Regular readers will have noticed that in recent months, Feministing has brought in a number of new contributors: Ariel, Jos, Lori, Rose and myself. No doubt you’re getting to know them by reading their posts and engaging with their ideas in the comments section, but I also suspect that you might want to know a little more about these wonderful women (I know I do!). Over the last few weeks, I’ve been interviewing my fellow new contributors so that you and I can get to know them a little better. This week, last but not least, I interviewed Rose Afriyie.
Rose is a first generation Ghanaian American who grew up in the Bronx and the Poconos. She got her B.A. at the University of Pittsburgh and is now at the University of Michigan pursuing her Masters in Public Policy, focusing on Science, Technology and Public Policy. Rose is particularly interested in sexuality and in how racial and gender inequities affect access to technology and, in turn, in participation in civic life. She has worked as an organizer with NOW and before she joined the Feministing crew this September, her writing was published in The Chicago Tribune and in her college paper, where she was a sex columnist, which officially makes her the coolest older sister ever (she’s one of five siblings).
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Rose Afriyie.
Chloe Angyal: How did you become involved with feminist activism and writing, and with Feministing specifically?
Rose Afriyie: I started blogging when I went to Europe last summer, just a small travel blog, writing about what I’d seen and experienced there, because I wanted to have a record of it. And I’d been writing in the college newspaper about sexual health for most of my college career. For me, writing has always been about trying to address, in some way, shape or form, a political question. And the political questions have become clearer as my feminism and political identity has become more developed. But, writing for me is about being able to share some sort of truth that I’m experiencing, or that I feel women are experiencing, or that my community is experiencing. I think it’s just a natural thing to want to talk about the things that have happened to you and that have changed you, and to want to see if other people have had the same experience.
Feministing I totally credit to Samhita. I definitely was that young organizer who stole a few minutes everyday to see what was going on and to see what feminists thought was important that day. When I met Samhita this past summer, she was just half-woman, half-amazing. She has this gripping, hardcore analysis on race and on gender. I also learned a lot from her about the Internet and gender. From that experience, I started blogging on the community site, and I started blogging a lot more. The rest is history, I guess. Suddenly I’ve got this platform, and I’m just so thankful and blessed to have met Samhita, and also to have gotten to know the other badass editors, like Ann and Miriam.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine?
RA: Dorothy from The Wiz. It’s such a fascinating story of feminism. This woman is travelling around the world – this alternate view of the world, that is – to get back home. Not to get back up under some man, but to get back to her aunt, to her uncle, to her family. And to lead a group of male characters who apparently are lost. It’s this idea that this woman is going to lead everybody home. The feminism in that story cannot be disputed.
CA: Who are your heroines in real life?
RA: Every woman who’s ever survived violence is a heroine in my book. And even those who haven’t survived violence – the ones who are enduring injustice every day and are living to tell about it, who are willing to speak their testimony, are my heroes. My mom is a huge heroine to me. I don’t tell her this stuff, and she doesn’t go online that much, so she might not find out unless I tell her about it, but, hands down, my mom is my hero. She has provided for her kids and has made sacrifices for us in ways that really humble me. It’s powerful — the things women have done to be able to invest in the next generation. I think that’s heroic too. And I think it’s hard because feminism is about a kind of equality that doesn’t always look like investment in the next generation. But I think that it’s equally heroic to pursue this hybrid type of equality. So that’s why, yes, people who have endured sexism and have lived to tell about it are heroes, but so are those people who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that women like me can make different choices.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
RA: What has really been on my mind is the Stupak amendment, and what that says about how negotiable women’s rights are, and what a low priority they are. It’s not that I think, for a second, that it wasn’t going to be imminently dealt with in the Senate. It’s about the idea that so many different political actors – Democratic political actors – completely disregard the national constituency of women in America. When I heard about the amendment, I was in a state of political paralysis for days. I can’t even really express how upset I was about it, about the fact that Democrats could cheer with that kind of amendment in healthcare reform. That’s how completely inconsequential women’s rights are. And what does that say about the state of feminism right now, that the amendment could make it in this bill? That everything else could be more important than this? I’m not even an abortion-means-everything kind of person, but what does it mean that this bill could pass to deafening applause, with this restriction in there, without bothering so many people who call themselves pro-choice?
CA: What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge facing feminism today?
RA: I have two roles to play in this. There’s what I observe in the movement and there’s who I challenge myself to be as a feminist.
For the movement: I think we need to gain more control over how the term feminism is framed. It’s really hard to get media coverage that doesn’t make the housewife and the head of Planned Parenthood polar opposites. It’s really hard to try to embrace complexity, and to try to talk about feminism as a complex strand of beliefs about equality, where many different women have different perspectives about what that looks like. I know that feminism isn’t racial justice but I think it’s really telling that lots of folk will be able to tell you a little bit about Martin Luther King. They’ll be able to tell you a little bit about the Panther party or Malcolm X. And now they’ll be able to tell you about Barack Obama. So the Civil Rights movement has all these people factored into this perspective about what racial justice might look like. But feminism doesn’t have that in a way that’s akin to mainstream recognition. In the eyes of many, it’s not a huge space for all these equally legitimate perspectives to exist. And I think that’s a really big challenge that has to be addressed.
For myself personally: It is about challenging myself to model feminist practices in my everyday life. It’s about balancing feminist lobbying with feminist living. It is clear to me that while I am still marginalized in many ways, I am privileged. It’s important for me to utilize any newly acquired privileges, especially on the education front, to fully undertake the project of building a feminist romantic partnership and ultimately a feminist family. That’s not to say that I am naïve about the constraints of the work-world. Obviously, work/family balance and economic justice policies will do much to facilitate any feminist family structure I stand a chance of sustaining in the long run. But I have agency. It’s true that feminism takes a lot of hits when anti-woman lawmakers write us out of healthcare reform, but feminism also takes hits when I entertain an ain’t-shit, anti-equality male partner long past his expiration date. I have a part to play in advocating for equality in my relationships and remembering that I can show someone feminism much better than I can tell them about it.
CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you take?
RA: I’m going to take fufu and soup, which is a Ghanaian food. I’ll also take pineapple juice and Patron – that’s all I drink! The feminist that I want to bring is a Ghanaian feminist, a pugnacious feminist, but you’ve gotta have folks like this in your corner. Her name was Yaa Asantewaa. She was an Ashanti Queen Mother who led a famous rebellion against the British colonizers in Ghana. In my book, her activism ultimately led to Ghana being the first African country on the continent to gain their independence. She’s someone I am reminded of when I think about standing up for what I believe in and challenging the status quo. No matter where I am, I need co-signers who will affirm that the status quo needs to be challenged and changed. I also would bring her because when I am far away from my parents or elders in my family, what I miss most is the sound of Twi, the Ghanaian language spoken in my household. Yaa would help me bone up on my Twi skills and never let me forget my roots.