In her essay, Casey Bruce explores the challenges women and girl’s still face in 2015 by being born the other, or what some may refer to as the lesser gender. Using statistical and factual data, she weaves together a narrative that focuses on what it means to be the other gender and to also be plagued with the obstacles that come with having multiple identities, based upon a person’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs. The essay also describes what it means to proclaim to be a feminist, to choose the other life, and how the intersectional ideals of the feminist movement could encompass all civil rights and social justice activism into one giant movement for equality.
What it means to be the other
“As a woman, I am biologically, economically, and socially considered the other; as a feminist, I choose this life”
By Casey Bruce
When I decided to self-identify as a feminist, I didn’t realize I would be making a choice that would put a target on my forehead to be mocked, ridiculed, and harassed.
There are some things about myself I didn’t have a choice in making.
As an African American, I have been subject to the discrimination that comes with being a person of color. Being born a specific way and experiencing hatred for it is a horrible reality all people of color experience. I am aware that these same sentiments of exclusion are felt by other groups, including the LGBTQ, disabled, and some religious communities.
It is also a fact that by being a woman I am by birth, socially, economically, and biologically considered the lesser, or the other gender.
The cards are really not in my favor.
I have lived the last 25-years of my life being the other. I was taught at an early age by my parents that I would be seen and treated radically different by people I don’t know, and sometimes even by people I do, because of the color of my skin or my gender.
This is a part of my identity.
James Baldwin’s words on identity strike me as-modern as ever. He writes: “Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self, in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned.”
I love Baldwin’s statement because it is something I strive to claim for myself. Having the fluidity to be who I want is an important aspect of my life I desire to control. To be able to take off and put on an identity as a piece of clothing would be a wonderful facet of life to enjoy…but as a woman and as an African American, I do not have this luxury.
So, what do I have? This question is hard to digest as a woman because of what I don’t have, or rather what my community of women and girls faces worldwide. I write about the issues of women and girls on my blog, a lot. Some of them are:
The issue with marriage…
UNICEF describes child marriage as “the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls.” Every three seconds, a girl under the age of 18 is married somewhere in the world, according to Reuters’ TrustLaw. Worldwide, more than 700 million women, below the age of 18, were married as children. More than one in three—or some 250 million—were married before 15.
The issue with healthcare, pregnancy and maternity leave…
Each year about 300,000 women suffer a preventable death during pregnancy and childbirth, and it is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19, according to the International Center for Research on Women.
In the United States, 11.8 per cent of new HIV infections among women more than 20 years old were attributed to intimate partner violence. Oh, and did you know the United States is the only developed nation without paid maternity leave?
The issue with genital mutilation…
More than 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where it is most common.
There are approximately 2 million girls living with obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal. A fistula can cause chronic incontinence, leading to skin infections, kidney disease and social isolation. The World Health Organization says delaying the age of first pregnancy is one of the best ways to prevent obstetric fistula.
The issue with violence….
According to UN Women, about half of sexual assaults globally are committed against girls under the age of 16. And for about a third of women, the first sexual experience was forced. In the United States, a rape is reported every 6.2 minutes; over a lifetime, one out of every six American women is raped. For Native Americans, that number is one in three. For Native Alaskans, it can be up to 12 times the national rate. Globally, 1 in 5 women will be raped in her lifetime, and worldwide there is approximately a rape a minute.
One out of every four women in the U.S. will be physically injured by a lover in her lifetime. That translates into a woman being assaulted every nine seconds in America. Male violence, much of it by partners and former partners, is the second highest cause of death for women between 15 and 44, worldwide. Imagine this: 107,000,000 women are missing from the globe today. This number exceeds all the men killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century.
The issue with equal pay and labour…
In terms of equal pay, women earn an average of 78 cents to a man’s dollar. This is even lower for women of color, where African American women earn 64 cents, and Hispanic and Latina women 54 cents. In terms of a nation’s leadership, 49 countries in the world have had a woman leader, but the United States has yet to have one. Women also produce half of the world’s food, but own less than one percent of the world’s property.
The issue with education…
62 million girls worldwide are not in school, according to USAID.
Earlier in March, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama rolled out a new White House initiative for girls education worldwide, called Let Girl’s Learn. In his statement he asserted that empowering women is the right and smart thing to do.
“We know that when girls are educated, they are more likely to delay marriage. Their future children, as a consequence, are more likely to be healthy and better nourished. Their future wages increase, which in turn strengthens the security of their family.
“From a political standpoint, and a security standpoint, places where women and girls are treated as full and equal citizens, tend to be more stable, tend to be more democratic. So this is not just a humanitarian issue, this is an economic and a security issues, and that is why it has to be a foreign policy priority,” said President Obama. .
It’s true. There is a direct correlation between how a nation treats women and girls in everyday life and that nation’s propensity for engaging in war. In the article, “What Sex Means for World Peace,” Valerie Hudson of Foreign Policy argues the point that the manner by which a country or culture values equality for girls and boys directly influences its engagement in war.
“The very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated. What’s more, democracies with higher levels of violence against women are as insecure and unstable as non-democracies.”
In the book, “Sex and World Peace,” the authors point out myths regarding a variety of “assumptions in political and security discourse, demonstrating that the security of women is a vital factor in the security of the state and its incidence of conflict and war.” Again, another project, The WomanStats Project, finds the same correlation between peace, war and the treatment of women.
All of the data points to a direct correlation between the situation of women and the security of their nation-states.
Helping girls and women around the globe is necessary to increasing social equality, peace, and a state’s economy. And yet, we are riddled with the reality of a world that does not desire to help women and girls.
So what do women and girls have?
My identity as a woman is one plagued with issues that I must combat because I was born into a world that does not respect my gender.
As a person of color, these issues are doubled. And yet, I cannot act as if these issues are exclusive to just my gender, because they’re not. And they are also not exclusive to just my race, or sexual orientation, or religion.
These same issues plague every movement for civil rights and equality, and we must find a way to combat all without falling into a separatist’s deafness.
The real question should be: What does the other have?
I recently read an essay on Janet Mock’s (transgender activist) website about her personal struggle with identifying with feminism. She credits Beyoncé, and a host of other fabulous women, that helped her decide that the term could be for her, just as it could be for other women.
I remember my own journey to self-identify, and what a remarkably incredible experience it was for me. I specifically remember talking to Amy Richards (co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation) about the subject. She said to a group of us: “It’s like one day, someone told me, you must be a feminist and activist–well I had never thought of it.
“To be a feminist and to be an activist is one in the same. It’s a fight against patriarchy, something that you are doing everyday when you raise your hand in class, or walk down the street by yourself, or simply get a job,” Amy said.
I was 20-years-old when Amy spoke these words to a group of us in her home. I was interning for a feminist nonprofit in New York City at the time, and still hadn’t made up my mind about the term.
Five years later, I still struggle with the term—what it means, and what it has done for me. Though I am uncertain about some activists in the movement, or it’s rocky past, I am certain what it should stand for, and that is equality for the other.
To be a feminist, according to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s, feminist writer’s, TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” is “a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
I love Adichie’s and Richard’s definition of feminism, but I also am convicted in my own definition.
To be a feminist to me is to strive for equality for the other. Not solely based on gender, but on racial identity, ethnicity, nationality, mobility, sexual orientation, and socially. It is activism not just for a woman to be paid equally to a white male, but for my male counterparts (typically men of color) to earn equal wages as well.
Because even if my brothers, all African American men, make more than me based on their gender, they still will not make more than their white counterparts based on their race. Who am I to exclude them from a movement that strives to achieve equality for all? Do we need to have separate movements to achieve equality?
The reason I chose feminism is because of its ability to transcend all movements and encompass all of the dynamics and challenges into one. But people would not, and will not see it this way. We still have our Patricia Arquette’s who believe it’s time for all the gay people and people of color to fight for women, or the white people who believe they are the “niggers of the world.” This makes feminism ugly and unattractive to anti-racist, LGBTQ, and disability activists. I don’t blame them. Feminism has a really ugly past, and even presently excludes and isolates some from the movement.
But if I am to actively choose to identify myself as the other by calling myself a feminist, how can I deny people the opportunity to benefit from a movement for equality?
It is past time for feminists to stop excluding other movements, and to embrace its potential to be an all-encompassing movement that can achieve for all.
There are issues that are often categorized as “feminist” issues that are deemed only for women. And yes, a good majority of these issues primarily affect women. But again, I challenge these notions by asking, who, other than possibly white men, is not affected by the pay gap, or sexual trafficking, or educational resources, or police brutality?
As I find myself in the position of being the other, both by birth and by choice, I am subject to the challenges of patriarchy or systemic discrimination, and yet I am hopeful.
True activists should have intersectional ideas, thus my feminism should boost civil rights for every person that is lacking in justice. Feminism has given me something to strive for in my activism—the radical idea that not only should there be equality between the genders, but true equity for all people.
It’s like bell hooks said to Janet Mock: “To say you’re a feminist is a political statement.”
Celebrating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month isn’t just about women, or feminism. It’s about so much more for families, for people of color, for all people lacking in justice, and for the other.
It’s the hope that every struggle against women and girls be ended through love and equality. It is also the hope that people from all walks of life are included.
It’s the hope that our otherness becomes more powerful than sameness.
I choose to be the other because it gives me hope to believe in a better tomorrow for all people, women, girls, people of color, disabled, LGBTQ, and even men.
Casey Bruce Links: