I was recently in a poetry workshop. In the mornings as we, the participants, waited for the facilitator and the camera crew to set up we would engage in spirited debates about feminism. By which I mean arguments that nearly rose into brawls. During one of these arguments, an exasperated man exclaimed, “Feminists want to take over the world!”
In Brazil, when I shared this anecdote, someone replied, “well, what’s wrong with that?” What’s wrong with feminist’s taking over the world?
At my day job I’m a content developer. I spend hours demystifying valuable information and simplifying it for low-literacy audiences. It’s simple to me. Knowledge is power. Binding power in complex vocabulary is a way of warding off the masses.
The first feminist text I ever read was Bell Hooks’ “Feminism is for Everybody.” Her writing was clear and concise. It didn’t make me feel like an idiot and she explained feminism with no gimmicks.
The word feminism is a word that translates differently in every culture and country. In Uganda, thousands are not familiar with this word. Many who do know it, regardless of gender, interpret it as a lifestyle/philosophy/belief that intends to disrupt and corrupt culture. I also believe feminism intends to disrupt culture, but only to free me from it. Since culture is something created by humans, it can also be rewritten.
Maybe we need new words, a feminist vocabulary, a way to rename ourselves on our terms.
But perhaps, first we need to be careful with our use of the words we already have. I think we need to first make feminist discourse available in the simplest form to everyone in every language possible. Is that too ambitious?
On the first day of the conference, I attended a young feminist session led by two young women from Egypt who started a platform called Ikhtyar, which means choice. Their session was titled, “Egypt: Why we choose to utilize feminist non-conventional knowledge production as a tool of resistance”. This session spoke to me more than any other because it centred on two ideas that are central to my personal feminism: feminist knowledge production and choice.
Now I will write from my context as a Ugandan. I believe the decisions we make are based off the knowledge we have, which informs us of the choices we have. The information that comes to us is very selective because of the patriarchal powerhouses that control our media and the remnants of colonialist knowledge that are flooding our schools and bookstores with European and American textbooks, self-help books, and an excess of Christian literature deeply based in prosperity gospel. So as a country, we don’t imagine we have any choices beyond capitalism, religious fundamentalism, superstitions about western homosexuality infiltrating African soil, and subscribing to tyrannical governments.
There’s a part of me that imagines a lot of Ugandans think of feminists the same way Americans used to regard witches in Salem or how they regarded communists in the 60s. They simply don’t know what it’s about and believe what the available media has told them.
The way he phrased his fear told me he knew nothing of what feminism can be. Taking over the world is a very patriarchal approach to change. The feminists I encountered in Brazil spoke more of decentralized decision making. Feminists cannot change the world if we use the same path to power as patriarchy.
The second day of the conference, I participated in one of the co-creation sessions led by the organisation, Frida. We were imagining our feminist future through co-creation. While I’m not a big fan of the caravans suggested by multiple (European) participants, I fully got behind the idea of co-creating the feminist future. It’s taken me nearly a month to crystalise the ideas in my mind, but I want to resubmit my contribution.
What does a feminist future look like for me?
It looks like distributing feminist knowledge produced in the global south by citizens of the global south representing the full spectrum of gender. It looks like policy that supports more women artists and writers of colour to take their work to larger platforms, because art is one way of creating access to universal experiences. It looks like development from a feminist perspective, preferably with an intersectional approach. It looks like informed choices because we all have the choice not to continue living in oppressive systems, some of us just don’t know it yet.
One of the tools I often use in co-creation is reversing approach. I think in striving for this feminist future, we have to take a hard look at the systems we are using now and ask if they are working. If they are not working, we have to not only ask, what can we do different? Also, what if we try the opposite of this? Instead of trying to write gender equality into the system, what if we create a system with decentralised power that actually represents the spectrum of gender and the interests of the population? If we have consistently approached change through systems from the global north, why not try systems from the south?
I don’t know much about politics, but I do know that we wrote the existing systems and we have the power to rewrite them. In other words, we still have a choice. Ikhtyar. It’s never too late to co-create a feminist future.