Feminism from this Native Woman’s Perspective, By Ruth Hopkins
The Nation recently published a column by Michelle Goldberg entitled, “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars: Empowered by social media, feminists are calling one another out for ideological offenses. Is it good for the movement? And whose movement is it?”
I’m glad they ran it- not because I agree with Ms. Goldberg, but because we need dialogue between white feminists and self-identifying feminists and womanists who are Women of Color (WoC). Currently, there’s a disconnect. The aforementioned column in The Nation is proof positive.
White feminists, who have always held the reins in the Feminist Movement, don’t seem to understand that criticism of the movement does not equal bullying. They also appear to be ignorant of the fact that they use WoC when it benefits them, rather than include them in the conversation. There’s a difference between talked to and being talked at, or talked about. Issues of race and gender overlap; we cannot pretend that issues of race don’t exist when discussing feminism and equality among not only men and women, but between women of all colors, races, and creeds.
White feminists continue to exploit Indigenous women. Eve Ensler created the Vagina Monologues and V-Day, a “global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls.” On the surface, V-Day sounds like a great idea. The issue of violence against women and girls demands attention. However, WoC have been critical of Ms. Ensler’s tactics. She flies into third world countries, films impoverished women and children who have been horribly violated, assigns her own narrative to it, leaves, and takes all the credit while those who have been victimized remain voiceless and in pain. After a trip to the Congo to investigate sexual violence occurring against women there, Eve was quoted as saying, “I must see a fistula,” and set about doing so. Fistulas are holes created through tears in a woman’s body, between the vaginal wall and the rectum. This occurs during violent rape, or when girls still in puberty give birth. When a girl or woman has a fistula, she is unable to hold her urine or excrement. As a result she starts to stink. They are then treated like social pariahs, even though the cause of the smell is fistulas created by men who’ve victimized them. These women, these girls, bear the stigma; not their rapists. The fact that Ms. Ensler could speak of these women in such dehumanizing terms is not only appalling but irresponsible and yes, racist. These women with fistulas, Ms. Ensler, are your equals. They’re survivors and braver than you. This isn’t a freak show and they aren’t your meal ticket. Let them speak for themselves.
Ms. Ensler and mainstream feminists also ignore the demographic most effected by sexual violence: Native women. There’s an epidemic of missing and murdered First Nations women in Canada. While Ms. Ensler will continue to gain notoriety through the promotion of her own V-Day, February 14th has also been proclaimed the global day to Honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. I hope you’ll join us in remembering these Native women and insisting that governments, communities, and the media do more to stop our women from being stolen, raped and murdered, while also continuing to search for the lost ones who must come home.
Some say white feminists should assist WoC in taking more of a leadership role in the movement for women’s equality. I’ll go a step further. Following the example of my Native grandmothers, I say, “Get out of our way.” We don’t need your permission. You’re welcome to join us in the fight, but we aren’t your lackeys. This isn’t no plantation. Instead of trying to speak for WoC, try listening. You might learn a few things.
Curiously, I don’t self-identify as a feminist- although to others, I probably sound like one. I agree with a great deal of the feminist platform: equal rights, equal pay, reproductive rights, etc. However, I part ways when it comes to who I am as a Native woman.
You see, I do things as a strong, empowered Oceti Sakowin (Sioux) woman that non-Native settler feminists do not understand, nor do they seem to want to. Through their colonial lens, they view sacred women’s ways as submissive rather than humble. For instance, they assume that because I wear a long dress or skirt to ceremony, that I’m being treated as an inferior. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wear my floor sweeping skirt out of respect for my ancestors, the brothers and sisters in my circle, and myself. To wear the skirt is an honor. When we cover our power of creation in modesty and dignity, we are shining examples of feminine beauty and the power of the deity White Buffalo Calf Woman herself flows through us.
We do not need to be men. Being an Oceti Sakowin (Sioux) woman is enough. In fact, the ancestors taught that we are more powerful than men. After all, Ina Maka (Mother Earth) was the first Indigenous female. Women carry the power of the Great Mystery within our wombs. We care for our men too, because we love them and we want them to be strong, and be the best version of themselves. We are not adversaries; we are partners. We are one as a People and Nation.
Within the bounds of mainstream society, I think feminism is needed to overcome the screaming domination that is global patriarchy. As for myself and other traditional Native women like me, being a woman is all the power we need. Feminism isn’t the answer; returning to traditional lifeways is. Our strength as women is within us, whether western colloquialisms apply or not. It doesn’t change who we are. We aren’t asking for your blessing, nor do we need it. We mean what we say, and our words lead to actions. We are causal agents who create movements. Look to the legacy of strong Native women who’ve not only birthed Nations, but fought for them. We lead in our own way. Our hearts beat strong and fierce. We will speak for ourselves and through those we’ve deemed worthy.