By Alexandra Fileccia
The snow began to fall as Brandie Skorker walked down the streets of her childhood neighborhood. It was dark already at 6pm in January, and Dorchester was hushed at the start of a storm. Three-family homes lined the streets, each with their porch lights on. But, Skorker was full of enthusiasm after attending a feminist cybersecurity workshop earlier in the day. She pulled out a megaphone and shared. “Feminist killjoy!,” she shouted, “Reproductive rights!,” repeating feminists slogans she chanted at rallies.
The members of most feminist organizations in Boston do not look anything like this 28-year-old, queer-identifying, chubby woman of color. They’re white, middle class and generally slim-figured. When Skorker looks around the room, she often feels like she’s in the wrong meeting.
Feminism is supposed to be open to everyone, but treating the movement as a one-size-fits-all solution leaves women of color like Skorker on its fringes. “Some feminists believe there are no distinctions of race, that we are all the same,” Skorker says and motions a fake barf.
Skorker speaks in the language of inclusion and intersectionality. She recognizes that not all women have to deal with the same issues or experience the same discrimination. By definition, feminism as a movement is “organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It’s supposed to be a movement to help all women.
Feminist groups try to be all inclusive. But, Skorker and many other women say feminist communities inevitably marginalize people with different backgrounds or less popular ideas. Today’s “third-wave feminism” is trying to avoid the unintended exclusivity of traditional feminist organizations.
Last year, Skorker visited a feminist group in the Greater Boston area that strived to be a safe community for “women who live as women full-time.” Skorker asked the group what it meant to be a woman “full-time.”
“They weren’t able to describe what it meant,” she says, “But for me I was like, ‘what is a woman?’” Skorker says the group’s vague, old-fashioned language felt alienating to transgender and other women who refuse to conform to gender stereotypes. Some feminist groups are more oppressive than others, she says, and those groups think their feminism is more noble than that of radical inclusive groups.
Skorker identifies as queer; she is attracted to all genders but chooses not to define her sexuality. This identity can make it difficult for her to feel comfortable within an LGBTQ woman of color group.
“I went in there [thinking], oh, my people!” Most of the women were black or of African descent, and most identified as lesbian. They discussed sexuality and healthy relationships, but Skorker says that what they were saying was misogynistic and harmful. The topic of street harassment came up and about four out of the 15 women in the room felt that putting on makeup or wearing certain clothes was an invitation for strangers to harass or follow them.
“I was just blown away, I voiced my opinion and everyone attacked me!” Skorker says. The group facilitator did nothing about the conflicting opinions, so Skorker got up and left the hostile environment. She felt like she was left out of some cruel joke. She expected everyone to be supportive and informed about women’s and LGBTQ issues, but they were all perpetuating dismissive and erasive attitudes towards other women just like them. “I [was] looking around asking myself, ‘Is this real life?’”
Skorker says her activism stems from a struggle with mental illness and from surviving physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Skorker’s father, whom she never met, was Trinidadian, but she was raised by her white mother and her family. She remembers being neglected by her mother who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder and is now in prison. Skorker had to grow up fast; she was cooking, cleaning and doing her own laundry at just 8 years old.
“There were points while living with my grandfather that were tolerable, but I was being abused in non-physical ways,” she says, “[like] body policing, restricting my food, my blackness being erased or not seeming like it mattered as part of my identity [since] my whole family is white.”
Skorker left her mother and her emotionally abusive, racist, stepfather at age 14. She moved in with a 19-year-old boyfriend and his family. Throughout their relationship, he sexually and emotionally abused her. At age 17, Skorker ended the relationship, however continued to live with him until age 22. Her emotional scars have left her to cope with depression and anxiety.
Skorker has turned to her blog to seek a supportive community and an outlet of expression. She has discovered others online who share her thoughts about the hostility of current feminism. She also found Guerrilla Feminism, a community that does not discriminate against any type of woman.
In December 2014, Skorker founded the Boston branch of Guerilla Feminism. “[Skorker’s] application really stood out to me,” says Lachrista Greco the founder of the international organization. “I use it as an example of what really amazing answers to this application should be.”
“I feel like activism is my medicine,” Skorker says, “it’s how I cope with a lot of shit that I’ve been through.” She is known for shouting her opinions at rallies and protests, as well as speaking at conferences and events across the country.
Skorker plans to hold movie screenings of documentaries about sexual violence as the founder of the Boston Branch of Guerilla Feminism. Her goal is to create a safe space for all women especially trans women. Transgender people have the highest suicide rate in the country. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality found that 41 percent of transgendered people say they’ve attempted suicide sometime in their lifetime. Skorker says that it’s because they are being prevented from joining communities that are supposed to empower them.
“There’s this thought out there that trans women are infiltrating women’s spaces to perpetuate violence against ‘normal’ women, and that’s just so toxic,” Skorker says. “Trans women of color are the most marginalized group right now, and they lack access to resources and basic human rights,” she says. They experience harassment and violence on a daily basis because they are not perceived to be “biological women,” Skorker says.
Since Greco doesn’t live in Boston, she doesn’t know what the city needs to make it safer for women. She admires how Skorker takes her activism to the streets, “like kicking Bill Cosby out of Boston,” she says in reference to Skorker protesting the entertainer at the Wilbur Theater in a snowstorm.
Skorker recognizes that protests are not accessible to everyone. She says online activism is revolutionary because it is more open to people with disabilities. She says if people aren’t able to leave their house, they can still see what’s going on and feel a part of it.
Her online feminist activism has made her an attractive target of internet trolls and cyber bullies. Greco is in awe of what Skorker is doing because she says self-identified feminists face physical intimidation online. But, Skorker continues to post.
“Well I can say something 60 times and maybe one time I’m going to reach someone who didn’t hear me say it before,” she says, “and that could change their life or change the way that they view themselves.”
You can find Skorker tweeting selfies at @feministfists or taking down the patriarchy at @GFBoston617, blogging at feministfists.wordpress.com.