When our female Speaker of Parliament last year made those infamous comments on women aggravating their husbands to the point of them loosing it and becoming violent, I recall the backlash from feminist organisations and individuals, and the fiery debates on social media forums. I also recall how I didn’t really deem anything wrong with the Speaker’s comments at that time till I picked up the adverse reactions from my Twitter feed.
Not that I have much care for our Speaker (or her political party), but I feel for her because I understand the modus operandi she functions under when it comes to Feminism. Whether it’s on how she feels women should dress or submit to their husbands – I know exactly why a woman in her position and other female political figures in the Pacific sometimes put their foot in their mouths. And it has to do with this quasi-feminist mode that we operate on and are limited by, despite us knowing better. I know this because I also function within the confines of that very small space.
Much to the dismay of my female activist friends and to the delight of my male construction colleagues, I’ve always refused to label myself as a feminist. This has led me to the firing squads on many an occasion to surrender. After all anybody who believes in the equality of the sexes is a feminist, right? Even the Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau with his mismatched Star Wars socks has affirmed that he’ll keep repeating he’s a feminist till the cows come home.
What does feminism mean anyway these days? Since beginning of the women’s liberation movement, the present time is perhaps the most confusing one to define it. It’s as if the movement has invented a whole new language altogether, with a plethora of vocabularies and specific terminologies. Women are no longer just plain women. You can further identity yourself by your gender as a cis or trans or bi woman. There’s different ideologies of feminism – Social, Liberal, Cultural, Radical. And there are subcategories influenced by race and culture; White Feminism and Black Feminism, with other women of colour shading somewhere in-between. Then there are streams of Choice and Eco Feminism branching into left & right wing feminist politics….!
Lately the word ‘feminist’ has somewhat become a buzzword in western media again with celebrity figures spinning their own individualistic yarn on feminism. And while that’s in over the seas, what of feminism here in the Pacific Islands – in our small Viti? There’s two kinds of feminism here in Fiji.
One is our robust feminist movement; a network of NGOs, overseas agencies, several foreign aid organisations, individual professionals and feisty millennials embracing third-wave feminism, advocating intersectionality (look it up alright) and queer representation as well under their umbrella.
And the second are the few women in politics and businesses who don’t have time for any feminist flag-hoisting tea self-care sessions and non-labellers like me but are just as passionate about equal citizenry.
But you know, I didn’t really sit down to dissect feminism today nor did I intend to do a ‘why am I not a feminist’ spill. But the perimeters of this movement for equality has spread out so far and wide that I’ve had to spend the last 800 words putting feminism in context (more for me then for you, Dear Reader) so that I could really talk about the future of my feminism.
I don’t say this in jest but when I listen in to feminist debates and panels, I sometimes don’t understand what’s actually being discussed. It’s only recently that I went and looked up the word ‘solidarity’ because it was popping up on my timeline so frequently with this “🙌”. Feminism and it’s talk has become so full of jargons that it’s beginning to isolate ‘English spoken as 2nd language’ Fijian women like me from dialogue because I genuinely at times have no grasp of the right vocabulary to contribute in a formal conversation.
…feminism and it’s talk has become so full of jargons that it’s beginning to isolate ‘English spoken as 2nd language’ Fijian women like me from dialogue because I genuinely at times have no grasp of the right vocabulary to contribute in a formal conversation.
I remember the first time I learnt what it felt like as a grown-up woman. Blatant bias/discrimination. I was 22 and employed as a building cadet, placed to work at a site office. The quarterly company newsletter had a section for staff profiles. A building cadet back then was someone undertaking either a construction or services management graduate course while working in the field and I was way too excited to be featured in a newsletter (which was going to be read by over 400 employees). When I finally got to see my copy – under my name, my position was titled “Receptionist”. My About blurb included undertaking ‘office duties’ on site. 11-hour work days, blisters on feet from steel-cap boots (my poor toes have corns which can testify), climbing up and down ladders in between floors to tick off check-lists, 50 OH&S employee inductions per week and all reduced down to “receptionist’. No offence to receptionists out there but by god I don’t hate a word as much as I hate ‘receptionist’! I still have a copy of that newsletter.
And spanning over the last 15 years many such incidents followed one after the other, rubbing me a little more rough each time, a little more brittle – adding brassy chip after chip on my shoulders.
I joined and have been working for our family business for some 10 years now; something that daughters in my family aren’t raised to do. Yet till today, I’m still made to feel as if it’s a temporary placement. Extended family, friends, foremen are forever asking me “who will do all this work when you get married and go away to your husband’s house?” Are you fucking kidding me?? Why would I walk away from a career that I’ve invested 10 years of my life in? Imagine if people started saying that to sons. A man would claim his stakes. Legally or otherwise. And I’m expected to walk away, feeling glad to be of assistance?
Extended family, friends, foremen are forever asking me “who will do all this work when you get married and go away to your husband’s house?” Are you fucking kidding me?? Why would I walk away from a career that I’ve invested 10 years of my life in? Imagine if people started saying that to sons. A man would claim his stakes. Legally or otherwise. And I’m expected to walk away, feeling glad to be of assistance?
But the above all isn’t really my problem today. I’ve been at this battle for a long time now and know which things not to give a shit about.
But what really has begun to worry me is perhaps the futility of continuing to battle for my equality and for whom really? At 33, I still function and am limited in the same patriarchal space where I was 20 years ago. The same contours, limited by the same glass ceiling which we still haven’t managed to shatter. And that’s the truth about my feminism.
You see I belong to a generation where feminism was fought for the ‘sisterhood’. It was for equal rights, same pay and a stand for the same respect in all aspects of life. It was fought for ourselves but also for the generation of women after. My non-label feminism and supposed liberation today like for many in my generation has come at a personal cost. Which many women I know happily bore because at the time, we were fighting for a bigger cause. We were paving our paths but were also trying to make it easier for the women after us. Putting things like marriage, babies, families on hold. For me it was shredding off all things feminine when it came to match patriarchy in my professional battle. Today I spot a reputation of being ‘butch’, my sexual orientation constantly in question. But those are the things my generation of feminists gave up for a better, more progressive next ten years.
So imagine my disappointment at this juncture of my life when I realise that this present isn’t the future that my feminism had worked towards. Women in the Pacific Islands are simply not stepping up enough. Especially young women.
Because perhaps feminism today is no longer about the ‘sisterhood’. It’s become individualistic. Feminism now is your interpretation of your choices like the clothes you wear, the brands you endorse, the coffee you drink – is your feminist choice.
I look around my industry and still see only a handful of women opting to join the trades. What my generation of feminists took as liberty when they married late is today’s women’s ‘choice’ and alarmingly in Fiji, young women are choosing to get married even earlier. There are young women in my extended family some 12 years younger than me with children. Like seriously – did my ovaries go to a waste trying to level the playing field with male coworkers, paving way for solo travel around the globe for middle-class desi girls like us (who weren’t allowed to walk across the road to the neighbours house), crusading sport bars and footy grounds to drink beer just like the lads, self-teaching myself to laugh out loud and freely instead of behind my hands and making men re-think how they treat women in our family so that you can go and make babies at 22 after your expensive private school education? What-fucking-ever. But of course, it’s your choice.
And in this new wave of feminism it’s also hard to express solidarity unless you
black belong to the same group of women. You’ll come across an Islamic feminist group finding the hijab oppressive, at the same time there’ll be another Islamic women’s movement donning the hijab and advocating it as a personal choice.
It used to be about the team. It no longer is. It used to be about getting out and literally taking to the streets. Today your feminism is measured by your Instagram bio and hashtags. The debate is more focused on whether you identity yourself as a feminist instead of actually focusing on the gender-balancing work one does. Your activism is directly indicated by your social media shares then your quiet crying sessions in the office bathroom when you’ve exhausted yourself standing up to the male chauvinists in your workplace. It’s so much easier today to call yourself a feminist then actually being one.
It’s one thing to call for more women representation in Pacific parliaments and asking for more seats allocated to women but do we have enough young women stepping up to fill those? I’m overwhelmingly exhausted with the realisation that young women today feel they have a right to ‘choose’ not to, never mind the struggle that toiled behind that equal opportunity made available to them.
This year women’s day theme #BeBoldForChange was widely well-marketed in Fiji for that one day. Cakes were bought, rolls of purple fabric cut, hundreds of wear-once only sulu-jabas were sewn. Though I’m not really sure about us getting any bolder when the stats say that 72% of women have faced domestic violence in Fiji, one of the highest in the world.
Well it may seem that this is where I either throw in the towel and declare feminism is doomed or leave you with a hope that perhaps it’s just my cynical day and that there is enough happening on the ground by feminist groups in Fiji to enable a slow, steady change in years.
I’m not doing either. This post isn’t about whether my noble generation x feminist values is better than your Beyoncé-flamed feminism. It really isn’t on whether the 2nd or 3rd wave feminists got it right or whether the women’s advocates are doing right by the female species on this planet by marketing feminism as sellable content.
This is just for me and you, Dear Reader, you whose been trying to do it for the sisterhood all these years and just realised there is no more ‘sisterhood’. Stop. Just stop.
Drop your weapons.
Shrug off your armour, go indulge yourself in a big pot of chicken palao, stay home tomorrow and scrub the bathroom tiles. May you find comfort.
Dear Feminist, I’d understand if you’re raging by the time you get to the bottom of this post. I also know that you’ve drafted your rebuttal in your head and are ready to give me a piece of your feminism. I’d love to hear from you but – just for today, why don’t we let it rest and indulge in some chicken palao. We can pick it up tomorrow. – Shyamni. x