminists’ because the feminists before us did so much for us is a little too much. So, in order to show our gratitude towards them, we should wear a label we are not comfortable wearing? I don’t think those feminists who did fight for us and who do continually fight for us are doing that so that they can convert a maximum number of women into self-proclaimed feminists. Feminism isn’t a cult, now is it? Well, feminists asking women to call themselves feminists because feminism did so much for them certainly do make it seem like a cult.