Originally published by CANTA magazine
Who really benefits from feminism? Not BBIPOC, fat, disabled, gender diverse, poor, LGBTQ+ and other marginalised groups. Feminism on its own is extremely exclusive of anyone who isn’t the societal ideal of a female. In order to try and tackle this, the idea of intersectionality is pulled into the picture. Intersectionality can be an answer to creating inclusivity, except when those who are the least marginalised don’t know how to step back and listen.
I recently spoke on a panel on Intersectional Feminism run on campus. In short, it wasn’t a great time. It was actually really shit. The vibes were unsettled from the beginning when some suggested questions were on random Māori topics not relating to the panel and when I was asked if I wanted to do a karakia after the food had already been served. Instances like this continued when white panellists would add to our points as if they could speak from an Indigenous lens or reiterate our kōrero after we spoke as if to ‘whitesplain’ what we already said. The crowd recognised the discomfort of myself and another panellist, and eventually, two wāhine challenged the racism and disregard for Māori throughout the panel. After their kōrero, the other BBIPOC panellists and I spoke about how we felt in that space. We were acknowledged for our vulnerability and for making others aware of our experiences, but we didn’t need a response. We just needed to be heard. The panel was expected to continue, but this was not a safe space for us, and it needed to be closed.
This is a real-life example of how marginalised voices are treated in feminist spaces.
Marginalised voices deserve support and ally-ship in order for these discussions to be safe and inclusive. So many things are not helpful in these spaces, but there are plenty of things that are. Like the below:
1. Shut up and listen
A common micro-aggression I have seen is when privileged people speak after marginalised people to say they agree with them and to recap what was said. We don’t need your validation. What was said was enough; just listen.
2. Amplify the voices that need to be heard
The best way to be an ally is to uplift the voices of people at the centre of the issue. This isn’t the time to have your opinion or to try and make yourself look good. Marginalised people can speak for themselves without the need for others to speak on behalf of them. Follow the activists, share their content, and expose people to their voices. If you don’t know where to start, here are a few Instagram handles of people who should be heard; @hello.wahine @pori.mahmah @shaneellall @briannafruean @nope.thank.you.very.much @lourdes.vano @saf_te_pia
3. Compensate people for their mahi
Oftentimes, marginalised people are expected to do activism work for free. Not only does it drain a person physically and emotionally, but it can also impact the amount of time they have available to work and earn money. As a Māori, it can be exhausting to constantly defend my right to exist as I am. This isn’t me asking for cash in hand, but more so asking people to recognise the energy it takes to do any mahi around your own oppressions. If you don’t know how to pay someone, ask them.
4. Recognise your own privilege
The key is to decentre yourself from the issue if it doesn’t impact you. Although I face some oppressions, I know that others face different struggles than I do. I am cis-gendered and straight, so LGBTQ+ spaces are not mine to speak in. Instead, I uplift the voices that need to be heard. I am privileged to be in tertiary education, live in a warm house, and be able-bodied. In some spaces, my voice should be heard. In others, it’s not my place. Recognising when to step back allows others to be centred.
If while reading this article your feelings got hurt or you felt angry, uncomfortable, called out or annoyed, then sit with that feeling. Ask yourself why you feel that way and dissect the reasons behind it. I haven’t revealed any new information that isn’t already out there, so if this is the first time you’ve heard any of these, you need to diversify your life. Look at your Instagram feed, the businesses you buy from, your friend circle and beyond. Are there fat BBIPOC on your feed? Does that clothing store carry anything above a size 24? Is the owner of that business LGBTQ+ inclusive all year round or just in Pride Month? Deconstruct your biases and look outside of your own life. In short, listen, amplify marginalised voices, pay people for their mahi, and decentre yourself.
A Māori wāhine who has had enough x
*I am one person speaking from my own lived experiences. I do not speak on behalf of all Māori wāhine.
** Being an ally goes further than what I have offered above. Do your own research around ways to support marginalised groups.
Written by Ngawahine Thomson (she/her/ia)