In the time leading to the launch of She’s Shameless: Women write about growing up, rocking out, and fighting back, we have been posting excerpts from the book on our blog. To accompany these excerpts we are including some Q&As with contributors to She’s Shameless.
Shaunga Tagore is a self-proclaimed singer-songstress, warrior-poet, gangsta-feminist, extreme-ranter-queen, lover-fighter, soul-sista-diva, who dreams of a world without hierarchies and categories, and watches Buffy in her spare time.
What does feminism mean to you? How did you come to call yourself a feminist?
I am a feminist because I have a lot of hurt inside of me. For most of my life I believed that this hurt – caused by violences such as racism and sexism – was just a normal and natural part of who I am. Learning about feminism, or coming to understand the way systems of oppression impact individuals, groups, or societies, has provided me with a way to make sense of my internalized hurt, to recognize it is there but to realize that it doesn’t really belong inside of me. In that sense feminism is a source of healing. Feminism has also given me a way to think about my privileges, and attempt to take action and responsibility against injustices that I witness in this world I share with others.
Your piece, “Oh, Go Eat a Hamburger” centers on the ways that women’s bodies are regulated–labelled too fat, too skinny, etc. You touch on pop culture representations of women. How do these images influence the way young women see their own bodies, and each other’s?
The way women’s bodies are regulated, and the way women are forced to regulate ourselves and other women is highly damaging. The regulation and damage become all the more intense when women are marginalized by multiple forms of oppression, such as racism, classism, ableism or heteronormativity. I know for me, the way this regulation was forced upon me has created very difficult and sometimes painful relationships with my body and sexuality – I am in a continuous process of unlearning those damages.
In your essay, your middle school best friend and the Avon lady are the people either pointing critically at or voicing some sort of concern over your weight. Would you say that there is a culture of girls regulating each other? Where does this come from? What does this trend say about how we view ourselves? Do you see a way to break the pattern?
That there exist cultures of girls regulating each other is perhaps true, however I think it is too simple to just stop the analysis there. Large systems of oppression, such as patriarchy, colonialism, or classism (among others) are not just things of the past, but their ideas have infiltrated the present and play a huge role in shaping common every-day logic or ideology. It is the prevalence, and especially the subtleties and even sneakiness of these oppressions (spread as common knowledge through all kinds of influential institutions, such as schools, media, religious organizations, etc) that we all are susceptible to buying into and spreading ourselves. In this sense, the pattern of girls regulating other girls cannot be broken unless we challenge the reasons and root causes of where these desires for regulation come from.
You have a moment of discovery when you visit India and realize that what you have been taught is the norm in women’s bodies is in fact only a very specific version of normal. How do you think young women of colour are particularly affected by prescriptive beauty ideals in North America?
It’s interesting because when many people hear the words “eating disorders” or “beauty ideals,” the first image that pops into their minds is a white woman: that these problems most commonly affect white women, or that racism has nothing to do with regulating beauty norms. This is a dangerous assessment to come to because it completely invisibilizes racism — it erases the struggles women and girls of colour face every day with regard to fitting/not-fitting into normative standards of beauty. It was thus important for me to centre my story specifically around a young woman of colour, in hopes of calling attention to and ‘un-invisibilizing’ the racist dimensions of beauty regulation.
In India, you realize that you are “average height and size.” How important would you say it is for young women to have a place in which they do not feel othered?
As I recall my own experiences of growing up as a young woman of colour in a predominantly white school, in my piece I wanted to point out that many women/girls of colour often feel like the ways they do not fit in or live up to white-normative standards of beauty is something that is ‘natural’ or inherent. Therefore, it was very important to have an experience where I realized I did in fact fit in or belong in a particular culture or context; in the process I also realized that there was nothing wrong or inferior about myself.