In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, people took to the streets en masse to protest President Trump's inauguration. On January 21, 2017, over 500,000 people marched in Washington, Los Angeles, and New York; 250,000 in Chicago; 150,000 in Denver. As chants of "love trumps hate" and "pussy grabs back" receded from the streets at the end of the day, many wondered if the movement could sustain its momentum. Last month, one year after millions of people across the country made their defiant voices heard, it became abundantly clear that the conversation had indeed continued—and broadened.
While the number of protestors who turned out for the Women's March in 2017 was staggering, many were quick to point out that the movement was not inclusive of all women, instead focusing predominantly on feminist issues as they relate to straight, white women. In an attempt to uplift the voices of women who are too often marginalized in 2018, we sat down with three activists to talk about intersectional feminism, delving into what it is exactly and why it's so incredibly important.
Ahead, Candace Reels, founder of Female Collective, an intersectional feminist clothing company and online community; Rikkí Wright, a Los Angeles–based photographer and visual artist; and Ashley Lukashevsky, a graphic designer and illustrator with a passion for social justice, weigh in on encouraging women to stand up for their rights, feeling inspired despite the country's current state, and changing the world one issue at a time.
What does intersectional feminism mean to you, and why is intersectionality important in feminism?
Rikkí Wright: For women of color, it definitely feels good to be a part of the bigger conversation. Even women who aren't women of color who I'm surrounding myself with are wanting to know more about it and wanting to be involved. And that's important for me because I am a woman of color. Let's just all look out for each other. That's it. Honestly, that's just the basic point.
Ashley Lukashevsky: I saw a post that was circulating on Instagram, "Feminism without intersectionality is just white supremacy," and I think that we need to think a lot more critically about what feminism is and who it's benefiting. When you look at feminism through an intersectional lens, you're accounting for all the layers of privilege—class, race, sexuality, and presentation—that determine someone's privilege, or lack of privilege, in society. If you don't look at feminism through that lens, I think you're missing out on the ways we can improve the lives of all women, not just a certain community of women.
Candace Reels: It's important to me because I can't separate being black and being a woman. They're both important to me, so I have to talk about racism within feminism. Women of color face different issues within the overall feminist agenda—for example, reproductive rights and equal pay—so you can't really separate it.
AL: We have to make sure that all women's voices are being heard in feminism. Not just white women, not just straight women, not just cis women. But also trans women, black women, immigrant women.
RW: Women with disabilities. A lot of women are being left out of larger conversations.
Do you think feminism has become trendy? If so, is it hurting the movement or bringing more awareness to it?
RW: When we were at the march, one of the things that opened my eyes to the trendiness of feminism were the pink pussy hats. I didn't know those were a thing, and then suddenly I was surrounded by them. I'm, honestly, not sure if it's hurting the movement in a huge way, because I do feel like more people are talking about feminism. But, I don't know if people are taking it as seriously as it should be taken.
AL: It's great that it's being brought to the larger public's attention, but the way we frame feminism and communicate the message of feminism needs to be very careful so that it's advocating for all women. And, as with anything that becomes trendy, it's tied so much to capitalism and consumerism. Feminism has become a marketing tool for a lot of corporations, and it's so anti-feminist to be selling things manufactured in a sweatshop by women in the global south without labor protections that say "feminist" on them. As you embrace your feminism and you want to show that to the world, you also have to make sure that your habits of consumerism are also feminist. So, supporting companies like Candace's where everything is made in America and with the fair labor practices, that is what feminism also needs to be about. It's not just a trendy catchword on a shirt or tote bag.
CR: With Female Collective, I make sure that my shirts are made in L.A. and that a percentage of each sale goes to a different organization—and that the specific percentage is stated. Usually, it's 20% or above. It's so important to give back to your community and to these organizations. I do feel like feminism has become trendy, of course, but I hope it's a trend that lasts and that we continue this conversation. We're talking about intersectional feminism now—that wasn't talked about before. Now, people are calling themselves feminist. Two years ago, the reaction was, "Oh, no. You burn bras." [Laughs.]
What are you doing to uplift the voices of marginalized communities?
AL: I'm an illustrator, and I try to create pieces that amplify voices that are typically unheard or that don't get a lot of access in mainstream media or typical American conversations. Lately, I've been doing a lot of work around undocumented immigrants' rights. I've been working with different organizations to amplify their messages and to try to get more people out to protest, and to call their senators, and to take action in their daily lives. As an artist, I try to uplift voices and narratives that we don't typically hear.
RW: I'm a freelance photographer, and I take photos of women of color because I want to create a sense of community around the people who look like me. I want you to look at my images and feel like I relate to this woman or I relate to this photo. I'm aiming to create a sense of community and uplift the voices of women, specifically women of color, through my photography.
CR: Female Collective is an intersectional feminist clothing brand, but it's also an online collective. The community is mainly on Instagram, which is great because you get to talk to different people from around the world—it's not just like your own little community. The whole point of Female Collective is to use social media to learn different things from different people and different cultures.
How do you encourage women to speak out and stand up for their rights?
RW: I take portraits. A lot of the images are very intimate, and people become really vulnerable. Some women are baring insecurities that they've had and opening up to different parts of themselves. I think that's the part that I play in getting women to believe in themselves or see a different part of themselves. Even when I take self-portraits, sometimes I see things that people have been telling me that they see in me, and it makes me a little bit stronger and makes me believe in myself. Like, You actually have a purpose and a voice in this whole movement. You're not just playing a little role. Everything you do really does add to the whole wave and push of this feminist movement, the movement of bettering my people and shining a light on the women who are doing great things.
AL: I think all of us are trying to create safe spaces for women to communicate and express themselves and voice their opinions because we live in such a noisy world that it's often hostile to women, especially women of color, who have opinions. With my work, I try to create images of women, aside from typical narratives, so women of color, women with different body types can feel empowered and feel confident to speak out, to talk about what's happening in their communities, to contact their elected representatives, and to voice their opinions. If you have someone behind you who's telling you, "We're all doing this together," you're so much more likely to voice your opinion than if you think that you're standing alone.
CR: I'm a very shy person, so my way of speaking has always been through my clothing. That's why I decided to make graphic tees for Female Collective with statements like "Mind your own uterus," "The rise of the woman equals the rise of the nation," and "My body, my business." That's my way of helping women to speak out and stand up for their rights without even speaking.
What are the most important issues facing women today?
AL: Oh my god, there are so many. [Laughs.] I've been thinking about immigrants' rights a lot recently because, under this administration, immigrants have been attacked—and immigrants' rights are women's rights. These things don't exist in vacuums. As Candace was saying earlier, you can't separate "I am an immigrant" or "I am black" from "I am a woman." These things are together. By standing up for immigrants, and undocumented immigrants especially, we are advocating for women's rights.
RW: One very broad issue is just bringing awareness to the intersectionality of feminism, bridging these gaps is still very important.
CR: I think reproductive rights are very important. If we don't have control over our bodies, it's really like we have no control. And recently, I learned that black women die more frequently from pregnancy than white women, so breaking it down by race and class is important too.
AL: Delving even deeper into reproductive rights, it's not just "my pussy, my choice," but also who has access to contraception and who has access to abortion clinics. There's so much more to reproductive rights than just thinking about one catchy slogan.
A new book came out called Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race where the author, Reni Eddo-Lodge, expresses being tired of reiterating the same information and feeling disenchanted. How can we keep women inspired to keep talking and raising awareness? Why should they?
RW: On one hand, I'm feeling the title of that book. On the other hand, I've always been that one understanding friend. I've been the person to listen, so I'm always pushing information or Instagram accounts like Female Collective. Even myself, I'm literally relearning and learning a lot about feminism, so it's kind of understandable that a lot of my friends who don't look like me aren't aware of certain things, because they have never had to deal with it. They've never had to even think about race as a thing. So I'm like, Okay, I understand that, so I'm going to try to always push knowledge.
AL: I totally get why black women don't want to have to reiterate what's already out there to white people who aren't willing to put in their own effort to find out for themselves. As someone who benefits from white privilege—I'm half white—I feel like it's my position to explain to my white friends why all these issues are important.
CR: I personally like to surround myself with all different cultures so I can learn different issues and new things that I didn't know before. I think that it's so important to not have just one group of friends, to expand. Getting to know someone outside your own culture is a step toward changing your thought process and learning new things.
How can non-black feminists begin to understand the experiences of black women?
RW: Listening. Being more proactive, having conversations, and being in that space of uncomfortableness. Listening to us, and listening with a proactive mind.
AL: Motivating yourself to always be learning. Reading black authors and poets and listening to black activists and artists. There's so much information out there; I think non-black feminists need to be committed to continuous learning. There are so many activists that you can follow, like Brittany Packnett, Samuel Sinyangwe, DeRay Mckesson. People are out there providing all the information, and you just have to commit yourself to following them and listening.
CR: It's important to have courageous conversations. They're going to be very uncomfortable, but that's how you create change and grow. And then, support black businesses. If you really want to be an ally, give your money to these black businesses that are creating great art, great books, and great everything.
In honor of Black History Month, who are some black women in history who inspire you and your work?
RW: I've been on a Maya Angelou binge. I recently found out that she wrote seven autobiographies—a series of her entire life from when she was 16 to her 60s. I'm on the fourth book, and she's inspiring my work so much. She talks about motherhood a lot, which is a theme in my work. I lost my mom when I was 2 years old, so I'm trying to learn about motherhood through other mothers. Reading her story right now is super inspiring.
AL: Someone who influenced me from a young age was Toni Morrison. I grew up in Hawaii, and Hawaii doesn't really have a lot of diversity aside from Pacific Islander and East Asian. As someone who's half Asian and identifies as Asian, I found her novels kind of like my window into race discussions and thinking about race in America. I've read every single one of her books, and she's one of my favorite authors and will always continue to be.
In current popular culture, people like Ava DuVernay and Issa Rae, who've been pioneers of including black narratives in popular culture—I think it's been really amazing to see society's embrace of them and the way that they have kind of elevated these narratives in these voices.
RW: And the authenticity of them. It just feels like, Oh my god, that's so me. [Laughs.]
CR: I'll have to say ditto to Maya Angelou. Literally, if I'm having a bad day, I can just find a quote of hers to make me feel like, yes. And then, Shirley Chisholm. I used to want to be in politics, so the first black woman to run for the Democratic Party as a president. That's huge. She's just a big idol of mine. And Issa Rae. I just love that she's just showing what it is to be a black woman. We're just like you guys. We're just living our lives in L.A., doing our thing. People have this crazy imagination of what black women go through, and we go through a lot, but we also have everyday things that are not so dramatic. It's real, and it's authentic, and it's telling true stories of what black women are going through.
How has the country's current state inspired your work?
RW: Because of the political climate right now, I really needed a sense of community, and for me, sisterhood is community. When I think of sisterhood, it's being able to say, "Girl, I need to talk to you right now," or it's having a shoulder to cry on or just being able to laugh and say, "Okay. This is our defense mechanism right now, and we have to laugh through the pain." Creating the Sisterhood Series really helped me open up with my actual sisters and open up with my friends. So that's definitely how it's inspired the work that I'm creating right now.
AL: This election was a big wake-up call for me and, I think, for a lot of people. It's not like racism didn't exist before this president was elected—it's what this country was built on. For a lot of people, especially non-black people and non-black feminists, this was our huge wake-up call to think how we are complicit in the system and how we can change that. I was always someone who would go to protests, but this is what really made me think, How can I get other people to start joining? How can I catalyze activism in my peers? I was having a hard time processing the election, and that's what really got me to get going to illustration again, because I was doing graphic design and I felt like I needed to do something more. That's really what made me start drawing again and got me to start doing illustration. So, it was pretty big. [Laughs.]
CR: With everything that's going on, I've gotten more into self-care because I feel like I need to take care of myself in order to take care of others. I've also become more political on Female Collective. I thought, I'm on social media. I have a platform. People are listening. People are watching. Let me share what's going on. Let's actually create change and not just take selfies. Nothing's wrong with taking selfies [laughs], I take selfies all the time, but I'm saying let's do more than just take selfies. You can take a selfie and then write a caption to call your senator. [Laughs.]
What do you think are some of the most inspiring things happening currently?
AL: The art that's been born out of the resistance has been really beautiful to see. There are so many artists and activists—artivists [laughs]—who are making their voices heard and fighting to increase awareness. I like to consider myself part of that group, but there are so many amazing artists who are doing this work. It's music. It's visual arts. It's movies. It's podcasts. I think we were all hibernating, and now we're all waking up and realizing that there's shit that we need to get done.
RW: I'm so inspired by all the art. Back in the day, Nina Simone and Jimi Hendrix were shunned. It was like, You're not supposed to be singing about that. But now, everyone's like, Fuck Trump. [Laughs.] I'm so inspired by the younger generation. At the march, there were so many little girls saying, "We're next." There's an organization that's pushing future women voters. I'm inspired by all the women and young people excited to vote in the upcoming election who are excited to push policy change and create a world of freethinkers.
CR: I agree. The art is definitely inspiring. Filmmakers, writers, and illustrators—they're not afraid to take a chance. They're not afraid to speak out. I feel people have really stepped into themselves and are being authentic to who they are. At the march, I saw a sign that said, "If Hillary had won, we would all be at brunch." And I love brunch. It's my favorite. But I also feel like that was part of the problem. We shouldn't be at brunch. We should be talking. And then the young kids are inspiring too. I feel they have no fear. I wish I had been that fearless as a kid. That gives me hope.
What would you like to change about the world?
RW: If I could change one thing in the world, realistically, it would be the curriculum that is being taught in early education. The history of slavery actually needs to be taught.
AL: I agree with that. I was going to say the abolishment of capitalism, but let's just be more realistic. [Laughs.] There are public schools in Texas that have textbooks that don't mention slavery. Unless we have a revolution in education, we're going to continue to see young minds that have just been not critically challenged to think about issues on their own. They will always just follow. We need that critical thinking, and we need kids to be learning the true history of the U.S., including our past of colonialism and genocide and all the wrongs that need to be made right with this new generation. Unless they have access to that information, they're not going to join the resistance. They're not going to want anything to change, because they won't see the issues, the foundational issues, that are in our country.
CR: If we taught our kids to love themselves at a really small age, I feel like that's so important. If we teach young kids to love themselves, they'll be able to accomplish so much and feel so powerful. And it's not something you just learn. You need to remind yourself every day that you love yourself. For a woman of color, people are constantly tearing you down.
RW: Yes, love is the answer. [Laughs.] Love conquers all. And if that was the underlying theme of everything that we did, then the world would be a better place. It sounds so cliché and so simple, but it's not.
AL: Americans are so individualistic, and this is what we are taught from a young age, like, You do you and It's all about yourself, but we all need to change our frame of thinking and realize that we're all in this together. We have to be our sisters' keepers and our brothers' keepers and really look out for one another. I wish that our government did more of that with social safety nets, providing opportunities for people to thrive and have loving personal relationships. It's all interlinked. We just need more love. We need more systematic love, institutionalized love.
CR: Institutionalized love.
RW: Courses on love.
Ed. note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Special thanks to Verve Coffee Roasters for hosting us while we had this enlightening conversation.