Photo by Jemina Garcia
A hot provocateur who wears her sexuality loud and her opinions easy, Jannat Alam isn’t afraid to say feminism has become an impotent movement. She isn’t afraid to declare that the continued social subjugation women face globally is primarily a gender-based oppression — one women can only dismantle by turning more fully upon men who would oppress them. And it might be easy to look at a woman so unafraid and mistake her candor for divisive belligerence, but Alam is only tired of beating around the bush. ¡Viva-la-vulva!, love-me-or-leave-me, Riot Dyke Jannat Alam is a second-year English student at UCLA — and she’s a proud radical feminist. She invites everyone to listen up and learn with her about it.
“Liberal feminism — the main brand feminists ascribe to — is just Feminism Lite,” Alam begins. “It’s a bandaid solution … there’s no [actual] healing.” There is something fundamentally wrong, she suggests, if one’s feminism can be bought and sold the way liberal feminism has been. “If corporations can co-opt and repackage your feminism to sell you ‘empowering’ makeup or lingerie,” your feminism is still functioning within and in service to a heteropatriarchal capitalist system. Your feminism isn’t doing anything to legitimately dismantle values which paralyze women with impossible double standards. And while it doesn’t mean you’re a bad feminist if you’re a liberal feminist, Alam explains, you’re probably an ineffectual one.
Most importantly, liberal feminism is not sensitive to the issues women face globally, especially in more conservative countries. “We need to [specifically] reach out to women and girls in developing countries that face terrible things like female genital mutilation, honor killings, and sati (widow burning),” Alam frowns, and to do that, “we need to understand that this comes from the fact that these people are being treated as subhuman for being Assigned Female at Birth (AFAB)” something liberal feminism has sometimes failed to do. “It might not be that apparent in our western collegiate circles, but if we want to build coalitions of women globally, we need to address that sex-based oppression is still very much a pertinent issue.” For women of the global south who need this especially, liberal feminism has become a deadend and a noose.
Alam fires off: “We need to bring back volunteering at shelters, mass donations of tampons, sex-ed in poor high schools! We need to bring back the militant feminism of the 60’s and the 80’s!” For her, feminism needs to be proactive, even polarizing. Of course, however, Alam acknowledges that radical feminism isn’t a perfect antidote — especially as it has been structured historically. “Though [our radical feminist foremothers] did make strides, they only made them for a certain type of woman.” Radical feminism at its inception was racist and homophobic, and Alam is not advocating for an inflexible modern conception of it. Contrary to popular opinion, Alam does not conceive radical feminism as necessarily rigid because it is so adamant. She sees it as expansive, and specially attuned to evolving within context for the greater good.
“I feel that I have to emphasize that I am not trans-exclusionary,” Alam adds. “Radical feminists get a bad rap because people assume that since [we’re] gender-critical, [we’re] necessarily so … I am not exclusive! I want to say that radical-leaning feminism and transactivism can and definitely should intersect, so we can truly deconstruct the social ills that plague [all women] — not just [cisgender] women.”
As the interview goes on, Alam lounges in her chair like a king. Eyes half-lidded and heavy with liner, the ghost of a smirk playing on the edge of her mouth, Alam is roguishly charming. Outrageously confident. She’s an aspiring motorcycle dyke, a leather-studded chainsmoker, a walking public indecency — except she’s also not.
A year back Alam wore her hair in braids. She was very appearance-oriented, chock-full of neuroses, and as soft spoken as a whisper. “My style was so dead,” she laughs with some difficulty, “I was just such a deflated person.” She may as well have been another person entirely.
Alam today isn’t simply a carefully crafted outrage: she’s a sensitive, thoughtful, beautiful person who has endured harrowing challenges and earned her confidence. It’s just perhaps too easy not to see that because she gives her opinions with the self-assurance of, well — for lack of a better word — a man. One difference which has made all the difference.
Alam is a proud radical feminist because there are still so many shrinking women everywhere. They all have the capacity to be forces of nature, and yet because of the chromosomes they are assigned, they are stripped of everything; sometimes, it is all they can do to survive. So she agitates — she shouts — she riots — so that no one needs ever to shrink into themselves again.