Today, I woke up feeling uneasy. See, it is International Women’s Day and I am supposed to be celebrating. Several people have wished me “A happy Women’s Day”. However, I cannot be happy. I do not know how to celebrate a day that media promotes through a hegemonic, universalized category of “woman”, presenting issues of women like me through racial stereotypes, dissecting the countries where women like me come from as “backwards”, as “un-enlighted”, “corrupt”. The generic woman that gets celebrated today in media fits a narrow, hetero-cis-White-normative, able-bodied, definition of woman. They fit these stereotypical notions that represent a small portion of the womanhood pie. In those rare occasions when mainstream media highlights achievements by different women, it is almost always to “Other” us, to present us as unique, a deviation from the norm, an exception. Today, mainstream media will tell us “Look at this African woman here! Look at what she has done for her people!”. Africa, the countrified continent, populated by African women, a homogenous collective devoid of differences, of nuance, of political or cultural distinctions. Or we will be told to look at this one immigrant woman! Look at her, she succeeded!, which means, she is like “us”, she has succeeded in “our” terms, within “our” rules.
And yet, all I want to do is resist. I want no part in this universalized promotion of “woman”. I want no celebration or further advancement of these mainstream values as the only desirable goal.
So, when Gender Across Borders posed the question “How can we, as a culture and as members of the global community, involve, educate, and inspire girls in a positive way?”, I thought long and hard. After all, I do not see myself as either inspirational or an educator. Not because I do not believe in these but because I do not think I am qualified to be either. I see both as too big a responsibility. I take them seriously. So, the only sensible way I can see to inspire or educate is through resistance.
The problem with resistance is that it is often portrayed in media as this big, terrifying thing that “extremists” do. Resistance is scary! You do not want to be seen as a radical! You will alienate people! And then you will be alone and nobody will listen… And that is precisely why I do it, because if there is one legacy we can leave to the next generation of women is that resistance is the only way to set change in motion. The only way to ensure that change happens is through active, conscious acts of resistance, no matter how small or personal.
Often we are told that in order to resist, we must participate in actions of a certain scale; resistance is not individual, it is the result of a collective effort, it should be at the service of a cause. All of these are true, however, there are also the small acts through which we can live in resistance. A few ways in which we can inspire young girls to resist:
Talk about the value of difference and live through these values. The only way to challenge the White hetero-cis-normative, able bodied dominant paradigm of “women” is by making those who do not conform to it visible. Our actions, our relationships, our ideas, our politics need to embody and reflect these differences.
Cherish the non ambitious around you. Nowadays, we are told we must succeed. To be a woman is to achieve, to aspire, to want. This, we are told, is how we are going to reach equality. However I must ask, equality in relation to whom? What does it means to succeed in a system that promotes the perpetuation of violence in the name of market expansion? Yes, the wage gap matters. But so do the girls who have no career ambitions, the ones who just want to write poems, the ones who want to create with their hands, the ones who want to live lives that do not conform to market forces or financial gains. All of them are worthy of our support and mentoring.
Value and nurture young anger. We grow up being told that anger is bad. Good girls do not express their anger, good girls play nice, they accommodate, they please. It is time we start looking at anger differently. Why are we so bent on suppressing this anger when for so many, it is the only emotion left in the face of injustice? Why should young women appear compliant and docile when they are obviously being subjected to violence or inequity? Why shouldn’t anger be a legitimate drive for our politics? Change will not come because we ask for permission, change will happen because we leave no other alternative.
Foster survival and self care strategies. This cannot be said enough and I wish someone had taught me this growing up. For many people, self care is the most radical act. In an environment that promotes that only certain lives are valuable and worthy, surviving and thriving are revolutionary.
Lead by being an example. We do what we can, not necessarily what we want. Because we are immersed in a world that makes us complicit in the perpetuation of these ills, it is sometimes easy to lose sight. We cannot escape it, that much I know. However, we can live by certain principles that become our political praxis: we do not bodysnark, we stand against racism, we value all bodies and celebrate them in their beauty and complexity, we respect people’s choices and sexualities, we are the change we wish to see. This, I believe, is one of the most valuable ways in which we can inspire and educate; not through pompous statements but through the small, every day acts of non conformity. If the personal is political, then our actions should reflect our beliefs.
I do not believe in happiness much. Or at least, not in what we are often told about happiness. To me, the idea of ever achieving a perpetual state of happiness seems too elusive, too distant. Instead, I prefer joy. Those small moments when we experience that connectedness, within ourselves or with our surrounding, with others. And if there was one thing I could give to young girls to inspire them, it would be that: to experience joy in their lives, to seek joy and to live in joy. Because the world can be a joyful place and I just wish it was so for everyone.