Illustration by Tyler Feder. Image from Amy Poehler Smart Girls Instagram @amypoehlersmartgirls
White Feminism has become a major topic of discussion recently, but what exactly is it? While Feminism prides itself on advocating for the rights of ALL women, White Feminism focuses only on the ideals and struggles of white women. While it is not always blatantly exclusive, its constant focus on the problems faced by the “average woman” is often alienating women of colour, lesbian, queer, intersex, and trans women, as well as women belonging to religious or cultural minorities.
To be clear, being white and a feminist does not make you a White Feminist. And being a White Feminist does not necessarily make you a racist. But failing to include the experiences of all women demonstrates a lack of understanding and appreciation for the different types of inequality faced by different types of women.
In response to a question about White Feminism, young Disney star Rowan Blanchard tweeted the following:
Blanchard perfectly highlights the importance of education and discussion around this issue. Feminism is capable of continuing to be a groundbreaking movement, and yet it is tainted by the ignorance and injustice of White Feminism – two things it has worked so hard to combat. Race, class, sexuality and ability cannot be removed from this movement when it is so central to the lives of women all over the world.
Influential writer Roxane Gay wrote in her recent novel Bad Feminist that “feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed”. So true. Yet for some reason we hold feminism up to an impossible standard. We are all flawed in some way, and that is okay, as long as we acknowledge and understand those flaws. As flawed and self-aware individuals, there is always room for improvement, even among feminist icons and ideas. Attempting to better ourselves and understanding the experiences of ALL women is not an attack on feminism; it is a step forward.
Roxane Gay, Feminist and author. Image from www.chicagotribune.com
Often when discussing equal rights issues with anti-feminists we are accused of being “too sensitive”, “too angry”, or even that we’re practicing “reverse sexism”. Feminists everywhere are pretty familiar with responses like these. But despite this experience, some feminists are using similar responses against other feminists in the debate about White Feminism. Even if it is unintentional, these words are used as tools to discredit minority groups.
Image created by Alli Kirkham for Everyday Feminism, explaining how women dismissing White Feminism is much too similar to anti-feminists dismissing Feminism
All women have experienced sexism. But it is incorrect and offensive to suggest that the struggle is experienced in the same way by all women. It is impossible to deny that white women are privileged to a certain extent. A common example of this is the conversation around the pay gap between men and women – what is often left out of the discussion is the wide pay gap between white women and women of colour. Though feminism aims to achieve equality of the sexes, it must be noted that there are still inequalities within our own gender. The video below shows a social experiment that highlights the effect class, race, and gender have on privilege.
A few of the speakers in the video above make an interesting point about a person’s natural instinct to defend themselves against being called ‘privileged’. This has come up constantly in the discussion of White Feminism, with many women rejecting the label. People commonly argue that women should be united in the fight against sexism, but how is unification possible when the experiences of so many women are being ignored? People using the term ‘white feminist’ are not trying to attack or diminish the struggles that white women face. It’s important to remember that dialogue around White Feminism is not a personal attack, it’s simply a valid critique on the flaws of feminism.
The whole discussion around White Feminism would be so incredibly rewarding and beneficial for EVERYONE concerned with equal rights, if we allow it to be. One woman’s empowerment does not mean the undermining of another. In a world where everyone is determined to be heard, we must remember to listen. The more educated we are, the more understanding we can be. The more understanding we are, the more empowered we can be. And the more empowered we are, the closer we become to achieving real success in eradicating gender inequality among all races.
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.