Woman Crush(ing the Patriarchy) Wednesday: Flavia Dzodan

Courtesy of Flavia Dzodan

This week’s #WCW Flavia Dzodan is the author of our generation’s most popular feminist mantra: “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”

While the quote has been placed on caps, t-shirts, tote bags and buttons for profit – with no coins going to Dzodan, by the way – little is known about the Argentine mujer behind it. 

But Dzodan, who now lives in Amsterdam, is a powerful voice in online feminism, tackling issues of gender, race, immigration and class from a migrant Latina lens. Ahead, learn how this South American force works to crush the patriarchy.

MORE: Woman Crush(ing the Patriarchy) Wednesday: Maluca Mala

You have been a prominent voice in online feminism for several years. What prompted you to get involved and write publicly on issues of gender, race, immigration and class?

First and foremost, I started writing about these topics as a need to connect to others. I was trying to understand certain political issues that I was experiencing but had never considered before (related to migration and gender, for the most part), and I did not know at the time anyone involved in these issues in Amsterdam, which felt rather lonely. So I started writing mostly as a way to overcome that loneliness and feeling of isolation. I'll be the first one to tell you that it was quite surprising to me that there were people interested in what I was writing.

Being a woman, especially a woman of color, with a voice on the Internet is unfortunately a cause for persecution. What has your experience with online harassment looked like?

I've experienced threats and abuse many times as a result of being vocal and actively speaking out about certain issues. The abuse can take many forms, from threats of sexual violence to insults to concerted harassment (mostly on Twitter). This culture of abuse has become so normalized that I had to resign myself to the fact that if I want to do this kind of work, I will have to live with the associated abuse that comes with it.

Existing as a woman, a Latina and a migrant in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is violent and exhausting all on its own. To have to deal with online harassment is only more debilitating. What does self-care look like for you?

I disconnect regularly. In fact, I try to limit the amount of hours per day I use social media or that I am online – same goes for weekends. As a writer, I see my online presence as part of my work, and, because it is work, I limit it to a number of hours per day, rather than treat it like an "always on" situation. I used to do that, and it led to exhaustion and contributed to health issues in the past. I have made a more clear distinction between private and public life: my friends and family can always reach me (also on my social media accounts), but the "public" side of it is limited to a number of hours per day.

You actually took a two-year break from public life and just recently, as of last year, got back on Tumblr and started a new Medium account. In your time away, what have you learned about doing this work, online feminist writing and advocacy, that you weren't aware of previously? Any lessons or changes to the way you are approaching this work now?

Yes, the most important one was to start treating what I do as "work," in the sense of both trying to make a living out of it and also in limiting the amount of exposure I allow myself to put into this work (in the number of hours and the way I treat my social media presence as an extension of the rest of my writing production). That doesn't mean I have eschewed the "social" side of social media. Thanks to social media, I have found both community and an audience. I have forged some of the strongest friendships and relationships, but that doesn't mean I cannot set limits to the way I engage with the world at large.

Your quote, "my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit," is without-a-doubt our generation's most popular feminist mantra. What is that like for you, knowing your words helped inspire a movement of intersectional feminism across the globe?

I am humbled by the fact that anyone would find value in my words. I think that more than to me, we owe this movement to Black women, such as Kimberley Crenshaw, who actually created and further developed these ideas. That I might have, by pure serendipity, found a catchy statement, does not mean that my contribution is in any way equivalent to theirs.

Unfortunately, as you've written about, your words have been commoditized, placed on t-shirts, tote bags, pins, mugs and more for profit, and you haven't received a cent. What was it like for you to see that quote become appropriated and commoditized when its words, and your work, challenge these very things?

It's been eye-opening and actually a good example of how capitalism operates to appropriate movements and turn them into marketing schemes. When I found out about the merchandise, it was pretty hurtful because I was struggling with health issues and unable to actually work and earn money, and it was quite disappointing to find out that some people would blatantly lift, not only my words but even my name, to sell them for profit. I don't think anyone made a lot of money out of this, but it was symbolically representative of bigger issues around commoditization.

As women of color, do you think anything we produce can be safe from appropriation and/or commoditization?

I believe that as long as capitalism remains simultaneously the primary ideology ruling all aspects of our life and our main political force, everything is open for appropriation, misuse and exploitation. That said, we still continue creating and sharing because there is resistance in creation.

You currently live in the Netherlands, a country largely recognized for its inclusivity and progressive politics. However, you recently published an article in the Washington Post challenging these perceptions. Tell us, what are some of the biggest issues impacting women of color there?

The two main political parties in the Netherlands heavily promote Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments as part of their platforms. Both parties regularly demonize Muslim women as part of their inflammatory rhetoric, especially pushing for legislation that would ban the hijab or any outward display of Islamic symbols. Anti-Black rhetoric and misogynoir are normalized to the point that they regularly feature prominently in mainstream media. Anti-immigrant rhetoric is used across the whole political spectrum to score populist votes. Media representation of people of color or migrant voices is very limited and usually heavily tokenized. Institutions rarely reflect the diversity of the demographics they are supposed to represent. In brief: the issues in the Netherlands are too ingrained and too widespread to accurately describe in a short paragraph and there is, at times, a culture-wide stubborn resistance to acknowledge any of these as issues that should be corrected.

Online feminism tends to be U.S.-, or – to a lesser but still prominent degree – Euro-centric. As a South American migrant living in the Netherlands, do you think feminist activism could gain from thinking globally?

I think that initiatives, such as the Argentinian coalition Ni Una Menos, which is currently spreading across borders, have the opportunity to galvanize transnational organizations for wide impact. On the other hand, I am wary of transnational efforts that can easily be co-opted by the centers of power, erasing important granularity relevant to local realities. So I see transnational efforts as a potential double-edged sword that can generate positive change only as long as they actively work from a decolonial perspective to prevent the dilution or erasure of differences.

PLUS: Woman Crush(ing the Patriarchy) Wednesday: Catalina Velasquez

How do you see your work as helping to crush the patriarchy, among other oppressive systems?

I see myself as a woman throwing stones from the sidelines. I hope my voice is part of a multitude of voices that, together, each from our own position, can every day erode these systems of oppression until they crumble from our collective pressure and efforts.

Want more from Flavia? Obviously! Follow the Argentine mujer on Twitter and keep up with her work over at her website, Red Light Politics.