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The Issue with White Feminism

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“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

-Audre Lorde
Feder, Tyler. “Intersectional Rosie the Riveter”

White feminism is a phrase that has been developed to describe the group of feminists, most of whom are straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied, and middle to upper class, who look to push their agendas and struggles forward without paying much attention to the struggles of other minorities. Personally, I have begun to realize that I fall under this category. I focus on the issues that pertain to myself personally without giving much thought to the issues of others. I chose to do my project on white feminism because it is an issue that I fall subject too, and I wanted to learn how to change my point of view.

For more on why I chose this subject, you can read my personal interest essay: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cmG1xdxnRfDqSKV5exVWo-y6nY6EiiqAT3rfErT72oI/edit?usp=sharing

Historical Problem

“Sualci Quotes.” Sualci Quotes, 2019, www.quotationof.com/women.html.

One of the most common ways to think of feminism is to split it into three waves. Currently, we are in the third wave. The first wave of feminism was comprised of the suffragettes. Their main goal was the right for women to vote, but they did not put much thought into other minority groups like African Americans. The suffragettes of the 19th and early 20th centuries were comprised of white, middle class women whose main priority was gaining the vote. The lack of diversity in this movement was such that the attendees of Seneca Falls, the first major women’s rights convention, included mostly middle class white women, some liberal white men, and one black person. Furthermore, that one black person was Frederick Douglass—a man (Brown). Even without being blatantly racist, although many women at the time were, the lack of diversity on which the movement was founded continued to carry a weight for years to come. In the spring of 1851, the black abolitionist Sojourner Truth gave her famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio. However, some historians argue that this never happened. Instead, it was made up by event organizers to depict Truth as an ally to white audiences (Brown). While this speech was indeed progress, it was ruined by the white suffragettes’ manipulation of Truth’s voice. Truth, while originally a supporter of women’s suffrage, later separated from the feminist movement because of their resistance to support African American suffrage along with their own.

Ehrhart, Martine. “Pitchfork Graphic.” Pitchfork, 18 Oct. 2017.

The biggest divide in the second wave of feminism was race. One large subsection of feminists in the second wave was socialist feminism. Their goal in the 1960s was based off of their “their desire to overcome difference,” and in the 1970s, to embrace “racial, ethnic and sexual categories” (Enke). Even so, white and black socialist feminists remained separate. While white socialist feminists were anti-racist and wanted to create a racially inclusive movement, they did not know how and therefore were unable to go about this successfully. Black socialist feminists contended with both the white women’s movement and notions of black solidarity in the Black Power movement (Enke). This divide led to only one side of the story being told. This isn’t to say that all feminists were completely in support—others like radical feminists did not stand as strongly for racial equality as the socialist feminists did. The second wave of feminism has come under fire in recent times for its completely white movement, when in reality it is just that white and black movements were very separate and built their own individual organizations. The way history is told, however, brings only the white organizations to light.

Sexuality also became a problem in radical feminist groups. Many radical feminists were reluctant to include sexuality in talks of discrimination. One article on the topic mentions that, “many were concerned that sexuality, and ‘lesbianism’ in particular, was distracting and discrediting the movement” (Enke). This exclusion of sexuality isolated the LGBTQ community from many feminist circles. This legacy is seen today with Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFS, who refuse include transgender women in their fight for equal rights.

For more information on my historical problem, here is my full essay: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ObwGzhQNsG-MKrIS8-lHUUL2FoVDclql8QBmhDNb4zY

Latini, Ali. “White Feminism Excludes Marginalized Women.” The Ithacan, 25 Jan. 2017, theithacan.org/opinion/editorial-white-feminism-excludes-marginalized-women/.

Present Day Issue

A common rationale in white feminism that is each form of discrimination works separately. Their argument is that “some women are discriminated against more than others for various reasons, but in the end they are discriminated against as women, and that is what needs to be addressed” (Lépinard). They are not saying that minority women are not discriminated against, but they are ignoring that they could be discriminated against because of their minority status. One example of this is Catherine, a white French woman in her forties. She said about the 2004 ban on the Muslim headscarf in French public schools, “I think that beyond the veil we have lots of common ground on these issues, which are not solved for women today. The veil is a specific issue, but there are many more important issues” (Lépinard). The insistence on common ground erases minority women’s “specific” issues by labeling them as not as important. This tends to put all women into one category labeled “women,” which erases the point of view and voice of minorities.

Rosalarian. “Black Feminism.” Rosalarian, rosalarian.com/.

Another big issue in modern day white feminism is their inability to accept their privilege. Many women have a “mortal dread of being outside the field of vision of the arrogant perceiver” (Ortega). The arrogant perceiver is one who is able to organize the world with reference to their own interests. In a male-dominated society, the arrogant perceiver is the man, and this creates a hierarchy based off of the man’s own perception. If women are outside the perception, this means that they outside the web of intelligibility that the arrogant eye creates, and that creates the fear of staying outside. Thus, some women believe that there needs to be a “harmonious community of agreement” in order to fight the arrogant eye (Ortega). However, these same women ostracize women who are different and who threaten the homogeneity the community. This puts these women in the place of arrogant perception. It is their turn to decide who is part of their hierarchy and who is cast aside.

Many young feminists of color believe that white women have a responsibility to practice intersectionality because of this. Sydney Jackson, a 19-year-old biracial activist at the University of Chicago, stated, “Any person who identifies as a feminist must first acknowledge their privilege, wherever it may lie, and keep that in mind as they affiliate with the movement” (Oxnevad). If a person is incapable of recognizing their own privilege, they are not helping others with their own problems.

For more on the present day problem, here is my full essay: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1s5hIrzRRFA8aon1NXBP3xCaCUVaAZ0mMW0oSeao4nog

Intersectionality

Solution

“Intersectional Feminism.” International Women’s Development Agency, 11 May 2018, iwda.org.au/what-does-intersectional-feminism-actually-mean/.

My solution for this problem is based off of intersectionality. As stated in my video, intersectionality is the idea that discrimination and oppression are not single axis systems. Instead, they have multiple axes, which intersect with each person. Keeping this in mind, and keeping in mind the differences between intersectionality and white feminism, I propose to put more emphasis on intersectionality into women’s organizations and movements. Take the women’s marches, for example. Over the past few years, women’s marches have been called out for being whitewashed, ableist, and transphobic. White women were said to have “marched for themselves” (Lucier), and the pussy hats that became so famous did not take into account the transgender women who don’t have the same genitals. In addition, the marches have not been wheelchair friendly, which made it difficult for disabled people to contribute. Recently, one white founder of the march asked multiple people of color to resign from their leadership positions (Malveaux). This could have been prevented by inviting more intersectional women into these roles as leaders. Not just women of color, but transgender women who could give input on the pussy hats and the emphasis on female body parts and disabled women who could find a route that is easy for people confined to wheelchairs to access. This way, the marches are for everyone. By putting more diverse women at the front of women’s organizations, the way the movement is led will change towards a more diverse future. This will give the movement not only a different point of view, but will educate women on different types of oppression from more than one point of view.

Vasilakis, Troy. “Feminsim Poster Series.” Behance, www.behance.net/gallery/49599811/Feminism-Poster-Series.

What You Can Do

If you are looking for a way to contribute personally, here are a few ideas:

Reflect on your privileges. Are you white? Able-bodied? Cisgender?Educate yourself on these privileges and learn how they help you in day to day life. Teach yourself how to stop taking them for granted

Learn about movements that are not directly related to you. Remember, everything is connected in some way. If you are straight, you can learn about gay rights and the struggles that they still face. If you are neurotypical, read articles on autism and learning differences.

Teach others about the struggles you go through. Each person goes through something different, so teach those who are uneducated about your struggles

Stop playing the oppression olympics. Discrimination cannot be put on a scale, and take everyone’s experiences into account.

Make a change. By no means am I trying to discredit the women’s marches and organizations. Go to a workshop or make a sign for a march. If you can, convince your friends to come with you or donate to a cause.

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COMMENTS: 4
  1. April 26, 2019 by Kirsten.Mettler

    I totally understand what you are saying. However, I think intersectionality can also be limiting. For example, during the civil rights movement, the focus was obviously black rights. However, King rallied together impoverished whites, women, LGBTQ communities, and more in order to march together. Their goal was still black rights, but they bonded together over their shared sense of being oppressed. It was an ally system. I think intersectionality is important, but I also think sometimes it is useful to focus on one target goal in order to make change.

  2. April 27, 2019 by Payton

    First of all, I love the quote at the beginning! It was very fitting and introduces your topic very nicely. You made some very nice points and your Call to Action was outlined very clearly and was well-thought out. I do feel as though it can be hard to fight for so many oppressed groups at one time, however. I do think your Call to Action could help the issue of more inclusiveness in marches and such which is definitely helpful!

  3. April 27, 2019 by Hannah Robbins

    Hi! I love how much of a background you gave on white feminism. It is a term I see a lot, but I have never seen anyone give this much context when talking about it.

  4. April 28, 2019 by Ana

    Hey Kallie, I loved your project. White feminism is an issue that is particularly prevalent today with the many women’s marches that are going on. I think it is important to look at feminist issues with an intersectional lens. Despite knowing what it was and why it was important, I had never heard much about the history and the three waves of feminism. All the information you provided helped further establish the importance of being an intersectional feminist.

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