I used to dread going to many of my feminist theory or feminist themed classes; especially the graduate ones. While the course content could have been interesting, the classes were often filled with women, many of whom were well beyond their twenties, who asked questions like these: Can you enjoy baking cookies for your family and still be a feminist? Can you want to be married and still be a feminist? Can you wear makeup and be a feminist? Having to endure these simple worries and flighty concerns about living in the world with an oppositional conscience was indescribably painful. This foolishness has followed me beyond the classroom to conferences where women make comments like this one: “As I heard you speak about women hiding from the spotlight instead of claiming their authority and revealing their credentials, I decided to put my speaker’s badge on and to stop hiding [THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE].” Again, I was miserable.
For me, being a feminist means having an oppositional consciousness that enables you to understand how systems of power operate and to then utilize that understanding to confront normalizing ideologies concerning one’s identity so as to resist those systems in order to insist on having freedom and dignity as a human being. Currently, popular, media conversations regarding Beyonce’s latest album remind me of those foolish graduate school discussions. Whether or not Beyonce is really a feminist or if she actually teaches us something about being feminist is just so much nonsense to me. First off, in order to learn more about feminism that spoke to her own developing consciousness regarding empowerment, Beyonce does not claim to have read any books that might have helped her; too, she does not claim to have drawn on her experiences traveling abroad to shape her views; nor did she even claim the fine art, that so clearly influences her aesthetic, as influencing her understanding of feminism. Instead of drawing on her own life experiences as primary sources to define feminism, she conducted a YouTube search. Now, I’m not hatin’ on her for any of this; at least she wasn’t on YouTube trying to figure out how to build a bomb to murder people at church, a movie theater, a school, or a hospital. What I don’t understand is how you can have the resources to read, travel, experience art in its many forms and yet lack the ability to read your world and to create “other models by which to live.” Why wouldn’t it be prudent to actually use your experience of the actual world to inform your relationship to feminism and supplement those experiences with other sources?
I have known people who were so poorly educated that they never learned to read. But these same people were committed to living with dignity and integrity; too, they could tell you what made for a good life on their own terms. I don’t think any of these folk called themselves feminists but they lived out their understanding of how systems of domination operated in direct opposition to their desire to be free. To that end, I don’t think people, even public personalities, are required to explain what may look like inconsistency or account for what may appear to be at odds with one’s ideological stance. Depending on the situation, your ideological viewpoint may not accord with what circumstances demand. There are numerous accounts of black people who saw nonviolence as an effective tool for systemic change, but who also carried guns or accepted the protection of folk who toted guns–even Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the protection of armed black folk in Birmingham in the aftermath of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.
When I was growing-up, people used to say, “sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.” This pronouncement acknowledges flux and change in life thereby suggesting that ideological positions cannot serve as an answer for all things, at all times, and in all situations. If you have to give yourself a name that describes your political stance, Rodin offers a good one “The Thinker.”