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Leaping from Our Spheres
-- The Blog of UUWF's Affiliated Minister

Raised by the 2nd Wave; Moving Forward With the 3rd Wave

Shaya French

Shaya French

I can’t remember a moment when I wasn’t a feminist. I grew up surrounded by feminists: my mother, her friends, my father… Growing up I attended performances of That Takes Ovaries and read a constant supply of fiction books with powerful women and girl protagonists. My dad’s copy of Our Bodies Our Selves lived in my bedroom.

Growing Up Feminist
I grew up being conscious of how my experiences were affected by gendered power dynamics. I recognized how few women were held up as important historical figures in my elementary school classes and chose to study important women on every history project I could.

Micky Bradford, a Black transwoman, resists police in North Carolina. This image was created by Micah Bazant in collaboration with Micky to launch the Transgender Law Center at Southerners on New Ground’s (TLC@SONG) new Southern listening Campaign.

Micky Bradford, a Black transwoman, resists police in North Carolina. This image was created by Micah Bazant in collaboration with Micky to launch the Transgender Law Center at Southerners on New Ground’s (TLC@SONG) new Southern listening Campaign.

This understanding didn’t keep me from being socialized as a woman. I certainly absorbed the unconscious lessons about when I should speak or not, holding back in conversations until I had thought through whether what I was saying was sufficiently important to say aloud. But even as I was internalizing those hard lessons, I could also point out that the conversational dynamics I was part of were sexist. I feel incredibly grateful for having the second wave sensibilities embedded in my consciousness.

Where is vibrant feminist community happening today?
When I was in my college years I did not find a strong feminist community. I checked out the feminist group on my campus but it wasn’t super active. The summer after my freshman year of college I visited a feminist meet-up group in my home city. But I didn’t find the vibrancy and instant connection that I was looking for. It all felt like feminism was something people did in their spare time and not completely core to their identity.

The place where I found the most excitement about talking about gender inequity was with friends who are part of the LGBTQ community. The people in this amazing community use a wide range of words to describe their gender: queer, genderqueer, femme lesbian, woman, butch, transgender, man, to name a few. Queer has been reclaimed as a descriptive word for people whose gender or sexuality falls beyond our notions of male/female or heterosexual. These are spaces where I can point out when men take up too much of the conversational space and have people back me up. We often talk about the complexities of consent. How can people who are shy still ask for consent? At what point can you substitute reading body language for verbal consent? What’s interesting to me is that many of the people with whom I’ve had the most discussion of issues I recognize as clearly feminist would not necessarily identify as women.

The Current Gender Justice Movement
I see a striking amount of commonality between the struggles for gender justice that the women’s movement took up and those that my peers and I are fighting for now. We all want healthcare designed for and responsive to our needs, elected representatives who share our identity, job opportunities free from discrimination, and to live free from physical or sexual violence. However, the call from black feminists, like Kimberlé Crenshaw, to be more intersectional has shaped the current gender justice movement to first address the needs of those who are most marginalized in our society. Being in queer spaces, I have heard firsthand accounts of issues I don’t experience directly—transwomen being violently harassed by police and strangers on the street, the higher incarceration rates for people who are gender non-conforming and transgender, and how family and strangers constantly challenging one’s gender presentation causes people intense anxiety and depression.

Hearing those stories made me realize that my white privilege had kept me from seeing how the Black Lives Matter movement is a gender justice movement as well as a racial justice movement. I find it very encouraging that the leadership of young black leaders—many of whom are queer—has given rise to a new black liberation movement that centers spaces for healing, creation and visioning. I’m excited about the future of our gender justice movement—in all its forms—and how making space for a diversity of gender identities pushes us further towards a world where people’s gender doesn’t dictate how they’re treated or what resources they have.

Leaping From Our Spheres

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