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Audre Lorde’s Feminism and Counterarguments

Introduction

Various stakeholders, including renowned filmmakers and playwrights such as Maggie Nelson, Gloria Jean Watkins (bell hooks), and Audre Lorde among others, have presented feminism differently. The concept of feminism has its roots in the 18th century, specifically during the Seneca Falls Convention, when women turned out in large numbers demanding a review of various societal, universal, and faith-based conditions that contravened their privileges as equal citizens. However, Egypt began witnessing women campaigns less than ten years ago. In particular, the Egyptian Revolution can be traced back to 2011 when women decided to engage in movements that sought to break this counterproductive practice. As this paper argues, although many campaigns depict feminism as an “anti-men affairs” move, I view it as a well-calculated mutual plan that seeks to embrace the patriarchal system in a manner that further gives women the power to rise to positions initially preserved for their counterparts. In line with opinions from “bell hooks” and Audre Lorde, this classical argument depicts contemporary feminism as a women-driven agenda to liberate men who have held conservative and counterproductive perceptions that their counterparts are weak vessels that are not justified to participate in critical decision-making processes or contributing towards economic development.

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Feminism and the Egyptian Revolution

In an interview, when Audre Lorde, a renowned musician, a human rights defender, and a poet, was requested to give her opinion regarding feminism, it is interesting that she never demonstrated any hatred for men in her response (Elizabeth). Instead, the esteemed lesbian and a black depicted feminism as an effort that is solely meant to empower women to greater heights that men have always held. The idea seeks to support females who have conventionally been denied opportunities and privileges enjoyed by the average person. In particular, she responded, feminism entails, “trying to fight for better conditions and better treatment of all women, whether that be trans women, or women of color, or…women in professions that don’t get a lot of respect” (Elizabeth).

Her perception of feminism captures the inclusivity aspect of the concept when viewed from the perspective of the contemporary society. Lorde raises vital elements that depict a shift from the conformist perception of feminism as entailing women’s fight for political positions or a reduction of men’s powers. Instead, her view includes the empowerment of all women, whether married, multicultural, transgendered, or even disabled (physically or psychologically) who have suffered silently in the society. Lorde’s music and poetry demonstrate a contemporary woman whose role in the society has substantially given feminism a new meaning. In particular, the poem, Who Said it was Simple, depicts the extent to which black women have been treated as slaves, a situation that she says needs to be addressed. According to Swirsky and Angelone, present-day feminists such as Lorde emphasize the need for correcting traditionally founded perceptions that tolerated gender asymmetries while silencing women from confirming their assertiveness to the society (445). The authors specify factors, including experience with first-hand feminism, civilization, and interacting with role models, as crucial in helping women to stand for their self-identification rights (Swirsky and Angelone 445). Lorde is among exemplary figures that contemporary Egyptian women emulate in their effort to seek justice.

Being a lesbian and a woman of color in a patriarchal American society depicts the level of injustice she suffered and, consequently, the extent of her desire to voice her concerns and those of females in similar statuses. With this awareness, the famous Egyptian Revolution was a wake-up call for the government to act swiftly not only to address the rights of women but also those of other oppressed citizens. The campaign sought to persuade the oppressive administration to view women as “symbols of the state and the successes of state-driven modernization” (Reynolds 489). Hence, in line with my view regarding feminism, the fact that men had been subjected to extensive torture in Egypt may have silenced them to the level that they could not voice their concerns regarding women who had been reduced to mere household vessels or childbearing and raising machines. Hence, the move by women to publicize the matter through writing and music is solely geared towards liberating men, as opposed to fighting against them. Such people had been taught archaic lessons depicting females as inferior people. For instance, according to Sorbera, despite women and men joining hands in the 1919 fight against the British, they could not be allowed to vote until 1956 (66). Consequently, such liberated men could give their counterparts the room for exercising their potential in politics and other developments.

The Egyptian Revolution brought a new definition of feminism. Instead of presenting the concept as a women affair that opposes men’s rulings, the 2011 campaign in Egypt sought to broaden the entire idea to include the fight for the justice of all people whose rights had been violated to some extent. Such a shift from the conventional perception of the concept indicates that indeed the world is changing in relation to matters concerning social, civil, and religious liberties (Kamal 151). As a feminist, I have encountered scenarios that require me to alter people’s conservative perceptions towards feminism. Many conformist citizens have been fashioned to view feminists as people who are not only violent but also ones who assault men in power claiming that they (women) have been denied their privileges to prove that they are indeed equally capable of assuming such esteemed positions.

In particular, I met my longtime university comrade in a gas station as we were fuelling our sedans. Having graduated over 10 years ago was enough to make us catch up in a nearby fast-food base. Although we had a lengthy conversation, I remember this particular bit when my I revealed to my comrade that I had been a feminist since my college years. His immediate response was, “But I cannot remember seeing you behaving crazily and violently!” He proceeded to describe his perception of feminists as fantasizing, anti-men, and always schooling females who never shy when making abusive remarks against their male counterparts. The whole conversation made me question how my colleague from Hoboken, New Jersey, could demonstrate such a high level of illiteracy and ignorance, despite having been among best-performing students during our college years. He lacked the fundamental knowledge on the overall idea of feminism and women’s rights.

Addressing some of the famous movements such as the 2011 Egyptian Revolution would be fruitless if I could ignore the need for clarifying the root of feminism to him. I asked, “Perhaps you may have heard great men such as Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, John Kennedy, John Stuart Mill, and Albert Einstein?” His response was affirmative. However, when I requested him to mention some few great women in history, he had no idea of any. He was right to some extent because most of the women who fought and even lost lives for the sake of their inclusion in history have not been documented. I revealed to him prominent women such as Angela Davis, Emmeline Pankhurst, Shirley Chisholm, and Hedy Lamarr among others who never appear in history as great people, despite their contribution to the fight to have their female colleagues acknowledged, including lesbians and transgendered persons. Feminists never demand men to abandon their positions in the society. Instead, they emphasize the need for similar opportunities to be accorded to women, regardless of their status (Jacoby 526). In line with my argument, women have sacrificed to engage in deadly movements, which seek to ensure that men change their stance on feminism.

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According to Gay’s book, Bad Feminist: Essays, women do not refute the fact that they may be “weak” or “bad” following their move to question norms that have been in existence since the 18th-century (11). The author embraces the view she refers to as “bad” feminism that acknowledges people’s weaknesses, including men. As a result, Gay’s perspective on feminism paves the way for men and women to accept to be corrected in case they act contrary to what the contemporary society expects, a situation that encourages people’s peaceful coexistence and, consequently, their development (11). In tandem with my view, Gay believes that the 2011 Egyptian Revolution was a call by women for the government to allow them to prove that they were indeed competent in accomplishing something good for the country (12). Egyptian men needed to be freed from the conservative and counterproductive perception that had informed their decision of denying their female counterparts the chance to be involved in critical decision-making processes such as elections.

In particular, Gay presents a woman’s voice saying, “I am not trying to say that I’m right…I am just trying–trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world” (11). Such a “good thing” may appear in the form of heightened security and economic development, especially when women’s campaigns yield the expected outcomes where they no longer waste time in streets but in offices with their male colleagues enjoying equal employment and decision-making privileges (George et al. 3; Harris and Milton 61). El Shakry’s argument supports the above position (83). The author introduces another element of human security to the field of contemporary feminism claiming that enhancing people’s civil liberties, including giving women the respect and recognition they deserve, can boost their peaceful coexistence (El Shakry 83). Similarly, Harris and Milton believe that the issue of insecurity that is being witnessed in Egypt and other parts around the globe has its roots anchored on the violation of fundamental privileges such as the rights of women (60). Hence, Gay cautions the world to create an environment where all people can thrive, regardless of their sexual, gender, or religious, orientations (15). Women who marched in Egypt may be viewed as agents who were seeking a better country that upholds the expectations of people in the 21st century.

Phillips and Cree present the concept of fourth-wave feminism that best describes the 2011 Egyptian Revolution (938). According to the authors, the last decade has witnessed many instances whereby women, both young and old, have come out in large numbers in virtually all media platforms around the globe asserting their capacity to serve their countries better compared to men. According to Phillips and Cree, countries such as Australia and the U.S. have had women seeking political positions in the highest offices (938). While Julia Gillard was voted to take the position of the Australian Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton aggressively sought the most esteemed government position in the world, namely, the presidency of America. Nonetheless, the current Commander-in-Chief, Donald Trump, defeated her. Although these women may be viewed as fighting to unseat their male counterparts, it is crucial to realize that their efforts are purely meant to prove to men that they are equally fit and gifted in delivering better results (Nelson 2). In line with my opinion, Australia and Egypt are among the few countries that have tested and proven that indeed men should allow women to take part in various developmental agendas if they wish to progress in their respective positions.

Gloria Jean Watkins who decided to nickname herself as “bell hooks” is an American social advocate, feminist, and a novelist who has spent most of her life campaigning for women’s rights. She identifies feminism as a joined effort geared towards alleviating injustices associated with chauvinism, sexist exploitation, as well as oppression (Munro 24). In her definition of feminism, “hooks” does not attack men. Instead, she identifies sexism as an issue worth consideration since it undermines the rights and privileges of women. In this view, both men and women influence sexism because socialization promotes the construction of thoughts and actions associated with the issue of bigotry. As such, it is unjustified to victimize men as promoters of prejudice since women also play an equal role in influencing the sexism issue, which mainly results in their (women) exploitation and oppression (Javaid 288). For this reason, she underlines the need for both men and women to abandon sexist thoughts and actions. Instead, she advises both parties to replace such perceptions with feminist views and deeds.

In my argument, I do not refute the fact that women and men play different roles in promoting sexism. In most societies, male dominance is prevalent. Thus, social constructs of sexist thoughts and actions usually underline the need for women to regard men as their superiors as denoted by values that support patriarchy. Furthermore, social systems that identify men as controllers of political powers, social privileges, moral authorities, and property ownership facilitate the development of prejudice, stereotype, and women exploitation (Harnois 972; Das 26). As a result, in most cases, men contribute to the development of sexist thoughts and actions that lead to the subjugation and mistreatment of women in various aspects of the society. This observation points to the reason why they have engaged in movements to free men from this psychological captivity. Nonetheless, “hooks” agrees with my argument that men and women need to join hands towards the mitigation of sexist exploitation and oppression.

In this respect, the Egyptian Revolution uncovered the contribution of both men and women towards addressing inequalities they experienced in the society. The backward culture of female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely practiced in Egypt, denotes the extent to which the society’s cultural practices influence sexist mistreatment and subjugation (Hafez “Bodies That Protest” 25). Furthermore, the dominance of patriarchal systems in the Egyptian society has seen almost 99% of women experience an instance of sexual harassment at least once in their lifespan (Hafez “The Revolution” 175). In this respect, women participated in the Egyptian Revolution since they were also affected by the political and social injustices in the country. The collaborative approach to the unfairness experienced by both women and men enhanced the efficiency of the revolution about positive change in Egypt.

Therefore, amid men promoting chauvinism, there was a need for both genders to participate in the revolution that sought to address various inequalities in the country.

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The American social activist, “hook”, also underlines the need for embracing visionary feminism through the integration of wise and loving politics (Javaid 286). For this reason, it is crucial for political structures in the society to establish provisions that facilitate equal treatment of both men and women. The novelist believes that the end of patriarchal governments will be realized when men will begin to view women as agents that have devotedly sought to liberate them from their conservative and counterproductive ideologies that have their roots anchored on colonialism. As such, the need for the abolishment of male dominance will facilitate the achievement of peaceful coexistence between men and women in the society. As a result, as El Shakry reveals, the society will attain greater harmony and coexistence without cases of exploitation and oppression founded on sexism (83). Therefore, the novelist views politics as an instrumental aspect that fosters not only the acceptance of feminist ideas but also love among women and men.

Politics has a significant influence on feminism. In particular, the establishment of laws and regulations that uphold equality in various societies facilitates the minimization of gender-based violence and sexual assault on women and girls (El Shakry 83). Furthermore, legal provisions that support the creation of equal opportunities for men and women in various areas such as the field of employment have addressed the issue of gender-based oppression and exploitation satisfactorily in most societies (Witt). Consequently, political interventions have helped to enhance love among various sexes, thereby denoting the extent to which addressing feminism through the integration of relevant policies is important. Therefore, political feminism plays a fundamental role in fostering the realization of peace between men and women.

Counter Argument

Although the above analysis presents opinions that support the idea of feminism, scholars such as Tolentino highlight arguments from individuals who have lost hope in their fight for women rights. The 2016 presidential elections in America suggest that feminism may be headed for extinction. If women movements have any substantial impact on the contemporary society’s decision-making, they would have helped Hillary Clinton to win the highly contested seat. Nonetheless, she lost. Women in many African countries, including Egypt, have also lost political seats, despite the heightened feminist movements. Hence, it is crucial to realize that although the fight may be on, women may end up contributing minimally towards economic development. Nonetheless, the idea of feminism took a new direction following the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. According to Sorbera, the oppression of women in the 20th-century Egypt was gauged by the extent to which they were denied the right to be acknowledged as capable citizens, despite their efforts to demonstrate such competences through writing and even journalism (66).

The Egyptian Revolution mainly sought to facilitate political changes that would foster the prosperity of the population. As such, both men and women campaigned for their rights by marching towards the Tahrir Square (Sorbera 65). Advocacy campaigns during the Egyptian Revolution played a considerable role in fostering political changes that would uphold the need for social, economic, and political equalities in the country. In this regard, it suffices to confirm my opinion that such an event in Egypt provided an opportunity for political feminists in the country to air the grievances experienced by women, thus influencing the creation of policies that currently inhibited sexist oppression and exploitation (Hafez “Bodies That Protest” 23). Such an event also paved the way for both men and women in Egypt to express their yearning for love among one another, regardless of one’s age, class, or gender.

Conclusion

The 20th-century society was conventionally designed in a manner that gave men all powers to dominate women. They were left to make critical decisions on behalf of women even when such verdicts required their (women) input. Instead, regardless of the outcome, females were traditionally obliged to abide by men’s rulings. Nonetheless, as Audre Lorde, “bell hooks”, and Roxane Gay demonstrate, women had similar or even higher potential of performing duties compared to men. Hence, the move to deny them the privilege of accessing education, demanding their sexuality and gender rights, holding high positions in the workplace, or participating as candidates during elections was unwarranted. Such class of people felt oppressed to the extent of referring themselves as second-class citizens who needed to be freed from this bondage. They did not seek to replace men from their positions but to persuade them to create a room for them to participate equally in similar positions. As argued in the paper, the Egyptian Revolution was a move by women not only to liberate themselves from counterproductive practices but also to free men from embracing colonial ideologies that had made them fail to recognize the potential of women in contributing to nation-building.

Works Cited

Das, Raju. A Contribution to the Critique of Contemporary Capitalism: Theoretical and International Perspectives. Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2014.

El Shakry, Omnia. “Rethinking Entrenched Binaries in Middle East Gender and Sexuality Studies.” International Feminist Journal of Politics, vol. 15, no. 1, 2013, pp. 82-87.

Elizabeth, De. “Lorde Explains What Feminism Means to Her.” Teen Vogue, 2017. 

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Gay, Roxane. Bad Feminist: Essays. Harper Perennial, 2014.

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Nelson, Laura. “Everywhere and Nowhere: Contemporary Feminism in the United States.” Social Forces, vol. 94, no. 3, 2016, pp. 1-3.

Phillips, Ruth, and Viviene Cree. “What Does the ‘Fourth Wave’ Mean for Teaching Feminism in Twenty-First Century Social Work?” Social Work Education, vol. 33, no. 7, 2014, pp. 930-943.

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Witt, Lara. “As a Multiracial Woman, This is Why I Need Intersectional Feminism.” Rewire.News, 2016. 

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