Feminism is… the generosity of listening

As is custom for me, I like to celebrate words and voices encountered between covers with a warm meal and a mug of well crafted beer. Black label to be precise. Much like reading, feminism is not an exercise to be embarked upon singularly, without community and without the importance of fellowship.

It sounds like I am describing a church of badly behaved Womxn? Good. The voices that come through the this collection of essays are anything but harmonious, there is discord and the sound is often not complimentary which is brilliant because as Womxn and non binary persons, why are we expected to speak through the same voice when the experience of womxnhood and personhood is not universal. I adore this book because it angered me, it cut me down to size and most importantly, it was an exercise of learning and generosity.

What we have in common is feminism that we don’t have to even call by the same name because it is not only academic or theoretical but an experience.

My answers lay in a conversation between Nomalanga Mkhize and Gogo Ngoatjakumba. I have asked myself what is feminine and what is masculine and where do I sit in a space where I just subscribe to Feminism as reclaiming my femininity. What about my masculinity? Does it belong in this place? Do I endanger your space because I don’t conform and my misbehaviour goes beyond sitting with my legs open and drinking beer? Gogo Ngoatjakumba explains binaries as follows:

It’s not so much male and female, but masculine and feminine, maybe sort of like left brain and right brain. So feminine and masculine are gender neutral that can be held in physical form

As I reconcile these words with my identity, I come to realize that femininity and masculinity fall on a spectrum that is not dependent on the physical. And hence B Camminga argues that feminism is for every single person. Why? Because it’s sitting in communion and understanding the struggle of being “othered” for claiming subversive identities and challenging an entrenched violent heteropatriarchy that rapes and kills people who do not conform to the dominant narrative.

A chapter which resonated deeply with me and became a source of conflict and relief for me is written by Dr B Camminga, a transperson asked to contribute to a book of Womxn speaking of feminism. Instantly, as a transperson, this involved an erasure of their trans identity and became a catalyst for misgendering. What they propose is an overthrowal of gender as a system whose sole purpose has been to divide and entrench what is dominant and what is subservient from the first day in school when girls and boys are asked to queue in separate lines. What a joy it would be for me to live in a society without pronouns and be called by my name instead of having to undergo the constant scrutiny of “Ke ngwanyana o mo bjang” when I wear pants in a rural setting or prefer to sit with the men instead of labouring over endless pyramids of carrots to be peeled and prepared at funerals. Imagine living in a world where your preferences or behavior were not instrumental in the determination of your person by other people.

The conflict then arises, my blackness and Womxnness are inextricable. In this society where I bite my tongue whenever a large group of men make advances and compliment me out of fear of society, in a society where holding my partners hand could attract undue attention that may result in “corrective rape” and a judge denouncing sexual orientation as a motivation for the attack. Where does my blackness begin and my womxness end and Dear God when do I choose to fight my battles as a lesbian? I don’t because those fights involve a triple threat of being queer black and Womxn. My identity is inextricable and so is that of a coloured person who is too dark and a sex worker and remains unseen only until it’s time to violate them.

Dear Feminism’s, I demand the generosity of listening and holding a space for those who are othered without the language to communicate what their struggle is.

I yearn for the feminism described by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng. The feminism of doing and addressing the material erasures and debilitating circumstances that face the Womxn outside the ivory tower. The lack of access for rural girls to birth control and proper reproductive health care. Wearing a t shirt printed “keep your theology off my biology”, Tlaleng speaks of the importance of choosing what is important, what is critical and what is life threatening as deserving of her feminism. The discussion deconstructs the meaning of being a black womxn in a feminist space where donors only contribute when there is a credible white face and when black bodies are used as case studies by the very allies who claim to be comrades. Feminism for black womxn means a real possibility of confrontation with violence from white Womxn “who align with their race and class privilege when the struggle becomes inconvenient”. This speaks to the work I do in my own project addressing the lack of support or effect on white queer persons when black lesbian Womxn are being brutally maimed, materially erased and violated. When Pride becomes a costume party and lacks the politic of addressing hate rape and violence experienced by black queer persons because of their social location. Where is the solidarity then? When is feminism optional then?

If there is a book that succinctly illustrates voices, variances but a common goal to disrupt and revolutionize spaces as gently or as fiercely as possible, this is it.

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