Of feminism from the hood

May 3, 2020

Mikki Kendall’s new book should be read by all those who think they know how feminism works — and those who do not

Mikki Kendall’s book, Hood Feminism begins building its narrative for the reader from the text on the cover: accurately subtitled, Notes From The Women White Feminists Forgot, the book is structured along the premise of exploring the existence of inclusivity within the paradigm of feminism in America, or wherever white privilege subsists. While the top of the cover quotes Elizabeth Gilbert wishing that every white feminist reads Kendall’s book, the bottom carries a sticker from Pandora Sykes, suggesting, every woman should read it.

The thing about the feminism discourse is, it has restructured several times and in different dimensions. This evolution, where it has helped re-mould and redefine the socio-political construct of feminism according to the ethnicity and regional connect of the people redefining it, has still marginalised various realities, othering the very populace that requires inclusivity more than before. Kendall’s book does not bother questioning feminists or women of privilege and of power, where their ideals of inclusivity lie, she rather puts forth her essays replete with biographical anecdotes from her life before she goes on to quote examples from her community, and the hood in a larger perspective, to answer that question herself, in a writing style that is honest, robust and conversational enough to exude the whiff of personal experience.

She calls out her allies and accomplices for being tone-deaf, for clapping from the sidelines for a victim who reports harassment and loses a lot in the process, for not making space for women of colour for issues that involve them alone – “Bringing about Feminist changes will only be truly possible if mainstream feminism works to combat discrimination in all its forms, from gender to class and race.” (P46)

Kendall minces no words. She writes of racism, a struggle she has to engage in, along with the men from her community. She writes of the perils of hunger, the absence of the right to own a house, the shaming of women for their body types, the hyper-sexualised literary and screen narratives of marginalised women that lead to typecasting in media and sexual abuse in social realities.

In addition to these issues, Kendall speaks of gun violence as an un-probed area within the folds of feminism, since her statistics quote a larger number of women losing their lives due to gun violence as compared to men; a larger number of girls dropping out of school for fear of having to walk a street prone to gun violence among other threats et cetera. Her words ring loud and clear when one connects her argument with the reports of murders and domestic violence against women coming out of abusive households during the lockdown of Covid-19, globally.

Kendall discredits the notion of privilege within the discourse and fold of feminism, whether it be coming from women higher in economic status or social. The hierarchal nature of social constructs does not apply to feminism, in Kendall’s thesis. She writes, “When Feministic rhetoric is rooted in biases like racism and Islamophobia, it automatically works against marginalised women and against any concept of solidarity. It is not enough to know that other women with different experiences exist, you must also understand that they have their own Feminism formed by that experience.” (P7)

Kendall writes of the perils of hunger, the absence of the right to own a house, the shaming of women for their body types, the hyper-sexualised literary and screen narratives of marginalised women.

She does mention marginalised communities in the USA – Muslims, the transgendered, the physically challenged, the immigrants – but she owns not getting to write about them in detail since those are not her stories to tell, thus reinforcing within her textual expression, the theory of personal realities understood and known only by the people who are living them, an idea Kendall projects throughout her book.

To further both the loops of discussion from the beginning of this review regarding the narrative-building of the book cover of Hood Feminism, and inclusivity that Kendall discusses at large in her book, the essentiality for the book to be read in Pakistan, is not only for those actively engaged in working on-ground to pursue a feminist ideology to make it more acceptable before making it mainstream, but also those who have spent more energy in misunderstanding the discourse of feminism relative to the Pakistani society, where the issues that Kendall discusses in her book are very much the struggles an average Pakistani woman experiences every day. Kendall speaks of economic hardship, which women are more susceptible to than men, because they are neither the owners of houses, or automobiles that they might be using even, or the easy access to food since women do not earn their money or are not equipped to do so.

Kendall talks of her own stories of abuse and a difficult life, which gives credence to her arguments since her data is as empirical as it is subjective and written with familiarity to the women she relates with. It is relative to a woman of colour living in America or anywhere in the world where a non-white woman would be identified as a POC. Kendall’s narrative is applicable to societies and sub-cultures where women are secondary to men in private and social setups. These women have to stand up to a different set of prejudices in every facet of their lives based on their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social status, economic (in)stability, educational limitations and competitiveness in career goals, as well as the right to reproduce. The list of these variables goes on. The eighteen essays Kendall has put together put forth eighteen new key-words to be explored and inserted in the inclusive edition of feminism she advocates. The book must be read by every white woman who calls herself a feminist. It must be read by every woman, too. It must also be read by every member of the society irrespective of their gender who think they have an understanding of how feminism works. It must also be read by those who do not think so.

In the first essay on Solidarity, Mikki Kendall writes, “Sisterhood is a mutual relationship between equals. And as anyone with sisters can tell you, it is not uncommon for sisters to fight or hurt each other’s feelings. But as adults, as people who are doing hard work, you cannot expect your feelings to be the center of someone else’s struggle… the most realistic approach to solidarity is that sometimes it simply isn’t your turn to be the focus of the conversation.” (P7)

Hood Feminism

Author: Mikki Kendall

Publisher: Viking

Pages: 288

Price: US$18.99

The writer has authored two books of fiction, including Unfettered Wings: Extraordinary  Stories of Ordinary Women

Of feminism from the hood