* given the high demand and use of this feminist toolkit when in its online course format, a new course (based upon this one is being designed to accommodate both in-depth examination and reflection, and server size/platform for wide use and sharing in a multitude of environments. stay tuned! but in the meantime, please refer to the glossary below.
What is feminist theory? How does it relate to our geopolitical space? To race? To class? To able-bodiedness? To fat versus thin dichotomies? To sexuality? How do we relate feminism, and its multiple branches, to our day-to-day lives? This toolkit provides you with an introduction to theoretical contentions and debates within feminism, and provides a lens to begin looking at the politics of contemporary feminist theory and subsequent critiques.
In order for us to effectively engage in critical discourse and discussion we need to discuss and analyze the points of contention within and between the issues we are discussing. The main reason for doing so is to recognize and accommodate the spectrum that we all exist on. Some of you are absolutely new to any discussion on feminism, race, intersectionality, and prejudice. That’s okay. Some of you are intermediates who have some exposure to these topics but still feel like you could, and want to learn more. That’s also okay. Some of you are knee-deep in critical analysis, and want a space to actively discuss and examine these theories. That is more than okay. Some of you are in the middle of these different planes. Wherever you are, that is okay. Allow yourself to accept whatever you know, and especially what you don’t know. We exist on a vast and never-ending continuum, not as a binary of experts and learners.
This is a critical space for you, no matter where you are at on this spectrum. Given the diversity of you, it is important to highlight, define, and examine the key roots and theories we will be dissecting, as well as the formal language that we utilize in its analysis. So, don’t be scared. Let’s dig in.
It is hard to confine this term into narrow roots, but as a general rule of thumb, it is important to understand this definition to be able to critically examine its discourse. Feminism first originating in the 19th century, as the terms “féminisme” and “féministe” is a broad, interconnected, and vexed term which can be used to describe ideologies, movements, persons, and goals. In its original form, feminism highlighted the struggles towards dismantling the patriarchal society we live in to establish equality and equity for women.
*we cannot achieve liberation from patriarchy until, and only when, we begin to dismantle the interconnected systems that demand its institution. This includes the deconstruction of our colonial capitalist supremacist patriarchy as a whole.
Misogyny: Explicit and implicit hatred towards women.
Misandry: Explicit and implicit hatred towards men.
Misogynoir: Explicit and implicit hatred towards black women.
Race is a social construction aimed at categorizing and grouping communities of people together based on shared perceivable characteristics.
Ethnicity is a construct that attempts to hegemonically characterize individuals into groups of communities based on shared characteristics, including but not limited to values, language, geospatial contexts, education, and geopolitical histories (colonial hierarchies).
Culture, a relative term to each individual environment, refers to the shared meanings and behaviours between groups of people as a collective community. Culture has an underlying code, social, moral, economic, and political, for when individuals choose to participate in that community they tacitly agree to the unspoken rules of conduct.
Discrimination: (In)active differential treatment of individuals and communities based on various identity markers or perceived markers, including but not limited to, race, age, culture, ethnicity, religion, biological identity, gender, orientation, and able-bodiedness.
Racism: The act of discrimination, coupled with the power to be able to exercise that hatred against specific communities. Racism and discrimination are not the same, it is the power balance that determines its expression.
Individual racism is the exercise of power and dominance among individuals supported by an oppressive transnational structure of white supremacy. These acts of racism can be deliberate and unintentional, but their intent does not excuse their exercise.
Also known as structural racism, institutional racism refers to the acts of power laced with and embedded within coloniality, discrimination, power imbalances, white supremacy, etc. Individual racism is able to function, through the institutional racism which provides it legitimacy.
Internalized racism is an extension of white supremacy, in which the supremacist and oppressive system rewards people of colour when perpetuating hatred against their fellow community and/or upholding whiteness. It is not just the idea of the “white body” perpetuating racism, but the ideology that the white body perpetuates, which can, and most definitely will spread to people of color communities.
A complicated dynamic in which some communities hold greater manufactured ability in the economic, social and political sense to marginalize and control other communities. Power is not only a physical act, but is made possible through language and discourse. For instance, through historical documentation of the white man as a site for objective knowledge creation and production, white men are able to assert, define, and (re)manufacture certain narratives that enable them power. The creation of this discourse is then a creation of power. The order of this discourse then produces a specific reality, and excludes the possibility of any other social fabrics from existing.
Oppression refers to the institutional power to wield control, discipline, and punishment; and consequently is the systematic act of dehumanization, subjugation, and marginalization of specific communities, which is done to benefit the oppressors at the expense of the oppressed. Oppression manifests in a wide range of mediums from women’s reproductive oppression, such as the control of abortion rights, to the continued repression of certain religious groups, such as the Rohingya Muslims in Burma.
This type of feminism in blatant form is white supremacy. It refers specifically to the goals, aims, and mission of many “feminist” movements which attempt to advance their own personal narrative as white women, which unsurprisingly is done through and by the continued oppression of women of colour. White feminism constructs itself as outside discussions of race, for “why does everything have to be about race?”, the white woman will ask. Until race is no longer constructed and utilized as a tool to further repress, hinder, and control; until we deconstruct the white narrative as the narrative for all; until we unpack the privilege that accompanies the ability to not see why race is embedded into the structures of our world itself, at that time, and only then, will it not be about race.
Western feminism serves to construct the idea of “third world women” as a homogeneous powerless group who are implicit victims of particular socioeconomic systems. These discourses utilized by Western feminists serve to situate themselves as the center of all analysis, which pushes all other women to a sort of mold around the pre-existing center comprised of generally, white women. This is the praxis through which western feminists organize their dissertations of the world, and shape media representations of the “third world”—however, looking at third world women as representations of assumptions produced by hegemonic discourses in western feminism attributes this false identity as a direct identity of these women, making them an extension of how they compare to the western world rather than how they actually are. It is also important to note that “third world woman” is placed in quotations because it is reflective of the power dynamics within global discourses that allow for some women to be classified as less than others.
Internalized misogyny is an extension of our patriarchal system which produces a wide-held belief within women themselves that they are inferior to men; thus becoming an aspect of our self-identity. It is important to note that internalization is not a conscious space of being since it is deliberately manufactured and curated through socialization from birth—it is then an involuntary state predicated on keeping us unaware, asleep, and disembedded from our own (un)consciousness. Internalized misogyny furthers oppression from an open to a hidden scale, as even when oppressors are not physically involved in the space of the oppressed, their emotional oppression—and physical manifestation that the emotional brings into real space—is still being exerted.
Privileges are advantages we hold over others, whether that be of resources, opportunities, institutions, or representations. We all hold some type of privilege; it is not a binary but rather a range we fall on and between. It is also important to note, that privilege is environmentally formed–meaning in some geopolitical and social contexts, you may hold more privileges that in other spaces. Privileges are not fixed, but rather, fluid. We can then understand them as a spectrum, from which sometimes we, even without intentional consent, still tacitly hold the upper hand. Let’s use an example in which there are two women: one is Indian and one is white. In this case, yes, both are women, but one is also an Indian woman, a racialized and marginalized individual, thus giving the white woman an upper hand in advantage and privilege. The purpose of this example is to illustrate that our privileges are not fixed and stagnant beings, but are malleable to the different natural and social environments we are in. More importantly, privileges and intersections of domination are ever changing as our relation to others is changing. What advantages we have, don’t have, and wish to have are contingent upon the ways in which we navigate our social and cultural spaces.
Appropriation refers to the theft of property, both intellectual and material from different cultures and communities for individual and mass consumption, without recognition and understanding of the use and meaning behind different “cultural elements”. This is a reinforcer of colonial narratives, in which white communities feel a natural right to steal, utilize, and profit from people of colour.
Appreciation, living within the same space as appropriation, serves to broaden one’s understandings and respect for other cultures through cross cultural exchange, rather than its counter which serves to steal property for its benefit. It is a mutual space of respect and reciprocal sharing, rather than domination.
Colonialism refers to the dispossession, marginalization, and oppression of certain geospatial areas by other people, communities, and nations. This can be physical settlement, commonly referred to as settler colonialism; military occupation of an area; resource extraction and exploitation; trade imbalances; and forceful state coercion. Colonization produces an unequal power relation between the colonizer and the colonized, thus resulting in structural inequities governing the geopolitical climate of different areas, altering the lived realities and fabric through which colonized communities navigate their day to day lives. Many postcolonial thinkers, rightfully so, argue the emergence of development as an extension of neocolonial power that reproduce over and over again the narratives that keep colonizer communities at an advantage.
“The production of knowledge and the planning of development by western institutions is something that third world countries and regions find it hard to escape from. The process of dominating, restructuring, and establishing authority progresses in three stages:
(1) The progressive identification of third world problems, to be treated by specific interventions. This creates a “field of the interventions of power.”
(2) The professionalization of development; the recasting of political problems into neutral scientific terms (poverty indicators, for example), leading to a regime of truth and norms, or a “field of the control of knowledge.”
(3) The institutionalization of development to treat these ‘problems’, and the formation of a network of new sites of power/knowledge that bind people to certain behaviors and rationalities (in rural development discourse, “produce or perish” became one such norm).”
— Escobar 1995: 157
It is about time we complicate white supremacy away from any one body perpetuating it, to a practiced ideology. Whiteness is omniscient and omnipresent, it occurs simultaneously alongside many other systems of oppression and is not excused to any one group of people. Like racism, white supremacy is both institutionalized and personal/indivdual, it occurs through multiple planes and scales, curating a worldwide notion of whiteness as superiority. If we are not against whiteness as an ideology, we are complicit.
“White supremacy” is a much more useful term for understanding the complicity of people of color in upholding and maintaining racial hierarchies that do not involve force (i.e slavery, apartheid) than the term “internalized racism”- a term most often used to suggest that black people have absorbed negative feelings and attitudes about blackness. The term “white supremacy” enables us to recognize not only that black people are socialized to embody the values and attitudes of white supremacy, but we can exercise “white supremacist control” over other black people.”
― bell hooks, Talking Back
“The Negro enslaved by his inferiority, the white man enslaved by his superiority alike behave in accordance with a neurotic orientation.”
― Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
Patriarchy refers to our experienced structure which prioritizes and organizes men as superior to women. This is not based on any natural or biological abilities that differentiate the sexes, but are social constructs that utilize othering and gender roles to further assimilate our society into a world that prefers, protects, and advances men. While patriarchy as a transnational structure is universally sound, it is expressed and felt materially diversely in different cultural environments, and thus exaggerating specific norms, gender roles/identities, and sexist patterns depending on the geo-political-social plane. Patriarchy—as a structure—is the root through which individual relations of power between the different sexes can be exercised. Patriarchy however, has not existed as a sole oppressor for women’s liberation but works concurrently within a colonial capitalist supremacist patriarchy, in which they support, embed, and defend one another. It is difficult, near impossible to eradicate the consequences of each individual system, without understanding the way they are relationally conceived. To achieve liberation, we must re-design structures as to no longer embed injustices as we build wider and larger.
Coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, intersectionality came about to express the dire situation of immigrant, women of colour who were outcasted from both feminist movements and civil rights movements. It explores the way multiple identities conflict and coincide, within and between different systems, whether they be of patriarchy, capitalism, or white supremacy. This analysis often reveals that social institutions are double, triple, quadruple stacked against those identifying with a multi-minority identity, and that these institutions do not accommodate the complexity that arises when an individual identifies with more than one marginalized group. Intersectionality then, rightly so, refutes the notion that women are homogeneous groups who face the same oppression in any given situation. It is important to note however, that intersectionality is not about highlighting individual differences to create further grounds for isolation but works towards critically understanding these differences and fathoming how they can be positively expressed within physical and symbolic space. We do not need to identify parts of who we are to the exclusion of everything else, intersectionality gives us an alternative praxis to work through complex issues at the intersection of race, gender, class, and regional demarcation.
To be an ally is to be consciously aware of the privileges we hold, and use that consciousness in an attempt to sustain solidarity within and between different marginalized communities. I think it is important to recognize the binary model of allyship as one that has major flaws within it. Through discussions of privileges and advantages, we have analyzed the ways in which privileges change depending on the geospatial and social dynamics we are navigating through. During the changes in our privileges within different social environments, we need to become allies to those we hold certain privileges over. Allyship is not just a binary between white people and people of colour, but can, and should exist within people of colour communities.