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Reflections on International Women’s Day 2014 (or the only X in the village)

Reflections on International Women’s Day 2014 (or the only X in the village)


Christina Ryan

This week women all over the world have celebrated International Women’s Day. As usual I spent the week attending various functions in Canberra. This year included the launch of Australia’s new Global Ambassador for women and girls, and lunch at the National Press Club. There is more to come with a breakfast next week.

I enjoy attending these events. They bring together all sorts of women and provide a real opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements while catching up with old friends and acquaintances.

This year, though, I finally got really tired of being the only (evident) woman with disability in the room. Sure it’s been happening for years, but you never get used to it. I don’t feel token – I’m there in my own right as a woman of achievement – but you bet I’m the token crip, oh yeah. Without me there would be no women with disabilities, so I provide a handy way of ensuring that we don’t look forgotten by the various powers that be. Although, truthfully, if we weren’t there I don’t think anyone would actually notice.

So, why did it hit home so hard this year? What finally got up my nose when I should be used to what’s going on?

It was the talk of gender equality. We have a new Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women (yes that mouthful really is her title). I’m not sheeting the blame home to her, absolutely not, but the conversation has shifted a bit with the new government as it always does, whoever that government is. New governments always bring their own rhetoric and language with them, and that helps to look at things with fresh eyes. This is a good thing, but it can also highlight intractable issues.

At the launch of the new Ambassador I was in a room full of impeccably dressed well educated (mostly) white women in impressive footwear. The talk was about gender equality, a key focus for our new Foreign Minister. At the National Press Club diversity of women was slightly more evident, but effectively it was still a room full of privileged well educated white women. The young women were private school girls or similarly constituted NGOs. Once again the term gender equality was thick in the air.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all fine women, they do amazing things, and they are very pleasant to talk to. I congratulate every single one on their commitment to gender equality, their preparedness to call themselves feminist and celebrate International Women’s Day. I genuinely do.

How many of these women are aware that 15% of the world’s women are women with disabilities? In Australia it is closer to 18% of women who have disabilities. Yes, close to 1 in 5 women in Australia have a disability, yet I was the only one in the room. What?!

So, for all the language of gender equality and ensuring that women are in the room and part of the decision making, almost 1 in 5 of our women are not there. We don’t even get factored into the decision making. When all of these women have a picture in their head of what Federal Cabinet, or ASX company boards, should look like, does that picture include any women with disabilities? I bet it doesn’t.

What they probably see, and yes I guess I’m projecting, is a room that is equally split between privileged white well educated men and privileged white well educated women. How is this gender equality? How is it actually progress? What has really changed?

Can these women speak for the 1 in 5 of their Australian sisters who have disabilities? No, and nor should they. Just as they shouldn’t speak for our Aboriginal sisters, or our LGBTI or culturally diverse sisters. The experiences of women of diversity are different and relevant. We bring enormous depth and difference to any conversation on any issue. Most importantly we aren’t just focussed on our own space. Just as women generally will talk about finance, geopolitical events, and architecture (for example), and not just stick to childcare or maternity leave. Women of diversity will talk about finance, geopolitical events and architecture, but we will talk about them with very different eyes and understanding.

Equality means a presence of diversity in every room and at every level. If the women’s movement isn’t fighting for this then something has gone seriously wrong. Broadening one privileged group by adding another will not add diversity to the outcomes of decision makers.

At the National Press Club lunch ABC journalist Virginia Hausegger suggested we should be asking “where are the women”. What I want to know is “where are ALL of the women”. Just as we expect men to do something about the lack of women in Cabinet or in board rooms, women with disabilities expect women of privilege to do something about the lack of diversity in their rooms. I am not responsible for the lack of women with disabilities in your room, you are, do something about it.

I will not turn into a white well educated woman of privilege to gain access to your room, why should I? Rather I will bring me and all of my value to the conversation and you will love the richness that this provides. Some of it might be confronting and tough to hear, you will need to learn to stay quiet and think, but these are good skills that we should all have to learn. Don’t be frightened of them.

Until ALL women are in the room, have a role in decision making, and are present in numbers there can be no gender equality. I expect my privileged white well educated sisters to get this (quickly given your levels of education) and to do something about it. It is up to you to make sure women of diversity are invited to sit with you, are invited to talk, and are invited to join your networks. It is up to you to make space and to listen.


Feminist Blogging History

Here is a great starting point for those that are interested in any discussion of racism within feminism. This particular post looks at the privilege that white feminists, particularly those that have platforms, over WOC feminists & what happens when they say the same thing:

While, as you can see, this post is old it’s still good if you want to get your head around this issue.

Kudos to Dodai Stewart from Jezebel (@jezebeldodai) for writing it and Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices) for bringing it to our attention.

Christine Donayre

Soy feminista or growing up a Peruvian feminist in Australia

I stumbled across this article that really spoke to me about my experience growing up Latina in Australia.  What I thought was telling, apart from the similarities in the article to myself was that I sourced it from a Facebook group of Latina feminists called Cholactivists. The word cholactivist is a play on two words, firstly and most obviously the word activist, secondly and more importantly the word “chola”. “Chola” in Peruvian culture is a derogatory term that is used to insult people who are or look or behave in a way that accentuates their indigenous roots.

In my family we don’t celebrate or emphasis our Inca heritage – maybe if we’re talking to non-Peruvians, then its something to be proud of – but if we’re talking amongst ourselves and our friends we don’t mention it or claim it.   It is this deliberate non-claim to our indigenous heritage that I find disturbing.  I am very proud to be a chola and to be descended from the Incas.

I guess, for me, claiming my heritage has been a learning curve and a consequence of my experience growing up brown in Australia.  When my parents came to Sydney my mother was on a plane with other South American migrants. These other South Americans became my adopted family in Australia.  We had barbeques (read ate Peruvian, Chilean food) together, celebrated birthdays, played scalas y trios together and danced.  Boy did we dance!

Even though I was surrounded by my familia en Australia I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish.  My dad made the decision very early on that my sisters and I were not allowed to speak Spanish at home so that we would learn English and therefore not be discriminated against when we went to school.  Even so my sisters and I were put into ESL classes.

While it may have put us kids in good stead in the future it didn’t make an ounce of difference in the playground.  Being brown in Blacktown in the 70’s was not fun.  I recall having a friend in 1st grade, we were drawn to each other because we used to chase boys and shout out “spunkless” to them, thinking we were very cool (I know, we clearly didn’t know what it meant). I later realised why I sought out Sylvia Lopez as my friend in first grade.

Desperate to be like everyone else my classmates wouldn’t let me play British Bulldog even though I was a fast sprinter.  I was told in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t play because I was brown and just like that my difference was laid bare, open to ridicule and derision.

This sense of ‘otherness’ has never left me.  It still pervades today.  For instance, I’m usually the one in the meeting asking the question, “What about migrants? What about women of colour?” or “I think that this policy decision could be seen to be racist.  I’ll tell you why …” or “I think it would be better if we took our cue from feminists groups within their own country rather than us saying that the women in X should do YZ, yes?  We don’t want to appear to be privileged western feminists telling women in X what to do” and my personal favourite, “Talking about migrants in this way (stopping immigration as a way to deal with overpopulation) is offensive and could be seen to be racist by a large number of people, here take a look at this Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia article on the issue”.

I dislike feeling like the only brown person in the room pointing out shit, but apparently that is what I do now.  Just to set the record straight, I consider myself to be privileged because I grew up in Australia and have a western education.  

I’ll go back to the article I referred to above because it brings to light a lot of identity issues that I can relate to. It is true there is not a large Latino community in Australia so you tend to notice other Latinos.  If we get over our shyness and say hello to each other, the inevitable happens.  The other person starts talking in Spanish and I have to say in my bad spanish, “Sorry, no habla espanol.” Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.  Then the questions start, why not, why didn’t your parents make you speak spanish, you were born here? The last question seems to settle the whole discussion.  Ah! You were born here. You’re not Peruvian, you’re Australia.  The implication being, of course, that I am not a real Latina.

I find this comment very galling because everything else about me is Latina and its pointed out to me in different ways nearly everyday.  My looks, my ability to dance salsa, my love and desire for the magical realism genre, my temper, my passion for politics, love, sex and laughter, the fact that I celebrate Xmas on Xmas Eve and open my presents at 12am like all other Latinos around the world and most importantly my skin colour.

Being Latina is not about meeting some mythical standard, it’s not about having certain skills or traits.  I am Latina because I was born this way, because of my childhood, because of the way I feel.

It has taken me a long time but I now love my skin colour and difference.  Now I celebrate my difference and I acknowledge my roots.  It may make people uncomfortable but that’s ok.  They can deal.

I’ve always been political, ever since my father used to tell my sisters and I stories about the atrocities that the Spanish committed on the Incas.  This connection with politics and social justice has led to many interesting jobs, activism and friendships for example working at the old Aboriginal Legal Service, organising an eco-feminist conference in Sydney, going to the s11 protests in Melbourne & meeting Vandana Shiva, working for Senator Kerry Nettle, becoming a Greens Councillor in Sydney, campaigning against the foetal personhood laws in NSW (Zoe’s law) and now working for a union (Fire Brigade Employees’ Union).

While I was at Uni, which proved too difficult to finish as a single mother, the things I learnt there opened up my mind in a way I had never contemplated.  Learning about the historical, economic and political reasons why less developed countries were, well, less developed explained a lot particularly in relation to the impacts and effects of colonisation on indigenous peoples.

My introduction to feminism was also mind blowing.  I remember well learning the various ‘stages’ of feminism but the ‘stage’ that spoke to me and made my heart sing was ‘feminism from below’ or feminism from ‘women of colour’.  I had never questioned the feminism that I saw all around me before, liberal feminism.  I could now put a name to it and recognise that it didn’t speak for me or to me.

We touched upon the book,  “This bridge called my Back” – Writings by Radical Women of Colour edited by Cherrie Moraga &  Gloria E Anzaldua.  These women were like me!  They were writing about my experience, but they were from the US.  I couldn’t for a long time find anything similar for Latinas like me in Australia, although I must acknowledge Colectivo Mujer a group of feministas in Sydney campaigning around many issues including reproductive rights.  There is a whole community of feministas organising, advocating and talking to each other in the US hence my love affair with US feministas on Twitter and Facebook.

The current face of Australian feminism is too white, too middle class & too privileged.  She does not speak for me or the many women of colour in this country who are either migrants, first or second generation Australians or Indigenous women.   Sexism and racism do not occur in a vacuum. For those of us that are ‘other’ this is what we deal with on an every day basis.  

This is why I am involved with Intersectionality Times.  We want to provide that space for those of us that have been ‘othered’.  We are the diverse majority.

Christine Donayre

Disability, anonymity and the dark side of the internet

Check out this article by Jax Jacki Brown which explores disability and sexuality. In this case, we recommend that you read the comments:

Something to consider:

1. Is the sexuality of women with disabilities viewed differently because of the disability?

2. Would this have happened to a woman without disability? If so, how?

Thanks to Jax Jacki Brown for permission to reproduce her article here.

Intersectionality and Solidarity

We get it. “Intersectionality” is confusing and, for many, disconcerting.

We know that it’s about pointing out “DIFFERENCES”, which is pretty hard to talk about.

And we understand that “Intersectionality” is a long word and that it comes up with the red line on spell check to indicate that it is WRONG.

We also accept that the term itself has origins in academia (it was first used by an Ivy League professor in a law journal article*) and that a lot of people who do not have access to the sandstone courtyards of universities may not have the time to understand a 60-something page article about it.

So why are some people so adamant on using it? Why have we started a whole freaking blog about it and why are we setting ourselves up as “different”?

The short answer is that for some of us, intersectionality is not a theory. It is the articulation of the everyday realities at the cross roads of a society where gender, race, class, ability, gender identity and many other social facets directly impact our lives.

We cannot isolate one aspect of who we are to focus solely on gender issues. It is impossible for an hyphenated Australian (ie “NOT WHITE”) feminist to talk about feminism without thinking about the impact of racism. It is unfair to expect a woman with disability to focus on the effect of gender norms without referring to how ableism creates structural barriers.

As Audre Lorde explained in I Am Your Sister, it is impossible to only consider one aspect of one’s identities and experiences:

“I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the front upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.”

Flavia Dzodan’s perfect words explain how, for those of us who must deal with different forms of oppression every single day of our lives, our “feminism must be intersectional or it will be bullshit“.

comment on the first post of this blog last week expressed worry that:

our commonalities as feminists, regardless of our ethnicity or socio-economic status should be first and foremost celebrated and encouraged. I am a little concerned that an over emphasis on our differences may detract from the important work of creating solidarity amongst all women.

Here’s the thing: for many “women of other” (as we have decided to call ourselves) our commonalities as feminists, regardless of our ethnicity or socio-economic status are, unfortunately, first and foremost ignored and discouraged.

Last year’s #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen discussion was described by Mikki Kendall as  being “intended to be Twitter shorthand for how often feminists of color are told that the racism they experience “isn’t a feminist issue”.”

Sadly, racism is very much a feminist issue when that racism occurs within the structures of feminist movements and ideas. It is also very unfortunate that mainstream feminism will demand that issues related to other types of marginalisation such as disability or gender identity are put on the back burner in order to focus attention on action that only benefits a very specific group of women.

It is ironic that “solidarity” is often used as a tool to silence by a movement that aims to speak out against injustice. Those who purport to speak for equality will dismiss criticism with a wave of their rhetorical hand, denouncing the proponents of intersectionality for playing “identity politics” and using high-brow theoretical arguments,  thereby trying to shut them up from making inconvenient observations.

Guess what? The concept of “identity politics“, used so snobbishly and dismissively in this fashion, is just as theoretical and academically airy-fairy as anything else.

In a world where Arianna Huffington is setting up a new “comment and news website that looks set to become a platform for some of the most powerful people on the planet”  and feminist/women’s sites like The Hoopla only publish articles from already “famous” “personalities” to promote their “opinions”, it seems that it is getting harder and harder for minority voices to get a so-called seat at the table.

Writing in EBONY in the wake of #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, Kendall asked what “solidarity” might actually look like if it is to become an effective part of the feminist movement:

True solidarity and community building demands addressing the problems  inherent in a movement attempting to encompass the needs of so many different types of people. I want #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen to spark open, ongoing discussions that make it impossible for these same conversations to be happening 10 years from now, much less 100. In order for feminism to truly represent all women, it has to expand to include the concerns of a global population. The first step is listening to each other, the second is knowing that trust is a requirement for any community to be healthy, and third is doing the work of building trust and relationships so that actual solidarity is possible. We’re talking. Now is an excellent time to listen.

Believe it or not, this blog actually is about solidarity because those involved would like to be able to be part of conversations about how women’s equality movements can truly support all women. Asking for inclusion is quite simply the opposite of divisiveness.

Rather than highlighting differences for the sake of maintaining differences, intersectionality actually helps to show the  commonalities of oppression and the ways in which women can work together for equality. Discrimination does not occur in a vacuum, and often the modus operandi of one form of oppression operates in concert with others. Intersectionality is a useful consideration for addressing the  way mainstream society works against those in the margins.

We hope this site will grow organically through discussion about the ways intersectionality can support and allow Women of Other to speak about their experiences outside of the mainstream.

Perhaps one day someone else might even listen.


*Note: Kimberle Crenshaw “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color” Stanford Law Review Vol. 43, No. 6 (Jul., 1991), pp. 1241-1299

Why Intersectionality?

This blog is a place that hopes to provide a safe space for those of us who are ‘othered’ by mainstream Australian feminism.

We are a group of women frustrated by the focus on white upper middle class women by prominent Australian feminists and mainstream media who say their focus is Australian feminism.  It simply is not.

That Australian feminism which focuses on increasing female representation on company boards, for example, is one type of feminism, but it isn’t that of the majority and it isn’t ours.

We are the Australian majority.  Our focus is wide-ranging.  We are the diverse majority.

We are sick of constantly pointing out the racism, ableism, heteronormativism and classism that is not only apparent but rampant in Australian feminism. We are also sick of the hypocrisy when some Australian feminists want us to stop pointing out their privilege and then question the value of intersectionality within feminism and our right to speak for ourselves.  

You may not agree with us, and that’s ok, but we’re going to call out Australian feminists that pretend to speak for us, “the diverse majority”, whenever & wherever we see it.

To start, check out this great article in today’s UK Telegraph by Ava Vidal on why you should care about intersectionality.

Plus a funny to end the week from the awesome Aamer Rahman on reverse racism: