Intersectionality has been a common theme in feminist theory, writing, and activism for the last few years. It has even become something of a buzzword. And yet there remains a great deal of misunderstanding over what intersectionality actually means and, subsequently, how it is supposed to manifest within the feminist movement. This confusion has resulted in a degree of backlash, claims that intersectionality distracts women’s energy from the key aims of the feminist movement – dismantling patriarchy, ending male dominance and violence against women – when in fact it is only through a truly intersectional approach that these goals become possible for all women, not simply the white and middle-class. And feminism is about uplifting all women, a goal which becomes impossible when only those aspects of women’s experiences relating to the hierarchy of gender. This is where intersectionality becomes essential.
Today my mother left, she boarded a plane and travelled far away.
She turns 60 this year. Having an almost entirely absent father has left our relationship resembling, as I put it in a toast a few nights ago, not only that of mother and daughter, but also a tried and tested friendship. This latter aspect our affections being considerably less fraught than the former. Never the less I would say that we have made a dedicated study of one another, a critical, yet mutually respectful observation over many years, under many suns. Perhaps this is what my step father could not stand about me, stumbling his way into our lives when I was only four: our devotional fascination and partiality to one another. Un-rivallable and un-touchable except by alienation and wilful destruction. How was he to know that the death of my mother’s mother, when I was still in her womb, had bound us doubly to one another’s blooded souls. I needed her to feed me, clothe me, love me, she needed somewhere to pour the love, the anger, the shock and the grief of my grandmothers abandonment of her and of this world. The result of so much primal need must have been a force to be reckoned with by a man, hurt, angry and belittled by life in his turn, yet no match in passions for this five year old, this romantic, ready to give it all for the one true love of her young life.
I have known for some time now that mine would never be the mother who lived down the street, who knitted blankets for her grandchildren, or moved in when she turned eighty, and I suppose, after twenty-two years I’ve come to terms with this. Of course my mine is the mother who is virtually un-shockable, constantly supportive, who will pick up at 3-am when I call, and fly half-way around the world if I really needed her to… So it’s not all bad!
There is a great moment in Zach Effron’s ‘Garden State’, one of my favourite films to this day. I tried to write it out, but then I thought – argh you just have to watch it for yourself, and I found the clip on youtube:
(original link to video has been removed)
I’ve felt ‘homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist’ for so long now I can’t remember what it felt like in the first place and I wonder how much of it is a fantasy, an imagined amalgamation of all the things and all the people that feel displaced and lost in the world, magnetically drawn to one another? But when I’m with my mother, just sometimes, I catch the faintest whiff of it, it’s like I can finally, actually relax because I’ve made it. I’m home. It’s an understanding, a lack of judgment, competition or expectation that I have never found with anyone else. So that every time she leaves I am deprived of that blissful if brief respite, and the loss of it hits me like a deep blow, somewhere in my gut.
In her essay ‘Eye to Eye’ Audre Lorde writes:
‘Last month I held another black woman in my arms as she sobbed out the grief and deprivation of her mother’s death. Her inconsolable loss – the emptiness of the emotional landscape she was seeing in front of her – spoke out of her mouth from a place of untouchable aloneness that could never admit another Black woman close enough again to matter. “The world is divided into two kinds of people,” she said, “those who have mothers and those who don’t. And I don’t have one anymore.” What I heard her saying was that no other Black woman would ever see who she was, ever trust or be trusted by her again. I heard in her cry of loneliness the source of the romance between Black women and our mommas.’
And though she birthed, fed clothed, held and consoled me, I wonder how much I had a mother, and how much I had a friend, a sister, a soul mate. And as my friends now grow further apart from their mothers – mothers so dedicated to their motherhood, I wonder if it is this friendship that will endure, that will allow us to grow together rather than apart? Which brings me back to my grandmother, unknown in life yet so very present in death. They threw her ashes into the sea and whenever I am near its stormy British shores I think of her, and speak to her, and sing sometimes a while. She was, from what I know, a strong woman in her own way, a woman -were she born now – who may have run a company, sat in boardrooms, or even been a TV chef, but of course, meeting the world in 1926 she lived a very different story. Married her whole life, five children, and a constant support to her husband, a wonderful cook, spotless home.
My mother – ‘allergic to housework’ – as she put it, was ever desperate to get out of their country home and nuclear life in which the greatest expectations of her where to go to secretarial college. Breaking the mould by going to university instead and bringing home, not an affable young lawyer but a woman she met at the bakers instead. (Ever the rebel my old mum.) Went on to fight for women’s rights, and their right to live without men, not needing anything from them, not an allowance, not a roof, not a penis. Quite literally. And though (note the hopeful tone) I believe that this extremely powerful, world-jolting chapter of feminism was effective and necessary, I think it is our responsibility to keep pushing things forward with men and not against them. Indeed I believe this is the only way forward. Still I look at women around me who have careers, who have achieved, are achieving, and in all of them I see a choice made, well I don’t think it was always a choice, and I certainly don’t think it was always conscious, but there it is: work, or children. I’m not saying that women haven’t had both – they most definitely have, but how much was sacrificed, and who or what ended up coming-up trumps?
If it hasn’t been possible to work on your career and be a devoted parent in the past, despite all of feminisms efforts, will it be possible in the future? As the children of career-driven mother’s can we ever forgive them for not always putting us first? And as the grown-up daughters of home-focused mothers can we ever forgive them for not fulfilling their professional potential?
It’s not a new conversation, but it does seem to be coming back into prevalence. Certainly when I hear James O’Brien of LBC, a station I finally agreed to listen to after much nagging from my boyfriend, and guess what – I still think he’s an old-fashioned and hypocritically-leftist pillock, talking about how one in three women want to stay at home to look after their children in the UK and this must be because of a genetic pull which is stronger than any mans ever could be.
What tosh! First of all it’s got to be taken on a case-by-case basis, some men will feel much more desperate to stay at home with their children, some women will be scratching at the door to get back to work and vice versa, neither or these scenarios make you a bad parent! Or indicate m/paternal abnormality.And all parents are severely influenced by the society they grow up in, and what that society/culture considers normal, acceptable parenting. In parts of Africa it is considered acceptable to not speak to a woman when she is on her period, in parts of Britain it is considered acceptable to hit a woman’s bottom in a club then later that same night to beat up a sixteen year old boy for flirting with your sister or daughter. In certain social circles the idea of not having a nanny is absurd, whilst in others children are kept with their mothers and breastfed till over the age of four. It all depends on your up-bringing and the social-conditioning you either conform to, or rebel against James!
Right – excuse me, James O’Brian rant over. And once again this blog is becoming too long! I guess what I’m really trying to look at, well it’s many things, but if we can accept for a moment, the taboo that is a romance with our mothers (with much the same fraught frustrations, betrayals, execrations and mis-communications that we often find with our lovers) can we then begin to acknowledge the anguished heartbreak, and fury that we cause one another in life, and the unconsolable grief we feel not only in death but sometimes in long partings, and can we then begin to heal? Begin to forgive our mothers either for their devotion to us and neglect of their professional lives, or for their devotion to their work and absence in their domestic roles. Begin to allow friendships to bloom, to see all women as our sisters, flawed, challenged, often oppressed and of course – as ends all great personal journeys – begin to forgive ourselves and to let go the fear that we will fail in our own mothering and sisterhood as they did. Because – of course we will. We are human, we are women, and the system is flawed. But perhaps with less pain, anguish and expectation, we can fail a little less.
Ama Budge: A performance artist turned freelance writer commenting on gender inequalities, reflecting on my own challenges and experiences as a mixed-race Londoner and most importantly taking note, in awe, of the extraordinary resilience of human kinds striving for be better, and to love.
As my interest in feminism has grown, I’ve started reading some of the works of feminist writers. I’ve started slowly and avoided certain topics completely (due to self care), but I’m learning so much. I’ve loved the books I’ve read so far and they’ve all been helpful to me in their own way. But none have spoken to me in the way that Audre Lorde has.
I started reading her “Sister Outsider” just after a trip to visit a friend. Said friend had me read the essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” from this book. And I was hooked! In this particular essay Lorde points out that our silence hasn’t ever protected us from violence, victimisation and ridicule. As women we get those anyway, whether we are silent or whether we “speak”. This essay spoke to me because this is how I view my move into feminism and activism. Through twitter and blogging I found my voice. I am able to speak against injustice where I see it and people respond to my writing. I’ve written not just on my own blog but for other campaigns too, and I continue to do this. It allows me, in some small way, to feel like I am fighting. But more than this, I’m fighting using something I am good at. I LOVE writing. I always have. And because I love it, and have done so much of it (for fun) over the years, I’m pretty good at it. I’m confident about my writing, in a way that I am not always confident about “speaking” in person. So being able to write, to use writing as my voice, as a way to break the silence has been immensely powerful for me. And reading Lorde’s essay felt like a validation of all of those feelings. I feel stronger because I write; I feel empowered because I write; I feel like I’m contributing because I write; I broke my silence because I write.
But, Lorde’s impact on me doesn’t end there. When I got home I went to the uni library and picked up Sister Outsider. I started reading and was blown away by the essay “Poetry is not a Luxury”. In this piece Lorde talks about the power of poetry and how it is not a trivial thing. I was moved almost to tears (I kid you not) by this paragraph:
“For women then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”
When I read those words, they hit me in the chest, took my breath away, and filled my eyes with tears. Here Lorde was putting words to a feeling I’ve had my whole life but never been able to articulate. I’ve always used poetry to cope and process. When I’m dealing with trauma I write poems. When I’m hurting and sad, those feelings express themselves through words on a page. I rarely let people read these poems. They are MINE, for me. A way to deal with my life experiences, to process my pain. The act of writing these poems frees me somehow. Lets me see the hurt and deal with it. It moves it from within me to on the page. Poetry is and always has been my survival tactic. To see that this is true of other women, and to see Lorde articulate it so clearly, changed my life. It moved me, in a way no other piece of writing ever has. It switched something in my head and again, made me feel stronger and more connected to other women.
It was so powerful that I had to share it: I tweeted it. And since then it has sat in my heart and in my head, I’m pretty sure those words have taken up permanent residence inside me. 🙂
After this I was besotted with Lorde and her writing, but sure that her words were done moving me so much. And then she hit me again, with her essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”. In this essay Lorde talks about reclaiming “the erotic” as not just referring to sexual behaviours and actions, but as that feeling of love and passion. That these feelings do not just pertain to sex and relationships but to our passions, such as writing, art, to everything:
“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”
Again, this hit me in the chest. These words gave me permission for my pursuit of my education. For the direction I am trying to push my career. My path is one which follows the erotic in this sense, when I research, teach and write I feel this sense of satisfaction. I KNOW it is what I am supposed to be doing. What I was made for. There have been times when I have felt like this pursuit is selfish. That the sacrifices my family make for this are too much to ask. But these words again freed me. Lorde spoke to me and let me know that what I am doing will make me a stronger, more whole person. And in truth, that to not pursue this sense of satisfaction would be a betrayal of myself.
Like I said, this book is changing my life. Sister Outsider contains so much other wisdom, words about being a black woman, a lesbian, about intersectionality and multiple oppressions. I know it’s a book I will return to again and again throughout my life. If you haven’t read it, DO. It is truly an amazing work. I intend to find EVERYTHING Audre Lorde has ever written, because I have a feeling she has much more to say to me.
To my London friend (you know who you are) THANK-YOU, thank-you for putting this book in my hands.
To the memory of the amazing Audre Lorde I say: Your words changed my world. Thank-you!
As you probably already know, I am an occultist. I spend my free time pretty evenly spent in the intersections between feminism and trying to make weird stuff happen, which works! You should try it.
I’ve had “weird” experiences my entire life. Hearing voices at times. Seeing entities, especially when no one else could, things that look like ghosts, being touched by things I could not see, having things dropped in front of me, or tossed at me by that which was not visible to the naked eye. Some of this could be chalked up to an overactive imagination, which I encourage everyone to have but a lot of it, just isn’t. I believe in doubt. When something weird happens I like to question myself, especially my own sanity. I think usually: “okay, so I’m able to work a normal job, dress myself, feed myself, take care of my pets etc so I know I’m not crazy.” Its good to check in that one is taking care of the essentials.
So anyway all of this is a warm up to talk about how Halloween season, October especially, is my favorite time of year. I ache for it in all the seasons, I dream about it months ahead, my excitement is barely containable in the lead up to it.
The pagans believe/d that this time of year was when the veil between this realm and the realm of the spirits was at its thinnest. On Halloween they’d be able to walk the earth like you and I, which is why we dress up in costume, to hide ourselves from them.
So why am I writing about this? Well I’ve had such interesting flashes of creativity and connection to that realm lately that I wanted to share some things with all of you.
In traditional spiritualist thought there are different types of spirits of the dead. One of those types are known as “ancestor” spirits. These spirits however don’t necessarily attach themselves to families, they can attach themselves to movements and organizations, helping to assist the continuation the work from the other side. One great example of this is the number of NOI members who have had interactions with/seen Elijah Muhammed’s apparition.
But I’m here to tell you about our foremothers/sisters being with us. Mary Daly wrote about interacting with the spirit of Matilda Joslyn Gage so I’m not alone in calling upon our ancestors for assistance but I want to encourage other women to do it too. This is a simple feminist magick and its accessible to any feminist who wants it.
I recently tweeted a list of Feminist Saints that I had come up with whilst sitting in one of those inspired moments which I’ll share below. I hope this season the more skeptical of you attempts contacting one of these spirits for assistance in your liberatory aims. I even created a tarot spread in my etsy shop inspired by the spirit of Valerie Solanas, who is a very powerful spirit.
St Mary Daly – Patroness of reclamation, spinsters, cat ladies and elementally connected beings.
St Valerie Solanas – Patroness of lesbian writers, prostituted women and fucking shit up
St Andrea Dworkin – Patroness of scapegoats, the maligned and noble causes
St Shulamith Firestone – Patroness of female madness, betrayal and piercing the veil
St Audre Lorde – Patroness of poets, black lesbians and women with cancer
St Jill Johnston – Patroness of lesbian writers, free spirits and spectacle makers
St Julia Penelope – Patroness of lesbian separatists and womyn’s communities
St Matilda Joslyn Gage – Patroness of alliances, overcoming differences between women
St Sojourner Truth – Patroness of transformation, opening the third eye and black feminists
St Susan B Anthony – Patroness of independence, unwavering dedication to a cause
St Sylvia Pankhurst – Patroness of offending polite society and knowing when to fight
There’s obviously more sisters out there you can call upon, but you get the idea right? At this time of year when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest and we all want desperately to be frightened, try opening your eyes to how we’re never alone in this work, no matter how alone we may feel at times.
So this season, light a candle, burn some sandalwood and evoke these sisters to join you in your quest to slay the legion of patriarchal demons.
The Arctic Feminist: I lazily blog about whatever I want. Always from a radical feminist perspective