By Nicola Pilkington
Hey! Did you see the new Janelle Monáe music video- I mean, “let the vagina have a monologue” is my new mantra atm, but #EatItLikeAMango is still my bae. Or did you catch #OprahForPresident at the #2018GoldenGlobes? Or the #AhedTamimi viral video? How many statuses did you see as part of the #MeToo campaign?
In our current global climate of women calling out inequalities, there is immediate access to happenings around the country and beyond, and the articulation of the female experience is now magnified, recognized (to an extent), curiously skewed and somewhat simplified.
Let me be plain: The movement toward female equality is an urgent and needed socio-political restructuring. Inequality in the streets, in homes (and in bed), in the workplace and on screens has resulted in too many global, communal and personal traumas. The prevalent commentary about our current cultural moment has allowed for an important parlance in conversation to take place, and perhaps the beginnings of imagining (actualizing?) a world where women are not on the knees to the patriarchal playground.
But, I am of the opinion, that mass following of this movement has resurged at a comfortable distance- through news feeds and brand placements- allowing for a palatable acknowledgement of the female experience; and more disturbingly, a trendy box that can be ticked or vogue topic to converse about at parties in Maboneng.
Listen, I am aware that this criticism does not allow for the movement to continue ‘smoothly’ in the direction it is currently aimed, but I think that this topic not be glittered with agreement due to trend, nor a heedless perpetuation of problematic behaviour that is not often acknowledged. And in an attempt to make sense of this stance, and perhaps some kind of act to enter new stratospheres of nerdom, I have written the following brief discourse on Feminism in our age of transculturation.
Our current cultural experience has been quantified as ‘Fourth-wave Feminism’, a term coined by Prudence Chamberlin of the University of London, as the resurrection of feminist interest associated with the technological development and the internet, and a movement in opposition of sexual harassment and violence against women (#metoo) (Chamberlin, 2017). Social media has allowed for the visibility and verbalization of personal and communal experiences regarding misogyny and rape culture- the Harvey Weinstein testimonies and the aftermath of sexual assault assertions against men in the Western media, as an example. (FYI, further examples suggested in this article: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/fourth-wave-feminism-rebel-women).
Social media has finally served a space for the above-mentioned stories to hit our headlines, trickle into our updates and seep into our private conversations (irl). It has allowed for global and immediate communication on these stories. And it has resulted in digital rallying and online petitions. Transculturation trends – as a result of the internet, migration and modernization – are starting to seed complex articulations and experiences of certain socio-political identities in a way that has not found itself in fruition other than the words of Butler, de Beauvoir, hooks or Hill Collins (Chamberlin, 2017).
Chamberlin states that the Fourth-wave Feminist movement constitutes a majority of (Western – own) women, ages 18-29, predominantly of middle-to-upper class, and – of course – access to the internet.
Fourth-Wave Feminism has been a vital platform for urgent conversation, and an articulation of the female experience that has not hit the globe in this way since the 70s (or perhaps the 1990’s in South Africa regarding the creation of the constitution).
I am proposing a counter-argument, or perhaps the complexification of the movement, that some would perhaps deem as not “palatable” or “soft” enough.
First: My criticisms do not align with the backlash recently discussed regarding the Aziz Ansari case, nor does it align with #NotAllMen retaliation. It is not a disavowal of the ‘Hashtag Feminist’ movement, but rather a calling out of the white, heteronormative and Western narratives that are allowed to prevail; and a deep-seated skepticism of the movement over a screen or sold back to me in the form of an R200 shirt stating: THE FUTURE IS FEMALE.
Let’s begin with an article published by Vogue Magazine: “Protest Tees, Pussy Hats, and Lots of Pink…”– a fashion survival guide for the Women’s March in the United States (Farra, 2018). Yes. You read that correctly. Let that settle in. Or perhaps like me, those words bounced right from the pit of one’s stomach to the tip of one’s fingers to type a fucking article about this. (For your pleasure, you may want to read the rest of this paragraph imaging the sound of me slamming my fingers on the keyboard). Right, so the article consists of the hottest trends taking the streets this protest season. Pink beanies – because this is suggested to be the colour that represents the current FEMINIST movement (#WTF #MyVaulaIsPink #SoAreStrawberries #AlsoEveryHertonomativeBabyNursaryForGirls #WhatTheFuckIsARevealCakeAnyway)- or head wraps (#BewareApproriation), that can be fashionably punctuated with large beaded earrings or a shweshwe scarf. I could continue, but I think you get my point: I am disturbed by our current packaging of Feminism.
Next: the inherent dependence on technology results in a disproportionate access and ownership of the movement. Classicism and white privilege have always been a criticism since the rise of Feminism at the turn of the century. The movement does not always allow for intersectionality nor inclusion for women who do not have contact to academicized languages (I am aware of the irony here- please note my final point on the complexities of Transculturation in a modernized post-colonial South Africa).
There is no sense of mass radical equalization for women, women of colour, nor peoples of the LGBTQIA+ community. Heteronormative Western patriarchy still remains in power (even if that means that they are the people in control of platforms that minorities can protest).
Digi-activism has also resulted in non-radical complacency (1 like = 1 prayer). Let me be clear, the rise of awareness regarding female inequality has been significantly attributed to the media. The #MeToo campaign made waves. There is no criticism of the power in which these hashtags have held to the extent they have, particularly in the Western liberal media. However, since the tsunami of #MeToo, I have still been catcalled almost every day going to work. My female colleagues and I have still been silenced or ignored by our male counterparts. And a male friend has even mansplained what Feminism is to me. The screen protest has mostly remained in the ether. It does not fully translate to a space where I am not afraid for my body when I am in public; or that someone may climb into my second story flat while I am asleep. It has not translated into equal pay nor a subsidence in the violating rape culture women still face as you read this. The protest that remains in the screen sphere does not even begin to tickle the atrocities that women face in less cosmopolitan/third world spaces.
Having stated this, the conversation has begun to shift. There is a feeling of opportunity to start discussing these issues that perhaps does not always result in engagement, but certainly, an occasional gesture to “learn”.
Feminism in the age of Transculturation:
As South Africans, we have to face major waves of transculturation. First, the very pertinent aftershocks of our colonial history. And next, the rapid localization of information and cultural influence caused by globalization. While we are grappling with our national identity, information to other ways of thinking have given rise to ideas that sometimes stand in conflict with certain notions that are toward emancipation from historical hegemony. The class divides make explicit an access to Feminist thought, be it through tertiary education or the internet; resulting in exchanges whereby oppressive rhetoric is associated with responses like “it’s my culture”.
While Fourth-wave Feminism allows for a magnification and recognition of oppression against women, a backlash has surfaced. On one hand, criticism toward classist, heteronormative and white feminism; and patriarchal practice veiled behind tradition and a movement toward a decolonized identity. The latter results in certain feminist movements being deemed as Western (as it was indeed first thought about and practised in these privileged spheres- not to be confused with certain matriarchal communities that exist within the country), rather than progressive movement toward equality. The complexity of race and gender (and sexual orientation) intersections have not allowed for an articulate and transparent engagement with the movement.
And as South African women, feminism in the age of hashtags and post-colonial birthing pains, an identity is often left silenced or ignored. I do not have a sparkly solution to this point, but rather a need to voice this complexity in order for it to enter into the ether, manifest somewhere, and hopefully give rise to a language that can be used to empower ourselves.
Chamberlain, P. 2017. The Feminist Fourth Wave: Affective Temporality. Palgrave Macmillan.
Farra, E. 2018. “Protest Tees, Pussy Hats, and Lots of Pink—What 13 Designers Are Wearing to the Women’s March” in Vogue Magazine. Accessed January 2018 < https://www.vogue.com/article/fashion-designers-womens-march-2018-uniforms>