OUTSPOKEN: Amina Doherty Talks About Feminism
Hello, please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do
Amina Doherty was born in London to Nigerian parents. She grew up in Nigeria and Antigua, studied in Canada before moving to London where she lived and worked for five years, and then to Jamaica, where she currently resides. She is a Pan-African, nomadic-soul, feminist philanthropist and creative writer. ‘I am most interested,’ she says, ‘in exploring ‘the soft middle’ where intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, politics and creative ideas splatter wetly.’ Amina is passionate about music, art, fashion and culture and is a founding member and Coordinator of FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund.
What does being a feminist mean to you?
I get asked this question a lot and every time I’m asked I try to come up with a more creative description. The truth is that ‘my feminism’ never really changes. My feminism is grounded in love; it flows from a belief in ‘better’, in ‘more’, in ‘possibility’, in equality and in justice. It is centred in the belief that all women (regardless of how they self-identify) have the freedom and flexibility to live self-determined lives free from discrimination and oppression. I believe in feminism(s) – in the plural. I believe that feminisms must be such that they allow room to articulate both our interconnectedness and our individual experiences, identities and struggles. I challenge anyone that tries to suggest one can be more/less feminist than another – because I believe feminisms are defined both individually and contextually.
How did you come to see yourself as a Feminist?
I was always a curious child always wanting to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ and I was lucky enough to have parents that encouraged my insatiable appetite to learn. I lived in a household where fair was fair and it didn’t matter that I was a girl – opportunity was dished out in equal amounts on the same platter that we all ate from – but still I had questions about things that didn’t make sense and about the world and my place in it. I suppose I had always (secretly) known myself to be a feminist – although I didn’t come to call myself one until I was in college. It was through this new and exciting world of literature and knowledge that I was exposed to, that the world slowly began to make more sense. My interest was piqued by feminist theorists like Simone DeBeauvoir and Judith Butler and I remember sitting in the library stumped by Adrienne Rich and others –and while in principle many of these ideas made sense I still felt like things were missing, like I was missing. And so I turned to the writings of Chandra Mohanty and Gloria Anzaldúa and Tsitsi Dangarembga and Patricia Hill-Collins, and Joan Morgan and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Audre Lorde and I found sounds and stories that resonated – and in their words I found myself. I began to understand the nature of multiple interconnected struggles (both internal and external) and I too found my own words to call out oppression for what it is, and to align myself to multi-faceted, multi-coloured women’s movements.
Does being a feminist have any influence on your daily life?
Feminism influences everything I do every day. From the moment I wake up in the morning and decide to dedicate an hour for myself, to the moment I decide what to wear, to the music I listen to, to the way I treat people, to what I watch on TV, to my work mobilising resources for young feminist activism – feminism is a huge part of my daily life.
Feminism has taught me many things – including how to love my body regardless of what they media tells me it ‘should’ look like, it has taught me to challenge and question, it has connected me with other like-minded souls that are also challenging and questioning; Feminism has helped me ‘become’ a better sister, friend, daughter, cousin, lover….and human being.
Some women support gender equality but say they are not feminists. How does that work?
In her 2000 Dame Nita Barrow Lecture Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi takes issue with precisely this point. She says: “Feminism challenges the status quo. Many women in the movement say, ‘what does it matter what we call ourselves? As long as we are all fighting for women’s rights, isn’t that what matters?’. That is not good enough. The work of fighting for women’s rights is deeply political, and the process of naming is a political one too. Choosing to name oneself a feminist places one in a clear ideological position. If we do not have an adequate theory of the oppression of women we will lack the analytical tools which might enable us come up with the appropriate strategies. As a result we end up working on symptoms and not root causes. By naming ourselves as feminists we politicise the struggle for women’s rights, we question the legitimacy of the structures that keep women subjugated, and we can develop tools for transformatory analysis and action. By ‘genderising’ the debate, we cop out, lose out and collude with the process of accommodating ourselves within oppressive structures.” I couldn’t have said it better if I tried.
Are there male feminists?
Yes and I can point you in the direction of several. Feminism is a political identity that is premised on women’s freedom from oppression and stands for the liberation of women. You don’t have to be a woman to believe in equality. You can identify as male, female, transgender and everything in between. In spite of this, the debates rage on – should we work with men, can men be included – yes, yes and yes. In my opinion we should be less concerned about the if’s and more concerned about the how’s. There are many men that ‘get’ the three p’s: patriarchy, privilege and place – and thus know and understand their role within women’s movements to ‘support’ and ‘stand with’ — men like Dr. Dennis Mukwege in the Congo who’s life was recently threatened for his work saving women’s lives…these are men who stand for and with women. There are many ways to espouse feminist principles and indeed many men do – as Thomas Sankara once said: “The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution.”
Are feminism ideals in conflict with marriage?
That depends of course on your understanding of what marriage is . The younger version of Amina simply couldn’t get her head around why society was forcing me to announce my love through marriage. I’d always thought ‘but why?’ as I dreamed about the possibility of a transgressive out-of-the box kind of love that allowed me to come and be as I was without having to define it in a socially acceptable kind of way. Of course, I also recognized both the implicit and explicit feminist issues that came with marriage: the name changing, white dress wearing, division of labour in the household, heterosexism….etc). And being Nigerian where the definition of having ‘arrived’ in society (regardless of anything else you may have achieved) involves a big wedding with mounds of steaming hot jollof rice and music and relatives galore, I felt very much at odds with sharing my opinions about marriage publicly. Now, many years later as an almost grown-up with many almost grown-up (and married) friends my thinking has shifted a little. I believe that marriage can be a positive affirmation of partnership in a way that is balanced and equal – and that it is possible to be a feminist and be married. I believe that marriage (like many other things) is a choice and a political decision to be made between two consenting adults and that this choice can and should be infused with feminist principles of love, respect and equality.
Some have argued that the work of feminism is done. What do you think about that?
I suppose if we believed everything out there it would be easy to believe that we are in a post-everything world: post-racial, post-gendered, post-feminist…you name it we are post-it. We would be made to believe that these struggles are over – but I believe that this is just simply not true. We don’t have to look very far to see that in every corner of the globe women continue to struggle to achieve our rights. We’ve all heard the facts: across the world, gender-based violence still causes more deaths and disabilities among women of child-bearing age than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is safer to be a soldier than a woman….and we could go on and on – And you still think we can say that we’ve done feminism?
I love the way feminist activist Gita Sen explains it when says: “We are living in a fierce new world where social contracts are being broken, where new players are emerging, but old ones are not willing to give up…. whether it is what happened to young Trayvon Martin in the United States, or the ongoing atrocities against Dalits in India, the killing of LGBT activists in different parts of the world, the backlash against migrants. This kind of viciousness is part of this fierce new world. And it is the context of our struggle to see how we can go forward from here.” Beyond holding the line, there is still lots of work to be done. We aint post nothing yet.
What do you think is the greatest misconception about Feminists
I guess people fail to recognize that feminists are an incredibly amazing group of kick-ass individuals working pretty damn hard to change the world. Yes, I’ve often been told that we (feminists) specialise in love, laughter, friendship, respect, equality, justice, rights, …and that’s not even the half of it! Somone once told me that feminists in the quest to end patriarchy even get to run around with superwomen capes on! (That’s actually true by the way – I can get you one if you’d like?)
What advice do you have for someone who believes in women’s right but is afraid of being labelled a feminist? Feminism is not for the weak of heart – it requires love, solidarity, commitment, and the desire to want more for yourself and for the world you live in. There are much more frightening things happening in the world than being called a feminist – believe me! Ultimately, you must decide for yourself and define on your own terms the kind of person you would like to be in the world.
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