Sunday, April 7, 2019


by Alicia Garza

In 1986 Marie Shear wrote in a review of The Feminist Dictionary that '[F]eminism is the radical notion that women are people.' A refreshingly simple definition, Shear's somewhat sarcastic assertion that the notion of women as people is 'radical' says a lot about the conditions experienced by women.

For me, Shear's definition captures perfectly the reason why feminism is a verb, not a noun. The 'radical notion that women are people' requires that one upholds the humanity of women at every opportunity.

In America, white women make 78 cents to every dollar that white men make. Black women make 64 cents to every dollar white men make, and Latinas make 58 cents to every dollar white men make. Women are subject to daily harassment and threats of sexual violence, at work and in our communities. Our bodies are considered to exist for the sole enjoyment and discernment of men. Women are not seen as human beings, deserving of dignity and respect.

The socialization of the hatred of women is not solely perpetrated by men but infects women as well. No one experiences this more acutely than transgendered women, who are shunned by cisgender men and women alike, often using the very same tropes that are weaponized by cisgender men to denigrate and oppress cisgender women.

The current US President, Donald Trump, made headlines for leading chants among his supporters during his campaign to 'lock up' Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, for paying off Stormy Daniels, an exotic dancer with whom he allegedly had an affair, and for being caught on video sharing his tips for assaulting women on the popular show Inside Edition, saying that all you had to do was 'grab 'em by the pussy'. You can tell that in America women are not considered people by many because, despite these examples of egregious behaviour, Donald Trump was still elected President.

Furthermore, the agenda of his administration works to strip women of the rights we've fought hard for - rights to have self-determination over our lives by deciding when and if to start families, and with whom, and rights to have access to affordable health care. The administration has led the charge to dismantle supports for families, such as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). In 2017, according to the US Census Bureau, 81.4% of single-parent families were headed by a woman who was unemployed. Cuts to government supports for families disproportionately impact women.

For me, this is why feminism must be a verb and not a noun. It is not enough to believe that women are people if our actions - for example, voting for a man who grabs women by the pussy and dismantles critical supports that enable women and their families to live with dignity - suggest otherwise.

To work for a world where women are treated as people in every aspect of our lives is to work not just for women but for all people to realize their full humanity.

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