13 December 2011

"What is feminism?" (or - I just want to scream)

(c) photo by khulud kh - all rights reserved

Just wanted to scream.
Ok so I’m sitting in this group. We’re all sitting in a circle. We start like in a feminist Collective with a round of names. Then there’s time and space for thoughts we had since our last meeting. The group is containing. Pleasant atmosphere. Some of the women are my friends. Others are new to me. Then we work in small groups, answering the following questions: “When did I discover I was a feminist? What was my first feminist act?” So I share my thoughts. My first feminist act – I don’t remember. But I do remember my most significant feminist act, which continues to accompany me. That of bringing my voice into the open. The transition from the private to the public sphere in my writing. And with this transition, the contents of my writing also changed from the personal to the political. And this is feminism all about – at least to me.

Then we went back to the group, and we were asked to share personal stories. I shared mine. Another woman shared hers. Her first feminist act was as a young teenager, when she took part in organizing and holding a demonstration. She stressed the collective power, the power to change, and the action in the public sphere. We were both talking about the same thing. From the private to the public – these are our first and most significant feminist actions.

Then, several other women talked, and as I was listening, trying to understand them and contain their different views of feminism, a silent scream began to form inside of me. While thinking of my feminist act, my independence or the fact that I am a single provider for my household, or the fact that I don’t cook – all these didn’t even cross my mind. But this was the main thing these women talked about. They talked about the importance of being an economically independent woman, but at the same time expressed clear antagonism towards feminism. One of them said that she took care of an old lady who never married and never had children, and that this old lady was very sad because she felt she had missed on life. What does this have to do with feminism? The focus of their talk was relationships, with cooking sneaking in every now and then. Oh, and burning bras.

So this is what feminism means to them? I thought and wanted to let that scream loose. None of them talked about social struggles, structural oppression, the rule of hegemony, acting in the public sphere.

This was yesterday. 24 hours have passed, and I am left with some thoughts. Yes, I am an economically independent woman. Yes, I am the single provider for my household. No, I don’t have a husband or a partner who lives with me. No, I don’t know how to cook. Now the question is – is this because I’m a feminist? I want to say no! These choices have nothing to do with feminism. But that would be not looking the truth in the eye. Feminism for me is a wide worldview and a way of life. So I guess the choices – personal or not – I make in my life are always connected this way or that – to the fact that I am a feminist.

But what I want to say is that this is not the essence of feminism, and never has been. Many feminists love to cook, many feminists are married and have children, and many feminists wear bras (YES).

So, what did I want to say? Oh yes, I just wanted to let that scream out and make clear the fact that my feminism is about the political. It’s not about cooking, not about bras, not about living (or not) with a partner. It’s about my right to be present and act in the public sphere. Mainly, for me, at this stage – it’s about my voice! About my voice having the legitimacy to be heard in the public sphere. There you go – I let my silent scream out.

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh (2011)


  1. you are very clear and write beautifully.
    i think you are missing one point and that is that feminism is about freedom and strength and had you not have that you might have had difficulties in choosing also to live alone as single mother/woman and refuse to cook etc.... even the fact you responded to the feminist center work offer shows you were already ripe to dare the world with your free choices and this all lead to the public political outgoing. all the "personal" choices according to it's place in history have to do with feminism issues. it's a process also a ersonal one but also importantly put in it's historical context.
    so for exemple cutting very short my hair today has nothing to do with doing it in 67! it was a political challenge! not making kids today is less an social issu (mainly abroad trhan in israel) and damnation than in the 70s. etc...

  2. thanks darling for your insights. reading through my post again, i realized that maybe i didn't make myself clear. the women talking about cooking and burning bras were relating to these issues as if these were the core and essence of feminism. they didn't go beyond that. that's what feminism is to them, and that's what made me want to scream. yes, of course i began my way to feminism with my independence, but it didn't stop there.
    thanks for being such a devoted reader of my blog :)

  3. i undestood what u ment
    maybe you can understand me better now why as a very veteran feminist activiste i am impatient for the repetitive process of the endles new comers but the goal is to bring feminism and empowerment to maximum women in this world so there is no escape. therefor i very often hide myself in the archives or internet cause my impatience and intolerance can hinder the developemnent of the other woman and this is a shame.
    where you feel like screm about others i might have felt like screaming at you at a certain stage but it is all right. each one her speed and especially lets find the friends that share our views in personal life. i love you

  4. yes!!! you said it best! i guess of course u r right about the stages :)

  5. But I do think that economic independence is a very important part of feminism. In German, we use "Emanzipation" and "Feminismus" almost synonymously, and the Latin root of emancipation means to enfranchise your slave or your son. So, independence, not only economically but also intellectually, emotionally, in your choices, all that, seems very important to me, even more than going to demonstations or political acts. I don't mean that a woman should always live independently, but that she should develop the skills to do so, or, as my friend Ellen's mother used to say: Always keep your run-away money. Vice versa, I am much more disturbed by women who don't have the skills to be independent than by women who aren't activists (I am not an activist myself).

    See you soon in Haifa?

  6. HA! I do remember that run-away money!!! It was a real thrill to secretly know that I have it stashed just in case.
    (though in the end I think I spent it on HIS plane-ticket...)

    yes, Bettina, all of us are right. I guess the economic independence part is such a natural part of me already that I don't think of it in terms of feminism, but it's true of course, and I think like Talma said, it's a matter of stages.


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