Navigating and battling a plethora of injustices right now may feel overwhelming. On the one hand, we find ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, affecting underserved communities around the globe most. On the other, international protests against racism and discrimination make it very evident that we are far away from achieving equality between genders, races, abilities. But it is the lived reality of some, which is why feminism today can only be intersectional. This message lies at the core of the discussion “Feminist Leadership in Times of Crisis”, which took place on International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021, hosted by WORM and Kontra Rotterdam. The discussion attempted to tackle a variety of topics — find nine key takeaways from speakers below.
- Your Feminism Isn’t Worth Much Unless it’s Intersectional — Feminism without intersectionality is yet another manifestation and replication of systemic, historical, and institutional oppression. Feminist consciousness and the cultural conversation have shifted, and historically, the movement has not been welcoming of all women and thus is deeply flawed. While everyone should fight for what they experience as injustice, we cannot continue striving for “mainstream feminism” that is not intersectional, as it does more harm than good. This notion was expressed and underlined by Naomie Pieter, who is an intersectional queer and anti-racist activist and co-founder of ‘Black Queer & Trans Resistance NL’, as well as the founder of Black Pride NL.
- “Nothing About Us Without Us” — Centering the most vulnerable individuals of our community will lead to a more inclusive society, says Jeanette Chedda, making reference to James Charlton’s book on Disability Oppression and Empowerment. Instead of talking about each other, let’s talk with each other. On top, she adds the thought that in the very concrete situation that our societies are designed for and centered around Ableism, it completely changes the perspective for an able-bodied person to call themselves a non-disabled person. This is a step toward real allyship, building empathy, and centering the needs of disabled persons. Because: We cannot fully lean into our power until everyone we claim to represent is being supported, elevated, nourished.
- Activism Needs Art — Teresa Borasino combines activism with art, and states that ‘political art may contextualize an issue in a new framing, but really doesn’t achieve much more than re-stating the problem.’ What we need is art within activism, in the form of performance, dance, interventions. The activist intervention collective Fossil Free Culture is doing impressive work to dismantle power structures and highlight the intersection of climate racism, the patriarchy and culture by combining art and activism.
- Don’t Expect Others to Educate You — It’s 2021 and the Internet has an endless array of resources readily available. To you, to me, to everyone. Yes, definitions are changing quickly, and it may feel overwhelming to keep up with terms like TERF, Intersectionality Feminism, or why the term womxn is deemed exclusionary. As both Naomie Pieter and Jeanette Chedda pointed out, ‘don’t ask others to do the work for you, it’s tiring and distracts from the real issue. Get up to speed on your own by continuously educating yourself, especially if you claim to be about it.’
- Hybrid is the New Normal — Social Media has given a more prominent platform to marginalized voices. For a relatively small country like St. Maarten, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs shares how the Web can be aspace to mobilize and collaborate, and even to build feminist coalitions. While all speakers expressed frustrations with being online, they came to the conclusion to connect online in order to connect offline. Yes, the Internet can be met with frustration and requires lots of navigation. As Jeanette Chedda put it: ‘Tweets can have lives of their own, hate speech is real and trolls live here.’ But don’t let tech get in the way of the social revolution, and best believe that hybrid is the new normal.
- Pleasure Activism is Key to Liberation — adrienne maree brown makes a plea for “Pleasure Activism”, sexual joy and self-care. As intersectional beings, as BIPOCS, as femmes*, our bodies are under constant distress. Finding joy in the body resonated with all of the speakers, as Black and feminine liberation begins with the body. Self Care is one aspect, but it does come down to more than just that. From staying hydrated to consuming value-adding food and content are some ways to take good care of ourselves.
- Climate Racism is Deeply Patriarchal — and globally affects the most vulnerable communities. Teresa Borasino tackles climate racism by pointing the finger at companies like Shell, which have been #ArtWashing their way into cultural institutions as a rude cover up for their oil spills. Fossil Free Culture says: ‘we must not accept such funding in the cultural institutions and let them get away with it.’ Holding institutions accountable to their funding structure in order to tackle the problem is activism at its core.
- Vulnerability As a Superpower — Jeanette Chedda has been on a campaign for the past 1,5 years. In the last stretch of the election, she sees her own vulnerability as a superpower. In using her voice and sharing her lived experience, she is making those around her aware of their privileges and thus creating a bond of empathy. By explaining the difficulty of going to the grocery store, or the lack of dignity when wearing a beautiful dress and having to enter a venue where the trash is sorted really made it clear: we are healthier as a society when fewer people feel stigmatised and shame.
- Feminine Energy is a Powerful Force — Feminine energy can guide an entire nation through a crisis. A look toward Silveria Jacobs, the Prime Minister of St. Maarten shows that Black women in visible leadership build a government with significant female representation. It shows that Women of Color center marginalized women who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. It shows a feminist and intersectional approach to governing a country, which is nourishing and intuitive with clarity and foresight. My takeaway from this: The more women in power, the more women empowered.
Follow the speakers and organizations:
Silveria Jacobs — The right honourable Silveria Jacobs Prime Minister of Sint Maarten.
Teresa Borasino — a visual artist and activist. She is the co-founder of Fossil Free Culture NL, a collective of artists, activists and cultural workers working at the intersection between art and climate activism.
Yolanda Rother (Moderator)— A community activator, conference curator, speaker and moderator. Berliner with German-Jamaican roots, dealing with issues around open government, digital transformation, diversity, inclusion, urban development and decolonization.
WORM is a Rotterdam based non-profit foundation and a multi-media alternative cultural centre focused on experimental, new media art, avant-garde and underground art.
KONTRA Rotterdam is a Rotterdam-based grass-roots project that explores the boundaries between art and activism while seeking alternative ways of art-making, partying and art management. Thank you to the organizers Joana Cavaco & Nikki Georgiou!
Terms used in this text:
- Women — transgender, cisgender, gender expansive, gender non-conforming, pangender, those who menstruate, those who don’t, those who are harmed by the patriarchy
- TERF — Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist
- Intersectional Feminism — A prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.
- Ableism — Discrimination, marginalization and stigmatization of people with disabilities based on their physical, mental and/or psychological condition.