Book Review: ‘Can We All Be Feminists?’, edited by June Eric-Udorie

‘Can We All Be Feminists?’, edited by June Eric-Udorie

‘Western Women did not export feminism to African women, as some anti-feminist African men might tell you; African women were resisting colonial violence and subverting familiar patriarchies before white women began fighting for suffrage.’ (‘Afro-Diasporic Feminism’, Zoé Samudzi)

I

grew up with a mother, who would consider herself to be a staunch feminist. The problem with my mum’s, and, by extension, my feminism, is that it is a very limited, white, European, middle class version of a much larger ideology. This limitation on our world-view and our feminism has been caused by various factors; my interactions with non-white women in real life and online, however, have prompted to me reevaluate my stance, and have driven me educate myself on the matter.

While I have read some literature on intersectional feminism before, and while most of it was extremely insightful, ‘Can We All Be Feminist’ has touched and influenced me in ways that other sources have not managed to. The book consists of 17 essays by 17 writers, all of them marginalised, excluded, or discriminated against by more factors than being women (and cis gender). A welcome factor was that the essays were not just based on cases and experiences in the USA, but there were a good number of texts that focused on the UK (where I live) as well, which made them much more directly relatable to me.

All of the essays were unique yet global. Unique in the sense that it is rare to hear from a black, queer, immigrant woman, for example; universal in the sense that her lived experiences account for the ones of thousands of other women just like her. I, as a straight, white, cis woman, felt touched by all of the essays. I underlined and bookmarked passages in each and every one of them. There was so much to learn, so much to uncover. The essays are intimate, honest, brutal, and unflinching. Some of them made me feel hopeless and helpless, others called me directly to action.

It has always been easy for me to consider myself to be a feminist, since the predominant discourse revolves around me and my needs. I have friends and family members, who are not white or European, however, and who are (justly) skeptical about the movement and I have always lacked the knowledge and vocabulary to discuss the issue properly. This book has definitely helped me cultivate the vocabulary needed to adequately talk through the issues at hand, both with non-white people, but also, and most especially, with white women.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to white feminists, because it helps us understand and see where this vital movement (which is supposed to fight for gender equality for all people) is erring. I would definitely hand this book to skeptical non-white women who struggle with the predominantly European / Western influences and discourse that dominate feminism. And I would absolutely entreat men (especially the apprehensive ones) to read this book, because it offers a glimpse into the world that is female, non-white, often preposterously religious, patriarchal, racist, discriminatory, oppressive, and more. Men, read this book and start to understand women (and especially non-white women) better. We need you to.

‘Feminism is still blind to racial injustice, and in its blindness is undermining its very integrity as a movement centred on dismantling structures of oppression.’ (‘Imperial Feminism’, Afua Hirsch)