Privilege is relative.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to an anthropology student about her research. Part of her research included talking to young Arab women who have been able to build an independent life for themselves, free – to some degree – of some of the patriarchal oppressions in our society. Somehow, not surprisingly, the conversation took us to feminism. According to her, these women perceive themselves as feminists. So I explained to her that feminism is not limited to the personal life of a woman. It is not reaching my own freedom from oppression. That is the first step, which takes great courage and often immeasurable strength. But radical feminism doesn’t stop here. For me, personally, radical feminism is continuing the struggle – alongside my sisters – against our collective and systemic oppression as women. To use this privilege – and yes, I perceive myself as privileged in many aspects – and to struggle not “for other women,” but to struggle together with them, for all of us. Of course this is only one aspect of my feminism. Feminism for me is a whole way of life, which identifies different types of oppressions and makes the intricate connections between them, analyzes them from a complex gender and feminist perspective, and struggles to eradicate patriarchal oppressions from the root.
I wrote this initially as a Facebook status, and one of the comments was: “It takes real greatness on your part to see and identify yourself as privileged in the position that you are in within Israeli society.” To be honest, writing down that I am privileged within the local context is not easy. However, privilege is always relative. He was referring to the fact that I am a national minority, and by definition, I am inferior. I can see his point. Of course, my basic rights are trampled upon every day by the mere fact of my being Palestinian. There is systemic state discrimination against me in all fields of life – health, infrastructure, social services, economic opportunities, budgets that go to education, and I can go on and on and on. Yes, and I am part of that struggle for equality and justice, and I deal with this disenfranchisement and discrimination in my writing.
But in this specific example and in this specific context, it was important for me to say that yes, I am privileged. Relatively. How? I speak four languages. Many of my sisters speak only one, and thus considerable information and knowledge is not accessible to them in this state, that doesn’t provide information in our mother tongue, which is also an official language in Israel. (For an article in Ha’aretz on the issue of the Arabic language in public spaces, “Haifa Bus Stops still have no Arabic Signs despite Government Promise,” for which I was interviewed, read here.) I have a Master’s degree in the Humanities. Many Arab women are either not allowed to attend higher education, or it is not accessible to them. I am economically independent. Many Arab women are completely dependent on their spouses or other male family members (more than 70% of Palestinian women in Israel do not participate in the employment market. Not because they don’t want to. Employment is not accessible to them for different reasons, among them infrastructures, lack of employment opportunities in villages, lack of public transportation, lack of day care centers, and others.) I was able to leave a marriage without any fear for my own personal safety. Many women are trapped in abusive marriages with no means of escape. I am able to fulfil myself and work towards achieving my dreams and my personal vision. The dreams and aspirations of many women are stolen and crushed.
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