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Feminism, where did I find you?

(Men stand in heels and wait for the start of the Walk a Mile in her Shoes, event in St. Louis on June 8, 2013.)

This is not about me or Sara Ahmed or Audre Lorde. It is not the story of one woman, or two or three. It is about feminism. And there you go! I just lost a bunch of readers to that word.

It is not about teaching or preaching. It is about learning to coexist, to become and remain part of a movement that works from ideas to reality; a social consciousness. Feminism is idealism and the corollary of being part of this movement is to change how people think so that we can do away with exploitation, prevent violence and discontinue male dominance.

Last week, I finished reading a remarkable new book by Sara Ahmed – Living a Feminist Life (2017, Duke University Press). Is this a contribution to the new wave of feminist manifestos that address women and power? Most certainly! It is also a work of art, a work of life experiences, a work of feminist idealism, a work of embodied political theory that argues that to live the life of a feminist is most certainly to ‘turn everything into something that is questionable’ and to turn feminism into a movement in many senses. But not all movements are easily detected or registered, and so Ahmed talks about registering feminism as a collective political movement; and at the heart of her work is the question: how did it begin for us? She writes:

Feminism needs to be everywhere because feminism is not everywhere. Where is feminism? It is a good question. We can ask ourselves: where did we find feminism, or where did feminism find us? I pose this question as a life question A story always starts before it can be told. When did feminism become a word that not only spoke to you, but spoke you, spoke of your existence spoke you in existence? When did the sound of the word feminism become your sound? What did it mean, what does it do, to hold on to feminism, to fight under its name; to feel in its ups and downs, in its coming and goings, your ups and downs, your comings and goings?   

To date, I had honestly never really asked myself this, and while you read this, stop for a while and ask yourself. Through our journey, we are kept ridiculously busy answering questions by non-feminists and anti-feminists but this book gave me the green light to stop for a while and self-reflect.

Iranian poet and women rights activist Simin Behbahani walking past a banner reading “one million signatures to change the biased laws” and bearing a scale balancing female and male symbols during a press conference in Tehran (27/08/2007)

Where did this start for me? The question takes me back to a cloudy evening on the terrace of my Lahore home: I am 10 years old, standing against the fence beside my grandmother, who is succumbing to cancer at this time of her very short life. She is sharing stories from her youth, her eventful youth full of incidents where she got into arguments and confrontations with the men of her family who tried to pull her down. Her stories scream of strength and self-belief. Born to a clerk who worked at the city’s only cinema, she grew into this bold, beautiful and confident woman who was undefeatable and stood her grounds to challenge patriarchy early on in life. She ended up marrying the cinema owner – my grandfather.

In response to one of my questions that I don’t clearly remember now, she said very gently: “You can very well think and speak for yourself, then why let others think and speak on your behalf?” And with this, she became my first encounter with feminism, a way of thinking that I was quite unfamiliar with and this was to remain unchanged for another decade at least before it hit me again; and this time it came to stay.

Ahmed writes that to become a feminist is to stay a student in a world in which human is still defined as man, we have to fight for women and as women. When we speak as  feminists, we have to deal with strong reactions and commitment to a feminist life might require being willing to elicit those reactions. Speaking as a feminist is often identified as being too reactive, as overreacting, as if all you are doing is sensationalizing the facts of the matter; as if in giving your account of something you are exaggerating, on purpose or even with malice. Ahmed has the explanation to this:

Feminism often begins with intensity: you are aroused by what you come up against. You register something in the sharpness of an impression. Something can be sharp without it being clear what the point is. Over time, with experience, you sense that something is wrong or you have a feeling of being wronged. You sense an injustice. You might not have used that word for it; you might not have the words for it; you might not be able to put your finger on it. Feminism can begin with a body, a body in touch with a world, a body that is not at ease in a world; a body that fidgets and moves around. Things dont seem right.

I was aroused too, at a marketplace, where a man went past me, rubbing his hand against my lower back. Exasperated, I turned back before he could disappear into the crowd and I grabbed him by the collar. The fear of being ‘shamed’ disappeared when I smacked his face with full force, repeating loudly: “You will think twice before doing this to a woman again.” His action was not right and I stood against it, not only for myself but for other women. This is when feminism embraced me for life. I became part of the movement.

To live a feminist life is constant work: feminist work and work as a feminist – at home, at work, at educational institutions and in public. This work comes with a ‘package’ of its own and has its own consequences. A daily survival by shattering the walls of sexism, facing and countering patriarchy, sustaining and owning up to the consequences is a feminist gift – a disparate gift of resilience and rigidity.

 

We can be shattered by what we come up against.

And then we come up against it again.

We can be exhausted by what we come up against.

And then we come up against it again.

Sara Ahmed (2017)

 

Author: Ayesha Hasan

Editor: Anne Thomas

 

Ayesha Hasan is a Pakistani journalist-turned-academic and currently studying for a PhD in Peace and Conflict Journalism at the University of Wollongong, Australia. She can be reached @ayeshahasan08

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Date

04.05.2017 | 14:52

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