Girls of Color Define Feminism in Their Own Terms

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Kerly Noisette, Melinda Cardenas, Emily Tiburcio and Janaya Josephs (from left to right).

Credit: Zipporah Osei

Kerly Noisette, Melinda Cardenas, Emily Tiburcio and Janaya Josephs (from left to right).

YONKERS, N.Y. (WOMENSENEWS)– As young women of color, my friends and I would like to find more community within the feminist movement. Recently, I asked five of my friends–all teens of color and strong people–to share their perspectives on feminism in the age of Beyoncé and “Girls.”

1. Where do you go to feel a large feminist presence?

Kerly Noisette, 17, and Emily Tiburcio, 17 (in unison): Tumblr.

Tiburcio: Social media plays a huge, huge role. It’s become a central force in the world, whether it be feminism or not, it’s a platform to advocate and also to meet people who also believe in your cause. You can learn so much from social media. There are articles and videos, there are people who think like you and there are ways to get together, organize and mobilize.

Noisette: I can name so many people–including myself–who became feminists because of what they saw and learned from social media. Social media lets you see something, think “that makes sense to me,” and then gives you the tools to find out more.

Tiburcio: Before Tumblr, I have to admit I just wasn’t aware. I didn’t think of the issues of women or the issues of anything, really. Tumblr was definitely the first step towards educating myself.

Jaylene Mejia, 16: Tumblr was my first step too. For me it was the pictures and the photographs more so than the articles that got me interested. It’s hard to turn away when you can see protests and riots and pictures of struggling. Like for example, Tumblr was where first saw pictures of the SlutWalk.

Noisette: Social media is definitely the biggest force in my life but there’s also television and magazines like Rookie Mag–mass media in general.

Melinda Cardenas, 17: I have some great, socially aware friends so I go to them to feel a large feminist presence. Conversations discussing gender, sexuality, sexism and race are crucial to learning about and recognizing that certain issues exist.

2. Can you think of some real-life examples of the exclusion of women of color from the feminist movement?

Mejia: People keep trying to push Beyoncé out of feminism. They say she’s “oversexual” but at the same time they welcome people like Miley Cyrus as a feminist icon for embracing her sexuality. Whether the feminist community does it purposefully or not, they embrace white women as icons much more readily than women of color.

Tiburcio: Exclusion happens all the time in the media. Lena Dunham’s show “Girls” is hugely feminist but there isn’t a single woman of color starring in that show. What does that say about the feminist community? That women of color aren’t feminists or that they aren’t important enough in the community to be represented?

Noisette: I always notice how when we talk about feminism and the history of it we mention women like Susan B. Anthony but not Angela Davis or Audre Lorde.

3. Who are some of your feminist icons?

Noisette: Beyoncé. She’s someone that I look up to.

Tiburcio: Amandla Stenberg. She’s someone I can really relate to in the feminist movement. She’s young, she’s black and she sees the side of feminism that a lot of mainstream feminists don’t talk about.

Mejia: I really admire the way [Stenberg] presents her views through social media because it’s relatable and accessible.

4. What advice would you give to other teens of color about finding a place within the feminist community?

Mejia: There’s a place for you in the feminist community even if it means creating your own place.

Janaya Josephs, 16: I voice my opinions through art but there are others ways to get involved . . . Voice opinions on a blog, join or start a feminist club at school and attend events wherever you are. The important thing is to stay connected.

Tiburcio: I would tell them that they aren’t alone. There’s always someone else out there that thinks and feels the way you do because this is a universal struggle so they can take comfort in that.

Noisette: In the words of my favorite history teacher, “Raise your voices because they can’t ignore you if you get louder.”

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