DISMANTLING LABELS

For the past few years, I have rigorously identified my social and personal beliefs as a type of feminism. I have always pushed that I believe in a type of neo-feminism, a type that is starkly different to first wave and bra burners, a type that acknowledges multitudes of rights.

During my first year of university, I came across intersectionality, a term that I felt described my ideas perfectly. It meant that my experiences and the experiences of say, a black Muslim or an Ashkenazi Jewish lady could be acknowledged as separate strands of rights because our intersecting identities gave us differing palettes in life and that we could simultaneously draw attention to our differing needs. This also meant that I nolonger had to overexplain my version of ‘feminism’ to others.

Of course, I understood that liberation varies by person, but it steered me away from feeling that my ideas of injustice were irrelevant.

Feminism for me was not really about liberation, but more about creating dialogue and change in minority communities – especially coming from a middle-class white neighbourhood where I felt there wasn’t a place for my voice.

I began using this label frequently, my writing became the writings of an intersectional feminist and with that often came a backlash from ‘religious’ personas online who deeply resented feminism and associated with anti-Islamic rhetoric. I mean I get it if the only time these personas had heard of feminism was about western liberalism then I can see where the confusion comes in.

How can I possibly be a Muslim and a western liberal at the same time?

Dismantling Labels

 I found myself having to defend my corner again and explaining to a new group of people why my feminism was not the enemy, and that I believed in my religion along with believing in implementing rights, that feminism did not mean I was to abandon the rights of faith, nor that I was suddenly jumping on board with ideas that conveyed liberation as synonymous with western modernity. 

In the same way that we often have stereotypes placed on faith, I began realising the depth of the stereotypes attached to the term ‘feminist.’  I hadn’t realised that I was being mistakenly perceived as someone who ascribed to lengths of ideology that historically erased non-western women, deemed them as oppressed, and overlooked the rights ordained by God. I couldn’t disassociate ‘feminism’ from its western history – mostly because I live in the west, and its western history could not cease to exist. I can deny western liberalism, white feminism and limited activism as much as I like, but where does that leave a term like ‘feminist’ for someone like me.

The term is weighted. It is weighted enough to misread everything you believe in attempt to neatly pack it into a label. You can say ‘I am a Muslim feminist,’ but this will be misconstrued as hypocritical and irreligious. I’ve been trying to find the right way to convey the complexity of renewing a label that already holds so many contradictions.

However, I didn’t abandon ship. I was adamant that there was a way for feminism to exist for me. But, during that time I noticed problematic parts of the modern strands of intersectional feminism that I once found appealing. I saw more and more that ideas of 21st century activism were claimed to be newly founded and brought about by marginalised groups living in the west – and many of them portrayed Islam as archaic and in need of drastic reform. Problem.

I do believe that there needs to be an emphasis on ensuring rights are implemented and that pockets of misogynistic groups need to be dismantled so that we can experience religion in the welcoming and non-dogmatic way that it is ordained. And of course, I haven’t abandoned the personal beliefs that I once aligned with intersectionality and feminism… they still exist, just without the burden of attempting to confine it to a single label or a label with terms and conditions – and without having to reiterate that the rights granted to women and men in Islam are both modern and uplifting when implemented and understood beyond the tinted spectacles of liberalism.

For the past few years, I have rigorously identified my social and personal beliefs as a type of feminism. I have always pushed that I believe in a type of neo-feminism, a type that is starkly different to first wave and bra burners, a type that acknowledges multitudes of rights.

I think it’s about time I allowed myself to have ideas and beliefs that don’t all fit the label. 

~ Shazmeen