Over the years feminism and I have had a love hate relationship. I have slowly developed a relationship with the term even though I have been a strong advocate for female empowerment since I was teen. It’s just that word, feminism, and everything that comes with that word, that I haven’t always been on good terms with.
Anyone who knows me will know that I am always advocating for female empowerment whether it’s through discussing how important having access to a good education is important for women to talking about stigma’s in society that creates injustices for women. As I am part of the south Asian community, I especially discuss how certain cultural practices harm women and should be stopped. I have had to fight these barriers and stigmas growing up so I fight against them to help my sisters to help my cousins to help those who are younger than me so they don’t have to grow up with the same stigmas.
Yet do I call myself a feminist? I have gone from calling myself a feminist proudly to distancing myself from it to saying yes I am a feminist but not one that the media shows to so much more. Basically, it’s complicated. It’s complicated because I am a brown, Pakistani, Muslim woman who wears a hijab. I don’t “look” like a feminist. What does a feminist look like anyways?
Well mainstream media will have you believe that a feminist is a white middle class woman and I clearly don’t fit that description. I call that white feminism. It’s a type of feminism I hate because there is no space for women who don’t look like or have the same opinions as them. It’s women like these who made me want to distance myself from the term.
I have been told that I NEED to take my hijab off to be “liberated” and how they feel so sorry for me because of how I am “forced” to dress and when I tried explaining I did in fact choose to wear what I wear, I was told I don’t understand, it’s just internalised misogyny. Safe to say that we did not become friends.
After a while as I got older, I realised that actually female empowerment doesn’t only look the way that they say it does. As I studied Islam more I found that the religion is so empowering for women. It made me even more passionate about speaking up about female empowerment. I realised that a lot of the cultural practices go against what Islam teaches. I changed, I grew, I taught others around me and although the elders still cling to their cultural practices I have found that the youth fight for their rights, especially young women. For example, girls are often not allowed to go into higher education yet in Islam it is compulsory for every man, woman and child to be educated so women knowing this means they can fight to be able to study further.
Another reason that I have a complicated relationship with feminism is because of a lack of women we are shown as empowered that look like me. The last few years especially, I have noticed that a lot of feminist books are being published yet there is still no sign of women who look like me. Most of the women are white and if there is a Muslim woman included it is always Malala, no offence to her but in 1400 years of Islamic history is she really the only woman that is worthy of being included? It’s actually made me stop reading these types of books unless I know that more diverse women are included. I ended up doing my own research into Muslim women and the results were astounding, since the beginning of Islam women have been a part of all areas of society, from warriors to doctors to scholars to rulers and so much more. It’s these women who encompassed all parts of my life who became my role models.
So yes, I am a feminist and I think it’s time we broadened our idea of what feminism is, because it means different things to different people and they are all valid. I can wear a hijab and be empowered, I can follow my religion and be empowered. In fact I feel more empowered because of my religion. I will continue to learn and grow but I will always fight for female empowerment.