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Intervention from Indigenous, Asian, and Queer Feminists

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Before I get into this blog, I wanted to share that I attended Stop Black Femicide- A UNCSW Event. It included presentations from Nneka MacGregor, executive director and co-founder of WomenatthecentrE. Rosalind Page, Founder of Black Femicide US. Dr. Temitope Adefarakan, Anti-Racism, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and co-founder of Truth and Transformation. Tarah Paul, Project Manager for “Advancing Gender Equity for Black Women, Girls and Gender Diverse People in Canada. Dr. Gifty Asare, clinical research associate. And Nilmini Rubin, the Chief of Staff and Head of Global Policy for Hedera.

I missed the first few presentations because I was in another zoom room, but what an impactful and disheartening session. I learned that while 4 Black women are killed each day in Canada because of femicide, there isn’t a whole lot of research on the topic here. Most of the data comes from the U.S. It reminded me why this work is so important. Black femicide is when Black women are killed b/c of hatred, contempt, pleasure, & sense of ownership over them. It's a really difficult conversation to process for me. It’s mostly Black men & the state killing us. Don’t argue with me on this.

Dr. Adefarakan shared 3 stories specifically that really drove home the message. The first was of a Black girl that was found dead in a dumpster this past winter. She went missing but wasn’t reported missing. There is no name for her still, but she was between the age of 4 and 7. It turns out she was murdered last year in Toronto. No one knows the circumstances of her death.

"If you report me, I will kill you," is what Bridget Takyi's ex-boyfriend said to her when she broke up with him over abuse. She reported him, he was charged, & jailed. When they released him, he killed the Ghanaian Torontonian woman like he said he would, stabbing her to death. This was 10 years ago. She was 27 and a mother of 2.

Sumaya Palmer was a 26 year old Somali woman who was last seen being chased in Toronto by a man. Her body was found in a home, but no context given as to whose house. To this day her death hasn’t been considered a homicide. She faced transphobia, Islamaphobia, and anti-Black racism. Dr. Gifty Asare said something that I hadn’t thought of in this context. She studies neuroanatomy and the brain, specifically, Alzheimer’s and brain injury. She said, “it’s impossible to study aging in Black people if they don’t age.”

I share this as I get into this post to remind us of what is at stake in this work. People will have you believing that feminism is the threat to the Black family. In this context, it is Black men and the state that are killing us. State here being police officers, the judicial system failing us, the strong Black woman trope resulting in the medical industrial complex not believing women who are in pain or dying. I want to add that White supremacy absolutely plays a role here as well. Mainly in the erasure of Black and Indigenous femicide, focusing instead on femicide of white women. There are so many other factors that come into play. But I’ll leave it there.


Now for today’s episode looking at Interventions from Indigenous, Asian, and Queer feminists.

White feminism would have you believing that Indigenous women are passive recipients of white feminism. In actuality, history has shown that precontact, these women had agency and power in their communities, unlike white European women.

Cree Métis professor Kim Anderson (2013) wrote, “where native women were powerful workers, white women were encouraged to be weak and frail. Where native women had sexual liberty, white women were restricted from pleasure” (p. 272). Similarly, Cree Métis researcher and educator Verna St. Denis (2013) and academic Cynthia Stirbys (2013) argue that Indigenous women native to Turtle Island historically occupied positions of power and authority, autonomy, and high status. Stirbys adds, “European traders had difficulty dealing with Aboriginal women who, in some societies were in charge of furs and whose consent was required before men could complete bargains” (2013, p. 453). Both St. Denis and Stirbys explain that in many cases, it was Indigenous women who modelled the women’s equality that underpins feminism, and not their European counterparts, who instead faced subjugation from European men.

For example, Anderson (2013) pointed to matrilineal communities such as the Iroquois, the Navajo, and the Apache to challenge the myth that white women are “the origin” of gender equality expressed as feminism. In Gender-Based Analysis and Indigenous Worldviews Cynthia Stirbys (2013) reminded us that gender inequality was not a major issue precontact because each person, regardless of gender, was “valued and held an important role within the community: men, women, elders, and children” (p. 451). While Indigenous women living in matriarchal or egalitarian kinship precontact cannot be said to be feminists proper (because there was no patriarchy per se for them to oppose), the ideas and models they emanated were feminist in the sense that they believed in the inherent equality between all they are in relationship with, not just between humans, or men and women.

White feminists merely gave a new name to concepts already being enacted by many women globally.

In China, feminism was referred to as feminology (see Edwards, 2010), in the Philippines it was Babaylon Feminism or babaylanism (see Roces, 2010a). In A Century of Women’s Activism in the Philippines, 1905–2006, Mina Roces (2010) told us about Babaylan, a traditional Priestess native to the Philippines was considered the pre-Hispanic feminist archetype. Babaylans continue to influence modern-day Filipina feminist activists who have reinvented themselves as “modern babaylans” (p. 42). The same can be said for some Black African women who lived an Indigenous way of life precontact.

In Orishas, Goddesses, and Voodoo Queens: The Divine Feminine in the African Religious Traditions, Lilith Dorsey (2020) educated us on West African female deities of Benin, Nigeria, and Ghana, specifically, the Yoruba, Igbo, and Akan traditions, which have been influential to Haitian, Cuban, Brazilian, Trinidadian, New Orleanians, and other Black Diasporic women looking for guidance and direction. According to Dorsey, some of these women include the ancient Nana Buluku, Yemaya, Oshun, Mami Wata, and Oya. These deities represented power void of corruption and abuse. Though they were not perfect, they point to a history that Western feminism typically ignores, creating a gap in our understanding of feminism globally.

The introduction of settlers and missionaries disrupted traditional ways of life for Indigenous peoples within less than a century of contact (Anderson, 2013; Stirbys, 2013). Cynthia Stirbys (2013) wrote, “Missionaries tried to install values of a nuclear family with a husband as the authority and where children and wives are to be disciplined. This contrasted with the values of Aboriginal extended families and closely-knit clans where individual autonomy was respected and children were sacred.” (p. 453)

Since then, Indigenous women have been written out of much of North American history and dominant culture. Mainstream feminism is, unfortunately, no exception. Indigenous feminists and scholars such as Verna St. Denis, Cynthia Stirbys, and Kim Anderson challenge this erasure, insisting that Indigenous women’s voices be heard and integral. Their demand reminds us that women in these communities have long been resilient and innovative trailblazers.

Intervention from Global South and Queer Feminists

Mari Tripp (2013) also challenges the notion that feminism was solely rooted in Europe and North America. Tripp (2013, p. 693) provides a different genealogy of those outside the continent, focusing instead on countries like Japan, China, India, and Chile, where women were already involved in activism around education and labour movements that far exceeded those in North America.

For example, Mina Roces (2010) pointed to women’s organizing in Asia that dates as far back as the 1920s and ’30s, what the writer identified as “home-grown feminism,” signifying a “difference from the West” (pp. 7, 2) According to Roces, the diversity of the Asian region did not allow for “a quintessential Asian woman,” therefore, women’s work differed from country to country (2010, p. 3).

And while some white feminists insist that they influenced global articulations of feminism, for Amrita Basu (2000), the common denominator was not global influence per se, but a product of nationalism (see also Tripp, 2013). Susan Blackburn (2010) also suggested that the emergence of feminism in places like Indonesia was closely connected to nationalism and the fight for independence, as was true for other Asian countries colonized by European colonial regimes such as Korea, India, or the Philippines (see also Roces, 2010).

For example, in Indonesia, the largest Islamic country in the world, formerly colonized by the Netherlands, the first women’s group was formed after 1910 (Blackburn, 2010). Blackburn notes that these early feminists were mindful of Western feminism and careful not to claim it because the nationalist movements were suspicious of outside influences from the West.

In places like China, Cambodia, Singapore, and Thailand, there was fear that Western feminism was entirely too radical and a threat to the state and family structure. Roces (2010, p. 1) argues that some Asian women activists avoided the word feminism because of its perceived associations with bra-burning white women, individualism, and anti-men, anti-children, and anti-family rhetoric. There were lively debates around the topic of feminism in Asia, as the idea of women’s suffrage, women’s rights as valid human rights, and the importance of reproductive health, reproductive rights, and self-determination heavily influenced feminist activists all over Asia (Blackburn, 2010; Roces, 2010). To this end, Asian feminists like Piya Chatterjee (2013), Mina Roces (2010), Mitsuye Yamada (2003, 2015), and Merle Woo (2003) remind us that even in cases where white feminists influenced global articulations of feminism, the erasure of these other diversified stories contributed to a less expansive and inclusive version of feminism.

Others, such as Paola Bacchetta (2002), Audre Lorde (1980a), Sara Ahmed (2017), Cherríe Moraga (2003a), Gloria Anzaldúa (2015b), and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2015), bring our attention to lesbians and women who identify on the 2STLGBQQIA+ spectrum, including those at the intersection of race, class, disability, mental illness, and neurodiversity. Janet Mock (2014, 2017), Vivik Shraya (2018), Jack Halberstam (2005, 2012), and Eli Clare (2005) have asked us to consider how we approach gender variance, trans identities, and those on the gender nonconforming spectrum. Scholar Celeste Orr (2018) connects feminist queer theory with disability studies and intersex studies, asking that we challenge the medical-industrial complex and how it orders and essentializes bodies.

Yet these accounts of feminist mobilization, theorization, and resistance globally were marginalized, if not erased entirely. A reminder that while mainstream feminism has purported to “universal” models of solidarity, it has done so while minimizing stories of feminist organizing both inside and outside of Europe and North America. Black, Indigenous, and other feminists of colour have pushed back against this erasure. In a way, these feminists demanded that white feminists acknowledge that first- and second-wave feminism had been fraught with contradictions and exclusion. Because of them, these interventions have resulted in transformations that differentiate third-wave feminism from the first two. Black feminism in particular has contributed immensely to the bulk of my research. I’ll get into that in the next episode.

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Until next time, in solidarity.

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