Name: Caitlin Blennerhassett
Location: Ontario and Nova Scotia, Canada
Any other relevant tidbits you’d care to share: Single mother, lesbian, midwifery student, bibliophile.
How do you define feminism?
I define feminism as the deconstruction of patriarchy and, therefore, privilege. In order to deconstruct patriarchy we have to acknowledge that it is supported and furthered by systems of oppression, capitalism, and colonialism. Even more importantly, I believe feminism has to be community-based; feminisms share a small number of important universals but the voices of individuals and communities are paramount. The popular feminist movement in North America has typically tried to speak for “women” as a whole; we need to let people speak for themselves. I think the most important skill that I have as a feminist is the ability to listen.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
I began to identify as a feminist after the birth of my daughter, and after I began University and was able to name some of the feelings and frustrations I was experiencing. I had my daughter when I was 17 – I was expected to take full responsibility for my acts and simultaneously judged as not being capable of shouldering responsibility, simply by virtue of being pregnant at a young age. This contraditction, paired with a “typical” hospital birth in which I felt utterly powerless and alone, left me with so many questions. When I went back to University following the birth of my daughter I met a lesbian in one of my classes and had a typical Oprah “lightbulb” moment in which I realized that I had found the piece of myself that had been missing. From the moment that possibility opened up in my mind there was no turning back. I began to seek out lesbian and feminist literature, and got invovled with the university’s Women’s Centre. I read Ina May Gaskin along with Jessica Yee (now Danforth) and I became involved in a conferences, campaigns and local activism. I acted in a play entiteld Jane: Abortion and the Underground about the famous abortion collective in the States. Mostly, though, I began to identify as a feminist when I began interacting with feminists – people who taught me and shared their life experiences.
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
My feminism is always changing, as I engage more with the literature, and as I experience living in different communities around the country. My feminism changed radically when I took a class in my Masters degree where we read Peggy McIntosh’s famous essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” and many other relevant pieces like John Howard Griffin’s “Black Like Me.” Acknowledging my own privilege and racism and doing everything I can to counter those racist and colonialst identities is a huge part of my feminism now. I was born in Nova Scotia but grew up in northern Canada, in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. It is only since beginning my feminist journey that I was able to grapple with the huge power differential that existed between many of my peers and I.
My feminism is shaped and changed by the perspectives and truths of others, I was influences greatly by my time with the Saint Mary’s University Women’s Centre and most recently by my involvement with Shameless magazine, a feminist magazine for young girls and trans youth, where I am an editor. I find my feminism continually opening and expanding as I become more invovled with the magazine, and with the team who produce the magazine (they are ALL fantastic).
Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
No, because I do not believe there is a mould, or a certain way of looking at the world, that one need adopt in order to identify as a feminist (aside from a set of key principles such as deconstructing privilege, anti-racism and openness). What that means, though, is that I need to spend time checking in with myself continually around the intention and motives of my speech and actions. Is my intention to listen and learn, or to impose and ignore?
What do you see as the future of feminism?
The people mainstream feminism has been pushing to the margins for decades must be central to the discussion and direction of feminism’s future. I could not hold an authentic discussion about the future of feminism without their voices. Feminism’s strength lies in it’s diversity. The future of my personal feminism is trans-inclusive, queer-positive, anti-racist and sex-worker-positive. “…without leadership from its most marginalized members, a movement will only ever replicate the broader systems of inequity it’s trying to eradicate.” – Sheila Sampath