Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"...Or else you're just a feminist."

The program I am in is a non-stop flight from ignorance to overwhelming.  Since my arrival in Manila almost three weeks ago, I have spent about 17 hours everyday in lectures with historians, activists, peasant farmers, union leaders, scholars, and the poor people of this country.  There is little time for rest, let alone for writing.

Part of the danger in not writing is not processing.  Without processing there can no progress.  Without progress, what am I doing here?  And so today, it's as if my writing soul and my physical body agreed to join in illness.  I'm ill enough to stay in my bed, but well enough to write.  This has been the most physical journey I have taken in many, many years.  My life in the US is so comfortable.  My home is dressed in warm colors and beautiful photos, fans, writing utensils and loved ones calling me every day to inquire about my life.  Comfort, consistent comfort has softened me.  These past three weeks, I've woken up more exhausted than the previous day, but I tell myself to keep going, keep reading, keep asking, keep absorbing, until this morning.

My body collapsed.  I woke up.  My body aching. My lungs heavy.  My limbs almost anchors. My stomach refuting everything I sent it.  My lungs closed in soreness, my forehead a hot blanket full of slow thoughts.  This is what happens when you do not take care of yourself.

So I am here, with three weeks worth of thoughts, stumps, epiphanies and emotion to process.

Here I am.

My advisor in my directed research is a professor at the University of the Philippines.  In her presence, I am graced with her words of naked honesty, painful recollection of torture, activism, and hope.  She spoke for two hours in a personal meeting and my notebook was drenched in her memories.  Hunger strikes, abuse, imprisonment, community, fight, fight, fight.  She is in her fifties and she calls us all in her class beautiful, young, "the sun on the horizon of activism," and my head lowers in shame for some reason.

I think of blogging.  I think of blogwars.  I think of inevitable drama that ensues among strong women who have agendas and egos the size of an island.  I think of waste.

What IS my activism?  Where am I in the unfolding story of ALL women's liberation?  Where do I want to plant my bare feet and which field's soil do I want to plant?  Judy asks me what is my statement.

"My statement?"

Yes.  You must have a direct, strong, inquiring statement about what you want to do.  Or else, she says, "...you're just a feminist."


Feminists are the aware, the thinkers, the ones who see something very wrong in the world of gender and recognize the inequality on every scale: workforce to militarization, motherhood to childcare, state violence to sexual harassment.

And then what?

Here in the US, what do I do after the awareness?  The usual answers come, "It's about living a socially conscious life," "I teach others," "My job is my activism," "You can't do everything and it's overwhelming," "I'm just beginning to learn about myself," "I really didn't like feminism before and now I'm just learning it can be something useful in my life..."

Yes, Yes.  I've been there before.

But, what is my statement?  What's yours?

What do I want to see in my lifetime?  Is it enough to raise consciousness?

No.  Never.

It's the beginning.  Where do I go from there?

What is my statement?  Who am I for?

How is it in intersectionality the crossroads become the dead-end road?  That the intersection stops at the middle, but there is no deepening.  There is no drilling at the intersection of intersectionality.  It's all consideration, remembering, "including" marginalized womyn.

Does that even really happen for US feminists?

"Other" womyn, the non-mainstreamed, no access to media, education, food, healthcare, voice are not just marginalized.  They are dying.  Womyn.  Womyn like you in and me who roll their eyes, and clap their hands when they laugh, who are trying their best to live a life to meaning, dignity, and want to see the world better than what it is.  Womyn, these womyn, are dying.

They are dying of curable diseases.  They are kidnapped and raped by the government and left in ditches in an unknown part of land.  Womyn are fighting, resisting, creating, and protesting for the right to work, rest, be paid more than $0.17/day.

These are womyn who are both similar and foreign to me.  They wear blue aprons and clean my plates while they tell me of their children and how their lives are on the line because of their resistance.  The womyn look puzzled when I ask about "a movement."  They tell me that the women's struggle is always present next to another struggle and therefore is specific.  The union leaders who work in factories and inhale textile all day and have developed asthma and breathing problems from unimaginable working conditions are specific in their fight.  They don't ask for "equality," they are for something very tangible.  Wage increases, hours off, benefits, break rights, an end to groping and harassment by management, and more than 5 minutes to go to the bathroom.

"What is your statement?"

There is no current US Women's Movement.  There is no US Feminist Movement.  What is it that we face?  The face of the US movementS change with community and by geography.  It changes with all the things that make up the intersection of intersectionality.  It is no wonder so much argument and fighting occurs - so many women believe their agenda is the most important.  Intersectionality is the tool to help you clarify the dynamic of your own kyriarchal oppression and ALSO to equip yourself to ultimately CHOOSE how to resist.  Understanding intersectionality has become the limbo for US media-driven feminists.  We wait there until we "get it."  

The danger of intersectionality is that it is often mixed in as an objective of US feminism, not a tool of alliance work or consciousness-raising.  It's a method, not a goal.  The perception is that we can't move forward until we understand the condition of Asian Americans, or disabled womyn, or Black lesbian and queer activists.   That is not intersectionality, that is stupidity.  There is and should not be One Movement for US womyn because we are as diverse in need as we are in faith, values, and life exposure.  Intersectionality is a TOOL, nothing more.  We are to first understand ourselves in the context of a kyriarchal system before we can critically understand the condition of other womyn.  It's not oppression olympics, it's humbling self-decentering.   My own story is significant.  It is sacred.  In studying my own life's meaning, I uncover the stories of others whose own lives are also significant and sacred.  Holding both is not giving up my own power or agenda.  Recognizing other lives and individuals and populations does not negate or change the course of my struggle.  It enriches it with the power of knowledge, alliance, and shared hope. 

I've learned that I can carefully be an advocate for womyn's liberation, but I must fight and live with chosen direction and purpose to truly impact my own community.

There must be action.  There must be a statement.


  1. Not sure what to say to this, aside from: thanks for sharing, thanks for the amazing, honest and inspiring writing, and hope you feel better soon.

  2. The union leaders who work in factories and inhale textile all day and have developed asthma and breathing problems from unimaginable working conditions are specific in their fight. They don't ask for "equality," they are for something very tangible. Wage increases, hours off, benefits, break rights, an end to groping and harassment by management, and more than 5 minutes to go to the bathroom.

    And in my neck of the woods, those rights WERE won, so what did the mill-owners do? Merge with multi-national companies, so they could afford to move the textile mills over there, where they attempt to turn back time regarding workers rights and environmental laws, etc. You notice they didn't move those textile mills to Paris!

    Good luck to you, Sudy.

  3. Oh Sudy. I read this yesterday and had to wait until today to express how moved I am by your words. A few weeks ago, some commenter on the big feminist blogs remarked how labor issues etc were "general issues" as opposed to feminist ones. I wanted to scream. It's so disheartening to see women routinely dismissed simply because they're not in the US. Thank you for your powerful articulation of their struggles, and for providing the rest of us a catalyst for reflecting on our own. Please take care of yourself too.

  4. I had to do the same thing as tanglad! This post brought up such powerful emotions!

    I think the one thing I'd like to say is that for me, it's really important to be careful about putting this into a dichotomy--there over here and over there. you know? scratch just a little below the surface, and you'll find a lot of the same conditions that you describe there over here with farm workers. I don't by any stretch of the imagination want to take away from the lived experiences of the workers you saw in the Phillipines--I just want to be sure blur the lines a bit between here and there and first and third world.

    a lot of mexicans think that working 18 hours a day for .25cents a bucket and no bathroom breaks or water is pretty good, because they left picking through garbage dumps to survive. if you make the 'over there' worse than hell, nobody will mind that they are in hell, you know?

    and I second the point about workers rights being a 'general issue' for feminists.

    absolutely enraging.

  5. bfp-
    absofreakinglutely...a lot of the workers asked how things are in the US and not many of us had personal experience with union organizing and labor rights, but we talked about the commonalities of oppression and that it is ubiquitous. Regardless of first or third, the same concept applies - the globalization, oppression, corruption, and big corporations that hold workers at their throats for a few cents a day. Yes, blur the lines, you are right, so right on.

    What do we do with that?

  6. bfp, One of the biggest shocks I got when I moved to the US was how those very conditions existed here too.

    In terms of Sudy's important question of what to do, I really believe in transnational coalitions for workers in countries like the Philippines. When the workers at Cavite's export processing zones began to unionize, it was the Maquiladory Solidarity Network that provided logistical and educational support. This partnership with MSN also provided some measure of protection for union organizers (who tend to disappear in the no-union province of Cavite). So it's one thing we can support and be involved in, as we figure out ways to address the root causes of these oppressions.

    Sorry, Sudy, I didn't mean to go on and on. You just made me think (and apparently, type).

  7. Thanks for your updates on your journey.

    a lot of mexicans think that working 18 hours a day for .25cents a bucket and no bathroom breaks or water is pretty good, because they left picking through garbage dumps to survive. if you make the 'over there' worse than hell, nobody will mind that they are in hell, you know?

    Or they left regimes where their family members were tortured, raped and killed and torn apart by wars like with workers from Guatamala and El Salvador. Under governments that he United States supported for economic interests. I went to school with one girl who was kidnapped and tortured three times before she was even 15.

    And I agree that workers' rights are a feminist issue. There's striking going on with workers in the state uni here and almost 90% of the workers out there are women. Food workers. Custodians. Grounds workers. Library assistants. There's women working and fighting for rights as workers all over the world.


  8. Thank you for this beautiful post. I am so glad to discover your blog - you inspire me to think of ways that I can do more within my own life to promote change.

    It is so easy to become utterly overwhelmed, but each of us can do small, concrete things to support one or a few of the things about which we care so deeply.

    I admire your courage in incorporating your own journey of self-awareness with your understanding of those with whom we share the world. I've been in my cocoon for waaaay too long.

  9. Jennifer12:44 PM

    Just wanted to say thanks for this post.


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