White feminism caters to the white, middle-class, cis women in our society and focuses only on issues that affect those women. It is the feminism we understand as mainstream; centered on body hair, changing your married name and whether or not you can show your tits online. It’s the feminism that doesn’t understand or ignores western privilege and cultural context and how these two things affect the daily lives of women of colour and influence how they experience oppression.
I’m a feminist of colour, which means I cannot disregard the fact that race and gender are so inherently bound together. In order to truly advocate for my rights, feminism must also address the issues that affect women of colour (WOC). Without doing this, it’s straight up white privilege, superficial, I-aint-got-time-for-this feminism and I have a fucking problem with it.
I’m sick of seeing white women dismiss the concerns of women of colour or to speak on behalf of us (Lena Dunham, I’m looking at you), without once questioning whether or not we wanted (or needed) them to do so. I’m sick of self-righteous claims of inclusivity, which marginalize the voices of WOC who choose to speak out. They marginalize us if we speak out assertively, while disagreeing with them or even fucking speak up at all. I’m sick of them exercising their white privilege while accusing their sisters of colour of divisiveness when we refuse to submit to their racism (Taylor Swift, anyone?). Far too often WOC are told to quiet down because it divides us within the feminist movement, but by telling us to quiet down, our voices and concerns are not heard or dealt with.
White feminist attempts to gain equality for WOC in other parts of the world are either superficial or offensive as these white feminists are often unable to look beyond their own narrow worldview. Without being able to utilize anything but their own experience in such issues, these feminists often make the mistake of simplifying problems that are far more complex than they think. Why do we accept white women representing WOC when we have very capable WOC who are willing and able to speak for themselves? Take for example when African American Studies professor Rachel Dolezal disguised herself as a black woman for 10 years, becoming President of the Spokane NAACP while advocating for black rights. While white people can and should join people of colour fighting racism and oppression, to assume that she as a white woman would be better qualified than a woman of colour to lead people on issues that primarily affect them (issues she herself has never had to face), is nothing short of a disgrace and an insult.
We have seen the Ukrainian/French feminist group FEMEN protest topless outside of mosques, with the words, “I am free” written across their breasts. Their main concern being the liberation of Muslim women from the oppression of Islam. They are deciding on behalf of Muslim women what the problem is and how it should be remedied. White feminists do this often – they claim to have the solution and the solution is to be like them. They speak for women of colour rather than listening to them. Forcing Muslim women to go naked or to stop wearing the hijab for the sake of “freedom” and degrading their religion is exactly what white feminism is. They forget that empowerment lies within the choice. By blaming oppression on “backwards” cultures and religions of the East and South, white feminists completely ignore the role the west, including its women, has in the oppression of women around the world. For example, many women in countries such as India or Mexico are poor because of jobs working in sweatshops owned by Western corporations that pay below minimum wage. These economic conditions are a direct result of foreign policy and we simply cannot ignore the fact that the freedoms we enjoy are a result of the oppression we have imposed elsewhere.
“white feminism dehumanizes racialized women by ignoring and erasing the voice of women of colour… it passively reaffirms ideas that whiteness and white opinions are the only ideas that matter.” – Truphena Matunda
(muslim women respond to topless FEMEN protests)
I understand that some women who are reading this are feeling defensive. It can be difficult to feel attacked for something you’re not guilty of doing. However, in the context of social justice, if you’re feeling attacked right now, it’s probably because you’re having your privilege challenged, not because you’re an awful person. If what I’m saying doesn’t apply to you, then it’s not about you, and if it’s not about you, then don’t take it personally. Being a good ally means recognizing when your input is unnecessary and that it can be incredibly inappropriate to demand that marginalized groups restructure a conversation to suit your needs. I am not here to make you comfortable. To expect me to do so is the very definition of exercising your privilege.
You want to believe that you’re saving the world, but you’re not – you’re oppressing and silencing the very people you so defiantly claim to be allies with. If your feminism doesn’t include all women, then I don’t believe it’s feminism at all. And if you’re a white feminist, guess what? You don’t have to be! If you don’t quite understand the concept of privilege, then educate yourself! Use the internet! Get involved in your community; listen to WOC when they speak up about the various problems that affect them. It’s important to recognize the lives of minorities and how they may have very specific experiences that change the way we look at issues under the larger scope of feminist issues.
Diversity doesn’t weaken the feminist agenda. Rather, feminism as a whole has a better chance of achieving its goals when we start having honest discourse about what serves all women, not just white women. True feminism is and always should be inclusive, with the goal of true equality for everyone, with the ways in which sexism, racism, transphobia and homophobia may intersect being at the forefront of our feminist movement.