The year was 2003. I was having the coolest experience of my life. During my first trip to California to visit family, my older cousin had bought us tickets to see Talib Kweli in concert.
I was practically buzzing with excitement as we sat in the balcony of the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. As I leaned over the railing, I vaguely noticed a couple of guys around my age had crowded in behind me for a better view of the stage. They were close and didn’t apologize for being in my personal space.
At that moment, my cousin did something next that still surprises me when I think about it. He approached the young men and asked them, politely and firmly, to back away from me. I was in my early twenties, and that was the first time I recall any man making me feel like I needed or deserved to be protected.
This experience, in many ways, sums up my relationship to feminism. It’s… complicated. I’ll attempt to unpack some of it here.
I have never felt that feminism was particularly speaking to, or advocating for, me.
Don’t misunderstand. I know equity for all genders is no trite notion, but an absolute necessity requiring the dismantle of our society’s intricate system of patriarchy. One element of this system centers on female bodies, which are generally coded and read by criteria that I don’t meet.
Female bodies, seen through the hideous lens of misogyny, are objects. Objects of desire, objects of sexual pleasure and entertainment, objects of male conquest. Such bodies are both likely and worthy prey, essentially, because they are more vulnerable.
Smaller. Weaker. Softer.
A valid demand. But does it include me?
Feminism rises up and rightfully demands justice, respect, and space for female-presenting bodies across the gender spectrum. It demands that these bodies be seen as what they are – the corporeal shells of autonomous human beings, not fodder to be ogled, sexualized, and preyed upon.
This is a valid demand that doesn’t quite include me.
As a taller, larger, Black woman, my body is given a lot of space. The physical forms of misogyny aren’t really a part of my life. My body exists somewhere outside most long-enduring conceptualization about what female physicalities deserve and require safety.
Protective Barriers: Mine? Larger than my race.
Black women, even when smaller in stature and size, are stereotypically seen as “strong.” It’s a stereotype I believe many Black women perpetuate to create a protective barrier for themselves, but my own barrier is quite a bit larger than just my race.
Honestly, what frightens me most about walking alone at night is being attacked by someone’s dog. I did my fair share of walking home alone at night as a teen, and I never considered the possibility of being attacked by a man.
I know the likelihood is there, and would be much lower if I weren’t a woman. But what man would try to attack a woman who outweighs him, and whose body looks to be just as strong as his? I’ve always felt exempt from this particular need for safety, and my lived experience hasn’t shown me otherwise.
The other side of the coin: male violence in our patriarchal world.
Chivalry often receives a feminist reading as condescension—a type of babying lavished on women because we’re too weak or inept to do things ourselves. There’s validity to that, I think. Women are full capable beings who don’t need men’s help all the time. (Conversely, I believe offering to help someone, regardless of gender, is simple courtesy.)
I’ve had countless men rush past me to hold open doors for thinner, daintier women. I once hauled several heavy bags of groceries up some flights of stairs as a man was coming down the stairs eyed me. He dismissively said, “You’re a big girl; you can handle it,” and kept walking.
He was right. I could handle it, but an offer of assistance would have been nice.
All those years ago, my cousin telling those men to back off baffled me. What did he think they would do? Feel me up? Come on to me? They were more likely to muscle me out of my spot so they could see the stage better (which is just as bad, but likely not why my cousin sought to protect me).
For me, feminism is about much more than how men treat women in individual encounters, but also how these encounters accumulate into trends, norms, systems.
Much of my lived experience resides someplace outside prevailing female narratives used to corroborate the very real story of gross gender inequity. Feminism is real and necessary. Can I honestly call myself a feminist when that valid, vital community rarely seems to see me? Well, it’s complicated.
Tulsa native Mia Wright is a poet, educator, and mother of one amazing daughter. Everyone is encouraged to participate with Mia’s Poetry Prompts on Sunday’s Orders of Service and join her throughout the month through her residency programs. Learn more about Mia and read her poetry on her blog at https://19poems.blog.
Creating Women’s HERstory with the Women of All Souls & Mia Wright
Wednesday, May 29 | 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Artist in Residence Mia Wright will help us explore creative writing and poetry. Bring a dish that feeds your soul to share with others.
At All Souls, we are devoting a year-long series in 2019: The F Word: Perspectives on Feminism in the Year of the Woman. The intention is to talk about issues women and girls face, to hear women’s voices and ideas, to get to know each other through individual and collective experiences and storytelling, to hear from men and their roles in supporting women, and to create a space for women to support each other. The series is intended to be inclusive, honest, and intersectional. If you’d like to share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.