feminist of the week: ayanda masilela
Name: Ayanda Masilela
Occupation: Graduate Student
Location: Blacksburg, Virginia, United States
Describe yourself in one word: Patient
What is your feminist philosophy?
Feminism is a means of criticising past and present power structures as vehicles of domination. It is an investigation into the origins of inequality, whether through sexism, racism, classism, or theism.
Feminism can benefit everyone… not only have women and children been limited in their mobility as a result of old (patriarchal) thought paradigms; men have not benefitted equally from them, either.
The current challenge of the feminist movement is encouraging minority and lower class men to understand that dominance over women does not equate an individual with the status of the most privileged men.
Why is feminism important in today’s world?
Feminism is important because it is a new way of thinking. Religion and philosophies rooted in the concept that women are the source of all the world’s woes have been central to political and economic discourse. But the world is still screwed up.
Men and women alike continue to be enslaved, starved, and forced into armed conflict. Even those who are lucky enough to have not been born into such severe conditions still struggle to establish a good quality of life. Income inequality continues to shatter nations, including our own. Old and current philosophies are fundamentally based on inequality, the inferiority of women and children especially.
It is time to change the formula.
For the first time, we have a philosophy that hasn’t been based on or hijacked by those who are dominant in the social hierarchy, and the movement has continued to grow. Diversity within the feminist movement has expanded over the past four decades as more have found a place where they do not need permission from a dominant force to partake in a political forum. Thinking from outside the old paradigms that perpetuate inequality is the only way to overcome the challenges that the world faces today.
What is the most important feminist cause in your life?
Women’s health has been of major interest to me over the years. In this country [USA], there is a misconception that every woman has equal access to the world’s greatest health care. Yet the US ranks among the worst in westernised nations in terms of maternal injury, death, premature birth, and low birth weight babies. Stratification is especially apparent among historically subjugated minority groups, namely American Indians and Blacks.
Class inequities also exist across all ethnic and racial groups. Confronting challenges to health care access and deployment among the rural and poor (yes, rural minority communities exist) will be the basis of my work as I carry out my current research projects and plan for future employment.
When did you have your feminist awakening?
It was during my second year of my undergraduate degree when I came to understand the feminist movement through issues of LGBTQIA rights. I found a philosophy that was inclusive of those who have been demonised by old paradigms.
From there, my understanding of feminist philosophies expanded into issues of immigration (I am a first generation American), racism, class, and segregation. For the first time, I found a community and philosophy that was inclusive of me, my family, and friends in spite of our minority status.
What would have to change before men and women achieved true equality?
To be blunt, old institutions of patriarchal dominance will have to die, and they are. As the Catholic Church and other patriarchal institutions humiliate themselves with sex scandals and lose favour with an increasingly socially conscious public, their most oppressive philosophies will go with them. What will fill the philosophical vacuum will ideally be political, economic, and social beliefs that place human dignity and self-determination above profit and self-validating dominance.
What’s your advice to other feminists?
Cultivate allies. Do not alienate or avoid those who may disagree with you on a few issues.
Vote. How else do you think Elizabeth Warren and Wendy Davis got into office?
Do not fall into sexist traps. You as a feminist must critique your own beliefs as well as the beliefs of others. Read up on reflexivity when you have a minute. Alienating men is not the goal of feminism. Alienation on the basis of sex is, well, sexism.
Be inclusive, especially among the transgendered community. Not all women were born anatomically female, but that does not mean that they are not worthy of love and support from feminist causes. Feminism is about equality, and we ought to practice what we preach regardless of the biological sex or gender presentation of the people in question.
Embrace intersectionality. Inequality manifests differently for people across races, classes, sexes and genders. Familiarise yourself with the struggles of those who are different from you, and you may find insights on how to improve your life and the lives of those around you.
Volunteer, even if not in distinctly feminist ventures. Contributing your time to your community benefits everyone and is personally enriching. It is a great opportunity to network and make yourself visible to people in your neighborhood.
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