Feminism: one size fits all?

The following is a guest post by Amy Gray, who blogs at PeskyFeminist.com

One of the greatest fertilisers of editorial at the moment is asking whether feminism is dead, or has lost its way, or has been rejected by a growing generation. Perhaps someone will decry feminism as being “out of step” with the real world – or, even better, discuss who is more authentic: grass roots or academic feminism.

Perhaps it’s a sign of partial success that there is oxygen to devote to this over potentially more pressing matters. Perhaps it’s a sign that there is a growing chorus of voices all singing from different hymn books of varying exaltations and despair. Perhaps it’s an unconscious backlash.

More likely, though, is that feminism is becoming more nuanced.

I was recently lucky enough to attend a panel discussion held by the Multicultual Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) to listen to amazing women ask “Does Feminism Speak for All Women?” Moderated by the legendary Hanifa Deen, the panelists discussed their introduction and attraction to feminism, the challenges and opportunities within Australia, and their thoughts on the path forward.

Dr Odette Kaleda, spoke of female genital mutilation and the power of whiteness. Policy analyst and writer Durkhanai Ayubi spoke of finding and fighting for her independence.  Cultural critic and panelist, Juliana Qian spoke of her strong, educated mother and grandmother. That each of these speakers shared such a different story under the unifying banner of feminism highlighted that there are just as many individual and unique experiences as there are universal ones.

We can say that the broad aim of feminism is to have equal status and opportunity as men. But, as an aim, it is so broad as to be meaningless – to wide a target to hit, and too blurred with other forms of discrimination. To address this aim, we need the theory of “intersectionality” – an understanding that race, class, ability, ethnicity and gender all combine for unpredictable results. Current thinking about inequality must get smarter; sharing space and ideas for greater representation and action.

Panelist Juliana Qian summed up discussion best when she said, “there’s no one feminism to speak to all women for all situations”.

It’s an interesting thought, especially considering how western feminists are criticised for not doing more about the plight of women in places such as the Middle East or India (as two examples). In a piece for the Drum, Swati Parashar claimed that western feminists were silent over the Delhi rape case. There are actually plenty of outraged op-eds to counter that argument, but it nonetheless raises the question: are feminists expected to have the answers to fix all the issues, no matter where they are? Is that even helpful?

Panelist Durkhanai Ayubi has also spoken about how the current conflict in Afghanistan has made life, safety and education worse for women – and this was a conflict were helping women was presented as a compelling reason to invade. Does it mean there should be no discussion? No, but there should be more education and, most importantly, a realisation that no one culture has the sole voice or cure for women around the world.

That’s the key takeaway: there can be no one voice, no one pursuit of feminism.

It’s also one of the key strengths of All About Women: you will have the opportunity to hear many different voices and ask many different questions.

Enjoy them all. The more perspectives that crowd your mind, the more opportunities for action and education we have, and the better the future we offer to the next generation.

By Amy Gray, PeskyFeminist.com