Monday, April 25, 2016

White Feminism: What Is It and What Does It Mean?

Recently, stars such as Taylor Swift, Amy Schumer, and Lena Dunham have been called out by feminist groups and people of the social justice world alike as not being actual feminists, but rather “white feminists.” Now, this may sound like a general statement of what they are and what they are presenting themselves to be: white women that happen to be feminists. But the term “white feminism” is not solely an adjective, rather than it is a negative connotation. “White feminism” refers to the practicing of a feminism that assumes white (cisgendered, straight, able-bodied, thin, middle-to-upper class) women as the default, actively avoiding the acknowledgement and understanding on any topic other than gender, therefore leading to cookie-cutter feminism that can only possibly be useful to those it’s intended for: white women. However, feminists that happen to be white aren’t all automatically deemed as “white feminists.” White feminism is just a feminism that ignores intersectionality.

White feminism comes from the fact that most white people don’t have to deal with discrimination based on the color of their skin, or racism. They don’t have to deal with the institutionalized and societal walls that women of color do. “White feminism” assumes that white women experience misogyny in the way that all women experience misogyny, which is incredibly untrue. White women have very much been able to break into industries where it is primarily white-male dominated, while women of color have to face barriers that white women just don’t. Within the media, this is very prevalent. When looking through a bathing-suit catalog and you see a basically nude white woman, she is often seen as “beautiful” and “elegant.” However, if a black woman is seen in the same pose, wearing the same amount of clothing, she is often seen as “trashy” and “ghetto.” The stereotype of the “loud, angry black woman” is a concept that intertwines with this, and is also very prevalent in today’s world. When a white woman stands up for herself and states what is on her mind, she is often praised, and deemed “inspirational and outgoing.” When a woman of color does the same thing, she is often seen as “too loud, opinionated, and angry.” This isn’t a shaming of women embracing their bodies, or embracing their voices. This is a shaming of the hypocrisy, and society valuing white women in a more positive way. Women of Middle Eastern descent that choose to wear a head-covering are constantly harassed for their culture, religion, appearance, and apparel. They have their burkas, niqabs, hijabs, and head-coverings alike pulled off of them by people in the street, solely for the sake of humiliation. This is an issue that white women just don’t have to face, and white feminism does not recognize this hardship that these women have to go through. Along with this, police brutality is very much a feminist issue, because it affects many women, including very saddening cases such as the death of Sandra Bland. Police brutality doesn’t affect white women in the way that it affects women of color today, so it is often ignored by “white feminism.”  White feminism aims to close the wage gap, which is great, but it fails to recognize that many times minority women (Black and Latina) make even less than white women, and it shows no interest of acknowledging that.

Addressing “white feminism” isn’t about silencing these women. It’s about opening up the conversation for more diverse voices to be heard. “White feminists” are not bad, they just have a lot to learn, and a lot to understand. The most important thing that white feminists can do is educate themselves, listen, and engage in the conversation without silencing women of color. True intersectional feminism believes in the equality of all genders, sexes, identities, races, religions, cultures, ethnicity, disabilities, and everything in between. It is about recognizing the issues that other women face, and wanting to help even if the issue doesn’t immediately affect you.  

This video from MTV’s Braless series hosted by Lacie Green with guest Franchesca Ramsey is a great summary:

-Courtney, MWPC Intern