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I discuss feminism with an understanding that, for me and for many women in the world, feminism still means a personal and daily struggle, not just an ideological or political notion that has little to do with the individual. I am a feminist precisely because I reflect on my decisions and my context and try to identify when they are a result of my own internalized machismo or the structural reality of patriarchy. My feminism includes ambiguity, hesitation, frustration and brilliant clarity, because living out the life of a strong woman or of a conscious man is fraught with all those things. It is always a practice of self reflection, and ultimately of reflection on the global society in which we participate.
For other women, feminism may be survival, taking care of their children, finding ways to educate themselves, having a job outside the home; all things we take for granted as educated women in the Global North, but which concerns are still very present elsewhere. Policy is not the only venue in which questions of female participation, power and pure individual autonomy are being discussed or fought over. Daily life for much of the world, men and women, is a struggle against structural violence, including physical oppression, economic marginalization and social discrimination. Precisely because of the structural nature of patriarchy, the role of women in society is not an isolated issue in the US or globally, nor can it be taken apart from other struggles like economic and social justice. Thus feminism can also take the form of a comprehensive desire for a more holistic equity instead of a more narrow focus on women’s rights.
Especially as a woman of color familiar with life outside the Global North, I consider it a personal responsibility to contextualize women’s rights within racial and economic struggles, globalization and development, and the personal, intimate interactions of my own life. Feminism has always discussed the personal as political, but I think it is important to acknowledge that explicitly political interpretation of one’s personal sphere does not necessarily make one a better feminist than a woman who has never thought to call herself such. Identifying as a feminist does not make it so, but failing to identify as one means just as little.
That being said, I don’t think Sarah Palin is a feminist because she supports policies that take away women’s autonomy over their own body. A woman can be totally unwilling to ever have an abortion herself and be a feminist, but when she attempts to limit the choices of other women, when she attempts to reduce women to reproductive tracts without the capacity for nuanced thought and powerful emotion about their own bodies, I must object to her proclaiming herself a feminist of any kind.