BOOK REVIEW: 'Feminism Is', An Honest Account Of What Feminism Looks Like Today

Our lived experiences are all unique contributions to this ongoing conversation.
Pan Macmillan South Africa.
Pan Macmillan South Africa.
Pontso Mabena/ HuffPost SA

I recently finished reading "Feminism Is", a collection of essays from South Africans who have added their voices to the discourse regarding the various feminisms and the barriers of inclusion and exclusion that exist within the numerous feminist formations.

It is a relatable collection of voices that are both personal and honest, dealing with the realities and complexities that feminists are faced with in South Africa today, and an all-round celebration of what it means to say one is a feminist and how important these relationships are for those who have known no home other than this.

I did an informal survey the other day, asking friends what they thought of feminism - both as a doing word - but also theoretically speaking. And *crickets*, nobody engaged me on this, which I found interesting considering the fact that I knew many of them to be self-proclaimed feminists and others who live their lives as such. None had responded by the time of me writing this.

This certainly took me back and speaks to the stigma around the word "feminist", which is something I would have thought would be a non-issue, with my generation at least. Nancy Richards explores this in her essay "Feminism on paper, feminism in practice", where she writes about how -isms are generally denoted as negative.

I've been mulling this over and I think the silence from my friends could also be attributed to how feminist circles - especially on the interwebs - have often been unsafe spaces for many of us, spaces where we're not able to speak (and live out) our truths without worrying about being snatched or "dragged for filth".

Perhaps it's become a bit tricky for us to engage each other [openly] without feeling like anything you say could potentially be used against you - or to exclude you.

This book couldn't have come at a better time, a time when we're all grappling with the fast-changing world and different rules of engagement, as well as the general self-absorbtion of the culture that has been adopted as a way of life.

Feminismhas allowed me the opportunity to take a cab ride into myself and excavate some of the thoughts I have had on what community means and what love looks like outside of the familial and romantic tags. It has also answered some of the long-standing questions I have had about what it means to say you are ready to do the work of educating those who are interested to learn, while also wanting to ensure that you respect yourself enough to take time out for self-care. Is there a balance that I can strike between the two?

Haji Mohamed Dawjee's essay, "Feminism is the noisy protest and the quiet struggle" sums it up perfectly, by emphasising that "there is no cookie-cutter feminism. It does not only look like one thing." This resonated with me, feminism should be intersectional and inclusive. We need to allow ourselves the grace of being kinder to ourselves, give ourselves the chance to unlearn some of the habits we have picked up as a result of our upbringing and free ourselves from performing the roles society has dictated to us.

It is okay to not have it all figured out, and to work our way toward becoming humans actually being - present, aware, engaged - in our lives and in writing the narrative of our lives. This is an exciting time to be alive and it gives me immense joy that we are having open, cross-generational conversations about what feminism means today, unlearning and learning from each other in this journey of doing life together.

Feminism to me is an acceptance of the truth that I do not know it all, that our lived experiences are all unique contributions to this ongoing conversation.


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