First and foremost, White Feminism does not refer to all self-identifying feminists who are Caucasian. White Feminism is a stream of feminism that caters only to white (cis, straight, able bodied, middle class) women, failing to advocate for any individuals who fall outside of this category and creating an exclusive movement for privileged women. White Feminism blatantly leaves out people of colour (POC), differently abled persons, trans folk, and indigent people, refusing to go beyond a gender analysis.
Here are five unfortunate (and often unspoken) facts about mainstream, White Feminism.
Feminism has roots in racism.
There is an uncomfortable truth about feminism: it was built upon racist mentalities and practices.
Many women of colour were not included in Suffragette movements around the world. Not only were black women of a lower working class and disenfranchised in many ways, they likely would not have been welcome if they had been able to join. Even when women of colour won the vote in the USA, the southern states put up obstacles to prevent them from voting, including laws on time restrictions or property ownership.
Suffragists also used racism to further feminism. In the USA at the time, black men were allowed to vote and this was a sore spot for white people in the southern states. Suffragettes appealed to white southern women by telling them if they had the vote, they could counter the black male vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the leader of the American suffrage movement, expressed fury over the fact that white women had been denied the right to vote while “degraded black men” had the ability to cast their ballot. Furthermore, white women who were leading equality campaigns in DC requested that black suffragists walk at the back of their parades.
In the 1980s, Gloria Steinem was the golden girl for mainstream feminism. While her passions and actions were admirable, Steinem was neither a representative nor a champion of the black community. This lack of representation spurred women of colour to create the womanist and mujerista movements as a response to being left out. A ‘womanist’ has been defined as a feminist of colour/black feminist, while a mujerista has been adopted by Latinas to claim their own space separate from white feminists.
There is more than one female experience.
There are multiple kinds of privilege. There is educational privilege, white privilege, socio economic privilege, male privilege, ability privilege, cis privilege, etc. etc. As such, a woman can have privilege(s), and white feminists have it.
The struggle of ‘white feminists’ (aka middle-class, straight, white, American women) is not the same as that of poor women, gay women, trans women, women of colour or differently abled women. White feminists fight the good fight for equal pay, paid maternity leave, and shattering the glass ceiling. The rest of the female population has to focus on eradicating race related police brutality, lobbying for use of a washroom, and getting better funding for inner city schools.
In a nutshell, white feminists are fighting for equality, while everyone else is fighting for justice. White Feminism has zeroed in on policies that will help privileged women integrate into the existing paradigm in North America. Black Feminism and Intersectional Feminism, on the other hand, seek to transform the current system to rid it of its fundamental mistakes and exclusionary approach.
You are being a hypocrite.
You expect men, who have never experienced what you, as a woman, have experienced, to listen and accept your stories. How can you ask men to do this, if you are not doing this for trans folk?
You expect men, who live in a society that caters to them, to give you equal rights and opportunities. You ask them to recognize and share their privileges. How can you ask men to do this, if you are not doing this for POC?
You expect men, who feel they gain nothing by your movement, to become your ally and advocate. How can you ask men to do this, if you are not doing this for people of different abilities?
Next time you get mad at a man for failing to support you in your fight, think about how many women you are failing by only advocating for a singular female experience.
Without intersectionality, you are failing.
If you look up the definition of feminism in Webster’s Dictionary, you will see that it says something along the lines of, “a movement fighting for the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”. This is about the most basic, removed definition of feminism one can have. In reality, feminism is so much more than that.
Life is messy. It cannot be put into polished boxes. As such, no movement can be either. Feminism cannot only address gender inequalities. While that may be its focus, the movement must still connect sexism with all the other -isms of the rainbow.
A black woman cannot separate the sexism and racism she experiences, as they are inextricably linked. A differently abled woman suffers not only at the hands of misogyny but also ableism.
If mainstream feminism fails to recognize intersectionality and adopt its analyses into the movement, it fails each and every woman who does not fit into the narrow category of White Feminism.
Feminism is not a defense for racism/transphobia/ableism/classism.
Not only are White Feminists failing women by refusing to adopt Intersectionality, but they are also using the movement as an excuse for perpetuating dangerous stereotypes and harmful paradigms.
By saying that feminism ‘only deals with gender’, White Feminism purposefully excludes any other types of discrimination experienced by (marginalized) women. This evasion of responsibility and blatant indifference toward the plight of the marginalized can be seen all over the Internet (especially Twitter). Proponents of White Feminism constantly exclude trans women and demean women of colour. They devalue their experiences and tell them that their unique struggles do not fit into their one-size-fits-all feminism.
White Feminists do this, by saying they are champions of fighting gender equality. But feminism is not a defense for perpetuating discrimination. We cannot let these horrible notions and actions slide because we tell ourselves it is in the name of something noble.