'A Girl's Guide To Joining The Resistance' Is the 'Feminist Handbook' Every Woman Needs To Read Right Now
If there were one t-shirt-friendly catchphrase to define 2017, it might just be “a woman’s place is in the resistance.” With the election of Donald Trump mobilizing women not just in every state, but on every continent — and turning the Jan. 21, 2017 Women’s March into the largest protest in U.S. history — women all over the world are wondering how to keep that activist energy high and while serving women (all women) in the most effective ways possible. One brand-new book seeks to answer those questions, and more: A Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance: A Feminist Handbook on Fighting for Good by Emma Gray, out from William Morrow on Feb. 27. It’s a book, Gray writes, “for women and girls who give all the fucks.”
The Executive Women’s Editor at Huffpost, Gray features her own experiences as an advocate for women alongside interviews with some of the most prominent thought leaders and activists marching in the streets (and everywhere else) today. It’s a book to benefit seasoned activists and newcomers alike — offering advice on everything from how to choose good news sources and get quality information, to quick and sustainable ways to call and email elected officials or donate to organizations, to some essential self-care practices for staying involved without burning yourself out.
One key takeaway from A Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance is Gray’s focus on intersectionality — something the Women’s Movement, and all activist movements, could improve on. After all, Gray writes, “feminism without intersectionality is no feminism at all.” In that spirit, check out these nine tips for keeping your feminism intersectional, according to A Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance:
1. Step One: Make sure you actually understand intersectionality.
OK, I know, this might sound a little patronizing. Young women, and especially young activists today, are not new to intersectionality — but time once was this wasn’t the case, at all. Gray writes that the first time she heard the term intersectionality was in college. (I, myself, though fully immersed in a number of activist organizations, didn’t hear the term intersectional for the first time until graduate school.) “Groups of people are not monolithic — our identities overlap and compound in myriad ways,” Gray writes in A Girl’s Guide. “Therefore, when you’re talking about ‘women’ or ‘the LGBTQ community,’ you are talking about groups of people who share some common experiences but many more different ones.”
Essentially, no one person is any one thing, and the issues they care about: from racial discrimination, to equal pay in the workplace, to access to healthcare, and more, are going to be influenced by those intersecting identities. Got it? Alright, I'll stop telling you what you already know. Next tip.
2. Brush up on your history.
It’s fair to say that the Women’s Movement — and, as Gray points out, practically every social movement in history — has a history of struggling with intersectionality. For generations it's been white, straight, cisgender, educated, economically secure women acting as the most-visible symbol for representing all women in the movement. In fact, though organized feminism began at the first Women's Conference in 1848, the actual term “intersectionality” wasn’t first named until the 1980s, by a law professor named Kimberlé Crenshaw who was examining the ways anti-discrimination laws weren’t effectively serving women of color in the workplace. (Even though women’s rights and antislavery activist Sojourner Truth was speaking up about intersectionality, or lack thereof, all the way back in 1851.)
3. Acknowledge “isms” and phobias when you see them, and recognize who they’re benefiting.
All of the “isms” (each with their corresponding biases and phobias) are important in women having the language to easily define who we are and to speak our truths. But at the same time, as Gray points out, “isms” and phobias also serve one common purpose (and not one that benefits women): to divide. As long as women remain divided by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and more, we’re not collectively mobilizing, and it’s easier for patriarchy to remain the rule.
4. Examine the interconnectedness of the issues.
In A Girl's Guide to Joining the Resistance, Gray uses the example of gun-safety activist Lucy McBath, who compared intersectionality to a wheel, wherein each issue affecting girls and women today is a spoke in the same wheel. “Until we’re able to eradicate or work on all these kinds of issues, McBath is quoted, "we’ll never solve one issue. Because they’re all intricately connected.”
5. Take (and make) opportunities for collective action.
Once we clearly understand that, as the organizers of the 2017 Women’s March paraphrased from indigenous Australian women’s artist and activist, Lilla Watson “our liberation is bound in each other’s” we realize we can’t possibly fight for one single issue without fighting for them all. And yes, while fighting for everything from racial equality, to LGBTQ rights, to equal pay, to equal representation of women in politics, and on and on and on, all the time, is hardly sustainable for most of us, it’s still important to seek out opportunities to participate in actions that might not directly benefit you (at least, at first) but that are deeply tied to our collective liberation.
6. Recognize privilege...
...and where that privilege comes from (race, economic opportunities, education, etc.) — and identify the ways that privilege might inform your own activism. Where are your blind spots? What issues do you know little-to-nothing about, but that deeply affect your fellow activists? Are there ways that your privilege directly contributes to the oppression of the woman marching alongside you? Gray writes, "When you are a member of a group whose basic rights and safety are generally protected, it can be easy to ignore that the rights and safety of your fellow citizens are not. This cushion of security can make it seem to some of us like politics is something that can be separated from ourselves and our lives.”
7. Avoid the word “give”.
While expressions like: give women of color a seat at the table, or give Muslim women a voice, or give transgender women safe spaces, etc. are well-intentioned, the mere idea of “giving” someone something you already have and are able to give freely implies privilege. Gray quotes lifelong activist Gloria Steinem, who said: “Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.” Instead of creating activist spaces where power must be given from one specific group and received by another, see if you can instead contribute to forming spaces where power, equality, and voice are implicit to all already. If you need to be a follower sometimes, instead of a leader, gladly follow. Who knows where we might all end up?
8. Look past the most visible leaders of this resistance.
According to A Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance, women are more likely than their male counterparts to write and call Congress, march and protest, and express their intention to get more involved in the coming years. Aka: the women all around you — not just the women standing behind microphones and making headlines — are engaged in this movement in ways you might not even see or know anything about. Recognize that. Maybe even strike up a conversation about it. You’ll definitely learn something you didn’t know before.
9. Recognize that you don't need to know everything.
This is something I'm definitely guilty of — and it’s something Gray makes a point to remind her readers of. It’s easy (at least, it is for me) to feel like not having all the answers makes you look ignorant, disengaged, and careless. But in fact, as Gray writes in A Girl’s Guide, asking questions is essential to intersectionality. Not only do you not have to know everything single thing about every single issue, recognizing those areas where you’re not an expert means you’re also not putting yourself in the position of speaking for others. As Gray writes, “if you have the mic, pass it.”