Why My Feminism Can't Involve Being Unshaved and a 1000 Other Things White Fems Take For Granted
I am tired by the number of individuals in the “”“”“activism”“”“” community that look down on my brown body - specifically for wearing gender conforming clothing, makeup, and shaving.
I’ve been working in the activism community for roughly four years, while being raised as a First/Second Gen* Canadian by an Azorean mother and a Filipino father (both of their families fled during dictatorships years in their countries) in both situations of lower socioeconomic status and middle socioeconomic status, which basically meant that my upbringing was based on social justice teachings.
I remember going to a food bank fundraiser event (everyone paid the same amount for tickets but you/your family had to draw from a hat if you were going to have the low, middle, or high socioeconomic meal) and my sister, Sara, pulled out the high socioeconomic one and I was so excited (remember: at this time, we were of lower socioeconomic status) only to have my mom tell the lady with the hat that we would be taking the low socioeconomic choice anyways. I was fuming. I demanded an answer from my mom, and what she said will always stay with me. “We have the ability and choice to be here, instead of waiting for the results of this fundraiser. Just because we have the choice doesn’t mean everyone else does.”
Boom. My seven year old brain was blown.
"What does this have to do with shaving and shaming?", Sam, you ask. Good question.
If oppression is violence (which it is), then those who face oppression think and act in terms of survival. Survival tactics, however, are relative to one’s situation; some people might only need an umbrella for their survival gear, some people may need a bunker and a backpack full of shields, nutrients, and all important camouflage. And that last item is often the tool that those of us with intersectional oppressions rely on: the all important camouflage.
I can speak to two groups: racialized individuals and individuals with mental health needs. In the realm of mental health, specifically my life as someone with anxiety and depression (among other things), the words “high functioning” and being able to use them in relation to your well being is like goal number one. It only took me two spoons to do something instead of six? Awesome sauce. I live for the days that it doesn’t take twice as many spoons to get out of bed, sit on a bus, actually eat food, etc. I also hate when people pull the pity face, something that many people with open mental health things experience daily. The more high functioning that I can look, the less notice I get, the less stigma I face, the less violence I receive. I actively put spoons towards getting dressed in the morning in a way that let me high as a “high functioning” individual.
And as for being a racialized individual who has been in roles that require my voice being heard (and my coworkers can validate this), I regularly put on the sweet voice. I come to meetings with administration wearing dresses, and matching jewelry. I use my softer voice. I generally find it hard to say no anyways, but I am quick to take on projects. I make friends. I’m the sweet Ethnic girl on the team. Violence in situations like this is rarely directed at me, it remains subtle, or in generalities. And as I walk out of the room, I can exhale instead of tend to wounds.
Both of these journeys involve camouflage. Both involve me going to my safe(r) groups and talking about my experiences and unloading. Both involve my ability to navigate between a rock and a hard place: being the radical that (mainstream) feminism talks about or surviving. Surviving will always win.
This is a concept that mainstream/white feminism doesn’t get: surviving is always going to win. It’s going to win over not shaving, telling people off in meetings, and getting mainstream feminism points. Heck, that’s great that your survival includes radical things like this - but my doesn’t because we (marginalized people) are just not there yet.
But here’s the thing, don’t take my survival and twist it to say that this is a what a good person should be like; don’t request that we all remain docile just because it happens to work for me in my own personal settings. If someone’s surviving is with a microphone, awesome; if someone’s surviving is 8 hours of Pretty Little Liars on Netflix, awesome. Just stop telling me how to survive, and stop shaming me for not surviving in a way that suites your feminism. If your framing of what a good feminist doesn’t include my survival, then it’s not for me.
*depending on ~~~literature~~~ that gets to define my life