On Women's Equality Day, Let's Talk About White Feminism
White Feminism is activism that focuses on white women gaining the same rights as white men. It is, essentially, feminism that attempts to function without intersectionality and effectively ignores and disrespects the ways women of color and gender-nonconforming people experience oppression. It's a type of feminism which is rapidly, and necessarily, becoming irrelevant.
I didn't know all this, however, until I was fortunate enough to learn about it in high school. I was taught little about feminism in middle school, but what I was taught (mainly about the women's suffrage movement), was essentially White Feminism. I learned that suffrage was the main issue women faced in the past and that the women's suffrage movement
was completely separate from the abolition movement.
I was to learn only in high school that some famous early feminists, like Sojourner Truth,
were also abolitionists and that some
suffragists were ardent White Feminists with racist leanings.
I was also taught that the most pressing current problem for the women is the pay gap, although the disproportionate way this gap effects women of color
wasn't discussed. Even my class's current events discussions around abortion rights lacked consideration of race
and economic class
. The ways schools present the history of disenfranchised groups skews students' understandings and the ways they deal with the world later in life — national controversy around Texas standardized textbooks'
de-emphasis of slavery and emphasis on religion, illustrates the same concept — so this emphasis wasn't just insufficient, but truly damaging.
But the greatest reason that until recently I blithely continued along as a White Feminist was because of my race. As a white person — and maybe you've heard this a million times, but I'm going to reiterate — as a white person, I do not have to consider my race as a form of oppression on a daily basis. I don't have to think about it at all, if I choose, which is why I choose to think about it frequently.
The gravity of that choice, and my realization of the importance of intersectionality, was not clear to me until I had reason to feel ashamed about my White Feminism. During a school workshop to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr., my group saw a documentary featuring Girls for Gender Equity
. The film discussed the unrealistic beauty standards and widely expressed hatred for the bodies of black women and girls. And then -- to my utmost embarrassment and shame now, though let's move past white guilt -- my group of white girls made a poster as our response which depicted "natural" and augmented beauty as an issue for white women. The idea was that natural beauty is liberating, which the film expressed. But the natural girl on our poster was blond and blue-eyed. We held her up as the image towards which all the diverse girls in the school should strive.
I see this as a perfect example of the way white women sometimes just need to "Shut the f**k up," as Zeba Blay and Emma Gray put it in the Huffington Post video. Yes, the inhuman demands of beauty standards put a strain on white women, but we have never faced the same level of pain as women of color. Our skin is not undesirable or exotic
, our hair is not unprofessional
, our bodies are not exploited in the same disgusting, often sexualized ways in the media. We are not intrinsically repellent to racists. Historically, we never had to bear the children
of men who owned us. Now, we are not automatically viewed with suspicion or abused by police
. Women of color, of all races and ethnic backgrounds, battle misogyny with the extra burden of proving their worth — a burden white women never have because of society's ingrained racism.
I do not mean to "pit women against each other," but the truth is, White Feminism is still a problem, and the bubble of intersectional feminism -- in which many feminist blogs exist -- still does not extend to many white, American women. I describe the difference in women's experiences in the hope that White Feminists may become, well, white feminists who understand and implement intersectionality and that women of color continue to gain empowering visibility and voice.
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