I’m white and a feminist–and I do not subscribe to White Feminism™. (These are all my thoughts coming from the perspective of a white cis woman, and I welcome any criticism from POC, non-gender conforming people, or really anyone who believes I’m misrepresenting anything!)
White Feminism is the subsection of the feminist movement that is mostly made up of white women who have neglected to make their feminism intersectional. These women participate in the ignorance of the effects of race on women’s oppression and refuse to acknowledge problematic elements of their Feminist Icons (see: Lena Dunham).
But Allie, why call it White Feminism, isn’t that offensive? No, imaginary person! I don’t find it offensive because it recognizes that these stances are taken by largely white women–to ignore race is to misrepresent the problem. As a person of privilege, it doesn’t oppress me to recognize the role race plays in this issue. (And we don’t want to pull a #NotAllMen type of move. We know there are white feminists who aren’t White Feminists™–let’s focus on the real concern!)
White Feminism has been an ongoing problem in the feminist movement. From Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” to White Feminists’ rejection of the Black Lives Matter movement, there is a schism in feminism. As people with racial privilege, white women don’t have to worry about racial injustice, and therefore can ignore it (just as cis people don’t have to worry about transphobia, and on and on)–women of color cannot, so their cause must strive for not only gender equality but racial equality. They often become ostracized from the mainstream feminist movement.
So, let’s elaborate.
These White Feminists tend to police the behavior of women of other races/cultures. A frequent activity is to preach to Muslim women about how “oppressive” their religion is, how the hijab is oppressing them, etc. This ignores the agency and autonomy of women to decide whether or not to wear the hijab. It is also not the job of a person of privileged person to tell others what is oppressing them and what isn’t. That is not being a white ally.
In addition, White Feminism tends to ignore race as an issue altogether–saying “I don’t see race” is ignoring the real consequences of the social construct of race. White people: the oppression of others does not negate yours, but you also must recognize your privilege as a white person. It’s not the oppression Olympics–admit you have privilege and figure out how to be a better ally. Also, don’t tweet “#AllLivesMatter”. Please don’t.
Another problem with White Feminism is being Trans-Exclusionary (or, a TERF).
Exclusion of trans people from feminist spaces is not only reinforcing their oppression but basically counters everything feminism stands for.
Similar to TERFs, we have SWERFs–Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists. This group of people tends to ignore the lived experiences of sex workers and define (much like what is done with Muslim women) what is and isn’t oppressive to them. Instead of working to make sure these women have autonomy and helping those who don’t (i.e., sex trafficking victims which aren’t the same, or women who have been abused in the porn industry), SWERFs tend to slut shame sex workers or say they must be “saved”.
So, how do I make sure not to be a White Feminist™?
Well, first things first, listen to people of color, non cis/het people, sex workers, etc. Listen. Listen to their experiences and how they want you to be an ally.
Recognize the privilege you may have, and the oppression that you don’t experience. Don’t try to tell people whether they should or should not feel oppressed–it is their lived experience and they know it best.
Make your feminism intersectional! Intersectionality is a super cool concept–the interaction of multiple oppressions on one another, how different identities cannot be viewed separately but must be viewed altogether. Involve the lenses of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, occupation, education level… into your feminist view. Example: the only group that makes $0.77 for every male dollar is white women. Black women make $0.64, Latina women make even less. Disabled people can legally be paid below minimum wage.
And above all, just empower other women! Be supportive of their choices. Be less critical and more helpful.
To end, another amusing tweet: