A Response: TFC’s Feminisms

by TFC Editorial Board

On March 24, 2017, a paper was published on lhakardiaries.com entitled “Decolonial & Intersectional Interventions against (Neo)liberal feminism: Reflections on Tibetan feminism.” We commend the author for engaging in feminist discourse regarding the Tibetan diaspora as it is of great importance and relevance in our communities. We are thankful for the opportunity to respond to any questions the audience may have had in the short couple years of our existence.

The author wrote that TFC engaged inneoliberal, consumerist (proto capitalist) feminism.” We do not understand the reasoning behind such statements, as our social media and blog posts clearly demonstrate that we actively fight against these exploitative adaptations of feminism

Refer to our blog posts: 

Below is a detailed breakdown of our understanding of the author’s key points and our response:

1.How can decolonial and intersectional theories and praxis counteract and refuse the cooption of feminism by neoliberal ideologies promoted by nationalist imperialist governmentalities?

  • To answer this question, we go to our daily practice of intentionally making sure that the language that we use is not convoluted and is accessible to all our readers. This ensures that folks who are not well-versed in the classist world of academia are able to access our writing.

2. “TFC has been influenced by Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA)”

  • If TFC was influenced by TWA in any way, we were influenced in that we saw the gaps that TWA was not able to fill regarding conversations around women’s issues in the Tibetan community, and we wanted to build a space where women could talk about this, read each other’s thoughts and offer support, if only virtually, to women who cannot take the risk of speaking about these issues openly. This is why we publish anonymous submissions sometimes, including ones critical of groups like TWA, which resulted in backlash for one of our members.

3. “[TFC’s] choice in leading and representing discussions regarding Tibetan feminism in Tibetan and non-Tibetan cyber and/or real worlds.”

  • We have never claimed to lead Tibetan feminism. We began as, and continue to actively promote our role as, not a representative of Tibetan women’s voices, but as a platform to facilitate and amplify women’s voices, which was sorely lacking when TFC started out, and of which there is still a scarcity, two and a half years on. However, we do admit that we have largely been unable to reach and uplift the majority of Tibetan women in the diaspora who largely reside in India and Nepal. Feminism and gender issues are still topics that many women and community members refuse to associate with, deny and/ or see negatively.  
  • However, we do want to give younger women, girls and non-binary folks real Tibetan women and non-binary individuals that they can look up to and find inspiration from, because we ourselves lacked that when we were children. It was hard to find information about Tibetans, especially women, doing well in various unconventional professions, and it still is, for a vast majority of young children studying in India and Nepal. Our aim was to fill that gap for the younger generation in any small way possible, so that they might not have to struggle as much as we did to find inspiration and motivation to explore paths less taken.

4. “Their work consists of editing and posting blog entries and hashtag activism.”

  • As clearly stated on our website. TFC is an online publication, and online publications do exactly that: edit and post blog entries and essays. We have never claimed to be anything more, so we are confused as to why the writer would take issue with an online publication acting like an online publication. This multimedia engagement is critical to our existence and the primary way we are able to reach our readers around the world.
  • Hashtag activism has played a part in large, organized movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #NoDAPL, #StandWithNomoly, and in our Tibetan context, #StandwithLarungGar. Our volunteer capacity allows us to function largely online. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have the power to fight for change. We have used our own grassroots capacity to attend and support protests and other groups that are critical to our engagement, using multimedia tools (like instagram and facebook live) to broadcast these important issues to our readers. We would love to expand past just the online realm more often, but that would require some sort of funding for any projects. But, it seems that soliciting funding comes with it’s own set of issues – please refer to point 8.

Examples:

5. “Few members of TFC have found opportunities in advancing personal careers by representing Tibetan feminist views to participate on different speaking and/or writing engagements based in and outside the Tibetan community.”

  • It is very valid for us to take credit for our work, which is entirely unpaid and volunteer labor. When there are opportunities to expand on the gender issues in a community that may not necessarily always understand why feminism is necessary, we will certainly use that opportunity to explain why.
  • However, since a statement like “Few members of TFC have found opportunities in advancing personal careers by representing Tibetan feminist views” is a grave accusation to make, the writer is also accountable to explaining exactly what that statement was based on, and whether proof can be provided of any of our members having used their identities as feminists to advance their personal careers. If the writer cannot provide this, we demand an apology, because this dismisses and delegitimizes an individual’s hard work beyond the more evident speaking and writing engagements with which the writer has a problem.
  • There are more instances of members facing backlash and criticism for saying that the Tibetan community needs feminism, than instances of members “advancing personal careers”. Our members who work closely with established Tibetan organizations have also come under increased scrutiny and criticism for speaking out against oppressive Tibetan norms, and have, on a number of occasions, been asked not to speak openly about the issues facing the Tibetan community.

6. “However, many of my peers became confused when they created a donation section on their blog soliciting monetary cash.”

  • Why is compensation for labor such a disgraceful thing to ask for? The debate around our community’s expectations of free labor is something that continues to be relevant for many young professionals working in India and Nepal.
  • All of the women who started and maintained TFC for a long time were students when TFC was first conceived. They had a minimal source of income for themselves beyond what they earned from working part time. Even now, we are young individuals who post multiple times daily, we actively monitor our platforms to make sure that they are safe spaces and that we are engaging with folks. We respond to messages daily and provide resources to those who ask for them (this is another critical component of our platform, which we maintain behind the scenes to protect those who reach out to us and who are oftentimes in dangerous situations i.e. domestic violence, sexual assault, incest).
  • We pay $90/ year or 5800 INR for our domain site and use our editors’ own personal finances. And sometimes, oftentimes, we get drained from all of this. Our labor cannot and should not be excused as a choice that we should live with. We are also volunteers, who do not get any sort of income from being a part of the collective. TFC is an online publication and we have never pretended to be anything else; we are not an officially registered NGO and are also not a for-profit entity.
  • Aside from compensation for our labor, we are just happy to receive any amount that will help us to pay for maintaining the site where we post our content. And someday, if we were able to go beyond the domain fee, we would love to fund potential projects – a common concept amongst volunteer based collectives. Please refer to the link below that further describes the apparently infamous ‘donate’ option.

<Donation Link>

7. “There was also the problem with calling themselves a “collective”—which implies there’s a collective supporting this initiative.”

  • As far as we know, a collective is a group of people. We are a group of people.

8. “Their Twitter and Instagram activities, however, aimed to introduce Tibetan women they felt were exemplary feminists.”

  • We do not hold ourselves as exemplary feminists, nor do we hold any particular individual/s as exemplary feminists. We have highlighted Tibetans who are doing good work so that we can see ourselves represented in the world. No one person is an ideal figure– that is up to individual readers to decide.

9. “The branding of TFC as a collective that represented a select few, the ability by certain members to promote individual careers, and the soliciting of monetary donations without clear objectives outlining projects that orient the Tibetan community, is what I argue makes this, in Mohanty’s words, neoliberal, consumerist (protocapitalist) feminism.”

  • We have debunked all of these myths in our previous points, so we would like to assert that we are not nor will we ever be a collective that furthers neoliberal, consumerist (protocapitalist) feminism. We will, however, continue to fight these feminisms with a burning passion, as we always have.

10. “In other words, the sole focus on gender, failed to consider intersectional subjectivities in the past and present that Tibetans move through.”

  • Initially, our older editors and advisers had decided that focusing solely on gender should be a priority, but after many months of having to refrain from posting about other issues that affect our lives as Tibetan women living in exile, we decided that we could not, in fact, isolate gender. Which is why anyone with a few minutes to spare on a quick glance of our various social media handles and our website will see that we try our best to generate conversation around many different struggles – most of which concern decolonizing and making intersectional “Tibetan feminisms”.
  • Every single day, we post on facebook recognizing that Tibetans exist in multitudes of marginalized identities as those of people of color, as those of undocumented people, as those who are stateless, and as those who are under the orientalist, white gaze. We have also had countless internal discussions where new editors have questioned why we do not solely focus on gender or in the Tibetan language, and that also, Tibetan-centered narratives. And our answer, as the author suggested, has been intersectionality.
  • The author noted that our last blog post was on March 10. If the author read the blog post, they would see that we explicitly used the word intersectional in it and discussed the concept at length. We talked about how capitalism is destroying our communities, we talked about our indigeneity, we talked about the importance of building solidarity with other movements. Our exact words from the blog post: “Our demands for the Tibetan movement should fight against the oppression that Tibetans in the diaspora face as well.”
  • We have talked about so much more than gender for so long and it is tiring when critiques, such as this, do not acknowledge the work that we are putting in.

11. “Where the story being told [by TFC] is a simplified version that ultimately suggests the main problem of Tibetan women is Tibetan men.”

  • We have consistently talked about Tibetan women’s complicity in marginalizing queer and trans folks. We may have talked in the binary of men and women in the past, but our editors have also learned and grown with time, and we’ve been active in uplifting queer and trans voices, as well as the multiplicity of marginalized identities that our communities carry.

12. “In this, Native feminists are not making the argument that men are not a problem but rather that toxic masculinities need to be considered in terms of the historical, structural conditions that produced them and that whole communities have lived through.”

  • We cannot emphasize further how much we support and practice all of this. This is where it is so unfortunate that we are speaking to each other by calling each other out. We clearly believe in the same principles and our communities would benefit so much more if we collaborated rather than simply attacked one another without merit. We recognize the importance of the work previously contributed by many before us, including the author of the critique herself. We welcome all submissions and gladly engage differing viewpoints.
  • We at TFC welcome critiques. They help us grow and learn how to better engage the complex realities of Tibetan feminism. Critiques from Tibetan folks, help us understand how best we can serve the communities to whom we are accountable. We are not a ‘few editors’ who speak amongst each other, we are editors who are held accountable for our views and writings by a community of thousands of folks who interact with our posts. We have been called out for perpetuating the very -isms that we fight against and in those moments, we are vulnerable to understanding that we can also act as the voice of the oppressor at times.
  • So, do critique us, but please do not accuse us of being something that we are clearly not. If you must, then we request that you do that after doing proper research and review of our work. We have not profited off of our feminism, we do not use this platform to advance our careers, nor do we belittle the complexity of the multitudes of identities and experiences that we carry. We are always open to having a conversation with anyone who reaches out to us, both in private and in public.

Thank you.

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