I’m Tired of Performative Feminism
I recently had the opportunity to speak in front of roughly 150 people about empowerment. In this talk, I dispelled the myth that ‘empowerment’ is a catch phrase or buzzword we use because it sounds cool or because it’s a good way to showcase your feminism. I discussed the need for women to show up to the table and engage in doing the work required to actually empower women.
I spent that weekend discussing the lack of intersectionality in fitness with women who are actually doing the work to approach fitness and feminism through an intersectional lens. I sat on a panel that was one of the most intentionally inclusive panels I have ever seen, and thought to myself, ‘this is what true empowerment looks like.’
I wrote about this topic previously in a blog entitled, “The Truth About Empowerment.” However, now more than ever, I feel the need to delve even deeper into this topic. After witnessing the reactions of people on social media following the Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh hearing, two things became glaringly apparent to me:
1. The majority of health and fitness professionals couldn’t care less about matters of social justice.
2. People are far more willing to show support when white women are at the center.
It’s puzzling that so many fitness professionals and brands can claim they ‘empower’ women to feel great in their skin or to show up powerfully in their lives while completely ignoring issues of social justice or considering the fact that matters of health are intertwined with matters of social justice. Empowering women is not just about exercise, fat loss, nutrition, and food freedom.
In fact, it goes far beyond that. Race affects everything. Politics affects everything. White supremacy affects everything. You can’t empower women without recognizing and addressing all the issues that affect women. The mental health, emotional health, and overall well-being of women are directly affected by all of these issues.
Empowerment is only as powerful as it is inclusive.
The use of the word ‘empowerment’ is only as powerful as the actions behind it. Wearing a shirt that says ‘girl gang’ or ‘empowered women empower women’ means nothing if you aren’t actually showing up for all women – not just the ones who look like you. If you aren’t willing to consistently show up for the difficult and messy conversations and elevate the voices of the marginalized, your words are meaningless.
I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. – Audre Lorde.
If you’re more concerned about showing before and after fat loss pictures, promoting your newest YouTube video, or rolling out your new spring collection of apparel with trendy ‘empowering’ quotes than talking about issues that are affecting the women you claim to ‘empower’, I call bullshit.
Not only is your feminism and empowerment performative, it’s insulting.
It’s fake. It’s phony. You’re co-opting an entire movement without doing the work. Women of color and the trans community live in the bodies that are most affected by the patriarchy, while you yell, ‘girl power’ for likes and follows. You show up for National Women’s Day posting a pic in the power pose and throw up an inspirational quote under it to show your solidarity – fake solidarity. To make matters worse, you only show up when it’s convenient – when the Charlottesville or Dr. Ford situations occur – when remaining quiet looks too bad. But your silence when black and brown women are at the center of pain is deafening.
I realize everyone won’t share this sentiment, but who cares if you have a large social media following if you aren’t using it to create change in the world? It’s so disappointing to see large brands and influencers choosing to remain silent. Silence is complicity, and it maintains the status quo. If we aren’t willing to get uncomfortable and rock the boat, particularly when you have privilege and influence, I can assure you, we will forever be dealing with the same issues. If you care more about appeasing strangers on the internet than empowering women, you are part of the problem.
You claim to empower women while everyone in your circle looks just like you. Your social media is a highlight reel of your latest workout, puppies, and lattes without ever taking even a second in your day to address the real issues affecting women every day – issues like racism, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, fatphobia, immigration, and white supremacy, just to name a few.
I can promise you that the women you claim to serve and empower are affected by these issues. The women you claim to serve have experienced sexual assault, homophobia, misogyny, racism, ageism, and so much. In fact, they experience these things regularly, so by remaining silent on these issues, you communicate to them that you don’t care.
It was great to see so many women showing up to support Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, but why are so many white women only showing up when white women are at the center of the pain? A couple of months ago, I, along with so many black women and girls in this country, grieved the death of Nia Wilson, while noticing the silence of so many women who claim to be ‘intersectional’ feminists.
Where is this righteous anger when trans women are being murdered, especially when an overwhelming number of them are women of color. Where was it when Nia was murdered? Where was it when Sandra Bland was murdered while in police custody? Where is this energy when we are fighting injustices such as mass incarceration and immigration policies that affect black and brown people every day?
It’s tiring seeing white women show up to say ‘smash the patriarchy’ without acknowledging that white supremacy and the patriarchy go hand in hand. White supremacy and the patriarchy are inextricably intertwined. You cannot end the patriarchy without ending white supremacy. You can’t condemn white men as the problem without addressing the role of white women in white supremacy. You can’t disavow the benefits you receive from the system of white supremacy.
Instead of just yelling, ‘smash the patriarchy’ the next time another Dr. Ford situation surfaces, make it a practice to be yelling, ‘end white supremacy’ in your everyday life. If you really want to dismantle white supremacy and the patriarchy, it means people have to be willing to relinquish power and privilege. Are folks really willing to do that? By the looks of what I see on social media, I don’t think most people are willing to.
I could write you an entire manual on how to actually stand with women and truly empower them, but instead of that, I’m just going to offer you three actionable steps you can put into practice today:
- Use your voice
Choosing silence is a copout. If you are refusing to include social justice in your business and platforms because of fear of negative feedback from your followers, be honest with yourself. You aren’t concerned about empowering women. You are preoccupied with your follower count, remaining comfortable, and lining your pockets with money from the hands of bigots.
One of the common excuses I hear from people is that they don’t know how to talk about these issues. I included this excuse along with a bunch of others in a previous article I wrote HERE. That excuse just doesn’t cut it anymore. Sharing other people’s words is the simplest of solutions. Secondly, maybe it’s time to start educating yourself. How long can you really use that excuse?
The most interesting thing is that the same people who will choose silence will be appalled that ‘these things are still happening in 2018’. You can’t fight in silence. In the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Silence is complicity, and it changes nothing. Decide today to use your voice. Don’t choose silence when the women you claim to empower are hurting.
2. Support organizations and fitness professionals that are doing the work to be inclusive and intersectional in their empowerment.
I no longer support brands or fitness professional who choose to remain silent or refuse to operate through an intersectional lens. As a black woman, if someone can’t be bothered with true intersectional feminism, they aren’t concerned about me so I would I spend my money with them or lend them any of my resources or support?
Put your money where your mouth is. This is one of the best ways to hold people accountable short of just straight up calling them out. I cancel people on the regular, and I feel zero shame or guilt about it. When and if people exhibit a true change in their behavior through continued and consistent actions, I’m happy to reinstate them.
Support organizations who are actually doing the work and organizations run by women of color. Some of my favorite organizations to support are Women’s Strength Coalition, Fear Her Fight Athletics, Girls Gone Strong, Sisters of Powerlifting, Black Girl Pilates, Chocolate Bar Podcast, GRRRL Clothing, and Smart Fit Girls.
3. Embrace the discomfort.
Yes, there is a level of discomfort that accompanies this. But guess what, comfort is overrated. I encourage you to lean into the discomfort because showing up for other women is more important than your personal comfort. On the other side of discomfort, we find the ability to show up powerfully in our lives and do hard things.
If you can ignore many of the things happening and stay in your bubble, then I encourage you to consider how much privilege you have. The greater the privilege, the greater the responsibility.
When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.
– Audre Lorde.
Our collective voices have so much power to create change in the world. It’s easy to see when your personal rights are being infringed. It’s time to broaden our perspective and consider how the rights of women around us are being infringed every day. Our liberation is bound to one another. It’s time to hold space and stand together. The days of sitting by the sidelines in silence are over.
Now, more than ever, the world needs us to show up, to put our privilege on the line, and to use our voices to spread awareness. At the end of my life when I look back over my time on earth, I will know that I will cared more about the impact I made than the money I made by choosing comfort and complicity.
I’m challenging you to be choose to be on the right side of history. If empowering women is truly your jam, I’m challenging you to think critically about the way you are showing up. I’m challenging you to live your life through an intersectional lens. I challenging you to use your voice and your platform to end white supremacy and the patriarchy. I’m challenging you to actually empower women – in consistent action and deed, not just words.
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