by Lily Bolourian
Bolourian is an undergraduate student at George Mason University in Virginia where she co-founded the student group Patriots for Choice. She currently serves as a fellow for the Obama campaign and is a proud Maryland native. You can find her being silly at heygirlitsbarackobama.tumblr.com, heygirlitsthecomebackteam.tumblr.com, and ranting on Twitter @LilyOutLoud.
The 2004 March for Women’s Lives was sort of the bat signal for all pro-choice people and their allies to, quite literally, rise to the cause of abortion rights on demand and without apology. I was 13 and at the awkward stage at the end of middle school where conformity was beginning to fall out of style and finding one’s self was starting to become the rage. Well, I knew who I was – at least, somewhat. I was the youngest daughter of Persian immigrants who came to this country before the Iranian revolution in search of something more. That romantic story of parents in pursuit of a better life for their children in coming to this nation is one you will hear time and again when speaking over coffee to first generation children of immigrants. Indeed, the story rings true for me. A march for the lives of women in Iran would go very differently than it did in DC in ’04. For that I have this deep-seated patriotism and pride for this nation that, despite all of the recent rollbacks in reproductive rights and all of the frustration I feel for having to continually fight the same fights of our feminist fore-sisters, I cannot shake.
Though I took many a hit for proudly labeling myself “feminist” in high school – quickly learning that women’s liberation wasn’t as cool as beer bongs on Friday nights – I continued on in my social activism. Indeed, I helped organize LGBT days of silence in my high school, co-organized a concert raising money for refugees in Darfur, and even tried to organize a concert raising money for pro-choice efforts (not realizing at 16 that abortion rights issues were highly contentious). It was not until I entered college, ecstatic with the prospect of becoming involved on a much higher level, with like-minded individuals, that feminism wasn’t the fluffy paradise I dreamed about. The feminist movement has talked about inclusion for a long time but has categorically failed at doing just that. At the highest levels of feminist organizations, sit comfortably older white women. On stages of conferences, mostly cisgender, straight, and able-bodied white women talk to masses of more mostly white women, with trickles of people of color, about the importance of inclusion. Feminists ought to be ashamed of themselves and the movement that they claim for its tokenism in place of inclusion. Feminists ought to be ashamed of themselves for kicking intersectionality down the road by introducing a person of color to headline a conference or two every few years then feeling satisfied with themselves. Every so often, a new feminist star is born. That feminist star is rarely of color, but said person almost always speaks of the importance of people of color in the feminist movement. What will it take for feminists to start walking the walk? And no, not on the backs of your sisters of color. You have done that for long enough, don’t you think?
After all of this, amazingly, I continue to identify, and fiercely, as a feminist and I do believe deeply in this movement. But my access to it is stifled. As it is in everyday life and in this mixed-up society, women of color have to work that much harder to receive the same benefits, to be viewed on the same playing field, as our white counterparts. I expect more out of feminism. Older feminist leaders eventually pass the baton to younger feminists, but less often to those of color. Maybe white feminist leaders need to begin to check their privilege at the door and help a sister out or stop with the pro-equality rhetoric. Because, for the most part, up until this point, it has been a whole lot of talk and much less action.
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