Let's get a couple of things out of the way. I am white. I am a feminist. But I'm not a white feminist. In fact, I largely disagree with what feminism has come to be known as recently – and that's because I'm a feminist.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that feminism is getting more traction these days. With high-profile celebrities such as Amy Schumer and Taylor Swift and sites such as HerCampus bringing feminism into the discussion, the other f-word is more recognizable than ever. And it's clear that the desire to make the world a better place is present. But the kind of feminism that they're selling is a very particular kind, and we can't say it's the only kind of feminism. The fact that white feminism is what feminism is often recognized to be is doing more harm than good to the entire movement.
The kind of feminism that is being marketed to the masses is what's known as white feminism. For those unfamiliar with the term, white feminism focuses on a particular group of struggles that – you guessed it – white women face. It's being sold as the default 'brand' of feminism and doesn't incorporate the ways that other identities can impact sexism. It's the kind of feminism that holds clear and unflinching opinions on issues such as believing 'oppressed' women should be 'liberated' by wearing more revealing clothing, and that seems to believe that their brand of feminism is the right – and only – one.
By marketing white feminism as feminism, it asserts that working against how sexism affects white women is the 'default' brand of feminism. So feminists who are not white or who have other identities that impact how they experience sexism are a different kind of feminist at best (according to this marketed definition), and at worst not feminists at all.
The kind of feminism that I signed up for is one that understands that there are different ways to feel empowered and different ways to be discriminated against. The sexism that a woman of colour experiences is different than what I experience, because I don't experience how racism intersects with sexism. And it's not just race that compounds – homophobia, ableism, transphobia and many other forms of discrimination change sexism, and sexism changes other forms of discrimination. I, as a white woman, face one kind of sexism. The fact that other women face a different kind of sexism doesn't mean that what I face is invalid or no longer exists, nor does what I face makes others' invalid. I can experience sexism – but I can't experience racialized sexism, or how racism and sexism interact. The privileges I have in some ways work to mitigate the sexism I face. And that can be hard to admit, especially for women who are just starting to grasp how sexism can affect their lives. Privileges exist, and various identities intersect to amplify or mitigate the discrimination faced. There isn't one form of sexism that affects all women in the same way. Why should there be one kind of feminism that does that same thing?
At its core, feminism is the belief that men and women should be equal on all fronts: political, economic, social and legal. But it isn't the job of feminists to decide what that looks like for the entire group. There can be feminists who reclaim gendered slurs and those who are liberated showing less skin: these groups aren't mutually exclusive and they're both feminism. Feminist ground that is gained by putting down one group of women to further another is not the kind of feminism I want to be known for.
When one group of feminists decides what feminism should look like for the entire group, it turns into just another kind of sexism. This kind of insider policing alienates women who disagree on what feminism looks like to them and divides the whole movement, leaving them out of any gains one group makes. And ultimately, any progress made by excluding one group isn't true progress – it just reassigns the discrimination.
If you've read this column as a white feminist, check in with your reaction. Are you angry at what I've said? Good. Once you can put a finger on why, take a look at what you can be doing better as feminist to ensure it's the kind of feminism that works for every kind of woman – the kind of feminism we all should be in support of.
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Completely agree. From my meager understanding this would be called 'intersectional feminism', which is rooted in the knowledge that human experience and desire is widely varied, and, as you say, there isn't a 'default'.
This idea can extend to so many domains of life, and basically boils down to 'people are different, and that's ok'.
Welcome to the discussion.
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