19.06.2017

WE are who we are: Reflections of a young queer feminist

June is LGBT Pride Month when pride marches around the world commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969, in New York City. On this occasion, we feature this text by one among the seven contributions by policy-makers, activists and academics from Asia that were published in this year’s first issue of SocDem Asia Quarterly journal, a joint publication by SocDem Asia and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

 

OMG, you’re a feminist? Me too!

A defining feature of fourth wave millennial feminism is to come out as feminist regardless of the sex or gender you are born into—which makes you part of a community, while remaining an individual in the circle. This then makes the modern feminist movement a Collective of Individuals.

This may be in part a criticism of over optimism of adherents of the third wave, their complacency resulting to hyper-individualist and gender-blind approach to treating equality, but also reaffirming their inclusive, identity-based and cultural approach. Meanwhile, it is also a realization of the validity of the second wave movement’s claim of feminism as a power and privilege maldistribution issue, therefore trying to create a bifocal lens of looking at female oppression.

While the feminine is, in fact, degraded, the social status of women, in particular, is still not at par with that of men, no matter the level of femininity or masculinity

Fourth wave feminism recognizes that the elephant remains in the room if we stay within the feminine-masculine layer of the discussion because it doesn’t answer the realities of how there are masculine women who still earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by even feminine men; how the gay rights movement is being headed by white, middle class gay men and women; how although cases of feminine men and women victimization is still prevalent, it is still a fact that in lesbian relationships, butch lesbians are reportedly more victimized than their feminine counterparts. In other words, while the feminine is, in fact, degraded, the social status of women is still not at par with that of men, no matter the level of femininity or masculinity.

WOKE millennials: The sitch

In a 2012 Women’s Political Participation Report in the Asia Pacific sponsored by the UNDPA (link in English), one of the key findings was that on the average, women’s political participation in the Asia and the Pacific sub regions—Pacific (3.65%, excluding New Zealand and Australia), East Asia (17.6%), Southeast Asia (18.09%), and South Asia (19.76%)—were below the global average. This was attributed to the general political, social, and cultural mentalities that justify the rhetoric that politics is not the place for women.

On the average, women’s political participation in the Asia and the Pacific sub regions are below the global average, a study finds

As a solution to this, the gender quota has been employed by progressive political parties to increase the number of women representation and according to the 2012 study, it works. More women are represented in progressive political parties and organizations and in countries (Mongolia, Nepal, Timor Leste, Afghanistan, New Caledonia) that employ the mechanism.

In her book Fortunes of Feminism, Nancy Fraser however critiques the francophone parity principle because while it may increase numbers however, the focus on recognition or representation in the higher ups—whether in public or private entities—endangers feminism to collude with neoliberal ideals, creating “trickle down feminism.” Although there is a high correlation between policies that are oriented towards social welfare (i.e. recognition of reproductive work, laws against domestic abuse) when more women are in seats in the government, gender quotas will remain tokenistic and identity driven if the twin sibling of patriarchy, capitalism, is still in place and entrenched in society—each an enabler of the other.

Women representation in the high-level business positions does not mean empowerment of the “low-level” positions in the company. This is in the same way that an increase in the numbers of women in parliament doesn’t necessarily translate into empowered grassroots women

Women are less likely to be accepted into jobs for example that require manual labour, because of two main things: menstruation and pregnancy. In a market-based, capitalist global economy, efficiency is key and women are not logical choices because during these two events in their life, they are of no use to productive work—and this without recognizing the importance of reproductive work. Women representation in the high-level business positions does not mean empowerment of the “low-level” positions in the company. This is in the same way that an increase in the numbers of women in parliament doesn’t necessarily translate into empowered grassroots women.

In the Philippines, many of the women in power come from political dynasties or have elite backgrounds. The political sphere is still co-opted by the same “old boys club”, with their wives serving as place-holders rather than real wielders of power 

Case in point is the Philippines, where despite a significant number of women in positions of power whose legislations are geared towards basic social services and social justice, it remains a glass ceiling for majority of grassroots women’s participation in politics. Many of the women in power come from political dynasties or have elite backgrounds. The political sphere is still co-opted by the same “old boys club”, with their wives serving as place-holders rather than real wielders of power.

The Philippine legal system is stacked against women since there is neither abortion nor divorce law. Due to the strong influence of the Catholic Church, the Reproductive Health Law took more than a decade to pass and many more years before implementation. There remains no social protection for women involved in prostitution; reported and unreported cases of rape and domestic abuse are still high. (In other places in Asia, like India and Singapore, if a woman is above 13 years of age there are no laws against marital rape, while in Malaysia marital rape is still a debated issue!) The election of President Rodrigo Duterte has reinforced a culture of machismo and authoritarianism, with no less than the commander-in-chief often engaging in remarks that degrade and objectify women, including his notorious ‘rape joke’ during the presidential campaign.

The clear-cut problem of feminism is patriarchy, and solutions have been laid out by our “mothers” and “grandmothers” in the movement:

  1. Education: access to education for all girls, expanded and deepened academic discourse on patriarchy and intersectionality through women’s and queer studies, comprehensive sex education, and studies that provide insight into women’s oppression;
  2. Political representation and empowerment: increasing number of women in government, trainings for women in governance, legislating laws that protect women from abuse and amending anti-women laws thereof, generating public awareness towards the fulfillment of women’s rights, appropriating government budget to gender and development, broad base coalitions and movements that fight for equality – especially with and for marginalized communities, marriage equality, divorce; 
  3. Economic empowerment and recognition: boosting the care economy, recognition of reproductive work, access to capital and property ownership, awareness of the dangers of multiple burden;
  4. Health and reproductive rights: increased control of women over our own bodies through the access to the pill, abortion rights—albeit in a few countries only, general acceptance of the female sexuality, HIV-AIDS awareness—and young feminists have the burden of continuing and cementing these reforms. The key may be in the queer millennials and Generation Z.

MORE THAN A PHASE: Millennials and Generation Z are Queer AF

In modern parlance, it is somehow uncommon to talk about feminism and not talk about gender equality. A recent study by trend forecasting agency, J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group (link in English), shows that around 52 per cent of Generation Z (aged 13-20 years old) do not identify as exclusively heterosexual, while the figure stands at thirty five percent 35 percent for their older counterparts, the millennials (aged 21-34).

The sudden “Queer Surge” is partly thanks to the gender bending effect of the Information Age, the general acceptance of a sexualized body as non-threatening, and the increase of identity-based emphasis of third wave feminism. The acceptance of gender fluidity is spreading like wildfire among the Generation Z thanks to celebrities coming out as gender fluid, namely Disney sweethearts we grew up with such as Miley Cyrus and Raven Symone, among others. The message is clear: We are here, and we are queer, indeed.

This phenomenon coupled with the embedded influence of second wave feminism on the general positive attitudes towards participatory democracy and flat hierarchies coming from the feminist processes used in consciousness-raising groups then, we have some ingredients down for building a progressive, feminist future.

According to a study by Gayle Kimball (link in English), it has been observed that “horizontal organizing for recent uprisings have been easier for those socialized to be female than those socialized to be male” and in these social movements, there is likely a politics of love. This is clearly seen in the campaign for marriage equality where the emphasis on love and human gut feel appealed to the masses and increased demand for the passage of marriage equality law.

BECAUSE the world is our BAE

But what exactly do young feminists want? We want an inclusive world, a participatory democracy where everyone leads themselves and others.

What does this mean?

We are good at opposing, but we are not trained for governance—and most of us are reluctant—but we have to assist the redistribution of power that we pursue

This means we need to work against the authoritarian, hierarchical wave of leadership that is spreading globally. The rise of global populism is a threat to the feminist ideal of equality. Although, we have to keep in mind that the shortcomings of most youth-led movements have been leaving a vacuum in the seat of power, leaving it for the taking by other dominant elite forces. We are good at opposing, but we are not trained for governance—and most of us are reluctant—but we have to assist the redistribution of power that we pursue. But how will this work?

First, create a global network of young feminists that works towards protecting participatory democracy with a specific slant towards women in the grassroots (i.e. in Southeast Asia where the growing authoritarian rule threatens democracy) and create and mainstream a bottom-up, peer-to-peer feminist power agenda that channels the information savvy, impatient, altruistic nature of millennials. This global network must have a “council of tomorrow”—a council of equals elected into position, other than the usual administrative posts—that considers trends and prepares the network for them, whether what to do with holograms or dealing with the deep web, they should have that covered.*

Second, invest in talent and not plans which means to train young women and feminists for governance—skills on drawing the sharpest line and proposing the progressive alternatives that increase spaces for women in the grassroots to enter politics (e.g. support in terms of resources, trainings on developing legislative agenda, etc.), address issues of online gender based violence and abuse through policies and grievance mechanisms – no matter the change of times, they need to be agile enough to govern through changing times.

Third, create a framework of what a feminist economy looks like—a participatory economy which emphasizes the equal importance of reproductive and productive work, develops the queer economy, puts a human lens on trade agreements, and prioritizes basic social services in national budget allocations.

Fourth, incorporate feminist values in basic education curricula to assist behavioural change, and pushing feminist discourse from academic to public forums—bringing back the consciousness-raising groups created during the second wave of feminism.

Fifth, creating online based platforms for crowdfunding that specifically aims to support broad-based feminist organizing. another to share stories of activism through podcasts on SoundCloud, Blogs and Vlogs, and one for sharing ideas, academic literature and encouraging each other, while infiltrating mainstream media (radio, print, TV, social media) breaking stereotypes from there.

Sixth, create a credible and accurate data gathering mechanism and rubrics that reflect actual gender equality attitude on the ground along with women empowerment aside from the rubrics created by the UN.

Seventh, forge a formidable coalition with the working class, teachers and professors, unemployed college students and the civil society, the drivers of protest action in today’s information age (according to recent trend of uprisings globally), as well as people who have enough time and are willing to give time to the movement.

These seven initial suggestions are reflections of the mindset of feminist millennials, who have and continue to derive guidance and inspiration from earlier generations as they try to make a legacy of their own, both online and offline. ###

References:

*See Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, (New York: Random House, 1970).

Shamah Bulangis is currently the Secretary General of a feminist youth political wing in the Philippines, Akbayan Youth. She studied Education (with particular interest in pedagogical studies) at the University of the Philippines – Diliman, and Foreign Affairs in Silliman University.


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