At The Intersection
Intersectionality and feminism were two words that I hadn’t even considered putting together until I read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s amazing book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, in which she advocates for greater race analysis in the feminist movement. Reading about her own experiences I was prompted to reflect on my own and how being a woman of Sri Lankan descent has practically impacted me.
When I was around 12/13 and in a textiles shop a white man came up to me, asked where I was from and said ‘you are very beautiful for a Sri Lanka girl, most of them are ugly.’ There was not one part of me that was flattered by his comment, but I remember feeling deeply uncomfortable that this man had firstly approached a young girl so unashamedly, second commented on my physical appearance before judging me as a person and thirdly insulted an entire population of women all in one sentence. That is probably the first time (that I can remember) that I noticed the struggle of being a woman, and particularly a woman of colour. Growing up I wanted to look like all the pretty white girls I saw on TV shows, have my hair in loose waves although my hair was a frizzy mop, I felt compelled to start shaving my legs early because mine were so much more hairy than my friends, I had to explain to my white friends why I threaded my eyebrows and upper lip, I’d felt like I was only pretty for an asian girl and I watched as people judged and often celebrated the fact that I maybe wasn’t like ‘one of those typical asian girls’. Yes, a lot to go through as a young teenager still trying to figure out life!
As I have grown I have found myself better able to come to terms with the physical worries and insecurities that come with being a woman of colour, however, that does not mean that I still do not notice the masses of distinctions that not only separate me from my male counterparts, but also other women too. I think part of the reason that I, and I am sure many other women of colour, struggle with insecurities like these is because there are not enough role models to advocate for the troubles we go through. Rupi Kaur is an amazing of example of someone who embodies the spirit of feminism through the lens of a woman in colour and having more people like her in the world makes me confident that more young girls won’t have to grow up feeling ashamed of their dark body hair or wishing that they were white. However, it will certainly take many more women like Rupi to exist in the world before we can see any real change to racial representativity in the feminist movement.
The way intersectionality impacts me today has progressed significantly from my focus on aesthetics way back when. Now, as an aspiring lawyer, when I find myself applying for jobs I am often conflicted about whether I focus on the diversity and inclusion of the firm with regards to women, or to people from BAME backgrounds as often there is no group, organisation or forum where the two are combined. This choice is upsetting as these are two issues I am hugely passionate about, but sacrificing one for the other is a horrible choice, but one that reflects the reality of the lack of representation in the feminist movement. Whilst it is massively inspiring for me to see women reach levels of seniority in law firms that I am interested in, this comes with the tablespoon of salt that most of these women don’t look like me. Although I have nothing but admiration for women who are succeeding, smashing ceilings and generally winning at life, I am desperately hopeful that we will see more and more women of colour doing the same and I think recognising the race inequality in the feminist movement is the first step to addressing this problem.
One final thought, although I have written about my personal struggles with race and being a feminist, I am very fortunate that these do not put me in danger on a daily basis. However, for many women of colour, their very existence can mean that they are under threat from law enforcement, certain activists groups and indeed individuals with their own hatreds and instilled racism. Raising awareness for this problem is massively significant, otherwise we risk being part of a movement which only focuses on the struggles of a few, as opposed to the many. True solidarity and sisterhood I believe will come when we can all not only recognise our own struggles, but see that some women in particular will be struggling more and reflect on how we can help these women and ourselves at the same time.
Written by P, April
Recommended articles and books:
‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Rupi Kaur is a poet who has written the following collections of poems: ‘the sun and her flowers’ and ‘milk and honey’.
Article on intersectional feminism by Tamela J. Gordon: https://medium.com/@shewritestolive/breaking-up-with-intersectional-feminism-689cfab82b7e