When some white women think about gender equality, they think about equality for their own race. They do not consider non-white, transgender, or gay women, or women with disabilities. Whether it’s done consciously or unconsciously, this is white feminism.
White feminism is reckless because it holds back the greater feminism movement. It all comes down to privilege – white women have it and have a responsibility to address how non-white non-heteronormative women are treated. Staying silent or ignoring issues faced by non-heteronormative women is an act of oppression itself.
Intersectional feminism is where it’s at. Our own anti-oppression and anti-racism expert May Lui describes it like this:
“Intersectionality is a way to understand feminism that includes the experiences of women of colour, queer women, poor and working women, and other groups of women not always represented in the mainstream feminist movement.”
White feminism is not feminism. In other words, the advocacy of rights for some women, but not others is not feminism.
So what do you do if you’re white but you want to be an intersectional feminist? There are some things to keep in mind.
There are barriers white women don’t face
When fighting for equal rights it is important to be aware of all the barriers women face, not just the barriers you and your peers face.
According to the Center for Global Policy Solutions, in 2007 white women in America had a median wealth of $45,400. African American women had a median wealth of $100, and Latina women had a median wealth of $120. That kind of economic disparity effects access to healthcare, educational attainment and more. On top of that, women of colour are more likely to be incarcerated (black women are put in prison at four times the rate of white women) and the infant mortality rate for racialized groups is higher. While different groups face different problems, they all fall under the feminism umbrella.
Just because white women have conquered something, it doesn’t mean others have
White women have a history of fighting for their own rights while leaving other women behind. In 1913 Ida B. Wells, a journalist and suffragist, founded the Alpha Suffrage Club for black women. When she and her fellow members went to Washington, D.C. to participate in a parade, the white women asked that they walk at the end of the parade.
A few years later in 1920 the 19th Amendment gave women, both white and black, the right to vote but many states disenfranchised black women through state laws. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s that black women all over America were given the vote.
Today we continue to see this kind of exclusion from white feminists. When Nicki Minaj called out MTV for not nominating her record-breaking video for ‘Anaconda’ and said “If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year” she was pointing out the lack of representation in the category of nominees.
Taylor Swift responded with: “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot..”
That, my friends, is white feminism. Swift completely missed the point and made it about herself while twisting Minaj’s words to make it sound like she was being the bad feminist. Minaj responded, saying “Huh? U must not be reading my tweets. Didn’t say a word about u. I love u just as much. But u should speak on this.”
Minaj is right. Swift, with all her white privilege, should speak on this. But Swift (who later apologized) didn’t think about race and the implications of racism when she read Minaj’s tweet.
We see this trend in the fight for wage equality too. White women, who make about 75 cents to a man’s dollar, want equal pay but more often than not, don’t mention how black and Latina women make even less.
If feminism really is a movement for all, then privileged groups need to take into account what their female peers are experiencing and include their concerns in feminist discussions.
Representation, or lack thereof
Women of colour, transgender, gay women, women with disabilities and other groups are vastly underrepresented in the media and that’s something white women should be concerned about. Growing up as a white woman you take for granted that you see yourself represented everywhere – ads, TV shows, movies, magazines. It lets you know that you’re accepted by society.
Other women don’t have this luxury. Out of the top grossing films in the US box office between 2007 and 2013, only a quarter included underrepresented racial groups. Of all the characters, 74 per cent were white.
When three-quarters of characters are white, things like beauty standards become white washed. It teaches women of all colours that being tall, blonde and white is beautiful and anything else in unusual.
Misogyny against white women vs misogyny against non-white women
White women and non-white women face different challenges, and different types of discrimination. A middle class white woman worries about getting paid maternity leave while a trans black woman worries about police brutality.
Rutgers University’s Brittney Cooper, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies, explains in an essay for Salon that white feminists are concerned with equality, while non-white feminists, especially black feminists, are concerned about injustice.
“One kind of feminism focuses on the policies that will help women integrate fully into the existing American system. The other recognizes the fundamental flaws in the system and seeks its complete and total transformation.”
At the end of the day, white women have it easier – from getting jobs to buying foundation in the right colour – and this is a privilege white women need to be aware of.
With privilege comes responsibility. You cannot call yourself a feminist while leaving non-white, non-heteronormative women behind. Use your privilege to fight for equality for all women.
Illustrations by: Janna Yaschuk
Image credit: Instagram, Tumblr/schomburgcenter