International Women’s Day is For Non-Feminists Like My Mom, Too.

Credit: L. Barbarin [my mother and I]

It’s 3PM and my mom and I have had a long day. I’m 9 and had just had a very taxing workload in the 4th grade. Fractions. So, I’m a bit cranky when we stop at the studio again, but I keep it to myself. I know we are here for me. My mom hops out of the car and jogs inside, determined, like she does everyday. A couple of minutes pass and she comes back, “not yet,” she says, and we head home. I’m 9 and for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a ballerina. My room is chalk full of ballerinas on bookshelves, dressers and walls. I want to dance. My mom calls around to our local studio, but they refuse to even meet me. So they meet my mom—every day for a year. Until, worn down, they call letting us know they’re starting an adaptive dance class.

Showing up is my mom’s superpower. It’s hereditary.

Years later I’m in college and I’m arguing with her. “Why won’t you just say your a feminist?!” I ask. “You’re the most feminist person I know!!!”

“Because I’m not.” She’s doing that thing where she’s answering without explaining. It’s so frustrating.

Fast forward to just last year. I’m in grad school and for an assignment, I have to choose someone with a different perspective than I have and interview them. Persistent (like her) and having never really gotten an answer, I ask my mom to be my subject. After several questions about the women in my mothers life and her view on equal pay I finally ask: “Why aren’t you a feminist?”

She pauses. “I’m not a feminist because I was already doing what feminists say they were going to do.”

My mother grew up the child of a West Indian immigrant to the UK (who later moved to the US). My grandmother entered England having enrolled into a nursing program, so while she was working at the hospital, my grandfather stayed at home with the kids. In the West Indian neighborhoods, it wasn’t uncommon for men to take on household duties while women worked. As she grew up, my mom observed a feminist movement that didn’t seem interested in involving black women and immigrants. She watched as black and brown women cared for people who would turn around and treat them poorly, calling them racial epithets and hurling slurs while those same people were heralded in liberal enclaves for their “feminism.” She lamented the ways in which feminists couldn’t recognize their privilege and often talked over black women. Feminists in my Mother’s Day rarely, if ever, showed up when black people were being subjugated.

There are many women like my mother, who grew up watching the feminist movement forget women of color. And while “intersectional” is the feminism many women and femmes have on the tip of their tongues, majority culture still often gets credit for the work of women of color. So, despite the fact that my mother taught be how to stand tall as a black woman, despite the fact that she advocated for disability rights and inclusion in our community, despite the fact she organized tea parties for girls at our church to educate us on black winners history, despite the fact she taught me how to speak up for myself and friends when we’re told what we can’t do because of our disability—despite all of that, my mother is not a feminist, and will never call herself one.

But you know what she does? She shows up.


  1. This mirrors my mom as well. She is the most feminist non-feminist I know. The only time I didn’t vote, when I had just turned 18, she let me have it in the most intense monologue I have ever heard. But it was very much from the perspective of a woman who has had her voice stifled not just by men and government, but by the woman that were supposed to be uplifting it.

    Your mom sounds wonderful. You’re lucky.

  2. This mirrors my mom. She is the most feminist non-feminist I know. Her voice also comes from a place of lack of support from other feminist groups.

    Your mom sounds wonderful.

  3. What a wonderful tribute to the international women who precede you and give you your voice. I love you, and you remain my favorite daughter.

  4. Very true. My mom also advocated for my education and my rights when I was growing up. Things that I do are built on what she did for me, and I haven’t always been as grateful or acknowledged her as gracefully as you did for your mother. My mother also continues to insist that she is not political, much to my frustration. But hearing about your mother made me understand my mother a little better, too. Thank you for that, and thank you for sharing your story.

  5. I told her that this morning. She said, “I may have been the wind beneath your winds at times, but you were flying on your own power.” Aww! Moms are so great.

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