Sometimes I am Rage – Sometimes I am Grace: My Feminism and the Myth of Shared Girlhood

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  ~ Vivian Greene

For those few of you who follow this little blog, you may have noticed an inconsistency in what I write (as well as in how I write), particularly about feminism: sometimes I write from a place of grace, and plead to my fellow white cis feminists to listen, to open up our minds and ears to different ideas and perspectives -and perhaps even grapple with the idea that our over loud voices could be stilled in favour of women whom we have helped to silence.

At other times I have been angry, and have felt the need to push back at what has felt like a movement which constricts us all with its demands to conform to a single homogeneous type, which forces a false sense of unity, and that can seem only to celebrate individuality on the surface – which brings me to the subject of ‘shared girlhood’.

It’s sounds like such an innocuous phrase. It’s really not.

My own premise is simple: I do not believe that holding to a notion of ‘shared girlhood’ is required to be a feminist, and feel that my own feminism is the richer for not believing in, or holding to, such misplaced ideology.

It really doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that the lived experience of my girlhood was not the same as the lived experiences of young girls in India, China or a dozen other cultures and countries, and young trans*/transgender girls around the world – and frankly was not the same as the lived experience of most of the young girls I grew up with. Growing up with MRKH I am sure will have meant a girlhood very different for those who have that condition, to my own experiences growing up with endometriosis and adenomyosis. Whilst still at junior school, one young friend struggled with the early development of her breasts, and 9 is a young age to require adult bra’s. None of us knew what she felt – how could we? We were all still at least three or four years away from even needing to think about such things.

The lives of young girls everywhere are rich and varied – each story that these different experiences speak of brings some new, brighter, better understanding of who we are. In the tears, in the joys, in the struggles and the victories of those stories there is an abundance of strength and wisdom, some of which can be shared ~ but some of which should be shared only with those who have a similar story to tell.

The reality of perpetuating some idea of one experience of girlhood shared by all is so easily seen in what happens when someone dares challenge the needless dogma we white feminists so thoughtlessly push. Let me be clear – wanting, and needing to know that we can share our experience with someone is a good and human thing.

Erasing someone else’s experience and trying to force yours on them, is destructive and dehumanising.

A little background. An excellent blog by Black Girl Dangerous hit twitter late last year called ‘The Myth of Shared Female Experience and How It Perpetuates Inequality.’  I really suggest that you read it, firstly because I am not going to quote from it and also have not had permission to do so.

And the first reaction of a white woman to it? Yes, you’ve guessed it – the white woman took upon herself to tell the black woman why her feelings and opinion were wrong. Via the hashtag #sharedgirlhood it should have become clear very quickly that whilst white cis women were saying that shared girlhood was real and needed, women, trans*/transgender and of colour were loudly saying otherwise. And perhaps not surprisingly, those women who would insist that trans*/transgender women should essentially drop off the face of the planet (or at the very least, stop breathing) used the conversation as an excuse to once again abuse and negate those women and their lives.

Even less surprisingly, the receipts from the ensuing mess were collected by a woman of colour – in this case the excellent Flavia Dzodan: you can read that on her blog here.  (Oh, and whilst you are there, read the rest of her blog too because it is brilliant and you’ll get an education).

We cannot ignore that women are saying that they do not feel their girlhood is shared with all girls everywhere, we cannot watch how it inflicts pain and hurt on other women – and yet still insist that shared girlhood is both real and vital to the dismantling of the patriarchy. It’s exactly like sticking your fingers in your ears and going ‘la-la-la’ at the top of your voice.

But there is something else too – as I was scrolling down through the conversation there was this from @Artemissian.

I’m personally deeply troubled by how some seem to define “girlhood” in terms of oppression? Does this mean that w/o oppression…

we’re no longer women? No! We still are. I feel that when #sharedgirlhood comes to mean just & only #sharedvictimhood we might…

…be internalizing the definitions of womanhood that the kyriarchry enforces, & give up our right to self-define who we are?

It articulated some of my other mis-givings, and  highlighted a further problem. Some white cis feminists push the idea of shared girlhood because they believe we all in some way share the experience of living under patriarchy, and by treating our girlhoods as a shared experience we are stronger in the face of it against the patriarchy.

When in fact the opposite is true – n0t just for each of us as women white or black, trans or cis, able bodied or differently abled; shared girlhood is just another tool to take away our right to self define.  And as a movement, that does not make us better or stronger, but weaker. A movement that is incapable of celebrating the individuals within that movement will founder. A movement that does not recognise the individuals within that movement will not succeed in empowering and improving the lives of everyone it seeks to support.

Oh… the frustration! I can see how glorious it could be.

And so oft times I rage, and also love with all my heart. And in the midst of the storms that occur as we struggle to understand, and grasp, and better and change – I will embrace the thunder. And dance in the rain.

I would like to thank both Flavia Dzodan at Red Light Politics and Alicia (@Artemissian) for allowing me to link to, and quote, them.

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