American Woman: How Feminism is Changing the Identity Discourse

Feminist writer Ayesha A. Siddiqui used the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag to point out how the New York Times did not find their headline accompanied by an image of four white women, ironic. Image Credit: NYTimes

*This post of mine was also published on Forbes Woman & The Huffington Post.*

When I was growing up in Bangladesh, you can trust that I never thought I would grow up to be an American woman.

But around the same time I took my citizenship oath last month, the silent commentary many women of color keep to themselves was exposed when blogger Mikki Kendall started the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen on Twitter.

The hashtag, how Twitter basically categorizes conversations, quickly began trending worldwide as feminists voiced their frustration over the exclusion of non-white women from mainstream feminism.

For example, Rania Khalek tweeted that #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when “convos about gender pay gap ignore that white women earn higher wages than black, Latino and Native men.”

Feminist writer Ayesha A. Siddiqui used the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag to point out how the New York Times did not find their headline , “The New Shades of Feminism?” accompanied by an image of four white women, ironic at all.And on Facebook, commentator Nada Elfutuiri described how Muslim women work hard to fight for equality in their own countries, but “usually shirk from using the term ‘feminism’ because of the negative connotations, namely of white women trying to ‘save us’ from our religion or culture.”

The blunt honesty of many of the statements could easily make someone uncomfortable, but as one tweet pointed out there is nothing wrong with that: “If the  hashtag is making you uncomfortable …that’s a good thing.”

As I read through the witty observations from women of color about emotions we have all experienced, I found myself reacting to the conversation not as a Bangladeshi woman, but as an American one. The discussions it generated among women of color took the social media platform by storm, and made me reflect on my identity more than I had in awhile.

After a decade working as a feminist policy analyst on Capitol Hill, marrying an American and building a home in Washington, my roots here now. My daughter is an American, and so is my husband. I had added a whole layer to myself and who I considered myself to be without even thinking about it.

In addition to having this huge Bangladeshi side of myself, I also inherited an American experience. As fluid as that may be, it impacts how I view myself as a feminist, and what movements I consider myself to be a part of. That may appear as something obvious, but it really was an epiphany for me.

The #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag made women of color, ‘ethnic women’, even if just for a fleeting, Internet moment step outside of the shadows and grab the mic. We took control of the narrative instead of having it defined for us, and transformed the discussion into an opportunity to put the spotlight on issues that affect us and our communities.

Honestly, I had never seen anything like it. It was such a refreshing and empowering discussion. Social media has changed how and when we have conversations, and unintentionally removed social barriers. It’s allowing an honest approach to how gender, race and identity intersect, and we can no longer ignore it. And nor should we want to.

As a movement, feminism has long been accused of  failing to address the intersection of race, religion, identity and gender. This needs to change, and I think it is already happening in America.

I find this exciting, mainly because in South Asian culture, a woman has always been identified and even named after her roles in married life- literally. In a culture historically defined by marriage, we have called women not by their names, but by the roles they inherit as married women.

Women in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are normally called “Wife,” “Daughter-in-Law,” “Mother,” “Sister-in-law” after they get married, and sometimes stop being called by their individual name altogether. Although today in 2013 this is kind of changing, generally culture in the Indian Sub-Continent still largely defines women through the institution of marriage, and not as individual people.

Identities for women in America are not as rigid, mainly because being American is so diverse. Everyone has their own experience, and is entitled to it. As women, our identities are especially constantly evolving, and that means the very definition of what it means to be an American woman is more fluid than ever.

How amazing would it be if we can all meet in the middle and be identified not by our roles, but as feminists, finally laying claim to a movement by refusing it not exclude us any longer, instead of being passive waiting for it to include us?

It only makes sense that the women’s rights movement in this country becomes more inclusive of not only African-American and Latina women, but of Arab-Americans, South-Asian Americans…you know, the rest of us women of color, because there are more than three. Feminism 2.0 should have no issue embracing that.

As feminist author, Shelby Knox tweeted, “Fellow white feminists:  is not for us to defend, explain, protest. It’s time for us to take a damn seat & listen.”

I could not have said it better myself, Shelby.

*This post of mine was also published on Forbes Woman & The Huffington Post.

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