Diary of a feminist student
Inspired, educated and extremely emotional.
That’s how I felt after listening to the queen of intersectionality- Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw- share her lived experiences. Crenshaw, known, for coming up with the theory/ framework of intersectionality, criticises the “tendency to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis.” Through her extensive body of work she demonstrates how seeing experiences through a single lens – which focuses only on gender, race or class – erases the experiences of individuals within these intersections.
She describes the term as ‘complicated’ and defines it as a “lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”
She took us on a beautiful journey- from stories of her as a six year old in the classroom, to the backdoors at Harvard Law University and lessons from activism.
As Masters students, studying Gender at the London School of Economics (LSE), we all sat in awe, seeping in every word that she shared about this topic- one that we have been discussing in our classrooms and essays. But as it so happened, another issue which we would come to confront moments later was patriarchy, toxic masculinity, misogyny- words which have been sprawled across many texts we have read at LSE. Little did we know that these phrases would be conjured up into the room- like a shock to the system- a reminder of the world outside.
Halfway through our intersectionality workshop, he walked into the room, with a book in his hand, armed with words, unknown to us and only understood by some. He angrily shouted words, phrases- who knows- attempting to disrupt. Professor Crenshaw, as determined as ever, denied his existence and his ability to control our space, by continuing with the address. All I could think was, “Not again!”
But this didn’t deter him. The head of the Gender Department, Professor Clare Hemmings, the super hero in this story, (typically occupied by a man in the world outside) walked over to him and politely asked him to leave. This seemed to enrage him further. Spewing Italian words, he walked through the crowd, towards the front of the room. Later, my Italian colleagues explained that the man was calling out our head of department for being an ‘ugly feminist’ and also called out the talk for not really existing in the real world. Thankfully, this conjuring of toxic masculinity, that imposed himself on all of us, eventually left the room, leaving us with an overload of emotions.
But feminism won at the end of the day right? At whose expense?
Many in the room, who witnessed this incident felt triggered. Many of us questioned why a room full of women who outnumbered this man, felt so helpless and afraid in those few brief moments of confrontation? That’s the power of masculinity, right?
For some it brought up concerns of lack of security around university, which could be countered with the argument that we should not have to ask for more security, but simply that men should stop making us feel unsafe.
Some in the room feared that this man might have a weapon and might have intentions of attacking the feminists in the room (because it has happened before). Others were reminded of past violent personal incidents suffered at the hands of men.
Safe to say that this episode will be etched in our memory. Feeling upset about the ordeal, I took to social media to post both the highlight of my day- meeting Prof Crenshaw- and the lowlight- toxic masculinity. Many people were supportive and sympathetic. One man apologised to me, stating that it was horrific that the gender students had to deal with this. Another, however, chose to respond, “You need to get over your fears at some point right?” I was livid. To imply that women are the ones who need to change their behaviour is problematic and outrageous. I responded sarcastically, as I usually do to these types of comments. This was followed by another message: “ I think everyone needs to change their behaviour actually, but you know how these feminists are…Always ready to defend ‘women’ at the drop of a hat.”
I cannot even put into words the rage that filtered through my body from head to toe as I read this message. My responses that floated through my head: “Is it you who is getting raped, murdered or beaten by your male intimate partner, or you who is cat called when you walk around everyday, or you who doesn’t get paid as equally as your male colleague or you who feels a ball of fear welling up inside of you when you walk home at night and see a man across the street?
While we won the battle for that day, the war was far from over.
We talk about gender, feminism, patriarchy, toxic masculinity, activism every single day. But when it so unexpectedly (but not really) creeps into our everyday academic space, it serves as a reminder of what we are up against. This was used as a lesson in learning and empowerment by Professor Crenshaw.
As we ended the session, we were asked to imagine the incident that happened once again, but only this time from the view of the person who was pulling all the strings. I closed my eyes and had a fleeting moment of romantic idealism. In my imagined version, we each stood up as this man entered the room and before he could suck up the oxygen around us with his toxic masculinity, we pushed him out! As a force, with one swift, collective energy. We repeatedly voiced the words, ‘We have had enough of your toxic masculinity! Please leave!”
But snapping back to reality, let this serve as a reminder that this fight is far from over and that our feminism has to fight against many other like this.
My biggest takeaway from this experience are four phrases (or my new mantra as I now call it), which Prof Crenshaw asked us to repeat at the end.
“It’s our duty to fight for our freedom, We will win! We must love and respect each other…We have nothing to lose but our chains!”
Statement from the LSE Gender Department: http://www.lse.ac.uk/gender/news/jan-2019/Anti-feminism-and-collective-response